In 2018, Aisha Omolola, a student of Ahmadu Bello University ended her life, leaving a note saying her parents traumatized her to the point of committing suicide.
There are a lot of issues weighing on the African child—in the case of how their parents make them see life and how they affect their mental space.
Aisha’s suicide somewhat made other young people, one of which is my friend, open up on how they feel about the unpleasant ways their parents correct them, treat them and even make them feel useless till date.
My friend always says, “I don’t think my mother, especially, gave birth to me. This woman calls me a witch. She curses me at the slightest opportunity.”
Most times, my friend is distant in class, dozing off in thought and startling to focus on me or others depending on who is close.
One time I had to play angry with her to stop torturing herself with the harsh words and treatment from her mother and her response will always carry the scream of hopelessness, “It’s hard.”
At one point, I suggested she start seeing a therapist and I was almost swallowed by her bulgy eyes.
“I am not mad. How could you even suggest that.”
I felt disappointed by her response. She is one of the smartest people I know. It is true that my friend doesn’t do well in class but she is a super smart person.
Her grades are only bad because of the distraction coming from the pain inflicted by her parents. Almost every African child.
Nonetheless. There have always been questions surrounding the style of parenting all over the world. Africans think the parenting style of Americans is too lenient on the children yet questions still arise on the style of most Africans on raising their children.
Some think the style of Africans is the best way to get a child disciplined; being able to face the world, being moral, respectful etc. while others think it is an infliction of trauma on the children due to the lack of good human relationship between a child and his parents.
Some believe that it is fear rather than respect that most African children have for their parents, excess insults (like witch, cursed and child etc) and physical punishment from their parents which usually affects a child’s educational life and in fact life generally thus the effect of parenting on a child’s mentality and mental health.
Some children even get spoiled in the process of harsh parenting.
An instance is my closest friend in secondary school whose parents do not even accommodate her female friends in the name of protecting their child from negative peer influence. She had scars all over her arms and legs from her father’s beatings. Few of our teachers’ tried to have a conversation with the parents but were told, “she is our child , we decide how we train her.”
They claimed not to want the girl getting spoiled. Unknown to the parents, their daughter who they had abused in the name of protection had sex with her boyfriend when we were in SS1. She was the most stubborn girl in my set which made me give a deep thought to the belief that children who are trained with a lot of whipping or beating grow more and more stubborn, every day.
After graduation, I lost contact with her. Every time I think about her, I can’t help but wonder who she has become. She wanted to be a dancer but her parents wanted her to be an accountant which is why she was in commerce class at that time. Who knows if she is following her dreams now or her parents’ dreams.
In the case of Aisha Omolola, she revealed in her note that her mother was bipolar. In the case of my friend, both her parents are not diagnosed with any mental issues. Some of the parents are believed to be the way they are because of a generational trend of culture on raising a child.
It is true that parenting isn’t an easy task for humans as it requires the demands of emotions and a relationship between two or more people. Most humans inherit parenting styles from their parents. Some work with the inherited styles or decide to adopt another. In the case of most Africans, they decide to inherit ‘The Ancestors’ style.
It is ok to want to preserve culture but not in a way that will harm people’s emotions and mental space. There are African parents who do not break their children’s bones in the process of training them yet the children are among the most well-behaved set of children.
In this century, young people love to be corrected and talked to with the application of emotional intelligence. Once they are made to feel forced to do things, they become rebellious quietly or go totally out of control with a frenzy of rebellion.
It is also important that as a child you should also contribute to making the parenting journey of your parents smooth. Children can help by trying to make their parents understand them. After all, these African parents are also humans. When you try to have a one-on-one discussion with them, they will listen to what you have to say.
You just have to face your fear. Learn to adapt to their moods. If they are in a bad mood, try not to piss them off. You can always talk to them about it later, when they are in a better mood.
It is true that nobody is perfect; be human, but try not to do a lot of wrongs. Don’t give them reasons not to trust you.
Keep friends they approve of. No parents would appreciate it when their children hang out with bad friends. They are only trying to make sure you stay out of trouble when they forbid you from seeing certain kinds of friends.
Try to understand their emotions and talk to them about their problems once in a while. Some mothers are harsh because of societal pressure. The African society points accusing fingers on the mother more, because they feel she stays at home more thus she is responsible for the morals of the children.
To be an effective parent who would avoid a situation where the children have to have hate thoughts about you, here are some effective steps to parenting,
- Respect your child thus be the person you want your child to become, this includes applying empathy towards your child and she or he will emulate.
- There is nothing like showing too much love to your child. Loving them can be as easy as hugging them, listening to them, spending time with them, apologizing when you do something wrong even though it is unintentional. When you show them love it makes them calm, develops a closer relationship with you, gives them a feeling of contentment and acceptance etc.
- Play jokes with your child, make them feel relaxed with you, ask for their opinion about your and their life and solve issues together thus the child will carry memories of you for the rest of his or her life.
- Discipline your child without judging him or her and do not use his or her weaknesses against him or her. If you use the weaknesses against them, it will hurt them and they will lose trust for you.
- Provide a range of experiences for your child. These children especially when they are in their adolescence should be exposed to new things in the many sections of life, this will help them in decision making thus help with their career choice, cultures, community amongst other things.
- Avoid insulting your child at the slightest opportunity both privately or publicly. Insults are embarrassing and more painful when they are coming from elders because children can’t retaliate.
- Give them chances to defend themselves when they do wrong things; it might not be what it seems to be.
- Don’t make them feel like there are burdens to you when you have financial and emotional issues, it will break them thus affect their mental health.
African parents who have little or no knowledge about the art of parenting ought to be provided with awareness programmes to help with bringing their children up. It is important to help set the road straight so as to not inflict trauma on young people like Aisha, my secondary school friend and many others who are victims of bad parenting.
The chain of bad parenting cannot be broken totally but it will reduce the rate of suicides, mental disorders, broken family relationships, distrust to mention but a few.
The next generation cannot suffer for the pain inflicted on this generation. African parents are out to help their children be better people but sometimes in the wrong way because of the long-time chain of tradition.
Having made these points, the question still remains, does African style of parenting inflict trauma or is it the best way to discipline a child.
Haneefah Abdulrahman is a writer, an interviewer, spoken poetry artiste and a podcaster from Nigeria whose work has appeared on Nigerian Review, Wisprout Project , Arts MuseFair, and elsewhere. She is a 2021 fellow of Ebedi International Writers Residency and a Columnist at Daily Trust Newspaper. She is the Author of Shades of Becoming. She is the 2021 Winner of The Arewa Rising Literary Star.