Culture

“Ọmọ mi gbọdọ jẹ…” – “My child must be a…”

“…the person that came first, does he or she have three heads?”

Let’s get controversial…

Growing up as a Nigerian child can be mentally hard! YES, I said it and sorry but I’m not sorry. Ok fair enough, I know that it’s a huge generalisation to make based on a large country that is made up of over 250 ethnic groups BUT, based on other Nigerians I’ve come across outside of my family, we’re raised in similar ways.

I was talking to a Nigerian woman a few months ago who was complaining to me about the academic competence of her 4-year old daughter (Indeed! You read it right). She felt that her daughter wasn’t showing the same level of intelligence as her peers and consequently this worried her. She had already mapped out her daughters future as a doctor and as a result, she was searching for a private tutor to teach her child three times a week after school.

Within the Nigerian community, this level of pressure is a standard, especially if you’re the eldest child or in my case, the only child. Nigerian parents expect their children to excel academically and go as far as having unrealistic expectations for you to be the best in everything…it is not debatable. Even if you achieved an A* and finished as the second highest student in a class test, they will still ask,

“…the person that came first, does he or she have three heads?”

Again, placing an emphasis on academic results.

As a teacher myself, I understand the importance of supporting children academically, but within the Nigerian community, it has to be said that parents place an immense amount of pressure on their children and quite often it’s beyond the child’s capability or ability. The notion of having any form of special educational needs usually translates as laziness or stubbornness and that’s usually tackled with a koboko flogging (being beaten with a cane).

Research clearly states that children placed under intense pressure suffer psychologically which has an impact on their self-esteem. Subsequently, developing a self-fulfilling prophecy which leads them to believe that they are worthless without a high level of academic success. Then on the flip-side, you have the children who go on to develop a perfectionist trait as they adapt to placing a lot of pressure on themselves to please their parents and other family members.

I have come across so many young Nigerians who believe that they are only studying for their parents, not for themselves, but they’re too afraid to speak up. Behind closed doors, some of these people are struggling to establish autonomy and often succumb to depression, sickness, alcohol and/or drug abuse, emotional trauma, low-self-esteem or lack confidence.

Parenting is definitely hard work, my mother has always reiterated this to me and it must be said that parents who put too much pressure on their children never do it with the intention to harm them. There is nothing wrong with setting targets for your child but one needs to be mindful of these expectations to ensure that they are not feeling overwhelmed. Nigerian parents need to realise that every child is different, some are early developers whist others require more nurturing and time. Not every child is going to be academically gifted and the best you can do is to encourage them to be the best at whatever skill or talent that they show a dedicated interest in.

Within the Yoruba culture there is a saying;

Adura mi ni pe ki awọn ọmọ mi yoo ga ju mi lọ – My prayer is that my children will be higher (greater) than me.

As a result of this, parents naturally want and expect their children to achieve more than they did. One can argue that parents who put extreme pressure on their children are only trying to live their failed dreams through them but one thing to also mention, is that Nigerians care a lot about the opinions of other people. You’ll often hear,

“Aaah what rubbish are you talking? You have to go to university! If you don’t, what will people say? Did you not see Mr Bankole’s son who finished from Yale and is now working as an Engineer for Shell? You this child, don’t disgrace me o…”

To add more fuel to the fire, the rapid emergence of social media has not helped the recent pressures. The fact that you are now notified about the events of everyone’s lives online– especially their achievements – means that the pressure has been cranked up tenfold.

As a mother, I believe that the emphasis needs to be placed on a child’s wellbeing in the first instance. Children should be allowed to follow their own path in life, not the paths that their parents have mapped out for them. Give your children parental support and guidance, instil strong morals and values and fill their self-esteem cup until it humbly overflows and then allow them to follow their dreams.

What are your thoughts?

How have your parents influenced your life with their expectations?

Do share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Thank you for reading!

Photogrpahy by: youclevergirl.tumblr.com

4 comments

  1. I read your blog and the despair on my parents face reappeared to me when I told them years ago that I wanted to be a journalist – not a lawyer/teacher or doctor. This happens in the Ghanaian community too! It takes a strong person to stand up to a community’s expectation so I take my hat off to you for posting this and implementing this with your child. I particularly like your pull out quotes. Very effective!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!!! West Africans are pretty hardcore when it comes to education. I’m a secondary school teacher and though a professional, I was the first to branch away from Medicine, Law, Accounting, Engineering and Architecture which are the dominant professions in our family. I remember one of my aunts cheekily asking about the financial aspect of my job, as though it wasn’t much. However, I had to let her know that money isn’t everything in life, doing what you love and having that peace of mind goes a long way in terms of one’s well-being! My mother always supported me irrespective. As for the pull-put quotes, we’ve all heard that very first one at least once before lol.

      Like

  2. My Dad is Nigerian and I definitely felt when I was younger there was a lot of pressure to become a lawyer or doctor and I was definitely on that path up until my A Levels. Some of grades weren’t as I had hoped and I thought my Dad would be so disappointed but he was actually quite comforting. I just wish the pressure hadn’t been there in the first place. But he was very strict and academically driven when me and my siblings were younger but he has chilled out in his old age, thankfully!

    Liked by 1 person

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