If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably felt scared of (or alienated from) your parents. Not because they were bad people - I love my parents die - but because they couldn’t relate to you. They were unable to understand what being a child felt like, so they were often dismissive of your opinions and feelings, and they didn’t give you enough space to express your individuality and make choices for yourself. Perhaps, they even considered your attempts at sticking up for yourself rude. My mom had this book titled “The Strong Willed Child” that she bought specifically because of me. It makes me laugh now, but it wasn’t funny back then.
Now as an adult, they have probably attempted to circle back and bridge the gap in your relationship. A friend of mine, Ayo, once told me that his father’s demeanour towards him changed as he grew older. His once absent father now wanted to sit down in the parlour with him, trade jokes, and get insight into his social life. He found it strange, and I could relate. As a child, I would hear my dad’s car driving into the building and acrobatically remove myself from the parlour chair, change the TV station from Nickelodeon to CNN, dive into my room with the speed of light and pretend I was doing school work, while my heart worked overtime to replace the blood that had been drained by fear. Crazy times.
Today, things have changed. My parents now want to know what’s the latest gist on Twitter and my thoughts and opinions on things. My mom comes into my room from time to time to gist. She delights in our conversations, and I love sharing my life with her. When we face conflict, we negotiate, and I am allowed to disagree with her without feeling a knot of anxiety in my chest. It makes me wonder how and when things changed. I know some of it has to do with my adulthood, my parents’ ageing, and the financial responsibility I have over my affairs, but it makes me wonder: does it really have to be this way? Do we need to diverge and converge later on in life, like rivulets? Why can’t the good vibes begin from a tender age and follow us all the way through adulthood?
Why has it taken so long to feel seen?
I think the first time I ever thought about my relationship with my parents from this context was during a visit to my Principal’s home in 2015. My high school Principal and his wife were American missionaries that came to Venezuela to teach. They were both white, and had a 2-year-old son that was a delight to behold. On some Fridays after school, we would visit their home for potlucks and games. On this particular visit, I noticed how they asked their son (two-year-old!) about his opinion on things. “Do you want this ball or that ball?” His wife would ask, with all the patience in the world, waiting for the child to make his choice of what toy to play with. I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I didn’t know two-year-olds were allowed to have opinions.
Looking back now, I wonder how different my life would have been if my choices and opinions had been encouraged as a child. I wonder if I would have been more sure of myself, more confident. Perhaps, I would have been more assertive if I was spoken ‘with’ instead of ‘spoken at.’ I think a lot of the confidence you demonstrate as an adult stems from how you were raised. You learn how to trust yourself, your opinions, and your decisions more if your parents trusted you as a child.
I am slowly getting a hang of this adulting thing, but sometimes I feel like a character in a movie scene that is an inexperienced driver and in whose hands a bunch of keys have been thrust into because the only other character that can drive is bleeding profusely and losing grip of consciousness. That panic, that uncertainty as the inexperienced driver reverses and hits a trash can, all the while looking at the rearview mirror to ensure that she is doing the right thing, is a feeling I experience from time to time, especially when faced with life decisions. It’s strange because I have lived for more than two decades, so why do I still feel so unsure about the things that so deeply affect me?
I have baby cousins, three of them. They are beautiful and smartmouthed and full of life. My cousins are very outspoken, and I know a lot of this confidence stems from how they are being raised. My uncle and his wife encourage them to share their opinions. They negotiate deals that amuse me sometimes. A typical conversation would go like this:
Cousin: “Daddy, *insert name of brother* wants to take the phone!”
Uncle:“Okay you will use the phone for 30 minutes, and then your brother will use it. Is that fine?”
Cousin: “Okay, but when do we start counting?”
Uncle: *Looks at watch* The time is 3:14, so when do you think you’ll give it to him?
Cousin: *Does the Math* 3:44?
The banter, the back and forth in their conversations, the negotiations they have are very alien to the typical Nigerian upbringing (as far as I am aware), but it has ingrained in them a reassurance that their little voices deserve to be heard, and they are capable of making certain decisions. As they grow up, they’ll get used to making decisions and expressing their opinions, and in their early 20s, I know they’ll be a lot more sure of themselves than I currently am.
Once, my aunt and I stayed up speaking all night, a bottle of wine at our disposal, and she recalled an incident from 2017. We visited the village in December like Igbo families tend to do, and after staying for a few days, my aunt wanted to go to her own hometown to see her father. She asked me, my sister, and her daughters if we wanted to come along. My sister and I said yes, but the girls said no. They wanted to stay back and play with their cousins. She simply shrugged, and we left with her, leaving the girls behind. I remember everyone frowning at that incident. “Why didn’t you take them?” “What do they know?” “They should go and see their grandfather!” But she told me that night that it was their choice and she couldn’t impose her will on them. It felt so good to hear a Nigerian mom say that. I felt so proud of her.
I’m also aware that this conversation is incredibly nuanced. For one, it doesn’t just cut across racial or cultural lines; finances, age, and exposure also have a part to play. Millenials will be more open to this style of parenting because their generation is generally more receptive, unlike Gen-Xs and the above.
In addition, families with fewer financial resources tend to have fewer options, and fewer options may infer less opportunities to make mistakes. In this sense, the ability to make mistakes is a privilege reserved for those with the power to correct them. (Power being money, or time). With enough resources, a child can try as many times as possible till they get it right while receiving all the support they need. A two-year-old with wealthier parents can be allowed to pour a can of milk by himself and mess up the floor (I’m sure you’ve probably seen those videos) because the milk isn’t as valuable as it would be to a family with fewer resources. Likewise, a privileged teenager can decide to go to university and study art history because opportunities await him after school. A child from a less privileged home may not have all these options and might be coerced into studying what his parents believe will save the family in the long run, and set him up financially for life, even though he hates it.
In essence, not having money is a bastard. It affects the way people face life and treat their children. However, I fully believe parents can cultivate loving, welcoming spaces for their children to blossom with confidence despite whatever economic realities they may face. It might take more work, but it all boils down to patience, a willingness to have open conversations with their children and to be present in their lives.
Finally, I think being conscious of these experiences and how they have affected our lives will help us become better parents when we are ready to have kids (that is, if we even want them; studies show that birth rates are declining).
If you feel your relationship with your parents hasn’t transcended to this acceptance stage, where they want to know you for who you really are and they value your opinions, then maybe it is time to parent yourself. Don’t wait for them, it might never happen. Do everything you wish they would have done for you as a child now, as a 20-something-year-old. Take on more responsibility for your life, your future is in your hands. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow yourself to have choices (yes, even the wrong ones). There’s this TikTok trend where people share how whenever they are mean to themselves, they remember that they are talking to the little child inside of them. Literally do the same thing. Listen to yourself, don’t shut yourself out. Speak gently with yourself. Write down the things you are having issues with, and give yourself the patience and the time, like my Principal and his wife did with their 2-year-old, to resolve them. You will feel a lot better, I can assure you.
I’m rooting for you. (always!)
That’s all for this week’s newsletter. Thank you for reading. Did it resonate with you? If it did, please write back or leave a comment. I always love to know your thoughts on whatever we discuss during the week.
This week, the media I consumed has been plenty.
I watched Pretty Woman for the first time. Yes, I know I was late to the party, but I really enjoyed it. I think I really enjoy movies from the late 90s, and early 20s. They have this freedom and excitement about them that doesn’t easily translate in movies from this era. Or maybe nostalgia is just a liar.
I am reading “Todo lo que se sobre el amor” by Dolly Alderton. I’m only a few chapters in, but it reminds me of The Idiot by Elif Batuman; a story of a young girl/woman navigating life and relationships with the opposite sex. It’s very amusing.
I am listening to Tamino, Florence and the Machine, Mitski, Hozier, and all the other musical gods of debauchery and devotion. I had a really amazing conversation with a new friend about music, and we discovered that our taste is almost parallel. It was crazy! I love when I meet new people and we have so much in common.
I am also trying to cultivate a healthier mind, so I have been listening to people who teach about positivity, affirmations and changing your life. Because mindset is key. I really liked this ted talk.
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The most interesting thing about this story is you living in Venezuela. Igbo people just be living anywhere mehnn.
There are two things I consider instrumental in changing the dynamic of my relationship with my parents: financial independence and distance. When I moved away for school and started earning my own money, they began to see me as a person who could decide and do for himself. That sucks because I was born with the ability to decide and do. Money and Lagos didn’t give it to me.
Great piece; it’s very important that parenting is deliberate and geared towards recognising children as people, not subjects. 🏼
Hi Treasure! I absolutely loved reading this piece cause I related to it so much, except now that my parents finally see me, I actually find it quite uncomfortable. Anyways, what I really wanted to say is that even before reading your piece today, I’ve thought a lot about my relationship with my parents, how that affects me now, and the kind of relationship I want to have with my own kids. At some point I concluded that my parents (who were more or less like yours) parented the way they did cause it’s easier to control someone than to hear them out and negotiate workable terms. But after reading your piece, a thought came to me: maybe it wasn’t about what was easier and what wasn’t, cause at the end of the day, our parents loved us, and if they were convinced that there was a healthier way to raise us, regardless of their finances or other factors, they would have at least tried. I think our parents raised us the way they did because they were conditioned (by their own parents and childhood experiences) to believe that that was the best way to raise children.