Dear Nigerian Parents,
You know, I get the appeal of Tiger Moms and Dads, everywhere. I especially understand the Nigerian parents way of driving their kids through lofty expectations. I appreciate it. It is a good thing. I’ve seen what people become when the bar is raised for them, and when they are relentlessly encouraged to always aim a little beyond the possible. And I’ve seen what people can become when they lack this.
However, for everything, there is a place and a season. And sometimes, when a good thing is overdone, it destroys. Food builds you up, makes you strong, and healthy, or overindulged, kills you. In the same way, Nigerian parents, it is possible to love your kids to destruction.
In the first place, some of you do not know your children. Have never known them. In your mind, you knew who you wanted them to be from the moment they were born (sometimes even before) and all their lives, you’ve seen them through those lenses. “Little doctor” got squeamish when he saw blood, and flourished when he grabbed paint, but you want him to become a medical doctor so today he’s stifling his soul to be someone he is not, in order to meet your expectations. And it’s killing him everyday. And he’s struggling, which is damaging his confidence. And he’s tried many times to try to get your permission to stop this madness, but you shut him down every time. That’s not selfish at all. No. You want what’s best for him. Is that what’s best for him?
Heard a story today of a girl struggling through law school for her parent’s sake, while all her heart would rather be thrown into design. Stories like that fill the Nigerian space. It’s who we are, and we are unchangeable as God, right?
There is a better way. I heard another story today, of an American parent. His son wanted to be a filmmaker, while the father wanted him to join the family business. The son had been involved in different parts of the business growing up, so before he went off to film school, his father asked him to at least consider a business challenge program for young executives. Since it was an easy compromise, the son understood and enrolled. Turned out, he knew so much about the business that he was performing well against executives in established companies. And using his film hobby, he created some of the best presentations in his group and came out with a good feeling. Today he runs his dad’s business and has expanded it into a global company. All because his father met him half way.
The typical Nigerian parent would command and expect the son or daughter to swallow themselves and do what is asked. Is this really the way? When you create such a hard line, you force them into self destructive patterns, where the more they hate themselves for what they’re becoming, the more they hate you for forcing that on them. Or they’ll meet people like me who will advise them to either accept to live for you, or rebel against your expectations and live as themselves. It’s a choice that you need not present them with. All I ask is that you slow down. Just a bit.
Your children aren’t robots. At some point in their lives, their own feelings, aspirations, generational influences, intelligence and desires kick in, that have little to do with you. That does not mean you should leave them to their devices. Guide them. Coach them. Influence them. Encourage them. Explore avenues to compromise with them. Understand them. They may end up exactly where you want them to, or not. At least, you’ll still have them.
Some of our parents already are this awesome, and I thank them for it.
And the others, even in their draconian ways, I know they mean well. Nigerian parents love fiercely, fiercer than most. We appreciate you for that. And we love you intensely as well, even in the toughest, darkest, hardest moment.
All we ask, is a little slowing down. A little room, for those who may not always stand up for themselves.
You risk losing them, and none of us want that. Right? I promise you they all want to make you proud. And you’ve raised them so they know what the rules are. So trust them enough, to let them stand on their feet.
I just had to get this off my chest.
On behalf of no one really,