Children are the joy of every parent. They are a treasure and can never be over-loved or out-loved by their parents. Raising them requires time, money and physical energy. Raising children as Africans in the United States can be an even more demanding task in its own way.
Due to the need for a better life, African parents are more than eager to give birth to their children outside of the continent of Africa, thereby securing a better future for their children. However the main question that bothers every single African parent incorporated into the American society is : “How do you raise an African Child in the US?”
It is no surprise that the way a child is raised shapes the way he/she sees the world; discipline also determines how the world sees the child. It is also no secret that the blacks and whites raise their children differently. White children are frequently allowed to “explore the world” or “expressing their displeasure with a decision a parent has made”. Black children on the other hand are taught to accept the word of their parents and often taught to be polite in public.
Raising children of African descent in the US is not an easy task because children are torn between two cultures; the ethnic and mainstream culture, racial discrimination, inability to be given fair opportunity due to skin color and many other reasons. As a black parent, it is imperative to teach your children African cultural set of values, it is also most imperative that you help them understand that there is more to their history than slavery.
Challenges faced by African Parents
Although there are several variables that contribute in shaping childhood culture in different settings, some school of thought have identified three specific sites of construction: the home, the school and the media. Children are impacted by what they see and do in their homes and communities, what they learn from school and what they read about their African culture from the media. One of the major challenges faced by African parents in the Diaspora is that these sites are fraught with tension, partly because the sites most often manifest values that do not only undermine African culture, but debase them, thereby complicating the child rearing process in the Diaspora.
Another cultural challenge faced by African parents in raising children in the Diaspora is the food. While some children of African immigrants may use food to assert or reject their Africanness as they negotiate an identity they are comfortable with, or an identity that pleases or provokes their parents, there are others still, who use food as an outlet to liberate themselves from the cultural domination that prevails both at home and in the world away from home. Some African parents are used to the African food and may find it difficult to get their children to adjust to a different food diet. Also, meals served in African homes are different from meals served in school cafeteria’s and in fast food restaurants, hence making it difficult for children to adapt. This may also mean adapting to the culture of that space and most often when this happens, the home culture is relegated to the background.
Another source of concern for African parents has to do with the children’s experience at school. This is because although most African use English as their primary medium of communication with colleagues, at home they tend to communicate in their mother tongue or a lingua franca they have grown up with in their origin country. Therefore, while raising children in the Diaspora, some African parents insist that their children speak their mother tongue while in their home, and English while in the school as they see English as a means to an end. However, the transition between home language and school language can be very tenuous as gradually some African children begin to regard the language spoken at home to be inferior because many of their mainstream friends are unfamiliar with it.
As African parents (especially fathers) struggle to raise children in the Diaspora, and work hard to maintain their authority in the home, and respectability as professionals at work, they must also contend with the omnipresence of the media that in a way also undermines the authority of the African parent. The consumer culture celebrated by the media and the ideal images of person-hood spread, further dis-empower them and continue to “childify” them, for although they may have control at home over the amount of television and quality of shows watched, they have no control over what their children watch elsewhere and how it affects their sense of selves or shapes their values. Some, however, counterbalance these with homemade movies of their old culture, and self-published books on particular aspects of their culture. As current research has shown that children in the US know more than their parents and depending on the child, they may use this information for good or for bad.
Overwhelmed with these kinds of problems, some African parents who can afford it send their children back to their countries of origin to be raised by relations or grandparents. This way, they believe they can somehow ensure that their children are well grounded in their home culture before returning back to the United States as young adults to further their education.
Possible Solutions to these Problems
African parents may need to rethink their relationship with the new world that has become their home. Steps should be taken by African parents to bridge the long gap between the mainstream and home culture by making room in their consciousness to understanding the mainstream culture of their new homes. Also, African parents are advised to educate themselves on the laws of their new country and make sure that cultural practices from our countries of origin do not violate any aspects of these laws. Our children would then begin to see some kind of consistency between the rules implemented at home and those enforced at school or in a larger society.
African parenting groups can also help in imbibing in children the cultural values from home. Getting children to connect and relate with other Africans would help to bridge the gap African children have in making new friends especially mainstream culturally inclined ones who either stigmatizes them, bullies or even influence them to see their home culture as backward. But associating with children from same African descent would help in bridging that gap.
Sources: The Journal of Pan African Studies; Wikipedia
Patrick Eronmwonse Ogbekhilu