Everything I Want to Unlearn From My African Mother — 7 African Women Share Their Stories

March 3, 2022

African Mothers! One minute they’re preparing your favorite meal, the next thing, they’re aiming for your head with a shoe. It can be a complicated relationship to navigate. As you get older, what are some of the things you’d like to unlearn from your African mother? In this article, seven African women talk about the things they want to unlearn from their mothers. 

“Forgiveness and walking away can co-exist”

— Patricia, 33, Nigeria

My mother is amazing and I love her to pieces, but I want to let go of her mentality towards forgiveness. When I was younger, my dad did a lot of unnecessary things. He was always angry and vulgar with words towards my siblings and me. My mother never complained or cautioned him. Whenever things escalated to being physical, I’d step in, but she’d scold me and ask me to apologise for standing up for us. She felt it was disrespectful to my father. Whether it was blocking a slap or walking away from a quarrel, I was wrong. Her rebuttal to my objection was usually, “You must learn to forgive.” It hurt. She wore “forgiveness” like a badge even when it was hurting everyone. When I got into uni, it was tough to set boundaries. With lovers, I was always overlooked, and with friends? I was the pushover. The world wasn’t very kind to me. After a friend tried to frame me for fraud at the bank, I knew I needed to change. I decided I can forgive someone and still end a relationship with them.

“I’m learning to choose rest”

— Laurel, 44, Sierra Leone

I lost my mother in 2017. I wish I told her how watching her become a workaholic made me feel guilty for resting. She was our superwoman. No matter how late she got in, my mother would make fresh soup for me and my siblings. She’d be on her feet no matter how much I tried to help. As she got older, I began to emulate that superwoman behaviour. When she passed away, I decided to put that hero complex to rest — Maybe it was the shock of death or the sudden realisation that I could be next, but losing my mother was the rude awakening I needed to try to dey rest sometimes. That or the warning the doctor gave me about my heart. Either way, superwoman had to also die at that grave.

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“Beauty is not vanity”

— Marabel, 29, Ghana

My mother wasn’t big on beauty when I was a child. Lip gloss, red lipstick, mascara — it’s all vanity, she’d say. Even putting on that white Enchanteur powder all the girls in school were wearing those days  was a big problem for her. As I got older, I felt out of place. Girls could switch it up for dinner dates or getting into skincare and I was always Plain Jane. Now, don’t get it twisted, I never felt ugly. I just wish my mum didn’t attach everything that had to do with beauty as vanity. Imagine being 20 and unable to let myself buy lipgloss. Thank God for my university friends that dragged me into the stores. It’s been a tough road but I’ve had to learn to embrace my feminine energy. The funny part? When I started to buy makeup and skincare items, my mother would casually stroll into my room to try them out. Clearly, she needed someone to show her that it’s okay to be pampered as well. 

“I don’t always want to be angry”

— Seun, 28, Nigeria

In my home, my mother is practically the head of the home. Even my father doesn’t dare challenge her. It’s so difficult to connect with her and even more challenging to live under  her roof. She’s always agitated. There’s no day she’s not shouting or picking an argument over minor things. If it’s not the funny way you greeted her, it’s something you said as a joke that she’s found disrespectful. I try my best to overlook it — not like I have a choice, anyway — but I’m tired of it all. Getting it right with my younger siblings has been my priority this year. I don’t want to be as snarky and difficult as a person. If they think I’m going off the rails, they’ll sit me down for a conversation. I really want to learn to keep an open mind with communication.  It’s difficult to unlearn because I already see it as normal, but I’ll keep trying. Maybe one day I’ll open up to my mother. As for now, I’m still living in her house — the slap after any rebuttal is inevitable.

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“I deserve a soft life too”

— Lu, 31, Nigeria

You see that spirit of cooking every second of the day? I’ve rebuked it in my life. My mother is such a people pleaser and conditioned to be a homemaker by her own mother. Typically, people want to give out money. As for my mother, it’s food. This woman can spend the whole day on her feet. If it’s not moi-moi we’re wrapping for a community group in church, it’s plates of jollof rice we’re packing for the women in her office. Before you call me a witch, I applaud her for being so generous. However, I don’t want to spend the weekends I come to visit my mum washing moi-moi leaves abeg. The woman has Arthritis and still stands on her feet. I’ve tried getting her a help, but she ends up sending them away. For me, I’m unlearning this desire to cook for the nation. If I want to help, I’d rather give money or buy the food instead.

“I don’t want to work myself to the ground”

— Peach, 26, Benin Republic

I didn’t get to see my mother a lot, and the few times  I did, she wasn’t exactly present. For me, I want to work on being present with people I care about. My mother was a workaholic with an alcohol problem and I hated it. She was a competitive — too competitive for her own good — woman trying to get to the top. While that’s commendable, I want to unlearn that culture of burying myself in work to prove a point. Now, anything I can’t finish in the office won’t come home with me. I won’t work myself to the ground and end up drowning myself in alcohol.

“Just say sorry”

— Demola, 27, Nigeria

The Association of Nigerian Mothers needs to review their  rule of never apologising. That’s one thing I want to unlearn from my mother. I hate how every conversation on saying sorry turned into a backstory on all the ways I remind her of my father. She’d talk about how he’d make her kneel down to apologise after every argument. It was just her way of avoiding the conversation anytime I brought up something annoying she did. Anything about apologising made her so defensive and I want to change that moving forward.  

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