Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
For many young Nigerian women, this week’s interview may mirror the relationship you have with your mother. Strained connections with mothers who barely got to know you as you grew up and are suddenly trying to foster a deeper relationship with you now that you are in your 20s.
Describe your mum in one word?
Hmm, this is a tough one. Narcissistic, that will be the word. I’m not allowed to say that abi? How dare I insult my mother? But it’s not an insult it’s who she is.
How would you describe your relationship?
Tumultuous. We just never got along. Like apart from the fact that Nigerian parents think they have no business trying to be your friend, my mother and I clashed on every level. It’s hard for me to think up any memory where we were alone together, just chilling. It’s always fighting and abuse. It’s almost like we had some kind of deep dislike for each other.
Dislike is a heavy word
I know, but I literally can’t think of a better-suited word. From as early as I can remember I’ve felt nothing but animosity towards her. When I was 13 I suddenly sprouted breasts like most of my mates, my mother’s reaction to that was to go into my room one day, seize all the clothes she determined to be too ‘revealing’ of my shape and replace them with clothes two sizes too big. I was thirteen for fuck’s sake. No conversation nothing. Of course, when I started crying and raging she slapped me till I shut up about it.
Do you have any fond memories?
See ehn even things that should be fond memories are tainted. Like birthdays for example. On my birthday the standard was to get a cake, a dress and take pictures. No party o, nothing else. I used to dread the hell out of it because she’d somehow make it all about her. Imagine someone screaming at you on your birthday about everything and anything. She’d start shouting in the morning about how she already knew I was going to make the day stressful for her and I shouldn’t stress her. Like “can’t you see all I’m doing for you?”.
On my tenth birthday, for some reason, she invited a couple of my friends from school. She didn’t even consult me, she just went straight to their mothers and they showed up on the day. We hadn’t even started playing games or anything when someone spilt Fanta. She asked everyone to come and be going and told me to go to my room. That was it, birthday over. And trust that she was screaming throughout. By my twelfth birthday, I realised I didn’t want any of it. Like if I’m going to get screamed at and even smacked a couple of times on top birthday cake and pictures, keep it. Just leave me in my room to be reading my books.
What’s the most difficult part of your relationship?
The way she manages to make everything about her. It’s like magic, there is no major life event that has happened to me that didn’t somehow become about her. I remember stumbling on a Reddit thread where people were complaining about their mums who had Narcissistic Personality Disorders and a light bulb went off in my head like that’s my mum. I didn’t even know there was a name for it.
On the day of my secondary school graduation, she made us leave right after the ceremony because she didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic that would build up when everyone else was leaving. I told her that I understood and she should let me go home with someone else. She said no that I must follow her to take pictures with her and the family at home so she could go and sleep. Pictures that we could have taken in the school.
When I graduated from Uni I didn’t want to go for my graduation mostly because of her. She threw a whole fit, called all of our extended family that the reason I wasn’t going was just to spite her after all her years of support. I still didn’t go that was the first time I put my foot down about anything.
And how has your relationship evolved since then?
I now have my peace. See, no is such a magical word I’ve never known such peace since I discovered that if I tell my mother no, she won’t die and I won’t die. It helps that I’ve been financially free since my fourth year of Uni. I always had side hustles. If I wasn’t making hair, I was making food, then I opened my Instagram store and that has been a big blessing in my life since. Because money was a tool in her hands. The way money worked in my house was that it went from my dad to my mum before it reached me. Once it touched her hand she was a god. I’d be jumping through hoops of fire just to collect money for something as simple as a handout from her.
How did your dad fit into the dynamic of your relationship?
How much time do you have? Because that one is a story for another day. He was just very absent. When I think up childhood memories he was like a foggy shadow in the corner. He was there but he wasn’t really there. Long hours at work and even longer businesses trips. I think a lot of my mother’s frustration with him she took out on me. So I guess that’s one way in which he affected our relationship.
How would you describe your feelings towards her?
There’s a lot of hurt. There always has and there always will be. There are just so many painful memories of her being both physically and emotionally abusive I could never get past. I’ve never been able to even bring myself to talk about the worst of it.
One time she was driving into our estate and saw me talking to a boy she jumped out of her car with the engine still running slapped me to the ground and dragged me by my braids into the car. She was using one hand to beat me and the other hand to drive till we got home. When we got home she just kept on screaming that I was a useless girl and it wasn’t in her house that I’ll get pregnant and disgrace her. She got a pair of scissors and cut half of the braids on my head along with my hair. I had to shave the whole thing. I was 16 and I didn’t even know the boy I was talking to he was asking for my number and I was telling him to leave me alone when she saw us. I have dozens of stories worse than this.
Have you ever tried to talk to her about it?
There’s no point it’ll only be a waste of my time. As far as she’s concerned I was a wayward child who needed discipline and the only reason I’m where I am today is because of how she raised me. The truth is I’m where I am today despite how she raised me. Thank God.
Have you ever tried to salvage the relationship in any other way?
No, I haven’t. You can only salvage something that existed before and was damaged abi. You can’t salvage something that doesn’t exist.
Do you think she feels the same way?
I don’t know how she feels exactly. I know that she has been friendlier since I moved out last year. Hasn’t even screamed at me once. She now has an odd way of talking to me as if we are guys. Like on WhatsApp she can send ‘how far now, how you dey?’ She never used to ask how I was. Like literally, before I moved out, I had never heard this woman say the words ‘how are you now’ to me. If you look through our messages you’ll only find instructions. Things like ‘Make sure to make era and boil rice by 7 pm’.
So she’s reaching out? How do you feel about it?
My initial reaction was and still is ‘leave me, I don’t want’. Just leave me alone abeg, I’ve moved out we are no longer at each other’s throats, I’m not trying to be friends with her. I’ll do what is expected of me as a daughter. The usual obligations, send money, visit occasionally, show up when she’s sick and dying. But I’m not about to form padi padi with her, especially when she has refused to acknowledge the years of hurt and emotional damage she caused. I don’t know how to forgive her and I don’t think I want to.