The Way an Average Nigerian Parent Loves is Confusing As Fuck!
Zero is the number of times my parents have said they love me.
My dad has never said ‘good job!’ or kudos to me. Never.
Does he hate me? No, he doesn’t.
Does he love me? I believe he does. In his own way. I mean, he found a way to foot most of my bills — academic tuition, allowances, feeding, etc so yeah, he loves me. I wouldn’t do that for over 20 years for someone I don’t love. Never. But there’s no connection between us.
He’s there. I’m here. He didn’t cultivate a relationship with me. I didn’t either.
I love praises. I love compliments. Tell me, ‘well done, Nurein’ and I can live off that for a month. Instead, I have way more memories of the times he’s made me cry. Countless ‘kneel down, raise your hands, and shut your eyes’ sessions.
What about the time he spanked…You know what, that’s flowery English — the time he belted me because of 20 Naira (I don’t blame him for this though; it was totally stupid of me). Or the time he punished me for not understanding tenses. Oh, there’s a lot!
I don’t function well when the people I love are emotionally detached from me. But I’ve lived all my life with little praise. I’ve had a lot more memories of punishments than pats on my back.
How many times have your parents said, ‘good job!’ to you this year? In the past year? Since you were old enough to understand what ‘good job!’ means? How many times have they hugged you this year?
I was trying to get to my room a few days back and my mom and I met at the doorway (her room is opposite mine so this usually happens). I don’t know why but out of the blue, I hugged her. She was surprised so she asked, ‘Nurein, kílódé (why)?’ I didn’t say anything; I just remained that way.
A few seconds passed and she put her arms around me too. I had not felt that way in a long time. I can’t describe how it felt; I don’t think I have the words.
It wasn’t long before she tried to break the hug. Slowly, as I didn’t want to take both of my arms away, I took back one of her arms with my other hand signaling for her to return to the hug. ‘…mi ò kí ńse hugger,’ she murmured. That is, she’s not a hugger. She hesitated but in the end, we hugged for a long time.
I’m your child. There shouldn’t be a particular reason for me to hug you. I should just want to.
I don’t remember when she actually complimented me. But when I do something wrong, she’s quick to point that out. Why? Am I all bad? No good? I know she loves me but sometimes, in fact, every time, I think I want to be reminded that she does. Don’t love me by pointing out only my mistakes. No.
And this isn’t just me. All my friends have their own stories too. Stories of how their parents don’t invite conversations about their emotions. Nobody cares what’s on your mind in an average Nigerian home. Nobody even asks. All they care about is that you have food and shelter, which isn’t bad. I mean, if they don’t provide that, I wonder who or where we’d be today. But I think our parents could communicate their love in more physical ways.
There’s nothing wrong with subtle love, it’s just I want more. Yes, I want more.
I want more emotional connections. Communicating emotions is even more important. We are so used to keeping it all inside that it has turned to the norm. Our way of living encourages us to continue that way. Men don’t cry, they’d say. Women don’t do this; women don’t do that. Now, we don’t even talk about anything anymore.
This thing is a relationship. We should communicate. We should talk about how we feel. We should address the things we do to each other that hurt us. It shouldn’t be something that becomes a taboo to talk about.
My mom would do something I don’t like and she’ll notice I didn’t like it but she won’t apologize. Instead, we’d keep living as if nothing happened. Am I always the one at fault? You’re always right? Wow.
But why do they love that way? Why’s critiquing their default form of feedback? Why is the ratio of praise to punishment for the person they love that low?
Maybe it’s a cycle
Maybe that’s the way they know to love. That’s the way their parents loved them so, that’s the only way they know.
My dad’s dad had three wives (the official ones) and I don’t know how he did it because come on, it’s hard enough to fully satisfy one woman. So, I’m wondering how he could’ve loved all his 10 or so children.
Yeah, he catered for them, fed them, clothed them but did he have any deep or meaningful relationship with any of them?
Mm, I doubt. Could explain why the one that turned out to be my dad is the way he is.
Maybe it’s poverty
My parents are not rich. We just got by, somehow. Yeah, we had a roof over our heads, we ate at least once in a day but nope, we weren’t comfortable.
When you’re not comfortable, showing emotional love isn’t something you have the luxury to afford. You tend to think about how to make sure the family has enough food, enough clothes, enough, you know, money to keep up with rent. It’s like there’s so much problem, showing love or giving praise isn’t even on the list.
You can imagine little Nurein thinking cuddling while his parents thought about tuition.
Ìrònù ò papò rárá. Translation: Our thoughts are not at all similar.
Maybe it’s also their fault
We can blame everything but them, right?
But for reals, what about them? Didn’t they have any say in the matter?
See, in my previous relationship, I was like a child that wanted all the love he could get. I’d wrap myself in her arms and sometimes fall asleep that way. I think I found her arms comforting. I didn’t have that kind of comfort in my parents’ house.
My point is, I know a different kind of love. I know that touch and talk are key in a relationship. I don’t know if I want kids but if I decide to have kids, I will praise them. I will touch them. I will talk to them. I won’t love them the way my parents loved me.
Of course, I’d discipline them once in a while but I’d make sure they have more loving memories than awful ones.
What can we do about it?
Truth is, I don’t know. If you try to bend a hardened steel nail, it breaks (I stole this line online). They’ve been that way for how long now? 20, 30, 40 years? So, it’s hard to tell.
Maybe education could work
I’m not talking classes or YouTube. I’m talking about subtle mimic-like education. I’m talking random hugs to your mom. Spontaneously putting your head on her laps.
As I type that, I realize how weird that’d be with my mom. But the beauty is, she won’t reject it. She could hesitate but she won’t reject it. I think they are bad at extending or showing love but they are willing to accept. That way, it gradually turns into a normal thing that they can reciprocate later.
And it is very important that it be gradual. You don’t want to weird them out.
It’d need a lot of patience to work
It’s going to take a long time. An uncomfortably long one. 30–40 years is a long time to switch habits.
Honestly, I’m even being enthusiastic about this. Theoretically, the chances are slim. But, we hope anyways. It doesn’t hurt to try.
An average Nigerian parent will tell her child that she’s spoilt for wishing to have a deep and meaningful emotional connection with her parents. I’ve not experienced parenthood so I don’t how it is but I think it should be a deep emotional relationship.
A relationship between the parents and the children where communication is number one. A relationship where every member is respected. One where both positive and negative feedback is given.
I understand that affection could be difficult due to certain conditions but at least, let us balance the amount of punishment with praise.
I’ve lived all my life doubting how good a child I am to my parents. Not that they didn’t love me but they didn’t physically tell me they did (or still do).
They didn’t physically portray it.
And that has fucked me up.