I recently read an article where some interviewees stated that raising kids between the cultures of Senegal and America while residing in the US is literally impossible. While I think that it is in fact possible, it is not easy to accomplish. Parents must constantly negotiate cultural clashes while being sensitive to how confusions can negatively affect children. Most of our SenAmerican homes tend to naturally favor the Senegalese culture. Our attempts to “not lose” our “Senegaleseness” often lead to our children being taught one thing at home, and another at school, making it difficult for them to reconcile both.
Recently, my daughter wrote a list of chores and said that her teacher had told her that she could earn money at home by doing chores. I was shocked that the teacher had the audacity to introduce her to the notion that she could be paid for doing something I believe any responsible member of a family should do and not expect a reward. But I knew that we live in a culture where this is widely practiced, and even applauded. I had to be smart about how I spoke to my daughter about it. After I recovered from my shock, I asked her to come up with a list of all things that mommy does in the home. When we went over five minutes of enumerating “mommy’s chores,” I asked her to pay me a dollar for each item, each time I did it. Her eyes doubled in size as she realized that she could not possibly pay me. I then explained to her that I do what I do because it is my responsibility as a mother and a member of the family, and that each member of the family has a responsibility to the whole. We do it because we love each other and must contribute to the running of the household, not because we want to be paid. I talked to her about having an allowance and that she would get $.50 for every year of her age. I was careful to explain to her that an allowance is not something we owe her, and that it is our way of helping her have money for herself because she is not old enough to have a job! I also think that the idea of allowance helps children learn financial responsibility while giving them some freedom in acquiring things they want.
This strategy worked out quite well but I must confess that I am not always as lucky with parenting young children in America. For example, I am still struggling to teach my kids that mommy and daddy’s room is not a playground, and that when adults are talking a child does not get involved. One of the strengths of the Senegalese model of parenting is that it is often done within an extended family where other adults and sometimes neighbors, contribute to raising children. Children are socialized to know their place. There is a division of space within the home where children understand playing does not happen in bedrooms. While it is possible to teach these rules in America, it is not always easy because of the nuclear family. Many of our homes do not have other adults other than mommy and daddy. We tend to do everything with our kids. Although I love spending as much time as possible with my children, I think that our nuclear families make it difficult to teach them independence within the home.
Another area where I am struggling is extra-curricular activities for kids. Growing up, I played team handball and never expected my parernts to come see me play. In fact, I do not think my mother ever saw me play. She would hear from strangers about what a wonderful player I was but never found it necessary or important to come to one of my games. I have a vague memory of my father coming to one game but I might have dreamed about that. Although I wished that my parents would see me play, it was not the end of the world. I don’t think it did anything to my self-esteem nor did I feel unloved by my parents. In America on the contrary, parents who do not show up at their child’s soccer practice or play recital are seen as bad parents. It also seems that American parents want their kids to do it all. Kids are engaged in several extra-curricular activities that they often do not like and parents, especially mothers, spend their week chauffeuring them from one place to another. I refuse to buy into this culture and tell my kids to identify one activity and stick to it as long as they like it enough to invest the time in it. My kids are fairly young and their commitment to a sport or instrument is very short. I am sure there will be a time when they would want to do something consistently. Even then, I would insist that they stick to a maximum of two.
The most challenging aspect of parenting in America is the issue of spanking children. In Senegal, spanking is accepted and used as punishment whereas in America, it is frowned upon and parents who practice it are viewed as abusers. I honestly have mixed feelings about this but I have opted to not spank my children. I have never been a fan of the practice but after having kids, I can see why some parents revert to the stick to keep some children in line. My apprehension is about its effectiveness. If the point of corporal punishment is to inflict pain on the child, I believe it can be accomplished with other means such as taking away beloved possessions and other privileges. I don’t however believe that every parent who chooses to spank their child is an abuser because there is spanking and there is beating up a child. The first when practiced necessarily could be fine while the second is abuse.
Parenting in America is difficult because as parents, we too are caught in between two cultures, yet, we must raise children within this space. Knowing how to negotiate these two worlds is not easy but I think it can be done if we pick what we think is positive in each culture and combine them. This requires a lot of work and trying out different strategies. There are many other parenting areas I struggle with such as religion, food, and language, to which I will dedicate entire posts.
I look forward to hearing from parents. Please share your parenting struggles and tips.