The back-to-school fervor is in full effect. If you are AfriGen mother like me, you are probably telling yourself this is the year you’re going to be organized and on top of it all. Afterall, you’re raising second- or third-generation African children in the West and these little people have expectations of you. These expectations sometimes look like whatever hit Cosby Show-like family-centered sitcom is on TV at the moment. Because as a first generation African your mother or father didn’t sign up to chaperone a field trip, or know your teacher on a first name basis so you want to do things differently. You remember how it felt wondering why your mom was never a chaperone or never sent in cupcakes for your birthday celebration so you’re dead set on creating a new storyline for your children all while building your career or business.
For me, this year’s back-to-school scramble includes dropping off my oldest at the airport to start her second year of college, preparing my middle daughter for sophomore year of high school and making sure my very active eight year old makes it to third grade in one piece. I’ve been in the working-mother game for over decade now and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.
Your career or your business can coexist with motherhood
“The days are long and the years are short.” When you are in the thick of parenting and building your career, the days feel long and tiring. But I promise you, the years will fly by and only one thing will matter, how you successfully balanced motherhood with your career. You have to become comfortable with the fact that some days you’re going to be a great parent and some days you’re going to be knocking things out of the park in your career or business, but those two things will not happen simultaneously. If you are killing it work, you are probably missing a few things at home. It will never be a perfect balance, but both realms can coexist. To ensure both areas are thriving you must constantly assess which area needs your greater attention on a daily or weekly basis and you must listen to those instincts. It’s a constant back and forth and race for your attention and at the end of the year you win if both areas have points on the board. But remember, ‘team family’ should always win by a few points more.
Incorporate the positive lessons you learned from your African parents
African parents own the turf on making their children independent at an early age. This includes learning how to fix yourself a quick breakfast or dinner when mom or dad can’t get to it. It’s never too early to show your school-age son or daughter how to put together a non-stove breakfast or understand the importance of pulling out the frozen meat from the fridge for dinner way before mom’s car rolls into the driveway. And taking care of a younger brother or sister for a few hours before mom gets home won’t harm them despite what Parenting Magazine says. In our experience, being forced to watch a younger sibling creates lasting bonds and protectiveness between siblings. I am in my late thirties and my brothers will fight my battles with one single phone call.
Don’t perpetuate negative growing up African experiences
For some of us our parents didn’t make time to play with us or speak to us instead of speaking at us. Make time to really play with your child, put away the cellphones and find a board game or puzzle to put together. While you’re engaged in the activity, speak to them. Ask questions like how are you feeling about school? What’s on your mind lately, what do you worry about? Tell me about your friend so and so? Do this regularly, not just once in awhile. Make it a tradition to really be with them.
Listen to your child while on that back-to-school shopping trip. If the item they want is within your budget, no matter how hideous you find the item, just get it for them and move on. Allow them to express themselves creatively through their choice of clothing. Simply encourage them to choose without comment or disdain.
Always, always make it on time for that long awaited music rehearsal or sports game. Pencil it in your calendar and tell your boss well in advance that you will need to leave on time to make it to the event. Over the years I’ve been late or missed a few important school events for my kids and my oldest is in college and still reminds me of missing the event. Children never forget those moments. Make it a point to stay on top of your calendar and make their events top priority.
Create traditions and stick to them
Find traditions that work for your family and keep them up. A tradition is anything you all enjoy to do and connects your family or individual child. A few examples are decorating the house for fall or for the Christmas season with decor collected over the years or taking an annual trip to pick out a pumpkin or just baking meat pies for neighbors and friends. Whatever floats your boat, just do it and keep it up over the years. As children grow, they are less likely to remember your failings and remember the traditions that brought your family together.
If you get nothing out of this message, remember that creating your own idea of a working Afrigen mother is always a good starting place. Afterall we are trying to figure out this third place living and make things work as we go. Just keep going. The smell of autumn leaves and mornings spent looking for last night’s homework are just around the corner. I hope you find your work, family, and life rhythm this new school year.