I was confronted by a very queer spectacle last week. In pursuit of our obsession with playing the game of squash, my friend, Tayo Koleosho and I went for a very exerting squash session in Columbia. Outside of the court was this Asian woman barking out instructions to her 14-year-old boy who was being coached by one of America’s top squash players. She was livid each time the boy erred and many times, stormed into the court to tell the boy how he should play. I was told she paid a princely sum to register the boy for hourly squash sessions. Outside were positioned two cameras to record the boy’s progress and apparently, for the boy to watch thereafter and see his drawbacks.
I felt she was being too harsh on the boy and told my friend. Some Nigerian squash player friends also hopped into the session and thereafter, a discourse on tiger parenting, as is customary with Asian parents and especially mothers, as well as the elephant parenting, that many Nigerian patents have exemplified, came up. First, argued my friend, this Asian mother was convinced that her son would soon become a global squash icon. The cameras were meant to allow the world to see the graph of his mutation in future documentaries. This is unlike us in Africa where stars just happened on us as if they sprung from nowhere.
Second, he argued, the Tiger mom is more desirable than the model we have in Nigeria today. Don’t forget that Nigerian mothers were recently said to have constituted themselves into the association of mothers of scammers. Parents abet their wards in their asocial behaviour and some are recorded to bribe teachers and lecturers to make their wards pass school examinations. The Tiger mom is a very strict mother who gets her child to work very hard in school, and at other activities, such as music, so that they can be successful thereafter. The phrase was a coinage and description of the strict style of bringing up children that is renowned with parents in China and East Asia.
This counterpoises the Elephant mom, coined by Yale law professor Amy Chua, in her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Explaining the terminology, it is said that elephant parents refer to ones “who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.” While studies examining the two concepts show that the Tiger parenting can be harmful to children’s mental health and psychological well-being, it is what groomed many of the adults of today in positions of responsibility in Africa. Many of us still have scars of koboko and slaps from our parents while growing up. A study however submits that, in comparison to an Elephant mom which is a more supportive parenting style, adolescents of tiger parents “were more likely to feel depressed and alienated from their parents.”
In parenting, as well as other requirements of the social fabrics of a modern world, my own submission is that Africa must not discard a method that has stood it in good stead for centuries now. It is a method that is steeped in communal values. Yoruba break this down into granules by saying that oju merin lo bi’mo, igba oju lo nto, meaning that though a couple begets a child, the entire world is responsible for their siring. Following alien values of individualism of the western world that sire mechanistic offspring, Africa is neglecting communalism and Tiger parenting which produced children girded by values. It is why some mothers can be as audacious as to come out in the open to announce that they had formed an association of mothers of scammers.
On Thanksgiving Day, I visited my cousins, the Oluwalades of Akure, Ondo State, in Baltimore, Maryland. I was so excited at the communal spirit of this family. Thanksgiving being a holiday period, they yearly come together, from all parts of America, wherever they reside, in an amazing spirit of oneness that wowed me. At this meeting, Yoruba is spoken by all offspring and family members get to know one another. For me, it was an amazing spectacle.
What helps me to explain the Oluwalades in America is a book written by same Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, who are both Yale university Law School professors, entitled, The Triple Heritage. The central argument in the book is that some ethnic groups starkly outperform the others due to their distinct cultural traits. These are what they call the superiority complex, sense of insecurity and impulse control factors. The Yoruba will call the first the mo omo eni ti iwo nse cultural complex – remember the son of whom you are. Like Mormons, from a religious perspective, Igbo and Yoruba exemplify this superiority complex. It is why these tribes from Nigeria are rated the most successful immigrants in America today. The social and financial anxieties of not going back to the poverty in Nigeria are reason for the second insecurity factor responsible for their successes, while the impulse control factor is the self-discipline we acquire while growing up. All these factors for success, which are fast receding, were created in us from growing up as Nigerians.
While we advocate an economic Eldorado and a prosperous Nigeria that may come at a God-knows-when, we must return to those values that will pad such Eldorado, if and when it comes. Let the Yoruba return to the values of respect for elders and communal living; the Igbo return to theirs and the Hausa too. Or else, we will, as we are fast doing now, morph into some Dracula, machines, without feeling, empathy and requisite values that can distinguish us in a fast-paced world.