The Guilt of an African Mother.

7 Min Read

August 25, 2012 By SadiaSisay

As I sit here, on the day after my 16 year old daughter received her GCSE results I am experiencing a whole host of emotions.

The first one is when did I become an adult with a 16 year old! Where did the time go? She is still my baby and in two years time she will be hopefully leaving home to go to university.

More importantly though, I am trying to dissect what type of mother I have been, being an immigrant from Sierra Leone, bringing up a daughter in the UK. Even though I had lived in the UK for over 10 years before she was born, I had had no interest whatsoever in the schooling system until I had to use it! Being lucky enough to have been able to access private education in Sierra Leone, my decision to go the private route was more due to ignorance of the UK school system and more to do with my own experience. It even had less to do with money as I was on a measly nurse’s salary and that was 1995! Mu husband was not bring much home either then. So from day one in school and her education choices had heavily influenced by the fact that her mother was not schooled in the UK.

As we went through primary school, I developed a reputation with the parents as having incredibly high expectations of her. I was never someone who talked much about my expectations but it does come through and inferred through conversations. Probably never saying it okay for her to Bs was a sign? Her school would grade them from year 3 and me saying her Bs in first term had to be improved by the second or third term seemed to be deemed as a little bit too much. Many a time I would leave a dinner party, school occasion or event where parents talk feeling a bit guilty. I spent numerous hours watching my little girl for signs of stress or that I was pushing her too much. I found myself being embarrassed to discuss any of her achievements. I watched her excel in academics, music and and sport. I found myself limiting the activities she could do so I was not a mother who ran around taking her for every after school activity there was. She could do activities within school but never any extra outside activities on Saturdays or evenings ( I did try for a few months with a Saturday drama class). I just did not want to be deemed a pushy mother!!

11+ exams loomed and she did extremely well and got into a top North London girls private school, even then I somehow felt guilty for turning down a place in a top girls grammar school.This guilt seems to a recurrent feature in my life! When she was 10, I bought a journal in which I wrote in and she could read. It was my way of getting her to know me and develop a relationship with her as she got older….I read that last night and realised how much I questioned my decisions around her education. By reading my own words, I seemed to be in a constant dilemma  that not being schooled here and by instilling these high standards of educational expectation in her because she was an ethnic minority, I may not be doing right by my child.

We constantly hear that immigrant parents really push their children. For me it was a mixture of reasons why it was not an option to have anything less than excellence from my daughter. The first and most important was she was more than capable, The next is that in all these years she has been a happy and joyful child to be around. She has never appeared to be under extreme pressure and has thrived when challenged. Another is I know what a hard time I had as an immigrant and I just was good at everything I did, including cleaning other peoples homes when a student nurse, stacking supermarket shelves and whatever jobs I did. Finally, I am bringing up a black woman. No matter what is said that things are getting better for minorities(they are), I refuse to leave it up to chance as I still experience negative attitude towards me still too often to rest on my laurels and believe my daughter will have equal opportunities. So yes, I am guilty of having told her she has to be 10 times better due to her race!

So as I sit here, looking at 10 A stars and As as her GCSE results, I give her all the credit for working hard and give myself a day to bask in the glow and refuse to feel guilty until the first week September when she starts sixth form and her International Baccalaureate journey!

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