In the majority of black homes, communication is reserved for adults – children are only there to take orders and make delivery of those orders.
As a teen, I noticed that in white homes when teens turn 18, they’re immediately regarded as adults and have a right to make adult decisions. This is not the case in most black households: if you do not contribute financially you’re a child, and that’s that.
There are rules and you simply have to follow them. If Sunday means church, then that’s where everyone is going, you can’t just decide you don’t want to go. If you dare utter words that suggest you have no desire to go to church, you risk facing the wrath of ridicule or even worse, a beating – because how dare you have an opinion under your parent’s roof. “Ukhule amabele ngoku ucinga umdala, akhomntu ohlala apha endlini yam ongazayo ecaweni? (You’ve grown breasts, now you think you’re an adult, no one under my roof will not attend church).’’
There’s little to zero opportunity for children to voice their opinions, even on matters that directly affect them. I’m by no means suggesting that a ten-year-old be allowed to have a say on whether they can have vegetables or not. But I am talking about young adults or teens who are capable of making decisions, particularly those that will ultimately change the course of their lives – like tertiary education.
When I was in my matric, I had little interest in chasing a career in the academic field. I couldn’t see myself as a doctor, a lawyer or even a teacher and civil engineer, as my mother so kindly insisted.
I wouldn’t say this was because I was bad in the subjects that are key in making entry into the above-mentioned career choices. Sure I hated math, but I still passed it because I am naturally a hard-worker.
It was really that I had no interest in any of those subjects. I loved words, and I had my head buried inside a book ever since I was 9-years-old. Then it was my head inside anything with words in it. All this reading had me develop intense hunger to know everything that is going on in the world around me. I was 17-years-old and I knew that I needed to challenge my parents and go for a career that I wanted.
I tasked myself with a full-proof presentation that carefully explained why I wanted to do media studies, with references of people who have made it in this industry, and a list of jobs I could do with a degree in this field. I described my traits which would make it likely for me to succeed in this career.
My mother did not fully grasp exactly what it is that I’d be doing, but she did give me a chance. Many Black parents are prideful, they place a lot of importance in titles, and they don’t want to be embarrassed and become a laughing stock in the community. I can understand this: our people didn’t always have the opportunity to acquire an education, and therefore our parents believe we cannot squander the privilege that has been handed over to us by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and many more who fought for our freedom. We shouldn’t waste this freedom on “arbitrary careers” that won’t bring us enough money to better the lives of members of our families.
And that is true. But that freedom should also mean that my generation and the one after mine get to choose the journeys of their lives. They need a chance to choose for themselves, the same way I was given a chance wrapped with unwavering support. Although there’s been a mental shift in how parents see creative or otherwise “unconventional” careers such as modelling, acting, and sports, which have proved that they can produce the sought-after titles and wealth, within many homes still lies scepticism. Some parents simply view these careers as hobbies, things to be done during free time, out of real work.
Many still fall into the trap of chasing careers their parents want for them instead of what they, themselves want to pursue. This is the reason I think parents need to be more open-minded and seek to understand the needs and the mindsets of their children.
The truth is, there’s no point in forcing your child to be a doctor when they don’t want to be one. It’s a waste of time and money. Even if they end up excelling in that field, chances are they are dreading every minute of it and might end up filled with resentment because they are living a lie.
They should instead choose for themselves, and if they change their minds only a year in, that’s completely fine too. Not all of us know from the get-go what we want to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a failure. It just means they’re finding themselves. There’s no way to find anything if you’re not looking.
Children need guidance, love and support – and these can go a long way in ensuring that a child will be successful – in whatever they choose to do.
Tell us: have you had to study something you weren’t really interested in?