By Dassy Kemedijo
I don't know much about parenting. Growing up as a second-generation immigrant in the suburbs, many times it felt like my parents were learning how the world worked at the same time as me. It wasn't as if they were uneducated or inexperienced, it was simply the fact that America was radically different from Cameroon, so they were forced to adjust and adapt.
On top of all of this, I was the oldest child, meaning that I had to contend with being Black in America, being a young woman in America, and being the child of high-achieving immigrants. My upbringing was multilayered and messy, contented and complex. I definitely didn't have a similar childhood to my White counterparts, but it also didn't necessarily line up with the experience of my African-American friends.
The cultural differences combined with the constant pressure to always be the best could be stifling, even when I recognized their good intentions. Like I said before, I don't know much about parenting, but I do know how I was raised and I have a good idea of what I would have changed.
Let's go back to what I meant by "high-achieving."
My dad is a French professor at the top university in my city, and my mother is a nurse manager in one of our major hospital systems. They each have post-graduate degrees, and they both worked incredibly hard to get to where they currently are. I was always proud to have successful parents who embodied the concept of Black excellence. Seeing this gave me the desire to excel in all aspects of life.
While this mindset did lead to accomplishment, the constant demand that I always be "perfect" (or as close to it as possible) and the pressure I was putting on myself was detrimental to my confidence and my mental health. There were times I saw
grades as the only thing that mattered, whether school was in session or not... I always
had to strive for something more, something higher, something greater. Looking back, I don't believe I was allowed the opportunity to fail enough. I never considered that everything would be alright if I wasn't the best at something.
Both of my parents are headstrong people who can be difficult to argue with, so it was a matter of being actually listened to, and not just heard. My father, ever the intellectual, would often dismiss any argument when l was a ten-year-old who barely knew what research was. My mother was extremely protective, but sometimes to a fault, which meant no sleepovers or late-night outs. l could understand this when I was in elementary or even middle school, but by high school I had grown to resent it.
Their restrictive rules and omnipotent expectation left me feeling caged in. That feeling still lingers within me.
To this day, it's hard for me to speak up for myself to my parents. I don't want to worry them, or make them angry, I especially don't want to disappoint them. That's the worst. Where anger incites and energizes me, disappointment shuts me down and makes me feel
I often compare how they treated me to how they treated my younger brother. Our burdens of expectation were unequal, and gender roles factored into that. I had to be the model child, the flawless big sister, paving the ideal path to perfection.
But who is perfect? Who is without fault?
For a long time, I felt like I couldn't communicate if I was feeling inadequate, if I was feeling human. l have gotten better, but it has taken plenty of time and self-reflection. I need to force myself to be heard and it's not easy, it's never easy. But it's necessary.
To be clear, I don't begrudge my parents. They did the best job raising me with the backgrounds they had. My siblings and I are all healthy young adults, and we're on
the way to doing great things in this life. This pressure could be toxic, but it has also shaped me to be an ambitious and hard working woman. The distance of college has allowed me to take a step back and reflect on their motives, and I appreciate them. While I wish that we
had had more open communication, I can only effect what is happening right now.
I take what I have learned and I grow. I grow with my parents of course, but I also focus on my own growth. I love them for all they've taught me. But most importantly. I've learned to love myself.
That is the most vital lesson of all.