DIGITAL STORIES

I’m Not The Mother!

By Tola Folarin Coker



So, what's it like being a daughter in an ethnic household? Not fun, but I'll explain.


To put it this way, it's more like being trained than it is being raised. For many of us, being a girl or femme-presenting person in a BAME household means learning personal and familial responsibility at a young age. Though it's not an exclusive experience, it is an experience chronically common in BAME families, and it's heavily ingrained in our various cultures.



"For many of us, being a girl or femme-presenting person in a BAME household means learning personal and familial responsibility at a young age."



It's not that being taught responsibility from an early age is wrong; it only becomes an issue when the boys in the house aren’t held to the same standards. They're simply allowed to exist in the house, to be lazy and allowed to be expectant of other people – always having things done for them whether they ask or not, regardless of age.



"It's not that being taught responsibility from an early age is wrong; it only becomes an issue when the boys in the house aren’t held to the same standards."



One day you're minding your business, playing with your Bratz Fashion Pixiez Sasha doll, and the next you're being held hostage in the kitchen, your mum is trying to get you to learn how to make Jollof rice, only for you to get bored and walk away each time and end up suffering the consequences when you get to uni. It's like the moment you've developed fine motor skills is when your family decides to stick a dustpan and brush in your hands; if you don't do it right, mum is shouting the house down.

Or how about being held responsible for the actions of your siblings, despite freshly turning 10 years old. Or being labelled "mum number two" and having to unpack the weight of that in therapy several emotionally exhausting years later.


I was 9 when my brother was born; despite being in the midst of my 11+ prep, I was also expected to help out at home. Which is fair, I guess, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel like I was doing more work than a 9-year-old girl should be doing. Learning how to sterilise his bottles, making his formula, bathing him... you get the gist. It was a lot of responsibility for a child.


Not so long ago, I brought up how I thought it was funny that I was yet to see my now thirteen-year-old brother do his own laundry. Now, I would like it on record that my sister and I had been doing our own laundry since the age of at least 10 or 11, and even started ironing our uniform around the same time, give or take. But had I seen this boy even smell fabric softener? No. Why? Because our parents never made it a thing for him to learn… interesting.


My sister and I would have a weekly chore table, and we wouldn't hear the end of it if it wasn't done. On the other hand, my brother has to be told 100 times to do something, but even if it doesn't get done, there’s no consequences. I, however, wouldn't see my DS for 2-3 business days.

Though it was more of an impassioned speech than it was a conversation, my dad half-jokingly said, "It's fine; his wife will deal with it." This widely held belief keeps boys getting coddled and raises girls to play the roles of mother and wife when they get into relationships. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times; I will not allow my brother to grow up and be useless and embarrass me. God forbid his wife complains to me about him not helping around the house, or even worse, thinks that it's normal behaviour.


But the most frustrating thing is that when I bring up these valid points, I'm told that I should just teach him myself if it bothers me so much. The last time I checked, I wasn't the one that gave birth to him.


This mindset continues to enable boys well into adulthood by relying on caretakers, while leaving the girls in their lives to watch on the side-lines. And ironically enough, it's something the mothers have a strong hand in, despite being victims of it themselves.



"And ironically enough, it's something the mothers have a strong hand in, despite being victims of it themselves."



Being the oldest daughter and, in turn, being pushed into the role of a caretaker, can very easily lead to feeling some resentment - not only towards the parents but your brother(s) as well, and that's not fair because he's only a product of his environment.


In the end, culture and patriarchy heavily influence how boys and girls are treated and perceived in a BAME home. Though it's surely without malice, this treatment rarely ever has a positive outcome, not for the daughter, sons or the parents. Inevitably, it's the women who have to work to deal with this time of trauma at some point down the line. So TDLR, instead of moulding young girls into ‘mini-mums’, let’s agree to stop coddling our sons and teach them how to take responsibility for themselves.