I asked my nineteen-year-old daughter to tell me what she’d like mothers (and fathers if they can take it) to know about preparing their girls for romantic relationships. Here’s what she said.
Transitioning from ‘stay away from boys’ to ‘why are you single’ with an African mother is something just short of traumatic. For the longest time, sneaky cinema dates and calculated lies were the closest thing my peers and I ever had to a real relationship.
It was a matter of having one of your friends provide the perfect alibi for you as you spent time with a boy who no longer crosses your mind, but at the time the secrecy fuelled his appeal. The thought of your mother ever acknowledging your budding sexuality would send chills down your spine making the whole ordeal a lot more enticing than, in retrospect, seems rational.
The dreaded question
Then one day you’re in the kitchen making tea and your mother looks at you. You think, ‘oh no, now I’m going to have to do the dishes’ but instead she asks, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ I can’t really put into words the confusion at that moment.
It honestly sounds like a trick question; a way for her to single you out and give the notorious ‘you should be studying’ lecture and deter you from the possibility of a teenage pregnancy. Or is she actually being serious and you can finally tell her about the boy that walks you to class and sits next to you in the library? No… definitely a trick question.
At 16 surely it was understandable that I would have taken some sort of interest in finding intimacy with a boy but that was never a topic that constituted a discussion. For a long time it appeared as though boys were a no go zone and then over-night we were allowed to be these explorative and curious young women ready to find a man.
How am I supposed to know what a relationship should be like?
This polarised approach to embracing your daughters as young women is unhealthy. By not addressing the authentic nature of intimate companionship with us, we never actually know what a relationship is supposed to look like. So, we take the first thing that we can get and run with that because we do not always feel as though we are in positions to simply ask ‘Mama, is this boy good for me?’
Now the first boy that I am interested in makes me cry all the time, but all of my friends are in similar situations spurring a classic ‘blind leading the blind’ type situation. Then by 17 our mums are asking what is happening in our love lives but because of the taboo nature this subject has thus far embodied, we are not completely honest.
How can we be? We are still only dipping our toes into the waters. As genuine as you think you are being, you are having to shed years and years of apprehension in order to have this conversation. As a starter, just to see if I can really tell you what is going on, I’ll tell you that I like a boy, or worse, that I love him and in comes the comment ‘you don’t know what love is.’ 1 step forward, 3 steps back.
The not so human mother
As a young woman it is difficult to vulnerably admit your very human feelings to your not so human mother. A woman who has raised you and is supposed to know you inside out yet she restricted this very natural part of you growing up until she was able to handle it.
The dismissal of the validity of a young girl’s emotions is what drives her to people who will make her feel valid at any cost. Even to the point where she fails to recognise what the long-term consequences of her toxic introduction to dating are.
Your mother teaches you how to walk, then how to brush your teeth, then how to comb your hair and how to swallow without choking. Why then must the non-platonic emotions I begin to have become the one avenue I must navigate alone?
Yes, by 18 I am able to recognise when a man does not have my best intentions at heart but this is more often than not because my friends and I had to recognise the bruises on each other ourselves, and if I’m lucky my older sister stepped in to help. This itself is a best-case scenario running from the assumption that your mother even does ask you about your love-life at 17.
Please teach your daughters
It is very easy for a mother to look at the man her daughter decides to bring home and question her judgement but have you ever wondered maybe we become involved with them because we never got the chance to ask you if he was good enough for us? I did not know that crying more than I was laughing was not love.
I did not know that being uncomfortable around him and his friends was not love. I did not know that suffering was not love. You did not teach me. So when you ask about the boy in my life and you seem to want to guide me along please understand that keeping so much in the dark is actually what led me astray.