Whether you are mama, mamogolo, rakgadi, mmane, makazi, makhulu, mamncane, aunty and everything in between, we are all someone’s mother and you deserve to be celebrated. Our culture affords us the opportunity to love, care and support the children around us, even when we are not their birth mothers or even blood relatives. We have a beautiful mix of positions women can occupy in relation to raising children, our experience is familiar to most cultures apart from Western cultures where the culture is a lot more individualistic. Although we have somewhat shifted our lives to live independently as nuclear families, unlike the generations before us, we still haven’t lost our nurturing approach to motherhood. We are still available to take in someone when necessary, we still send kids to granny during school holidays and we still have the approach of looking out for everyone as if they were our own children.
The shift in culture likely stems from the fact that in recent years there has been a shift where more women have started careers and are in the workforce, as well as seeking out tertiary education. Even so, this has not been a barrier for us, in fact it means more financial contributions to our communities. We all understand and value the need for community, for being surrounded by sisterhood, for older women to weigh in and share their wisdom. This way of living and being ensures that children are cared for and loved even when their circumstances are difficult. Part of the very fibre of our being as Africans means we know and understand the importance of lending a helping hand where we can, it is a deep understanding that we are not islands and we need support and care.
At the centre of it all, if we ask ourselves, what African motherhood is, I think we would all come to the same conclusion. It is a beautiful symphony of gentleness, showing up, checking in, helping with schoolwork, watching the children while their parents work, it is belly-laughter while harvesting vegetables in granny’s garden with the children. It is taking in a child who needs stability and a watchful eye, it is providing for our nieces and nephews, and the neighbourhood kids. It is watching children in the community, making sure they’re on the straight and narrow or shouting at them when their behaviour isn’t up to standard. African motherhood is unique in that every women is your mother and therefore is to be respected and revered and on the flip side every child is your child and deserves respect and care. This allows for people who have chosen not to have children or in my case unable to have children to still experience motherhood and parenting because we are privileged to belong to a society where there is space for additional relationships outside of birth mothers.
The way in which we mother or parent children is so different from Western societies where people only really look out for their birth children, and live individualistic lives wherein they hardly see their families and are unable to provide a meal for their child’s friend on a whim. For us, it is like my granny says, where there is food one there is food for two. Western society often is willing to adopt a child as their own, claiming a sense of ownership, whereas we don’t necessarily need to formally adopt a child as our own before showing up, providing, caring and showing affection. Even though we have adjusted and lives less traditional lives because of our careers and other factors, we still don’t live individualistic lives. There is always room for visitors, there is always extra food, and we still focus on creating community, albeit different than before. We create communities around us constantly to make sure our needs are met and so that we can do the same in return.
We still send our friends home with a skhaftin, we drop off steamed bread at our cousins’, we still gather over food, drink and laughter, we still share meat after slaughtering with our neighbours, we still take in people and provide resources where we can, and many of us are still putting children through school. We still show up to celebrate the birthdays of the children of our community, we still pray and sing praise songs over them. So while things have changed somewhat over the years, our culture is not lost and I don’t think we have become entirely individualistic, we have just had to figure out new ways of expressing our culture and traditions. So this Mother’s Day, let us thank all the mom figures in our lives, let us celebrate the women who help us raise our children, the women who help us protect them and everyone who has helped raise loved and celebrated babies.