A Tribute To My Mother

There is an African proverb that says, "What an elder sees sitting down, a young person cannot see standing up." When I was young, my mother repeated that proverb whenever she wanted me to understand that she had a better perspective because she'd already gone through so much in life. At the time, I hated to hear it. Now, after years of my own experience, I have to admit that she was almost always right.

Ours was a tricky mother-daughter relationship—loving yet fraught with misunderstandings. Born and raised in Nigeria, I spent my teenage years in France; these were the hardest both because of the generational gap and because she was raising me in a culture different from the one she grew up in. I felt like I was constantly fighting to be understood by a woman set in her "archaic" ways. Years later, after becoming a mother, I finally realized that she, too, had been fighting to be understood by me and my "rebellious" ways.

My journey to understanding my mother began with the first wave of morning sickness; my experience brought back memories of her pregnancy with my youngest brother. I remember her being so sick that the bucket by her bedside had to be emptied constantly. It was only when I was diagnosed and treated for hyperemesis gravidarum (severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy) that I understood the hideous pain she endured during her pregnancies, which allowed me to develop a new level of respect for her. When I reached the last week of my pregnancy, she flew over 3,000 miles to be with me. She was by my side through eighteen hours of labor and an emergency C-section, praying quietly and advocating for me. Her presence was calming during my storm. When I was pregnant with my second child, she was with me again, holding my hand through the entire process. It deepened our bond. Nursing my babies opened my eyes to the strength, patience, and sacrifice my mother demonstrated when she nursed my siblings and me all those years ago—while still working to provide for the family. I remember and channel her strength on days when I feel exhausted and weary of the thankless job of mothering.

Now that my children are growing older and developing their personalities, I catch myself sounding just like her sometimes. I find myself worrying endlessly about the big and small things, anxious for their futures, and afraid to steer them wrong. Raising my children in the United Kingdom, a different culture than the one I grew up in, I can see now how she must have felt having to learn and unlearn so much alongside me while under the pressure of navigating between wanting what's best for me and letting me choose my own path.

My mother once told me of the vow she'd made to make sure her own children never suffered like she did growing up. She kept her vow by working tirelessly to provide us with the very best educations and opportunities—things she never had. This commitment often meant that she had to set aside her own needs, sometimes for many years. Recently, she completed her Ph.D. and started lecturing in forensic accounting; despite having so much on her plate, she has begun to thaw a dream that she'd put on ice for years, and finally, it's her time to find fulfillment outside of motherhood.

Being a mother now, I fully understand what it means to put parts of myself on hold so that I can prioritize the needs of my children. After so many failed attempts at juggling my master's degree and pregnancy, I can finally start building my career again. Whenever I doubt my decisions, I remind myself of my mother's journey and draw strength from it.

Before I had my children, I scoffed at my mother's declarations of being my best friend and wanting only the best for me, but now I understand the truth of her words and appreciate her more deeply for them.

Though my mother and I may be thousands of miles apart, every day, I am inspired by the many ways she's been a wonderful mother to me, even on the days when we are at odds.