The New Age Journey of African Motherhood
Motherhood is beautiful! It is a complicated and an anxiety inducing journey but above it all, it’s the process of rediscovering yourself as someone’s one and only. For most, when we become mothers is when we see and understand our parents imperfections. We learn, they were simply doing their best!
There are tried-and-true lessons of childrearing our mothers have taught us all. Lessons that are foundational and everlasting. However, what was considered the “best” more than 20 years ago, either doesn’t work or apply today. As mothers, we seek to carry on some of these traditions while paving the way for a new age journey in African motherhood. A humbling journey rooted in love, gratitude and purpose! As African parents, most of us are focusing on teaching our history, discovering their passions and elevating their spiritual understanding of why they’re here in this world. We are also, unlearning our toxic societal norms and expectations. Most of us, are on a mission to ensure our children not only know better but do better.
This series will share the stories of young mothers raising African boys across our beautiful continent. We start with the amazing Asta Jobe, an economist, a wife, and a mother. This is her journey!
Meet Asta Jobe!
Our first #AfricanBoyMom to share her journey
Tell us your story. Who is Asta Jobe?
I was born and raised in The Gambia; to parents who took up the responsibility of raising not only my siblings and I, but quite a few cousins as well. This means my house was a jungle, and I had to fight a lot to have things my way. While I told to “go study law” because I questioned everything and always had to win arguments, I followed my true passion of becoming an Economist. I’m not sure if its nature or nurture, but I have come to the pleasant realization that I find fulfillment in serving my community and advocating for the less privileged. I do this, officially through the Jeggan Cole Memorial Foundation (JCMF),where we sponsor and mentor high-performing kids from under-privileged homes; and the Young Gambian Mums Fund (YGMF) Charity which focuses on providing support to vulnerable mothers and children in society.
On a Saturday evening, you might catch me standing on a coffee table (anything to get their attention) at my cousin’s house, trying to win an argument on behalf of the women, against the men in the room about gender roles in Gambian society.
What does motherhood mean to you?
Motherhood to me, is like journeying through Africa. You have an itinerary but does it mean much? Absolutely not! You will face difficulties that test your patience, turbulences that threaten your very existence, and just when you are on the verge of swearing never to do it again; you reach a beautiful layover that makes it all go away and renews your strength and faith in the journey.
In my quiet moments, I like to reflect on the meaning of life and our purpose as humans. Like everything else in the world, as small as one person may seem in the bigger realm of things, they are one fragment of an ecosystem that will only function at its full capacity if each plays their part. As a mother, I believe I have been blessed with the duty to shape this little human into a part that functions effectively within the ecosystem. Because this job does not come with a handbook, it is a challenging terrain to navigate. Although, I make mistakes along the way, I choose to focus my energy on the bigger picture which is, to raise a world citizen who understands his purpose and seeks to fulfill it in his lifetime.
On a hot summer day, what’s your favorite one-on-one activity with your son?
This has changed over the years from watching him sit in his bath pan splashing the water endlessly; to blowing bubbles for him to catch until my jaws hurt; to walking around the house talking to the plants and being schooled and questioned at the same time about flowers; to spending hours trying to convince him that it’s okay for his feet to not touch the ground in the swimming pool because he has on floaters; to building sand castles together and watching him joyfully crash them just so we can rebuild. What all of these activities have in common is that I get to connect with him and watch his personality come out, while I learn about what makes him happy and his fears.
I have been away from him for one year, and he has developed new interests over the year. The last time my mum made him jelly, he demanded that he be taught how to make it. I have also recently developed a keen interest in baking, so I guess our new favorite activity might just be making jelly and baking for fun if we’re not outdoors!
What’s the biggest life lesson your son has taught you thus far?
You don’t always get what you want but you always get what you need! First of all, he came one year sooner than I had planned in my head. Secondly, I always wanted a baby girl because well… girls are fun! Even after finding out that I was having a boy, I would still browse through the baby girls section each time I went shopping, and dream of what could’ve been. However, he came and I couldn’t be more thankful for the blessing that he is. I finally started to understand the feeling behind the Facebook posts that say “you’ve brought so much joy into our lives” with each passing day. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking how meaningless our lives would’ve been without him.
More importantly, I have spent so much time fighting the ills of the patriarchy knowing that change can only happen when the perpetrators are woke. I realized that Allah gave me a boy so I can instill all the values in him that would make him the type of man all women deserve.
Gambian society is not kind to young moms, how do you maintain a work-life balance as a mother, wife and career woman?
As long as there is a solid understanding of what works for your family, what society says or thinks should not be your concern.
Maintaining this balance starts from within; you cannot let society dictate what is most important to you as a person. I have been a wife for 5 years, a mother for 4 years, and a student for almost 20 years. Just as I have put blood, sweat, and tears into building my family, I have also done the same to nurture this career path that I am on. Therefore, my career holds a great deal of importance in my life, and contributes towards my happiness and fulfillment just as much as my family does. These are (sometimes) difficult conversations one must have with potential partners to ensure that your values and principles are aligned. As much as I’m lucky to have a strong army of women who support me in caring for my son when I can’t, I have a partner who understands that my career is as much a priority as his and our family life. Hence, he takes up his fair share of responsibilities and exercises patience, and flexibility where necessary; so we can both succeed at being parents, spouses and professionals.
As a #AfricanBoyMom, What’s the best and worst advice you have received?
This was not exactly an advice but a remark that implied that “boys don’t belong in the kitchen”, and that the only reason girls are taught to cook is for them to take care of the boys/men who are deliberately not taught the same.
From a young age, I discovered that I did not enjoy being in the kitchen. On weekends, when we were forced to help out in the kitchen, I preferred to climb trees, ride bikes, and play sports with my male cousins. I remember, my mother’s remarks would always center on how my husband and kids would starve to death. I used to tell her I would marry a Chef because I figured that was the only kind of husband that would cook for his family. Meanwhile, nobody had a problem with the boys in the house playing all day long and nobody, wondered how their families would fare in the future. I believe this idea is problematic and has led to many girls and women losing great opportunities to be at home tending to men who go out and chase their dreams.
I would say this is both best and worst “advice” because as bad as it is, it has opened my eyes and given me the determination to make sure that this boy will not be a perpetrator of this injustice to girls and women.
In raising a boy, you’re raising someone’s father and husband one day, what lessons do you plan to teach your son about health relationships and consent?
As I mentioned before, parenting is tricky and your plans will not always turn out how you envision them, but I hope to build a relationship with my son that will allow us to have open and honest conversations that will present opportunities to drive these important messages across. One thing I am sure of is that these lessons come as a package, and are by no means stand-alone lessons. You cannot teach a boy that he has the right to treat a girl as a servant in the household then turn around and expect him not to extend these rights to serving his sexual desires. If the boy is taught from an early age that the girl is his equal on all fronts, it will be easy for everything else to fall into place.
The topic of consent is very important because there is a lot of ignorance from little boys to grown men, some who are well versed in the laws against sexual assault. The only way one can get a solid message across is to be very intentional about it. Growing up, I have seen and heard stories of girls getting raped by their boyfriends who assumed that the girl wanted it because she had said yes before, or that she went into his room knowing exactly what would happen.
Being a husband and/or father is a huge responsibility which requires a solid foundation. When it comes to treating people the right way, I believe preferences vary both from the giver’s end and that of the receiver’s. However, for the most part, what is wrong will always be wrong. I, therefore, choose to focus on checking the boxes of what not to do in striving to build healthy relationships.
In your personal opinion, What toxic strait(s) do we need to eradicate from our Gambian society to build an environment that allows our boys to strive as compassionate and empathetic men?
When you ask a Gambian man to describe a good woman or the ideal wife, the points they raise often center on her ability to cook, clean and cater to her man’s every need; her ability to accept and bear the pain of abuse and unfaithfulness; her willingness to sacrifice her dreams to support her husband; and her ability be respectful even if it’s not reciprocated. For this reason, girls are raised to live up to this standard while boys are raised to expect and demand exactly this. Many men in our society are made to believe that as long as they provide for their family financially, they have fulfilled their end of the bargain, so the woman should be grateful and as a result, uphold this double standard that has been created by men.
We must unlearn these ideas, and ensure that we raise our boys in environments where they don’t believe it is the girls’ duty to feed or clean up after them; where their idea of a wife is a companion and not a servant; where they don’t just sit there and look to the women when food has to be served or something needs to be cleaned up. I am raising my son exactly as I would raise a daughter. Cooking and cleaning are basic life skills that each person should be encouraged to learn regardless of gender. I do not have a daughter but if I do in the future, she will understand that whatever domestic work she is taught is for herself and not a preparation for her to take care of another grown human being who feels it is his right to be taken care of.
The Our Stories, Our Way Fast Three!
1. What’s your favorite book to read to your son?
I haven’t read to him in a while because he has a creative mind and is more interested in making up stories now. The story would usually be about whatever his favorite action hero is at the moment; so at bedtime, we just build up stories together.
2. If you and your son could have lunch with anyone who would it be and why?
Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia (Currently the only serving female President in Africa – What he is exposed to is what builds his perception and this is the idea I want him to have of women—strong, intelligent and powerful!
3. What’s your advice to other young moms raising boys?
Do not conform to Gambian society’s standard of how boys should be raised! It is your duty to raise them as model humans who will make the world a better place especially for women.
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