Two parents talk about raising their children with their own traditions in Ireland
You never thought it would happen – the moment the words directed at your children are coming out of your mouth, you realise: “I sound just like my mother . . . ”
That may not be a bad thing, depending on how you view your upbringing. But it’s a reminder that there is no clean slate at the beginning of parenthood. We can’t escape our own childhood and our parents as role models – for better or for worse.
Consciously, we like to think we follow their good examples and avoid repeating what we regard as their mistakes. Although our sub-conscious triggers some behaviour which over-rides intentions.
But what if you move a continent and a culture away from your childhood and start to raise a family in totally different circumstances from those of your parents? There’s much more than a generation gap then to test the template formed by nature and nurture.
When Kuxi Ghai had her first child, Ishaan, 3½ years ago, she was determined to be much the same kind of parent living here as she would have been in her native Kenya.
“I have tried very hard – it has been the thing I have been most committed to. There are things that are just in us, understanding on a cellular level what makes a good mother.”
For her, it is things such as breast-feeding and co-sleeping. “It is very much attachment parenting, following the rhythm of the child and the philosophy is that you are in a partnership,” she explains.
“My culture is Indian and African, so with us it is that you have been given this gift and your job is to journey with them until they can go it alone. It is not an authoritarian kind of thing, it is very baby-led.”
Having grown up in Nairobi, Ghai never intended leaving Kenya. But while working as a producer on assignment in Tanzania, meeting a man with Irish and English parents, who was raised in East Africa, eventually led her to Ireland.
“You meet someone and you go where your heart goes,” she says. They moved to Spain and her first visit to Ireland was for the Africa Day celebration in Dublin in 2014, at which her then husband was performing.
“I was pregnant but didn’t know it,” she says. So, as the African community here prepares for the annual event this weekend, “it will be mine and my son’s fourth Africa Day, even though he is only three”.
When you birth a child, you birth yourself as a mother and that is a completely different entity to anything you were before.”
This year Ghai has been chosen as a “champion” of the flagship event on May 27th in Farmleigh, in the Phoenix Park. Africa Day marks the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity on May 25th, 1963, but the Dublin celebration is held on the closest Sunday. The 2016 Census recorded 57,850 people living here as Black Irish or Black African.
Once Ishaan’s parents knew he was on the way, they decided to make Ireland their home. Keen to hold on to African culture, Ghai asked anybody from home who inquired if she needed anything to send “kangas” – brightly coloured pieces of fabric – and shea butter, “that’s what you can’t get here”.
She knows a lot of people here who “babywear” and have very expensive carriers but Africans just carry their babies in the cloths they use for everything, she explains. “I got lots of those and kind of stuck to the routine and the culture and the tradition.”
Personally, she finds it “heartbreaking” to see some mothers here having to go back to work within a couple of months of having a baby, due to financial pressures. “Rent is hideous – it’s a luxury to be able to stay at home with your child,” she acknowledges.
In her culture “you’re cocooned” after birth. “For the first year, you don’t do anything – you have your mother, your mother-in-law, your sisters, cousins – literally any woman within a 200-metre radius will be in your house for the first year, doing the cooking, the cleaning, because the only thing you are supposed to do is nourish and nurture your child. Even your husband understands that you are there for your child.
“When you birth a child, you birth yourself as a mother and that is a completely different entity to anything you were before.”
Believing in the importance of the mother-child bond, Ghai started putting Ishaan into a Montessori school beside their home in Portmarnock, Co Dublin, just last month, for the free pre-school scheme.
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