Ah Beyoncé and her pearls of wisdom. I was regaled as such this morning when my playlist shuffled to a song from her previous album (4) called “Schoolin’ Life”. In it she sings about how fast time seems to go when you’re in your twenties, and raises a glass to all the thirty year olds who didn’t turn out exactly as their parents would have liked. And I thought, oh Beyoncé, you’re so wise. But this isn’t about Beyoncé and her appeal to all ages, be they men, women or children. It’s about expectations.
In particular, this is about parental expectations. I’m not yet thirty but boy does that age and it’s connotations loom overhead, and no matter how much I have convinced myself that I’m a twenty first century woman who does things on her own time and never bows to the whims of societal stereotypes applied to women, my parents are another story. Just the other day my mum asked me if I was “working on those grandchildren” and I laughed heartily at her over the phone in response. I don’t think she was pleased. But then I started to think, OK when I was 18 and she said things like that, I was right to find it ludicrous. Even at 21, and then 23, and at a stretch 25, I could still reference myself as “young” and “figuring things out”. And now I’m 29 and I’ve run out of valid excuses, apparently.
Shouldn’t I have it all figured out by now? Shouldn’t I have a pension plan and a retirement fund and be planning my wedding, children and eventual decline before taking that stairway to heaven?
I think if I’m asking questions like that, then no, I probably shouldn’t be doing any of it, especially if I equate marriage with death. Furthermore, I’m going to live for at least another 70 years (aging population; it’s happening), so if I’m going to make big life decisions I don’t think giving me a time limit is going to help me necessarily make the right ones. Regardless however, my parents want what they want and I can’t fault them for it, but I also can’t just adhere to it because of certain “biological clocks” (although this feels a lot less significant than it once appeared in romcoms of the nineties, what with IVF, fostering, adoption and surrogacy, but again I don’t yet know if I want that so it’s all a moot point…).
Plus, parents sure know how to give mixed messages with their expectations, and speaking to friends I think this is definitely something that has happened to other people with Ghanaian parents. Speaking as a first generation offspring of expats of a West African country (I know you loved that sentence), education and marriage are the signifiers of a successful life according to my parent’s generation. The confusion seems to come from them putting all their expectations into one person however. For example, your parents would say from age 0 to 21 that school was the most important thing you could do and having a boyfriend or girlfriend was not even an option because they were a distraction. And then bam! You turn 21 and you’ve finished university say, and your parents want to know when you’re getting married. But, but, but, you were forbidden to socialise with the objects of your desire and told that it was study and nothing else, and now you have zero experience in that area, but you’re still expected to find a mate immediately?! Ludicrous!
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone’s parents were like this; mine did give me the “study is important” talk, but that didn’t stop me fraternising with the enemy (boys), and one of my parents seemed to think that finding a mate would pretty much make my life complete from an early age regardless of education. Also, whether I liked my chosen partner or not, wasn’t massively important.
So how do you break free from these expectations? Well, you don’t really; you just learn to live with them. I’ve done a lot of things in my life to please my parents, and to adhere to society’s expectations of me, and it never felt right. I became a different person and not one that I liked very much. Plus I don’t think my parents even realised that I was doing it to make them happy, which made the whole venture completely pointless.
So I learned to live with it and realised that it doesn’t matter how many decisions I make according to someone else’s expectations of me, because I’m the one who has to live with the consequences. It’s my life that will be affected, and I don’t want to be on my deathbed at 150 years old (we will be a really aging population by then) with the realisation that I lived my entire life unhappy because I thought it would make someone else happy. I mean; what a terrible choice and subsequent regret to die with.
Thankfully I recently realised that I do still have a choice about what I do with my life, and I’m grateful for that because there are multitudes of women my age and younger who do not have such a choice. This is especially true when it comes to getting married and having children; and even having the opportunity to question whether you want any of that. For many, entering into a marriage that you don’t want and that has been chosen for you is a lot like getting ready to do a prison sentence for a crime you didn’t commit.
So I keep this in mind and value the opportunity to not only make my own choices, but to also carry them out. Plus I think the only crime I’m guilty of in this instance is not meeting my parent’s expectations; which according to Beyoncé is completely normal (I’m paraphrasing, obviously), so I’m happy with that.
Image credit: Beyonce by Delluxo from the Noun Project