Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bi-racial marriage and mothers of Benin

This post is by my old running buddy, Sariah.  Along with Sarah and Stacy, we were the "S" runners, and had some of the best times.  Sariah ran my first and only marathon with me.  She and her husband are both very intelligent and adventuresome people; they're living in Dakar, Senegal right now.  Here's a snapshot of Sariah's life as a mother.  Enjoy!

I remember after the first date with my, now, husband, my roommate told me that bi-racial children are the most beautiful kids…I told her not to get ahead of herself.  Now seven years later, I will admit, biased as it may be, I do have some of the most beautiful kids I have ever seen.  I have often been asked if I get comments or questions about my children.  My husband is from Benin (a country in West Africa) and myself, a white American from Kansas.  Sure there are those times I am asked if they are adopted (this happened at a my parents’ home congregation in Kansas) and sometimes when my kids are a few feet away from me and there is no one with darker skin tone in the area someone is desperately looking for the mother…to which I reply, “They are mine!”  Then there was the time I read Dreams of my Father, by Barack Obama, and I wondered, if my son would go through a period of trying to understand what it means to be bi-racial in America…my concerns were quickly abated as I realized not only will his dad be present, but we live in a very different world.  This fact became evident when I noted that in my son’s preschool at least three-quarters of the students were bi-racial.  Other than these isolated incidents, raising my children is just as it is for mothers all over the world…or so I assume, because I only have my experience.  We love, we worry, we make mistakes, we fear our mistakes will ruin our children, we feel overwhelmed, we think about their future, we hope they will be happy, we want to provide them with  as many opportunities as possible.
Currently we live in Dakar, Senegal which is still new to us, but at the same time familiar, as my husband is Beninese and we have visited West Africa on several occasions.  One thing I have observed as a difference culturally from Beninese mothers and American is the ability to have a strong support system for raising the children.  Up until recently my niece and nephew in Benin lived in the same home with Grandma and Grandpa.  My sister-in-law was able to go to the market, work, or complete tasks because not only did she have her in-laws, there is always an aunt, a sister, or a friend to help with everything from childcare, cooking, cleaning, relaxing, even disciplining.  In fact, I remember explaining to my sister-in-law that in the US if you want childcare you pay for it or exchange with friends.  She laughed and explained that in Benin we can watch your kids all day and it would be “our privilege” to do so.  The strength of the family unit and the generosity of the Beninese culture certainly alleviate some of the stresses of motherhood.  It is interesting to me that working outside of the home for an African woman is not as controversial or difficult as it is in the US.  This is for several reasons, certainly the culture and the necessity, but the structure of the US economy and workplace make mixing motherhood and career a non-starter, unless you literally make millions.  Yet being a mother is still the same… I am sure that no matter where we live, if your children are biological, adopted, step-children, if you work out of the home or full-time stay at home mom… we all love, we make mistakes, we are concerned about their future and especially in a country like Benin, mothers try to provide all the opportunities they can for their children.  Motherhood is a challenging and rewarding experience and we all owe our mothers for the sacrifices they made.

1 comment:

amydear said...

It's very interesting to read about parenting styles from other countries. I'm glad that bi-racial relationships and children are more accepted now.