2011 IgboFest Program
Igbo Parents and Their Children: Mutual Expectations and Obligations
The relationship between Igbo parents and their children in the Igbo culture is very special. It is a biological relationship of mutual understanding of the obligations that parents and their children have toward each other. One might call it a psychological contract–unwritten, mutual expectations between Igbo parents and their children. It is a relationship predicated on reciprocity of responsibility. Putting it simply, it is an understanding of what parents must do for their children as they grow to adulthood, and what children must do for their parents in their old age. In this relationship, parents are expected to work relentlessly hard for the future success and prosperity of their children. The children in their turn take care of their parents in their golden age. The culture also allows children to continue to live with their parents until they are ready to explore the world on their own. There is no stipulated age limit when children outgrow living with their parents, although competition among families and peer pressure often act as a catalyst hastening egress from the nest. Nevertheless, by the time children leave the nest, they will have received the kind of preparation and fortification to survive the vagaries of life anywhere in the world.
In fact, Igbo parents take pride in having very educated children. Igbo parents would say with pride that their daughters or sons are the first medical doctors, engineers, pharmacists, scientists, historians, authors, architects, nurses, or technologists in their towns, villages or clans. An Igbo family with well-educated children command envy and serves as a feat worthy of emulation. Igbo parents consider the education of their children a high priority and a vital investment purposely intended for their future prosperity. Educated and professional Igbo children are better placed to provide for their parents as they age and are no longer able to do some of the things they once did for themselves.
The psychological contract with their parents remains etched in the psyche of Igbo children, regardless of their place of domicile, educational, and professional accomplishments. Showing gratitude to their parents for the years of toil is always high up on the to-do lists of most Igbo children. This means fulfilling the expectations of parents that their children will give them financial and moral support later in their lives. Igbo children do a variety of things to reciprocate the pivotal role of their parents in their lives. They include remitting money for the welfare of their parents without expecting to be reimbursed, providing mobility and paid chauffeur for their parents, employing house assistants to serve their parents, making sure they are getting quality medical care, all-expenses-paid vacation for their parents, paying the fare to have their parents visit and spend time with them, visiting their parents from time to time regardless of distance, etc. It is anathema or taboo in Igbo culture to commit one’s parents to a nursing home. Children who violate this cultural imperative are often ridiculed and taunted.
It is for these and other reasons that we host the IgboFest every year for the benefit of our children born in the Diaspora. We also take pride in sharing Igbo culture and tradition at IgboFest with our friends and well-wishers.
It is important as I near the end of this article to address our children in the Diaspora directly at this point. I want you to be aware that you will never outgrow being the sons and daughters of your parents. As long as God keeps your parents alive, you will always be their children and they will always refer to you as such. You will always be a child before your parents as long as they live. Don’t let anything, not even marriage, come between you and your parents. You must never chastise your parents or treat them like subordinates. Igbo parents wish and pray to live long enough to see their children become responsible and respected citizens wherever they may live, and to see their grandchildren. Love your parents-in-law, but do not ignore your parents, or deprive them the joy of “spoiling” their grandchildren.
Do you know that your parents would rather have you survive and bury them when death calls, than to experience the harrowing ordeal or tragedy of burying you? It is much more painful and heart breaking when parents have to bury their own children. You, our children, are the living messages we send to a time we will never see. And so, dear sons and daughters, please love your parents and take care of them while they are alive; they will appreciate it far more than giving them expensive funeral and funeral ceremonies. As it is written in the Wisdom of Sirach chapter 3, verses 2-6 and 12-14, “God sets a father in honor over his children, a mother’s authority He confirms over his sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, he is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will never be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins—a house raised in justice to you.”
I wish all Igbo parents, our children, friends, and well-wishers an exciting experience at IgboFest 2011 and a safe trip to and from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. Thanks for coming.
Dr. Anthony I. Akubue is a Professor of Environmental and Technological Studies at St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN.