Motherhood and fatherhood are two very complex, yet personal roles people have with their children. However, the stereotypes that often plague these roles may seem to differ on the surface in other cultures.
In America, motherhood and fatherhood are seen as two very separate roles. The role of the father is to be the breadwinner and the “leader of the pack.” While he may not do much to help around the house, such as cleaning and cooking, he provides the financial means to support his family.
Motherhood, on the other hand, is seen as a bit more demanding. The mother is supposed to raise the children, clean the house, cook every meal, and be the emotional support system for everyone. The roles that motherhood and fatherhood are supposed to consist of are not beneficial to either party — and certainly not to children.
Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing shows these parental roles play out in a culture different from our own. So far, we have read the first chapter, which is from the perspective of a young woman named Effia. Effia’s parents, Cobbe and Baaba, essentially flip the stereotypical roles of Western parenthood. Baaba, who we learn is not actually Effia’s biological mother, is cold and abusive towards her. Effia gets no emotional support from her, and instead leans on her brother and father. To Cobbe, Effia is his pride and joy. She is beautiful and kind — undeserving of the physical abuse she endures.
While Baaba may not fit the stereotypical image of the Western mother, she fits the image of the Western step-mother. This stepmother stereotype has been played out time and time again, especially in the Disney movies many of us were raised on, such as Snow White and Cinderella. In this case, however, the evil stepmother actually helps to make sure the beautiful young woman gets to live in the castle — but not for innocent reasons.
Even though Effia is Cobbe’s daughter, Baaba sees her as competition. If anything, Effia has Cobbe’s heart more than she does — so much so that he can’t die until he sees Effia one last time.
Baaba goes to great lengths to make sure that Effia is out of Cobbe’s life. In order to prevent Effia from staying and marrying Abeeku (which would make her one of, if not the most, powerful women in the village), she makes Effia keep her menstruation a secret. Essentially, she doesn’t want her to become a woman and shine brighter than she does — especially not in the eyes of Cobbe and the village.
If this first chapter of Homegoing can tell us anything, it’s that the roles of motherhood and fatherhood in cultures from different our own are not as foreign as we might think. Yes, there are differences, but sprinkled throughout each culture are the same complexities that mothers, fathers, and even stepmothers face when raising children — whether it be devotion, dependence, or jealousy.