I was telling a close friend of mine how I’m biologically related to some of the family members that I’m closest with. She replied: “…oh that’s quite distant then.”


It triggered a series of thoughts that made me realize how big of a difference there was in which the ways my culture and my friend’s culture viewed familial relationships.


It dawned on me how to us, family and community is defined at least equally - sometimes even more so - on personal connections than just genetics or family tree. People will describe literally anyone that is older than them aunt or uncle, or someone similar in age a cousin. It might be a 1st, 2nd or 3rd cousin. Or it might be a cousin who’s Mom was best friends with your Mom since childhood. Even when family members become estranged from each other, declaring that someone ‘isn’t family’ is almost unheard of.


Genetic closeness or distance is not really the main indicator of who is the fabric of each other’s lives, or hearts. Outside of the obvious parent-child or sibling relationships, most Liberians (and I’m sure by extension the same could be said for other Africans and immigrant cultures too) have bonds *just* as close with a distant cousin or family friend.


Discussing these touchy topics is always a risk, maybe one I shouldn’t be taking. But I felt compelled to bring this up around Mother’s Day and of course the upcoming Father’s Day. I realize that while as a brand I’m supposed to be busy marketing. Though I realize that I may be speaking to some of you that might also have complex ideas or feelings of what ‘Motherhood’ or ‘Fatherhood’ means to you.


(L-R) My eldest Aunt, me, my Mom and her Mom, Sarep.




While I would normally indulge my oversharing tendencies, I probably shouldn’t in writing to a couple thousand people online. What I will say is that like almost every other Liberian family I know, my parents, their cousins, my Aunts and Uncles have all either been part of a family that raised other peoples children or were raised by someone other than their parents at some point.


I’ll explain a little bit about where this comes from.


Within biological families, parents traveled abroad for school or work for serval years, then came back to assume the parental role. Sometimes the reasons haven’t been shared. In part, this also comes from a huge part of our culture where families “reared” children with no relation whatsoever.


This was borne out of old societal structures before the civil war where power, education and social access were concentrated with the smaller group of Americo-Liberians who came to Liberia as freed slaves. It became normal for people from the rural areas (known as ‘the interior’ or ‘country’) to give their children to families who they thought could give them a better life. Some (including my maternal Grandfather and an Aunt by marriage) even were given the same last name of those families. Most worked as help around the house in exchange for the apparent ‘privilege’. The spectrum was wide and individual to each family.


Love, relationships, guidance and closeness is something that to us - is so much more than one particular person on Mothers or Father’s Day.


You may have seen that I always talk about all the people that my grandmother Sarep mothered throughout her life. Even when I was about 15, a stranger begged me to take their child that I had not met before because they felt that I would be able to give their child a better life.



I lost an uncle to Glioblastoma last summer. The oldest of my Grandmother Sareptha’s children.  My Mom thinks of him as being the only father figure she had ever known, raising her for a few years while Sarep came to the US. He also was a father to the majority of his grandchildren most of which lived with him too, right here in America. He changed their diapers. He took them to school. He sang to, danced with and wiped their tears when they were sad. He took them to proms when their fathers couldn’t.




He is genetically their Grandfather.  There’s  a general societal feeling that the loss of a Grandparent is ‘less’ bad in some way, perhaps because people feel it is expected.









 But there is no way I can describe what they are struggling with as expected or ‘less bad’ in any way. All of them have lost their Daddy.


 Laying him to rest, 2023


I want you to know that here at Sarep + Rose we understand that ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ can evoke a range of emotions, feelings and thoughts.  That when we refer to these days,  we mean that these days are to celebrate anyone who has made you feel unconditionally loved, protected, encouraged,  guided and cared for.


Let me know what else I missed your thoughts on this and what Mother’s Day or Father’s Day brings up for you.


May 11, 2024 — Robin Sirleaf

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