Nnu Ego, the protagonist of The Joys of Motherhood desperately wants to follow a traditional life. Not only does she want to be seen as a good woman, in the traditional sense, but she wants to reap the rewards of living a traditional Ibo life. In that scenario, she would have children, who would honor her throughout their lives, and then take care of her as she ages. Though she would work hard, eventually, her children would care for her in her old age. But unfortunately, Nnu Ego is living in Lagos, an urban city influenced by Western culture, which is unlike anything that her traditional values have prepared her for. Against the odds, she tries to raise her kids with traditional values, even while adjusting to modern life. Nnu Ego struggles throughout her entire life to take care of her family, only to find that the rug has been pulled out from under her feet. Ultimately, she has all the responsibilities of a traditional woman with none of the rewards.
Even though traditional values and customs are insufficient for succeeding in modern Nigeria, the new westernized values and customs are an inadequate replacement according to The Joys of Motherhood.
Although Nnu Ego believes her problem is that she tried to be a traditional woman in a modern context, she is wrong; her problem is that everybody around her was selfish, while she sacrificed herself for their needs and desires.