There is no bubble as precious as the one that a new mom lives in. Never before has a child entered the world and took breaths like her child. Trust me, I know — I was one of them in 2009. Back then, while my experiences were fresh to me, they weren’t unique in the history of civilization. You couldn’t tell me that at the time, though. I mean, regardless of race, class, sexual preference, or religious affiliation, if you have a newborn they’re going to cry, poop, and melt your heart, in that order.
I learned quickly that I had a lot to learn from the other mothers around me. I was able to let go of the shame and worry that I had as a single mom after listening to other women who were successfully raising children on their own. Other moms gave me advice on everything from nursing to finding childcare to doing Ayva’s hair. Instead of trying to figure it out on my own, I opened myself up to support and suggestions, and I believe I’m a better mom because of it. What if we did that to bring change to our country? What if moms listened to each other, and used what we learned to increase understanding across the board?
Let’s start with sharing our stories, our experiences. Take me, for instance. I’m a black mom. Being a black mom in America comes with a special set of circumstances. What makes the experience so unique? It starts with the basic differences, like handling a black child’s hair, and progresses to more challenging aspects such as encouraging self-love in a country that doesn’t always make that easy. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed since even before Ayva was born to have a community of black mothers to help me navigate the ins and outs of black motherhood with minimal missteps (so far).
What does it mean to be a black mom in America? It’s complicated, and there are a lot of nuances such as class, personal family dynamics, and education that make a definitive answer tough to pin down. I have found in many of my mama circles that there are some experiences that are somewhat universal. I’d like to share of those common experiences with y’all and encourage you to share what it’s like to be whatever kind of mom you are — with me and with others. Sharing our stories encourages understanding, and from understanding comes change. If anyone can get things done and bring folks together, moms can.
Here are five things you may not know about being a black mom in America.
1. We’re very sensitive to microaggression.
What is a microaggression? According to the dictionary, it’s a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype — microaggressions such as “I don’t see you as black.” Why are we so sensitive to them when it comes to our children? Well, because we know how, when stacked on top of each other, they can start to affect the psyche.
For example, imagine a gymnastics teacher helping all of the girls pull their hair into ponytails. When it’s my daughter’s turn, the teacher goes on and on about how she doesn’t know if she’s “doing this right.” How do you think that makes my daughter feel after she sees all of the other girls get treated one way, but the teacher acts as if she’s so different and not normal? Black moms have to be on the lookout for that type of thing to be able to address it immediately, and educate the teacher on how to do better. This is part of our work.
2. Raising carefree children is still a newish black parenting trend.
Being carefree isn’t a typical trait that runs in black families. From an early age in some families, black children are taught how to behave with very clear and defined expectations. For example, questioning something your mama said would be considered talking back. We don’t play around in church. Children don’t interrupt a conversation when adults are talking. These rules weren’t because our parents hated us, but rather they knew how outspoken, energetic black children are perceived by society. In short, we didn’t have the luxury to be carefree.
Many black moms have parenting ideas that differ from that of the generations before us. A lot of us don’t spank our children. We encourage them to ask questions. We celebrate their individuality. We recognize that the world is different than it was when we were growing up, and being carefree is a major key to success.
3. We sometimes feel the need to validate ourselves and our children to others.
There are so many stereotypes about black mothers and black families that so many people believe to be true, that many of us often feel like we have to prove that we’re not at all like “them.” We talk about our degrees and careers, point out the non-traditional extracurricular activities our kids participate in, and make sure to let you know that “my husband had to work or he’d be here tonight.” We don’t do this for acceptance, though, but rather it’s a safety thing. If you learn that we’re more like you than you previously thought, then maybe you’ll look out for us when stuff goes down.
4. We need your help with teaching children about diversity.
Black children learn about white folks by default. The media, although it’s starting to get better, is still focused largely on the white experience. You’d be hard-pressed to find a book with a black protagonist that isn’t historically based, talking about hair, or how much they love being black. We are intentional about finding diverse representation for our children, and black moms would love if moms of other cultures would do the same. We don’t want our kids to have to rely on the same stereotypes that we had when we were growing up. Instead, find books, toys, television shows, and movies that represent the true black experience in an age-appropriate way. When kids grow up with a foundation of appreciation for differences, then Ayva isn’t their “black friend,” but just their friend.
5. We don’t have all of the answers.
Whenever stuff goes down regarding race in our country, black women are often the ones who step up to the frontline. We have a lot to say because we’re protecting our families. That being said, we don’t have all the answers. I realized this week that I could be doing more with my own child to teach her about other cultures. There’s more that I need to learn in order to truly support some of my friends who aren’t black. We don’t have all of the answers, but so many of us are doing the work to find solutions so that we can make this country better for our children.
We want to work together. We want to be united.
Will you join us?
I’ll repeat the request from above. Share your story. What kind of mother are you? You don’t have to blog about it. You don’t have to post it on social media. Invite a friend for wine and talk to her about how you grew up. Have coffee with a mom in your class and share some of the challenges you’re dealing with as whatever type of mom you are.
We’re in this together, Mamas. For the children, for ourselves, and for our country.