Written by Love Isn’t Enough Contributor Rachel Broadwater. This is a continuation of Part 1.
I am a 34 year old mother to two amazing girls my daughter 8 and my niece 9. I have been married to a totally awesome guy for 10 years and on our second wedding anniversary our daughter was born. Most of my professional life has been spent in pharmacy where I am a certified pharmacy technician. Because pharmacy is one of the few professions where women outpace men, I would find myself in conversations with the pharmacist- sometimes white but frequently themselves or their families hailing from the Middle East or South East Asia – about parenting. There was almost always a look of surprise and wonderment when I would talk the struggles of Study Island, how the girls each learned at their own pace and the regular everyday struggles of mothering. I could almost see the thought bubble “Oh my God she is just like me!” The pharmacists and I would trade parenting tactics, educational websites etc. Usually at some point in time, they would admit to being pleasantly surprised at how devoted I and my husband were to our girls. I was different. You know unlike “those other” parents. Meaning “regular” black people. I would insist that every mother regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socioeconomic or marital status wants the best for her child whether they have the resources or not and I was not in fact an anomaly. It really was not something that filled me with rage but it made me tired. Tired that I had to have this discussion at all. But I am not that tired that I am willing to dig my heels in the backs of other black women as I shout my own maternal testimony.
As a mixed raced woman – Puerto Rican father and African-American/Cherokee mother – who identifies herself culturally as an African American mother, it seems as though I am invisible. There are very few mediums where black mothering is normalized. Normalized brings to mind for many a two parent, heterosexual often Christian family. That is not what I am talking about. When I say normalized I mean I want to see black and brown mothers in advertisements for safety systems, breastfeeding campaigns, education enrichment pitches. I want to see sensitive portrayals of black and brown women as being nurturing, caring, responsible, patient and concerned about their children. I would no longer have to endure a picture of a black child automatically followed by these or any combination of words: challenge, crisis, chaos, dangers, death, neglect, and dysfunctional.
To black and white people I did right. I got married then had children. “You are a good mother” they nod approvingly. It’s like because I married when I married that I automatically get 500 points on the SAT’s of parenting. Why should that be? There is so much discussion concerning the ills of out of wedlock mothering in spiritual, economic, emotional terms. Single mothers have their actions shredded apart. People feel it is justified pointing to the high incarnation rates, poverty, violence etc. But is it any more right for a married woman to have a baby to save a relationship? Is it right for married women to bring a child into a household where the father is emotionally distant even cruel because of their own
unresolved demons? There might be a temptation to point out that society “pays” for out of wedlock children but don’t we also “pay” when children are conceived under the matrimonial fairy tales that don’t work out. There are a whole lot of ways to pay baby.
There seems to be a concerted lack of nuance in both white and black spaces. If white spaces don’t acknowledge my presence black spaces insist only on the respectable. In a way I can’t say that I blame them. Slavery did not allow for slaves to be recognized as humans much less families. Even if an “enlightened” slave master allowed for slaves to be married, it was never legally binding. So that meant at any time these two people who chose each other despite the pure hell that slavery was, could be separated and sold along with any of their children. Or told to mate with another slave who may have had their own family or did not and simply had no desire to breed. When freedom was won what the majority of slaves did was legalize their marriages. They may not have had much but they had each other. Literally.
So against that backdrop it is no wonder when pastors look out into the pews of their church and see the couples sitting next to each other an arm draped across their partners back maybe with a child or two on either side maybe in between they are not necessarily seeing patriarchy and submission. What they see is a stone in the eye of the naysayers who using charts, polls, studies to prove that these people sitting in church on a Sunday morning don’t exist. There is no doubt that is something that pulls at you when you see a couple married for 40 plus years helping each other put their coats on. It is pride, love, joy, hope, an abundance of every bit of positive energy in the world. It is also tempting to stay rooted in that energy. It is so warm and wonderful. It makes me believe that I too will be in that number. To believe this is the right way, the only way, the best way. But I can’t and won’t.
Poor mothers do not automatically equate poor mothering. The No Wedding , No Womb and Marry Your Baby Daddy/Mama movements although conceived with good intentions have left so many important threads blowing in the wind and it seems like few are interested in catching, examining and then tying them together. Lack of comprehensive, fact based sexual education, the denial of mental health services (both in idea that it is needed and actual services), the lack of safe spaces or even language for men and boys to discuss their own feelings that are not steeped in patriarchy and the sustained willingness to deal with the effects of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse and how that affects interpersonal relationships all impact both parents and children alike.
The first step to correct this is the insistence that black women take back their own maternal narrative. Take it back from whoever is mishandling it whether the person is wearing a three piece suit, a black dress with pearls, pastoral robes or jeans and a t shirt. This is your story. Yours and your child’s. There will be laughter and tears. There will be slammed doors and cuddles on the couch. There will be fear and certainty. There will be clarity and bewilderment. These things will happen at different times or maybe all at once. Doesn’t matter really. When you tell your story I will sit down make myself comfortable, ready to listen to you.