Skip to content

Posts from the ‘motherhood’ Category

Mothering Without Shame

Photo credit: thinkloud65

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Rachel B.

“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

There is not a black mother on Earth who has not said those words to her daughter.  They are said in anger, resignation, frustration and guilt.  We, like any and all mothers, want the very best for our daughters.  We want them to explore every possibility and to experience things that were beyond our reach.  We also want them to avoid the pitfalls, the traps and the trick doors that we befell us.  Instead of imparting to our daughters wisdom, we often give to them our shame and regrets.  We tell them if only we had listened to so-and-so, not gone to that place, stayed there, or hung out with those people, our lives would be radically different.  We are so quick and so sure that the blame lies entirely with us despite many of us being aware of our unique position at the intersections of gender, race and class.  If we had turned left instead of right or had looked up instead of down, life as we know would not be so hard.

We say these words to our daughters knowing that both black and white spaces endanger a black girls’ journey to self-fulfillment.  We know we are judged by a different set of rules.  Our actions, whether positive or negative, acquire a supernatural ability to exalt or demote the entire black race.  We are also keenly aware of the pervasive double standard that still in full effect in our own communities regarding the actions of black men/boys and black women/girls.  Black respectability politics have placed black women as the gate keepers of our culture although many of us resent it.  While teaching our daughters how to navigate a world that has a morbid fascination with our degradation, we seem to follow one of two paths; hanging our heads in shame or distancing ourselves from our pasts.

“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

What are those mistakes?  More often than not, they are sexual in nature.  We feel that we gave it up too soon, too easily, to the wrong person at the wrong time.  We tell our daughters’ we were hard headed, naïve, foolish, stupid and spiteful.  We found ourselves in a position where our private vulnerabilities became public shame.  We are so quick to assume and claim responsibility; we ignore the other very real circumstances that lead to make those choices in the first place.  It is painful to even remember that we had to have sex for survival, that those were in positions of power and authority took advantage of our lesser position.  If we had just listened, we never would have been in that car, in that room, at that party, with that boy, with those men.  If we had just listened, everything would have been ok.

If we are not using our shame to deter our daughters, then we are holding up as an admonition to our daughters those who seem to shamelessly embody the loose morals and decay of our culture.  The baby mamas, poor women, junkies, and the sex workers are plentiful and disposable warnings to keep our girls on the straight and narrow.  We point to them to illustrate what will happen if they don’t heed our warnings.  We may have pity, arrogance, condensation, disgust in our voice but the end result is that for our daughters these women and girls cease to be complex and complicated people and become caricatures.  Their “mess” highlights our accomplishments, refinements, education and position.

It is tempting to believe that if you just follow the rules, somehow you will be protected or at the very least buffered from the sexualized racism that is so omnipresent now.  We see the billboards stating that we are a danger to our children, read the “studies” that declare with  authority that we are not desirable, hear at any given time “hoe” and “bitch” out of thumping cars, while walking down the street, or as a “joke”.  We feel the pain, hurt, confusion, and helplessness though we do our best to be as dignified as possible.  We have to be dignified because we know that we are always being watched.  We look into our daughters’ eyes and see sweetness, innocence, intelligence and curiosity.  We watch them as they run and laugh impervious at the moment to the harsh realities of the world.  We as mothers want nothing more than to let our daughters have those moments but we also know the world will not allow such frivolity.  We don’t mean come off as harsh.  We don’t mean to be so judgmental or to suck our teeth at the girls who we determine to be “ghetto”.  We really don’t mean to hiss that “she” is a “fast ass” and predict she’ll end up in “trouble”.  When communications between ourselves and our daughters is at its worst, we yell out in frustration “You want to end up like her?!”

The reality is that no matter what we do or don’t do, black women and girls will continue to be under attack.  Although Mrs. Obama is accomplished in her own right, she continues to be exposed to some of the most vicious racist and sexist attacks.  A maid who was recently sexually assaulted in New York by one of the most powerful men in the world, bravely reported the attack, and underwent an invasive exam afterward has had her honesty questioned, her identity and that of her daughter exposed in French media and her role as the victim questioned.  Even where she resides has been tarnished as an AIDS building.  Even in death, black women and girls have to prove our worth to have justice served.

Our daughters will be the next generation that will be under attack.  They will be the ones who march, speak, protest, write, dance, paint, sing, and pray in creative protest.  They will have at their disposal their own talents that will enable future generations of black women to reclaim their narrative.  What will not help is shame or separation from their sisters.  When we insist that the fault was all ours, they internalize our shame.  When we use those who are the most vulnerable to as a deterrent, we make those girls the other.  What our daughters need is for us to be tender with ourselves.  When we look at our past with soft eyes, we do the same to others.  Our daughters will see that and not accept debts that they did not incur.  When our daughters are witnesses to our healing, they in turn will learn to do the same for themselves and others.

“No One Can Say Anything To Me…”

So….Ellen Pompeo is running around giving her opinion on race relations, and what black people need.

(h/t @daowens44 on twitter)

The relevant parts are between 45 seconds and 2:45.

As you can see in the video, Whoopi asks her about her plans to adopt a baby of color, and what people have said about that. Ellen Pompeo says, with a certain amount of what she must of thought was black girl sass, “No one can say anything to me cause I had a baby of color…” [Yeah. I paused too.] Then she goes on her rant about HBCUs and the NAACP. She doesn’t think we need “black schools and white schools,” referring to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She doesn’t think we need the NAACP awards; we only need “People Awards.” And I don’t think she is referring to the magazine.

What makes Meredith Ellen feel this way, let alone think she has a legitimate voice on these issues, that actually don’t affect her, considering she would have never even attended an HBCU or would get an award from the NAACP**?

Cuz can’t nobody say nuthin’ to her cause she already has a black baby. And a black husband. And who really cares what Jill Scott has to say, right? The experiences of black mothers can’t really be worth as much as those of a white mother of a black child, huh?

Hm. Read more

From the Crates: These Are My Confessions

originally posted January 2010

The following is an abridged and edited version of a post I wrote more than a year ago, but I thought it was fitting for a Mother’s Day post.

I am not a good mother. At least not by the standards that have been set up for the current generation of a certain ilk of  mothers. A generation who is expected to place their children at the center of their universe, and make all decisions about their adult life revolve around what is supposedly best for the child. A generation that is expected to sacrifice their own happiness to make sure their children are happy. A generation that has been fed the idea that having children is a choice, therefore if you choose to do it, you must accept all the self-sacrificing consequences that go along with it. Read more

Single Mommy Blues

It seems we mothers spend a lot of time – and ink – talking about how hard it is to be a mother.

Numerous books, parenting blogs and websites are devoted to the topic. On playgrounds and playdates, mothers huddle together and talk about how incredibly difficult this motherhood game really is.

And yet the voices of some of us mothers mostly remain unheard.

The point of this post is not to compare notes to see which moms have it worst. Mothering is hard. It’s hard whether you’re single or married, whether you’re successfully co-parenting with a cooperative ex, or doing it all by yourself, whether you have the help of a village or only the help you are able to pay for.

But I want to talk about the special hardships faced by single mothers who are doing it alone. Really alone. Without the help of a reliable spouse, co-parent, or a network of friends or family members who pitch in whenever possible.

For several years after my divorce, I sacrificed having a personal life for the sake of my kids. Weekends were consumed by soccer, gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, ice skating – you name an activity, we probably tried it. Dating? Hah! I wasn’t ready. Focusing on the kids was a great way to avoid thinking about how badly I’d flubbed the whole “picking the right partner” thing.

I didn’t become SuperMom because I wanted to. I did it because I lacked an alternative. I live in New York City. My family is in Michigan. My ex-husband was – and is -absent and uninvolved.

I had the help I was willing to pay for. I paid full-time rates for part-time babysitters to ensure I had someone to pick the kids up from school and care for them on half-days and school holidays. The extra expense killed my budget, but my work schedule was too demanding to enable me to rely on afterschool programs.

Recently, I tried co-parenting with my ex-husband, an experiment that now seems short-lived. His last overnight visit with the kids was New Year’s weekend. He is too unreliable to keep a regular visiting schedule, and I don’t have the energy to deal with the litany of excuses.

Although single parenting would be tough even if I worked at home, my demanding executive job makes the juggling even more difficult. Plus, in addition to my day job, I do speaking enagements and lectures. I write, for this blog and others, on my own time.

I even finally started dating again.

The writing, the dating, the lecturing, and some occasional exercise are things I do for myself. But they take away from the time I spend with my kids. I can no longer devote every weekend to their activities. And I feel incredibly guilty about it.

For example: my son is a natural baseball talent. Yet I don’t have time to take him to a baseball coach to work on his skills. I don’t have time – or a good enough pitching/throwing arm – to take him to the park and help him work on his catching, fielding and hitting. I haven’t found time to have him try out for a travel team – and even if he did, I’m not sure I would be able to haul him around from game to game.

His father, who played baseball in high school, takes no interest in his son’s baseball development. I get angry about this sometimes, and then I realize being angry is futile.

Well-meaning friends tell me to stop beating up on myself. They tell me to focus on the fact that, all by myself, I have raised smart, independent thinkers who are thriving in some of New York City’s most competitive schools.

I do acknowledge my blessings. But still, I’m tired. So please forgive me for indulging in a bit of whining.

Mothering is hard for all mothers. It is especially hard for us single women who are parenting completely by ourselves. And because we’re so used to doing everything all by ourselves, we don’t ask for help easily. Or always know how to accept it graciously, without constantly thanking the person who agreed to step in for us. Or apologizing for being burdensome.

So if you know a single mom who parents by herself, maybe you can offer her a little help. If your kids are friends, maybe you can offer to pick her kid up from school and host a playdate at your house. Or you can invite her kid to a weekend playdate or sleepover. Let her be the last parent to pick up her child from the birthday party. Because whether she says it or not, she values every single moment she gets to spend by herself. But she may not feel she has the right to ask for that time.

And try not to get too annoyed when she keeps saying “thank you.”

Is it (Attempted) Murder?

A mother was recently convicted of attempted murder for withholding cancer medication from her child, a child who subsequently died when his cancer returned after a period of remission. The mother admitted to withholding the medication, but defended herself by claiming that she did so because she thought the side effects of the medication were too harsh:

LaBrie said she told her son’s doctor two or three times that she was afraid that “he just had had it.”

“He was just not capable of getting through any more chemotherapy,” LaBrie said. “I really felt that it could out-villainize the disease — the medicine could — because he was very, very fragile.”

The little boy, only 7-8 years old at the time, was also severely autistic, and his mother was caring for him alone. She and the father had a contentious relationship, although after the child’s doctors found out that the child hadn’t been receiving the cancer treatments, the boy went to live with his father. The mother was suffering from depression at the time she chose to withhold the medication, but the doctors testified that they told her that her son had an 85-90% chance of surviving the cancer if she stuck to the medication plan. It was after it was discovered that the mother deviated from the plan that the doctors discovered that the cancer returned, and a year later the child was dead. (The father died in a car accident several months after the boy’s death.)

Murder is not a term to throw around lightly, and in fact, the law does not. Murder requires the intent to cause death, or at least to cause grievous bodily harm. Intent cannot be inferred from the results of one’s actions; in other words, just because someone dies, or is grievously harmed does not allow an inference that the person who caused such harm intended for it to happen. To charge murder, the prosecution has to show that regardless of outcome, the accused intended, through their conduct, to cause death.

This is an attempted murder charge, which simply means that the accused must intend to commit murder, which is already a crime of intent. So the accused must intend to intend to cause death – they must intend to do whatever will cause death and they must intend to actually accomplish the act, i.e., cause death. One cannot attempt murder unconsciously or involuntarily. Courts use many different tests to determine how far the accused has to go to actually attempt a crime, but in Massachusetts (where this case is from), the accused must take a substantial step and come “reasonably close” to executing the crime through an overt act. An overt act is the point of no return – “an overt act must be of the type that a reasonable person would expect to set off the events that would naturally result in accomplishing the crime but for an unforeseen interference.” Attempted murder is simply murder that was unsuccessful in actually producing death.

In this case, to convict this mother of attempted murder – and not just murder – the jury had to believe that this mother intended, through withholding the medications, for her child to die, but her conduct – withholding the medication – did not actually cause the child to die.

Am I the only one who sees a problem in this?

The doctors testified that there were five phases of treatment, and if all five phases were completed, the child had an 85-90% chance of survival. The mother testified that she followed through four of the phases to completion, but withheld only the fifth phase. When the doctors reexamined the child, that’s when they noticed the cancer had returned in a more aggressive form.

First, where is the intent to kill? Nothing in this article, at least, indicates that this mother intended to kill her child, or that she knew that in withholding the medication that death was certain to occur.

Second, and closely related, there was no guarantee that if the child completed the treatment completely, meaning all five phases, that he would survive. So no reasonable person would expect that not finishing all the phases would certainly lead to death. There was no overt act that creates the attempt to commit murder.

Third, the child died from cancer, but not the original type of cancer he once had. The fact that the child eventually died is really not relevant, but I’m sure that the prosecutor used the fact that the boy died to their advantage. They couldn’t charge her with murder because there is no way to prove that her withholding the drugs is what led to the cancer coming back and ultimately the child’s death. But ironically, if her conduct was attempted murder, then what stopped the attempt from being full-out murder? What stopped her conduct from producing the result that she intended? Again, its clear that there was no guarantee that the child would have survived had she given him the drugs, and no guarantee he would have died from withholding. Why did the jury find beyond a reasonable doubt that this woman intended for her child to die when no reasonable person would believe that death would be his outcome, and the prosecutor could not even charge murder because the causal chain is too tenuous?

We put a lot of pressure on moms to be superheroes. We expect them to make all the right choices, the choices we say we would have made. We chide them, punish them when they make a choice that turns out to be the wrong one, one that we think they should have chosen differently on. We expect mothers to be martyrs, and saints. We call them murderers when perhaps they were choosing compassion.We constantly second guess what they do, never really stopping to put ourselves in their shoes.

I hope this mother and her lawyer passionately pursue an appeal. While she is probably guilt-ridden, I don’t think she is guilty.

#blackparentquotes

I was all set to write something serious tonight, something that would really make us all stop and think. And then something came across my Twitter timeline that had me falling OUT and I just had to share it.

The hashtag was #blackparentquotes.

Sometimes I don’t get Black Twitter hashtags. This one I totally did. I obviously was raised by Black Parents. And I obviously am one. I found myself having heard or having said so many of them, I was simultaneously shocked and amused. Here are mine, that I came up with:

“Get your hands OFF my walls!”

My mother STILL says this. When I was a child, I could NOT understand. I never felt that my hands were dirty. But today – my walls are filthy. Why? CUZ I HAVEN’T TOLD MY KIDS TO KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF THE WALLS! Children have nasty hands. They refuse to use the banister to walk up the steps. As Andrea and I commiserated over Twitter, they act like they can’t stand on their own feet. Why are you leaning?! STAND UP!

[Child says something smart.] “Who you talkin’ to?”

My five-year-old is in this stage now where I say this probably every day. Now, back when I was growing up, this statement was followed by silence, actually waiting for a response. You had betta said, “Nobody,” so the retort would be, “That’s what I thought, cuz I know you wasn’t talkin’ to me like that.” Today, I’ll still say, “Who you talkin’ to?” but I will continue with a talk about being respectful and not talking to me that way. Then I’ll tell him how he should of said what he said. These kids don’t even know…

[Mom on the phone. Child is looking at the mom.] “Why you in my mouth?”

A variant is “Get out of my mouth!” Kids just don’t know how to eavesdrop on phone conversations without actually looking. I learned how to avoid that one quick. I don’t even talk on the phone now. But I do have to shuttle my kids away when I’m trying to have an adult conversation. I get the urge sometimes to say this, but I don’t think they’d get it.

[Mom and child walk into the store.] “Don’t ask for nothin’…”

This was just an ongoing instruction. She didn’t even have to say it.

Child: But [so-and-so’s] mom said they could do it! Mom: “Do I look like [so-and-so’s] mama?”

Nope. You sho’ ’nuff don’t.

“Put some shoes on your feet!”

That was my dad! All the time. I think it was a thing about stepping on something, or catching a cold. But I know it’s the reason  insist on walking barefoot in my house all. the. time. That’s the rebel in me.

“Just wait till we get home.”

I don’t say this. We’ve already had the spanking conversation on this site. Let me just say I have my spoon in the car. No need to wait.

And my favorite (can’t take credit for it though*):

Child: Mommy, can we go to McDonald’s? Mom: You got McDonald’s money?

YES! I say this to my kids ALL THE TIME!! It applies everywhere! “Mommy can we go…” “You got some money?” I try to make it clear to my children at all times that only people who earn money can spend money. They get money sometimes and they have to save some of it and they can spend some of it. But outside of that – naw. It even applies when my son wants to talk about stuff that is “his” – what?? Nope – if you don’t pay any bills in this house, then nothing belongs to you.

What are your favorite #blackparentquotes? Share in the comments!

* i am not a tweet stealer. that ish is not cool.

Trials and Tribulations

It ain’t easy being the parent without primary housing responsibilities. I won’t use terms like “custody” or “custodial” because we have not settled all of that officially.

But, it has its issues. One issue is finances. We argue over finances, tax claims, purchasing responsibilities, etc. We make agreements, one person renegs, and things fall apart. We were doing well before, but I think changes happened because of decisions I have made in my personal life that he does not agree with. He seems to be taking a more adversarial approach with me.

Another issue is time. When your child isn’t with you daily, it becomes easier to disconnect from parental obligations. When you only see your child on weekends, it is often like the child is temporarily stepping into your life, so you don’t make a lot of changes. I realized that in my new house, nothing indicates that I have a child. There are no toys scattered, no child’s bed, no pictures even save one magnet on my fridge. It isn’t a kid-friendly home by any means.

A final issue is missed opportunities. I miss everything. Part of it is because his father fails to inform me of when things happen. He claims he doesn’t want to interfere or intrude in my life. What? This is my son we’re talking about. How is telling me about a school event or development intrusion? It’s like he shuts me out intentionally. I resent that. And recognize that it makes me feel even more disconnected than I felt when he was around all of the time.

I realized things were becoming a grave issue when 4 days passed and I hadn’t spoken to him once. I’d asked his father to get him into the habit of calling me and not relying on me to call him. This isnt to say I have a problem with calling him, but I want him to begin to get used to the idea that whenever he wants to talk to me, he can pick up the phone and call me. His father agreed. I asked him this over a month ago and he has only called me twice. I got so caught up in my day-to-day life that days passed without me speaking to him and I hadn’t even really been impacted by it. I’d called a few times but either his father didn’t answer or he was in the bath or he was asleep.

I’m not feeling this at all.

He tells me that he has every intention of keeping him at least through the 4th grade. 5 more years of this? I don’t know man… what will it do to our relationship? And why do I feel more and more comfortable with that  idea?

I don’t know if that makes me a bad parent or just indicates that maybe I recognize what is best for my son in the long run.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for text-messaged pictures of what he is doing.

I had to ask if that was me, or daddy’s new girlfriend…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,008 other followers