Do Black Mothers Raise Daughters, Love Sons?

I’ve seen and heard the saying, “black mothers raise their daughters and love their sons” repeated enough to know that some people actually feel this way. Sonja Norwood, mother of Brandy and Ray-J, even weighed in on the question for Essence last year.

My 14-year-old daughter has accused me, on many occasions (usually when being denied something she wants), of liking her little brother better, or loving him more. I would be lying if I said I never treated them differently. I never thought that saying applied to me, though, because I think that I treat each of my children in accordance with their particular needs. 

But a recent conversation with a woman I know gave me pause. My friend admitted that she does more for her son than her daughter “because he needs more from me.” She asserted that her girl is more self-sufficient, more reliable than her son, even though he is older, and that her son “needs her more.”

That may be true. But is it fair?

Maybe girls are just more responsible than boys, period. My daughter is more responsible than my son, but I assumed it was mostly due to their age difference. My daughter is almost 5 years older than my son. She’ll be a freshman in high school in the fall, and he’ll just be entering 5th grade.

Truthfully, my daughter was more responsible at 10 than my son is now. For instance, at 10, my daughter started riding the public bus to school by herself. She had paid close attention to how we got from point A to point B on the buses and subways. She didn’t need instructions on how to get to school. She needed instruction on how to avoid trouble on the bus. I told her, “Sit near an older black lady, in the front. She’ll make sure nobody messes with you.”

My son, however, freaked out the one time I thought I would have to put him on the public bus to go to school. His school bus didn’t show up, and I couldn’t take him to school because I had an early morning meeting. It’s a straight shot from our house to his school on the nearest MTA bus, just as it was for my daughter. I told him all of this.

He cried.

“I’m not ready!” he shrieked. I sent him to school in a taxi instead.

Because my daughter is more responsible than her brother, I expect her to be responsible all the time. When she’s irresponsible, I get angry because “she should know better!” When my son is irresponsible, I chalk it up to his immaturity. When my daughter is petulant, whiny, tantrum-prone and defiant, I can’t stand it. When my son acts that way – well, he’s still a little boy. My daughter feels and deeply resents the difference.

My daughter says I “baby” my son and that I “forced” her to do more at his age than I force her to do. I deny it. But maybe it’s true. I admit I sometimes forget she’s still a kid. Or that I, too, can be petulant, whiny, pouty and tantrum-prone. Maybe my standards for her are a little higher than they are for him. That’s a balance I need to evaluate and correct if necesary.

I don’t think I “raise” my daughter and “love” my son. I do make distinctions between them based on their age, what I perceive to be their respective level of maturity, and their personalities. I think it would be unfair if I did anything else.

I check myself to make sure I give them equal time and affection. And as my son approaches his 10th birthday, I am giving him more responsibilities, such as household chores. He is fast approaching his teens, and I know it’s time to stop treating him like the baby of the family.

Still, I suspect there always will be an imbalance of some sort. Imbalance doesn’t have to mean unequal or unfair. The burden is on me to make sure that even if I’m not treating them the same, that I am nonetheless being fair.

I don’t think my kids could get away with that

So, I was shopping at our neighborhood Wal-Mart recently. While in the self checkout lane, I noticed a precious little vanilla bean girl (probably 2-3 years old) in a cart while her mother loaded the conveyor belt one lane over. While I continued to scan my items, I heard her yell out “Hey girl!” I must admit that I made the Scooby Doo noise and looked up. She repeated herself. I scanned the area to see who she was talking to. I noticed a lovely young woman wearing a hijab. The little girl continued yelling “Hey Girl” until she received a response. My perception was that everyone thought this was cute. But, after a connection was made between the little girl and the young woman who were separated by about 25 feet, the little vanilla bean was not satisfied with the conversation ending here. She proceeded to yell “What’s your name?” The young woman did not respond. The vanilla bean then yelled “Hey girl. Don’t you hear me? I’m talking to you. I said what’s your name.”

Okay, while that all sinks in, let’s take a moment to reflect. I must have been holding up the line at this point because I remember coming back to myself holding wheat bread with my jaw on the floor. I immediately shook my head and thought, “I don’t think my kids could get away with that.”

When I returned home and told the story to my husband, he replied by saying, “We would have never let our kids get away with that.” So, here are too issues. The vanilla beans mother didn’t say a word. She never asked the baby to stop yelling, nor did she tell her that she was being impolite. Secondly, I wondered, does race matter? Does race and gender matter? I began to wonder even if I did have an off day and allowed my child to utter those words across the room, how might others, strangers, people I don’t know reacted. Did it not matter because she was white? Would my kids have been seen as unruly? Why didn’t her vanillabeanmama say anything?

This incident made me think again about the perception of child-rearing as it relates to race. Was it a race thing? Or was Vanillabeanmama just having a tough day? Just wondering.

Annie is a CocoaMama who is married to her best friend of 15 years. They have two sons, a 6  year old and a 3 year old. She currently works at the Pennsylvania State University full time where she  is also completing her doctoral degree in higher education. She has worked and been a student for as  long as she has been a mother. So, she has had to learn how to simultaneously juggle all of her  identities. While she has not perfected this skill, she continues to assure that her family remains her  number one priority.