Mothers. Contrary to what patriarchal systems of religion will convey, we are the closest manifestations of God, creating life from triple darkness, growing life inside of us from nothing, the embodiment of unconditional love. Divine creations, God made our backs and hands stronger, our hearts larger, our spirits deeper. No one else could withstand what Black Mothers do.
I am a 40 year old mother of one, my daughter. When I imagined being a mother, I planned to have what I grew up with; two loving parents, a nice home, family vacations, happy holidays, and a good life for my children. Never did I ever envision myself as a single parent. My parents raised me better than this, and my child/ren deserved better.
However at 22 I met and fell hard for a man that I truly believed was my soul mate. From day one we were inseparable. There wasn’t enough time in the day that we could spend together talking about any and everything under the sun. Countless nights we spent parked in front of my house where we intended to part ways, and we’d instead stay for hours upon hours until the sun began to rise. We discussed our people’s history, spirituality, revolutionary movements, political views, Egypt, traveling the world, the books we’d write, the names of our children, etc. We traveled all over the city for the best vegetarian meals and fruit smoothies at all hours of the day and night, cherishing the extra commute time. And the laughter! This man held such deep intellect and also the silliest most unexpected humor! This was the first time a man I dated studied me deeply, adored the essence of who I was, and wanted to see me thrive. I have always been a great cheerleader for everyone else, but this one stopped me in my tracks when he asked me one day “But what about you? What do you want to achieve?” And then he supported me! He went out of his way to surprise me with a thoughtful gifts for no reason, or picking me up when he said he couldn’t. Within weeks of us first dating we went to meet his father together who he had not seen since he was a small child. We were certain, we were going to be together forever.
Until things unraveled. I found out, not from him, that he and his ex were expecting a child. This is the part where I should have run. He had already created a child at 16 years old in Ohio. It was only after I hounded him to do whatever it takes to be in his son’s life that he reestablished contact and began to support. Now this. Another child. By a woman you had a separate twisted history with. But we had already decided…your next child would be ours..? I should have run, should have shut down any emotion and just ran. But that divine heart..that unconditional love…
So we persisted. Creating a life together, but haunted by his tormented past on a daily basis. Immature, unprepared, we both were. Wrought with guilt perhaps at his past crimes while faced with losing real love… he was ill equip. Then we manifested what we had dreamed about, a child of our own. But he said the time was not right. Then again. Still he said, not now. Until God decided, Ma’at was coming.
As my belly grew, it became apparent to me that the dream I envisioned for us and our family was not going to be. Battle scars became deep puncture wounds, until the bleeding became constant. I could not fathom how love could turn into this; sharp tongues that met their target where only we knew each other’s most vulnerable places. I became the rage filled, Angela Basset woman- unrecognizable to myself. Hurt upon hurt, while inside me I was growing life.
I did not know anything about how to be a mother, but like generations of women before me, I learned. Having my daughter was like my own re-birth. Only mothers know this feeling. Everything before, was washed away into faded gray concrete memories. I no longer know that girl, I no longer thought the same, felt the same, behaved the same. I was now a woman. And there came with this new title a whole new set and depth of emotions. There was a quote by Elizabeth Stone I found shortly after my daughter was born that resonated with me which said “Making the decision to have a child-it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
What a mother learns extremely quickly is that she no longer has a say in anything, and all of her actions are devoted to the care and well-being of her “heart”, her child. There are no breaks, no timeouts, no days off. This job requires 24 hour duty regardless of whether you are exhausted from your day at work and the craziness of the world, regardless of how much sleep you have had, regardless of what your bank account says. You are it. Your body is not yours, you eat and drink to produce nourishment for your child. What you do moment to moment is not what you prefer, but what your child needs in that moment. Maintaining our beauty and fashion standards move way down the list to the simple victory of managing to get an outfit on and get everything together to get out the door. Humility is our first garment.
Care and nurturing inevitably bring with them the cousins of worry and stress. We are the first providers, the first teachers, the ones rocking our babies to sleep each night and embracing them tightly each morning. Caring for just ourselves is now secondary to this small miracle before us, our heart, that we now need to clothe, bathe, feed, keep healthy, keep safe, raise to be good human beings in the world! Raise a human being?? When we ourselves are still figuring it out!? But yes, this is our charge as mothers.
Despite the fact that we did not become mothers through divine conception, 75% of black children are born into homes where mothers are the sole providers. We also know that 60% of single parent households live in poverty. The natural question then is where are the fathers?
Now, I refuse to add to the chorus of voices that seek to tear down Black men. Period. I will not do it. (Evidence again of that unconditional love innate to Black women) What I do want to talk about is Black men honoring Black women.
I overstand, in fact, WE overstand that there are deep wounds and familial, historical and political burdens weighing on your back Black man. We recognize that weight. It is familiar to us. We even overstand that you may not be ready to heal from, rise above, fight off all of these ills, but we still love you. We have already accepted less than we know you are inside, you cannot or will not see it yet, but it’s OK, we still love you. We already know how to put ourselves aside, to care for the needs of the ones we love first. We’ve watched our mothers do this, our aunties, our grandmothers. We know sacrifice, it is the air we breathe. We make choices to do this, for a greater love.
What we cannot understand, is the dressed up insecurity (ego) and audacious arrogance you don when you come to demand and expect that we self sacrifice and never realize a fraction of the autonomy you experience each day where you are your only consideration. It is despicable that you can navigate your day without the wrenching in your heart about the well-being of your child, your flesh, and whether they will be safe, fed, happy, etc – simply because you have the peace of mind in knowing “she’s got it covered”. You go days, weeks, months, YEARS without showing any care or concern at all. How do you do this? No seriously – HOW DO YOU DO THAT? I cannot fathom any waking moment of life disconnected in any way from my child. And the excuse of “well that’s because you’re a mother, you birthed the child, there’s a unique bond” yes obviously. That bond is just as strong between a child and their father. Their bond is spiritual. It takes a constant, daily choice to deny it.
Disregard is only the tip of the sword though. Added insult to injury is the denial, dismissal, denigration, disgust, disrespect shown towards mothers who have literally given all of themselves to raising the child you created together. To diminish her sacrifices..when you were never there for the fevers, the tears, the applause, the firsts, the disappointments, the quiet moments of joy. You were not there, she was. To diminish the effort, commitment, dedication, & emotional toll that it takes to not ‘just’ raise a human – as if that were not enough- but to navigate this white supremacist world as a Black woman, or as any woman of color, in the United States of America where oppression lives in our workplaces, in our homes, in our healthcare, in our schools, in our grocery stores, in our police stations, etc where we find no rest because we have no protection, where our bodies harbor all of the pain, stress, trauma and hurt of our lifetimes and our great-grandmothers before us, where we strive every day to shield our babies from this toxic culture and instill self pride, love, confidence, agency, and fairness into the minds and hearts of our babies- but you stand before us and dismiss this? We don’t present ourselves as free from flaws and fault and damage. We are both flawed and imperfect human beings. What we do deserve, as a bare minimum, that carries with it more weight than any dollar can hold, any time can measure, any words can articulate- is respect and honor for us as Mothers.
Even if we are “bad” mothers, according to you. Even if we are not on time. Even when our fuse is short and we raise our voices. Recall your rough edges as well, and consider the context. Consider the job we have taken on and are executing each day, despite your choices to be men or not, we are still Mothers everyday. That, deserves honor.
This is my plea to you, my brothers, to the fathers who are not under the same roof as their children, do better. Even to those who are doing all the right things, do more. But especially for those who make the daily choice to perpetuate cycles of emotional trauma, disconnected families, children who wear questions on their hearts of why you don’t love them back as ferociously as they love you, we need you to do better. Heal your own mother wounds. Do your own work to be better, we cannot do this for you, as much as we try.
Let us reflect on the words of a wise young man who spoke wisdom for our generation in hopes we can make these words irrelevant for the next:
You know it makes me unhappy (What’s that)
When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappy
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but keep your head up
– 2Pac, Keep Your Head Up