My mother and I had a complicated relationship. While brilliant, my mother was different from a lot of my friends’ mothers. She was divorced during a time when seemingly no one at my entire school had a divorced mother. She worked when all my peers’ mothers were housewives. I was always an observant child; I remember being very young and seeing how my mother did things and how other women—usually other women in my family or my friends’ mothers—did things. I found their ways so different.
On top of being different, she made certain choices for my sister and me. For example, my mother had me take up the flute because she loved it. We weren’t Catholic, but she sent my sister and I to Catholic schools. I went to an all-girls’ Catholic high school where I was the only Protestant and one of only two Black girls at the entire school. While her nonnegotiable decisions seemed so illogical at the time, I am proud and satisfied with who I grew up to be. As an adult, I’ve become able to see that the choices she made set me on a unique path for success, health, and fulfillment in life.
I think so many of us fall into one of two categories: We either parent exactly how we were raised because we “turned out fine”, or we do everything completely opposite because there are many things about how we were raised that we didn’t like (and may even have prompted our seeking therapy as adults). In Black American culture we typically don’t agree with the notion of being friends with our children, but I always hoped that someday as a mother I would be able to have a close, friend-type, relationship with my daughter.
I wanted my daughter to be able to “tell me anything.” Better that she talked to me about life’s issues than her friends who had no life experience! I wanted a daughter who would be happy spending time with her family. I wanted to make mothering decisions specific to her and who she was as a person, not just what I thought a parent should be in general to their child.
When I became pregnant, I obsessively read parenting books and books about women who had raised extraordinary children (JFK, Cher, etc.). I talked to friends who had children that seemed—at least to me—to be happy, well adjusted, functioning adults. I especially sought out advice from mothers who had enviable relationships with their daughters. My best friend from college is an only child, and when my husband and I decided our daughter would be our only child, I talked with my college friend’s mom about her strategies. The best advice she gave me was, “She is her own person. Don’t try to mold her into your ideas of the model daughter.”
My pastor once said, “Your children were God’s before they were yours.” Even more than your not wanting anything bad to happen to your child, God doesn’t want anything bad to happen to His child. A lot of parents choose to parent based on what they think they should do or what their friends are doing, or they parent out of fear of their child embarrassing them or from a place of expectation about who they want their child to be—instead of parenting based on who their child is.
Mothering isn’t easy. You’re going to make mistakes and more than likely at some point your child will end up telling you something they talked to their therapist about (that you said or did). A couple of years ago, my daughter got me a card—not for Mothers’ Day, just on a random day. In it she thanked me for my “intentional” parenting. My daughter’s life is a testament to all that my mother and grandmother did, whether it made sense to me or not, and to my own choices in whose mothering advice I took.
What about you, are you mothering in dramatically different ways from your mother?Leave a Comment