It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

CW (content warning) Domestic violence/homicide, infant death, cancer

There are many things I don’t know, understand or receive from my family. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I continue to seek these things, even though I know they are harmful to my mental health. Each time I attempt to get what it is I’m looking for, I’m left with more unanswered questions and more of a void. I have this idea in my head of what a family should be and even though I don’t have it with my immediate family or my children, it’s still something my heart strives for. I’ve held many conversations and immersed myself in countless thoughts to figure out where this idea comes from because bizarrely enough, that’s all it is – an idea of what should be. These inquiries led me to question the narrative that’s pushed on audiences all over the world through media platforms like movies and television shows.

From the comforting aura and knowledge sharing of Aunt Vivian Banks (the real one, you know who I mean) to the understanding nature and maternal intuition of Clair Huxtable, we are given this aesthetic of emotional availability. Not to mention, both of these women were ideal wives and career oriented. They didn’t have to choose between the two.

This is the picture that’s painted of what mothers are supposed to offer their children and families, particularly their daughters. This isn’t to say that conflict doesn’t arise but it does offer a very particular connection as to how a mother and daughter should engage. But, how realistic is this interpretation? What does it mean for young women turned mothers, particularly, young black women whose reality is much, much different than those they’re encouraged to aspire to? Imagine watching TV shows, movies, or media interviews and every time you see a seemingly supportive and happy mom, you wish that that could be your mom.

Before I had children, whereas many women sought toxic relationships due to nonexistent or strained relationships with their fathers, I had always sought them because of not having a present mother. I have many fond memories of my father as a child. Admittedly, the absences of when he was incarcerated are memorable too. I remember hugging, laughing, going fishing, and being introduced to domestic and exotic animals. My dad was very childlike and happy. My memories of my mother, on the other hand, are of her yelling, watching TV, keeping house, and asking me why I was always in my room and not outside with my siblings. My earliest memory of my mother is of her being abused by my dad. I’ve wondered and asked, why such behavior was tolerated. It took me well into my adult years to confront a response for myself, in analyzing my own life, as my questions have never been answered.  

I have spent as much time contemplating why our family dynamic is the way it is as I have been sitting in the pain of it. I’m well aware of the limitations put onto a mother of five, living in poverty, having experienced her own traumas. One of which being but a small child when her mother was the fatal victim of domestic abuse. I have acknowledged them, offered my apologies and forgiveness, directly speaking to the God in my mother. For whatever reason, this was not enough to inspire change. I totally understand that change is neither easy nor does it come overnight but I also recognize that it can happen when you have the desire to do so. Everyone has the ability to change but not everyone wants to. That is what I’m being forced to accept.

The ways that an emotionally absent mother has showed up in my life hasn’t been only in choosing the toxic relationships, it has been in assuming the role of mother in my friendships, attempting to be the person I never had for other young women who didn’t get it either. This is problematic because it’s exhausting and puts a cap on the longevity of the friendship. Essentially, I have raised friends into independence to the point that when they don’t seem to need me anymore, I feel as though I’m no longer valuable. Thus, the relationship inevitably deteriorates. Intimacy has always been a source of discomfort in more ways than I care to admit. When you grow up without being given affection by the sole person who bore the weight of bringing you to this world, it is hard to give that affection to another. In turn, it is all the more difficult to receive it from another. Instead of feeling sure of the reasons why someone may want to be affectionate towards me, I am often left wondering why they would want to.

My saving grace has been my children. As I’m sure many of us moms can relate, I really have no idea what I’m doing! I mean, I have some experience under my belt now, being 19 months postpartum but when I think about the grand scheme of motherhood and who my children may grow to be, I am so terrified that it drives me to be better. I will die before I allow my children to watch me settle for anything less than what I know I deserve. How can I expect them to go out into the world and be the best version of themselves while they watch me wither away in misery and unfulfilled dreams? This is not saying that my children don’t see me crying or upset. Oh, they absolutely do. This is saying that I will always try my best to show them that it is okay to have a good ass cry but when you’re done crying, you better remember who the fuck you are, as I allow myself to do over and over. Remember, children are more likely to do as we do, not as we say. I have accomplished a lot in my 26 years but I still have many more goals to conquer. I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t try, even if I never realize my full potential.

Having said that, I need support to do so. With my children nearing their second birthday, their age doesn’t negate our need for support. We may not need premade meals or someone to keep an eye on them so that I can shower, as we may have when they were first born (though it would help!) but we absolutely still need a community to surround us. We need aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, and cousins. All of these people play a pivotal role in the liveliness of our childhood experiences, but where are they? We need simple things like pictures of us that aren’t selfies. Or more seriously, a break. Heaven forbid I need a break, but bitch, I do. I need time to myself and I should be able to call up one of my umpteen family members to request an overnight sitter. We need advice sometimes. Ideally, I would prefer to be able to call up one of my elders and ask how to do this or that, or when to be concerned if x, y, z is happening. But, I can’t. At least not in the capacity that I would like. I wonder, then, am I asking too much? These are the issues that I deal with in my reality.

Although it is a privilege for me to be entrusted with the gift of raising these two humans, simultaneously, it feels like a burden to do so alone. Many times, I have been told that the resilience I show my children now will manifest into undying appreciation from my children when they’re older but who really knows? I am not looking to be appreciated. They don’t owe me anything, not even that. What I am looking for is the strength and support to raise them as best I can. Only one of those things seems to be within my reach.

Typically, I like to end my posts with tips on how to take a situation and make it better for yourself and your family so you can secure the bag in every way possible but today, I don’t have any tips. For the better part of this awfully long Sunday, I’ve been sitting in my grief; so supremely sad that the most I could do was keep my littles close to me. I yelled too much for my conscience to hold but I wanted to continue to be honest with you. To let you see that I don’t have all of the answers. I have some solutions but I don’t have all of the answers. I am aiming to do a content drop once a week but today…

Today, I shed tears for my best friend’s son who never made it to see his second birthday. Fuck you, cancer.

Today, I shed tears for my grandmother who never lived to watch her children grow up and have children of their own.

My grandmother, a victim of domestic abuse who never lived to tell the story

Crimes of passion doesn’t sound as bad as murder but that’ll never stop my aunty from carrying memories that she still can’t speak on

My grandmother will never know that that abuse cycled down through generations, from her to her daughters to her daughter’s daughters

She’ll never know that it stops with me

Today, my voice went hoarse because I am tired of being touched by babies who don’t understand my fatigue

Then I remembered,

There are women who never got to see their baby grow to do what mine can do

It’s with divine favor that I can watch my children play, even if it means yelling at them to not be so rough

Then, the guilt crept in.

I have the audacity to wish for a break when another mother buried her child shortly after the age that my children are now

A break from what? The overwhelming magnitude of two babies who love me?

How dare I?

But, I do dare.

Still, I do care.

And, this is one of the hardest days I’ve had in a long while

‘Cause we should have gotten more time with him before he was set free

And I should’ve had a grandmother to sit down with me, to teach me, to know my children

Instead, I’m left with a best friend whose grief I can feel from across the country

And a mother who can’t love me how I need

I want to yell, “WHAT ABOUT ME?”

Til I’m reminded that my ancestors dreamt me into existence

Manifested a being of their wildest dreams

to carry their name and tell their stories

to speak my own healing into this realm

to give a voice to those still unable to speak

And for that, I’m grateful.