The next time you see a mother, especially one who looks like she’s about to throw in the towel, or the next time you want to step out your lane and tell someone how they should parent, remember this: motherhood doesn’t come with rules and regulations. Life is hard and we are all just doing the best we can.
At 31 years old, this is something that I’m just able to really wrap my head around and understand wholeheartedly without judgment. Yes fam, ya girl was throwing shade at mothers all around the world, including my own. It’s important that we understand not all families look the same and mothers come in many forms. It’s even more important that we celebrate these women not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.
Late last year, my very white Dutch girlfriend met my entire family. She loved them, and I was happy she got the stamp of approval from them, including an invite to all future cookouts. Near the end of her visit she said, “I love your family, but I noticed something quite strange, where are the men?”
I had never really thought about that; it’s just the way it’s always been. I’ve been thinking about that statement and came to the conclusion that we all already know: in the absence of Black men, the women always pick up the slack. We become the disciplinarian, the caregiver, the breadwinner — there is no sharing the load.
But what happens when your mother is also not able to give you the life she feels you deserve? Who steps in? It’s usually a grandma or an auntie, still a woman. In my case, it was my great grandma and great aunt. My entire life I’ve known my mother. She carried me for nine months and was the first person to lay eyes on me when I not-so-willingly breached my way screaming into this world. She was a single, teen mom who took care of my younger brother and me the first five years of my life.
Then, there was my great aunt. You know that aunt: the first in her family to go to college, the one who made it out of the hood, the one who everyone thinks is bougie as f**k, the one who, after helping taking care of so many brothers and sisters, most definitely didn’t want any kids of her own. Well there she was choosing to take care of and raise me. At a young age, I didn’t really mind this. I always thought how fortunate I was to have my aunt.
Growing up, she worked from home and my grandma was also always home, too. I loved having my own room, baking with my grandma, playing in the backyard. I also did every activity in the book. I did it all: fencing, rock climbing, horseback riding, archery, gymnastics etc. I was living my best life and my mom was appearing to be living hers.
But as life would have it, I grew up. I grew to resent my mother. How could she leave me? How could she abandon me? How could she seemingly put everything in this world before me? Why raise my brother and other people’s kids, but not me? Was I not her responsibility? Did she even love me?
I also started to really question my aunt’s tough love parenting methods. Why is she pushing me? Why is she breaking me down, just to have me build myself up? Why can’t I just have fun like everyone else? Why do I need to be perfect? And ultimately that same question, does she even love me? Who was I and where did I belong?
Flash forward to 2019, I’m an adult and I’ve spent the last eight years away from my family, living in Asia. I’ve now been home in Baltimore for about eight months and I spend a lot of time with my aunt and mom. Recently, my mom sent me a text saying, “You are beautiful, just like your momma.” While I strongly believe that Black and brown girls need to be told they are beautiful every single day, I thought, “She doesn’t even know that she has taught me so much more. She doesn’t think that someone like her could teach me anything more in life than being beautiful.”
To be clear, she tells my younger siblings, nieces and nephews, all of whom she has had a hand in raising, that they get “life lesson worthy” traits from her, but rarely ever me.
In celebration of my mother, and women like her, I would like her to know that she has taught me so much more than being beautiful. I’ve seen her struggle with her demons, fight self-hate, guilt and shame, endure things our bodies should not have to, get knocked down and ultimately, I've seen her survive. I've seen her take children into her home and raise them as her own, and the sheer amount of kindness she shows others because she’s walked in their shoes.
I want my mother to look in the mirror and see what I see — a woman who is deserving and worthy of all her blessings. Thanks to her I'm not only beautiful, I am resilient. I know I can withstand any storm. Thanks to her I'm not hardened by the trials of life and I'm able to show empathy and compassion to those that I would otherwise be judging.
My aunt recently had a full knee replacement. For over a year she’s been driving 30 minutes to a commuter bus, commuting for 1.5 hours and then walking up a hill to work. She is nearing 70, fiercely independent, stubborn and refuses to retire. Until I had a very serious talk with her, she was almost certainly not going to get that knee replacement. Why? Because her whole life she’s been strong and she’s sacrificed for others. So what was her joints deteriorating to the point that she could feel the bones rubbing together to her? It's just what you do.
For her and the countless amount of non-biological mothers out there, I have nothing but love and respect for you. I am forever grateful that she sacrificed whatever dreams she may have had so that I could thrive and be me. She didn’t ask to be a parent, and it most certainly didn’t come with a playbook. She has taught me everything I know about responsibility, independence and determination. She has shown me that hard work, passion and discipline will take you the extra mile.
Even though it took me a long time to get it, there is one lesson that both my mothers taught me, life is really f**king hard sometimes, but we are all just doing the best we can.