A place where Black Mothers can celebrate excellence and motherhood.

The dark side of black motherhood

 
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines vulnerability as "Capable of being wounded" and "open to attack or damage." It also says that weakness is "the inability to withstand attack or damage." Brené Brown, MSW, Ph.D says "One could argue that weakness often stems from a lack of vulnerability- when we don't acknowledge how and where we're tender, we're more at risk of being hurt.( Daring Greatly)" Okay Barb, cool shit..what are you getting at?

Let me explain.

A few months ago I had a huge breakdown in the middle of my bedroom floor. It was UGLY. I was crying, screaming, gurgling, face was hot and I was shaking uncontrollably. Where were the girls? Right there, my oldest daughter helping the youngest get dressed. All of this was the result of dealing with finishing graduate school, suppressing MANY emotions which include guilt, shame, overwhelm, emptiness, anxiety, etc. etc., being on bad terms with my youngest daughters dad and my laundry list is endless.

My mother burst into the room because she didn't know what was going on. She looked at me strangely and the first thing she did (out of panic, fear and because it is engrained in us) was yell, "Get up! The girls are looking at you! What kind of example are you setting for them?!" Uhm, mom hello...the one where I have a kid at 16 finish high school, go to college, have another kid then beast graduate school..duh, thats the kind of example I'm setting. I didn't answer with that though, instead I said in between my gasps for air, tears and snot I said "I cannot right now! Everything is too much and everything and everyone is suffocating me!" I wasn't lying. School, motherhood, work, being a black woman there was a lot of shit happening that I couldn't grasp.
As we like to call it in the conflict management/resolution field, interrole conflict. Interrole conflict is when the needs of all of the roles a single person plays overlap. When you experience this conflict you A.) exhaust yourself by working tirelessly to meet the needs of all your roles, B.) ignore them and act like everything is fine while you enjoy a cup of tea in a room engulfed in flames or C.) breakdown in the middle of wherever you are no matter who is around because physically you can't handle everything that is now coming up against your will emotionally.  As well all can see, I chose C.

"Well right now you don't have a choice! Suck it up, it is what it is and do what you need to do!" I got up 10 minutes later, washed my face, apologized to the girls and remained on autopilot for the rest of the day. Later on that night I thought about the interaction between my mother and I and the girls and myself. I asked myself four questions:

1. Am I horrible or human for breaking down in front of the girls.
2. What kind of message did I send to Tatiyana?
3. Do I want to learn to embrace my emotions or escape them?
4. Doesn't she care enough to ask whats wrong and be here for me?

Asking myself those three questions led to bigger questions:

Why aren't black mothers allowed to break when they have been bent beyond their comfort and control?

Why are black mothers and ultimately black females as a group not allowed to be soft? 

To answer my first question, initially I thought I was horrible and a bad person for being so emotional in front of my children (How dare I be human?!) Then I realized I was reacting humanly and that its okay to see that I had been wounded because it means that all along in order to better myself at school, work, with my children I had to understand the risk associated with that, vulnerability. 
Secondly, the message that I think I sent to Tatiyana was, "mommy isn't perfect, I f*ck up, I'm doing the best I can but the sometimes the world still brings you to your knees, literally." Most importantly, I was telling her no matter what society or your mother tells you, you have a divine right to your emotions and taking a minute to acknowledge that you don't have to be strong all the time. Even if it means being perceived as weak. I was weak for not asking for  help, I was weak for being resentful of those who did not understand the struggles that I face daily with taking care of two children alone. I was weak for thinking that I could do everything on my own. That was the message I sent her.


I know that embracing my emotions will help me long term versus escaping them and having them catch up to me like they did that day on my bedroom floor. So yes, I did which required me to turn my focus inward and look at all the things that I have done that got me there (toxic behavior in my romantic relationship, doubling up on coursework, forgetting important dates/carrying for my children, etc.) most importantly, the suppression of my emotions and my unfair expectation for important people in my life to become vulnerable at MY request and not their comfort.

My mother cares, without a doubt. Growing up in the south during Jim Crow era, basically raising her seven younger siblings she had to learn to suppress her wants and needs for her siblings. That also included her emotions, but thats the narrative for black women. We are conditioned to believe that we have to be strong, nothing can penetrate the force field we created. Our children, our spouse, no one can see that we break. When we want security we (myself included)  fail to articulate it because many of us come from homes where we keep what happens wherever it happens without fully acknowledging the hurt or trauma and the emotions that come with it.
Black mothers "aren't allowed" to break because we have been programmed to believe that showing emotion which is to be vulnerable is weak. Motherhood is not for the weak and black women are not weak. So we pack up our emotion which brings on shame and we project what we believe are our shortcomings out on things and sometimes people. As Brené says, guilt is I did something bad and shame is I am bad or simply I am not worthy...

I am still a work in progress. I am unpacking years of hurt and trauma, sitting with it and using it to tell my story but not define me. I am allowing it to reshape for the better how I think and how I see myself and others. I am changing how I love and focusing on what I've done and how to make things right. I am no longer seeking outside validation, I seek connection but I am becoming so grounded in who I am and who I can be that even rejection from potential connection will not take any value from me. I am enough. I. AM. ENOUGH. So are you and don't @ me on it either.

This is a vulnerable moment for me because whenever I speak with people they say, "You're so bomb!" "So many of our peers look up to you!" "You have it going on!" and on the outside I smile and say thank you but on the inside I'm screaming "NO I DON'T, I WAS ALMOST LATE FOR WORK, MY ROOM IS A MESS, JAHARA WON'T FALL ASLEEP BEFORE 10 PM AND I JUST WANT TO TAKE A DAMN BREATH WITHOUT A CHILD HANGING OF MY F*CKING SHIRT!" I wanted to tell everyone how the last half of 2016 and beginning of 2017 I cried myself to sleep, wallowing in sadness and fighting the gremlins in my head that was so confident and sure of my worthlessness.  But I didn't for fear of being judged labeled a bad mother or worse, weak. Weak because I'm human and I too need moments to myself to process where I am and redefine boundaries for who I am and how my roles come into play.

So in light of my breakdown what could I have done differently?
Talked to Tatiyana afterwards and explained as best I could that sometimes mommy can't do it all even when she thinks she can. Reiterated to her that emotions are great and you have every right no matter what society says to be soft. That strength is not in avoiding emotion but understanding, embracing and control how you react to things. Tell her that is weak to walk around as if you are invincible because the pain is four times worse than just acknowledging and sitting with it for awhile.


Now looking back and talking to my mother she said to me, "Sometimes I wish I had the courage you have when you both were younger. I don't blame anyone but myself for not fighting for me and demanding my space in my house and work. At first I didn't understand but I see how great of a mother you are because you take all of your hats off and just are who you are, mothers need that. Black women need that. You define your roles, you don't let them define you."

I want my mother to know I wouldn't have loved her any less (I am CRAZY about my mom) if she  set boundaries between who she is as a person and who she is as a mother.  I learned from her still and she's successful because I am seeing and choosing not to walk down that dangerous past. Mothers are not perfect and we are constantly building upon the many mothers in our family that came before us.

I say all of this to say, its okay to ask for help. Its okay to tap out for a few minutes. Its okay to fall apart in front of our children, it is a chance to show them that you are human and you hurt like everyone else. You can be strong and vulnerable, take these opportunities and embrace them because your children will learn how to cope with life from you. Am I saying to break down in front of your children all the time? No. I do make it a point now to share my day with my children when we speak about theirs so they can connect to me, learn empathy and can say "mommy has feelings and her feelings need love too."


To the others that are reading, sit down and talk to a mocha mom you know. Ask her what she needs, physically, emotionally and mentally. Give her a break. Basketball can wait sometimes fellas ( I know ball is life LOL) but your superhero needs a moment in her telephone booth. Be there for her and if she can't tell you what she needs listen to her when she's speaking. Watch for change in tone, volume and her physical expression.

After all, mommies, Mocha moms especially just want to be heard.

Comment section is as always open to all.

I hope my vulnerability will help you explore yours.

Light and Love

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