Written by Nicole
For Mother’s Day last year, I wrote about ways black mothers fail their children. This year, I’m writing about black mothers in a different way. This post marks the first installment of what I am calling the Ten Commandments series. These posts will go over ten different pillars I believe are crucial to the topic at hand, in this case, motherhood. Even though I’m not a mother myself (and every day I see more evidence why I should flip from childless to childfree), I recognize certain patterns, and as a black girl who had the luxury of having good black matriarchs, I want stories with happy endings to be the RULE, not the exception, when it comes to how black women have, raise, nurture, and sustain children. With that in mind, here are my version of the Ten Commandments of Black Motherhood.
This commandment is first because it covers A LOT of ground. Birthing into struggle could mean having a kid you don’t want. An unwanted child will know they are unwanted no matter how much you try to hide it. That feeling of unwantedness will bloom, whether it turns into direct resentment of the mother only, or a widespread vitriol aimed at all black women, especially from the sons. See where I’m going with that one?
Struggle birthing could mean not having children while broke. Having a child in poverty is child abuse. I said what I said. Children are needy, expensive, and time-consuming, and they did not ask to be that extra burden. Because children are just that, a burden, especially to the average black woman who lacks the resources and support network of our nonblack counterparts. If you were struggling to make ends meet, a baby will not improve that. In fact, 10 times out of 10, it’ll make it worse. Having children to get a slightly larger refund come tax time, when you can’t afford the child before or after April 15, is not fair to anyone involved, least of all a child.
Struggle birthing could mean that you have the kid, and you’re not doing too badly financially, but you turn around and not teach your children valuable life lessons because you had to learn the hard way. The whole point of being a mother, to me, is to ensure that your child ends up better than you did. So what if you had to learn things the hard way growing up! It is your job as the mother to make sure those hard lessons get taught by your wisdom, rather than their lived experiences.
Your older children were not placed in this world to be your youngest children’s third parent. Do not take out your inability to use effective birth control on the young teen unfortunate enough to be the first born. Sure, the odd time a 14+ year old could watch a kid for a short amount of time, but I believe that EVERYBODY’s time is valuable, so they should be COMPENSATED, even if they are blood related. Furthermore, the in-home babysitting service should not be thought of as a guarantee. Even your children are not foregone conclusions.
I’m over thirty and I would struggle with watching a four-for-four worth of children. To expect a teenager to do that, for free, frequently, being a child, is not right. Not because you are all family means a constant stream of free babysitting comes standard. And not because you watched your ten siblings and “we all turned out fine” that it is okay to exploit the older children. Let kids be kids.
Some time last year I wrote about a black woman who had 14 black love babies. Now, I’m not the most baby-crazy person, but 14 kids is absolutely ridiculous. There is no exception. We are not in the olden days where a family’s workforce had to come out of the Missus to till the fields. Not because you can, means that you should. Conceiving and birthing that many children is not really a feat. Sperm meets egg, multiplied by 14, and voila, sports team of children. Any two idiots can have a baby – it is the ease of baby-making that has the black community looking the way it does, but that’ll be a blog for another day. However, SUSTAINING the children you birth is the true test of how good a mother you are.
There is no family alive on this planet that can adequately provide for 14 children. Or 8 children. Anything above 4 is too many, in my opinion. I’m leaning on the “one and done” approach to kids myself. Regardless of wealth and resources, there is but so much that money can do in raising children. Even the richest people in the world all have 4 kids or less, and they have enough money to individually start their own space programs.
But because black women are indoctrinated into being the brood mare, and the means to have more bodies in the seats “for the revolution”, too many believe that having all these children, regardless of her ability to care for them, is the right thing to do. Given that black motherhood is no easy feat, the wiser course of action would to limit the number of children one has, and pour all available resources into them. It is not elitist to want your child to be the best, have the best, do the best, and have a whole plan set out for them. And if you think it is, and mother accordingly, someone, somewhere might find a plan for your kid.
In the American black community, most black children (77%) are born outside the confines of marriage. In Jamaica, a majority black nation, the out of wedlock rate there hovers around 86%. Call me a traditionalist or Negropean or whatever else, but I strongly believe that children should be born in wedlock. Evidence supports this. Not because you or your friends or white folks have kids out of wedlock means it is right, or beneficial to the child. If you turned out fine in a single parent home, that’s great. But that doesn’t mean that is the ideal. And if a man impregnates you without marrying you first (not after the baby is born, not “when the time is right”, not when the kids are grown), by default, I believe that you have done yourself and your child a disservice. Marriage is one way a man shows his dedication and love to a woman. The lead up to it (courting/dating), is him auditioning to you his ability to protect, produce, provide, and problem-solve for you, AND any possible children you may have. If he is an idiot in any sense, you should not be the one to continue his bloodline.
The best man to father your child may also take into consideration his health status. This may be an unpopular opinion, and I imagine people will be coming for my neck in the comments, but if he has a bad health history (genetic diseases, family history of extensive chronic medical problems), then, once more, you don’t have to be the one to continue his bloodline. I do not consider it eugenicist to want the best possible genetic combination for any children I bear. For example, I’m mildly asthmatic, so any children I might have may get that raw deal. Before I got married, I had a conversation about my then boyfriend’s medical history, and his parents, AND his grandparents. He comes from healthy stock, so I was satisfied. How many black mothers do you think go that far to ensure the best health of their children? Invasive? Sure. But, my body, my choice. And I will never make an apology for going to that length to secure my bloodline, my legacy. Of course, genetic abnormalities can still happen from two healthy parents, and that’s something that would need to be dealt with at that time. But asking these important questions and making childbearing decisions based on the answers is a sensible thing to do.
Around 60% of black girls experience some kind of molestation before they turn 18. I suspect that number is underreported, since the black community will go to extreme lengths to protect adult male predators from any kind of justice for their actions. If your child says that someone did a bad touch, you should believe them. No questions asked. I cannot fathom giving an adult the benefit of the doubt over my own flesh and blood. I don’t even HAVE kids, nor have I been molested, and me writing this is infuriating to me. Imagine how your child would feel if they confided in you that uncle Jimmy put his hands down their pants and their complaint was dismissed. Please do not do that to your child. Believe your children when they tell you such horrible things.
In America, most black mothers do not have the luxury of being stay at home moms. Between a busy work schedule, chronic single motherhood, and an anemic support system, it is hard to dedicate the hours and hours that a child needs, particularly in the early years. In spite of that, making time just for them, routinely, is crucial in a child’s development. Time spent just talking, reading, and playing, without distractions, will be invaluable for both mother and child. Raising a child that is comfortable with being open with you comes from them seeing you as their confidant, who would drop everything to make sure they are okay.
In the black community, we sure do love disciplining our children! We issue all kinds of creative beatdowns for any and every infraction. Acted out at school? Get the belt. Didn’t clean their room? Get the wooden spoon, the broom, the sandal, and so on. One would think that since black folks are soooo keen on “discipline”, our community would be highly organized and flourishing with safe neighborhoods and good schools. But they most certainly are not. So since we have little to show for how effective these slavery-reminiscent beatings are, why do black people continue to think this is the best way to discipline a child? We say “we spank/beat/whoop them out of love”…and then wonder why the domestic violence situation we have is so abysmal when those love-beating recipients grow up to beat their partners out of “love” too. Beating the daylights out of your child is not love, despite how much black folks love doing it. Having your older kids act as a spare parent isn’t love, it’s just going to foster their resentment of you and make it that much easier to cut off contact when they are older. Sheltering your child from the struggle, be it via music lessons, after school activities, language immersion classes, being well-spoken, etc. isn’t “white” (ugh), it is the building blocks of a highly successful adult.
Black and ugly like your daddy.
I hate combing this nappy black-ass head.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.
Using your child’s blackness as an insult is a surefire way to foster self-hatred which will proliferate like a cancer throughout the community. Before a child has to deal with overt and covert racism from others, they learn to hate those features right there at home. For example, the first person to call me nappy-headed was another black girl. Who taught her that, at that young age, I wonder? Did Dwight Mann break into her house to point at her kinky hair and scorn it? Or did her mother frustratedly run a comb through it one Sunday morning before church and let her know what she really thought? Remember that four-year-old girl who said she was so ugly? Where does a toddler learn that kind of thing? Because I’m damn sure that Big Bird and Elmo and them are not covering that in their ABC lessons of the day.
If your relationship is on the rocks, even if you have been happily married for the previous ten years, a baby will not fix it. At all. Birthing a baby with the responsibility to fix a bad situation that will be exacerbated by their mere existence is cruel, and everyone will resent each other for it. It would be far better to seek counselling, or a divorce attorney, rather than to hope that after 40 weeks’ gestation, Superbaby will swoop in a repair the broken relationship.
As a daughter, and as a woman, I am very fortunate to have a mom who taught me everything she knew. I entered adulthood under no illusions and my mom made sure that I learned from her mistakes, rather than learn from mine. As the saying goes: “a fool learns from his own mistakes, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others”. If you have wisdom, share it, even if you yourself had to learn the hard way. If your wisdom came from someone else’s foolery, share that too! The game in this instance is vast – it could be how males treat women in society at large, and how to navigate that. It could be how to use innate gifts and talents to succeed. It may be tips and tricks on how to avoid falling into the traps set out for her by black males, white and nonblack women, and even other female blood related family members. No matter the form the wisdom takes, it should be imparted unto the daughters of the community, repeatedly, so that when it is time to put the wisdom into action, it comes as second nature.
These are just ten of the “commandments” I think are of critical importance when it comes to black motherhood. As I said in the intro, this will be a series. Since black motherhood is so vast and so complicated, there will be additional posts on this topic in the future. Whether or not you think I am qualified to give such advice/feedback, since I don’t have kids, is up to you. If I do become a mother myself though, you better believe I will be heeding my own advice, as well as advice from mothers before me.
What do your own Ten Commandments of Black Motherhood look like? Please share them in the comments below!
And of course, Happy Mother’s Day.
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Nicole, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.