By Sherri Kolade | Michigan Chronicle | Word In Black
(WIB) – “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.”
The late great poet Maya Angelou noted the strong relationship between mothers and their children.
Black mothers are known for holding up the world — and their adult children are usually right up there with them in blessing them right back for raising them and loving on them from the womb to the present day.
How then do these mothers navigate heartbreak and dysfunction in their own families, especially from their own adult children who may or may not be at fault?
The archetype of the strong Black woman, and strong Black mother, which could be partly to blame according to research, has failed the Black family for decades causing Black women to bear unfair burdens that were never their own to fully carry.
Sociological and cultural historians note that the heavy tasks left up to Black women lead them to not only suffer emotionally but to impact their children, too.
Author Nilé Livingston wrote that Black people, especially women, are faced with a “psychological challenge” stemming from connecting with their African heritage and often whitewashed upbringing and education, which causes them to have a “multi-faceted conception of self” that W.E.B DuBois called double consciousness, or often looking at oneself through another person’s eyes.
“Based in popular culture, the Black female iconography has been the saviors, cooks, cleaners, caretakers of their children and other people’s children, the ones responsible for making things better that we didn’t mess up in the first place, the sex objects, superheroes, the magical negro, the ones that are everything to everyone while operating under a public gaze that has constructed this superhuman stereotype,” Livingston wrote. “Without being conscious of it, our culture’s imagination is eager to distort Black women and dehumanize us.”
Do distorted images of Black women then leave room for distorted, strained relationships with their children?
Dr. Sabrina Jackson, a local motivational speaker, said that broken and estranged relationships mothers have with their adult children are a result of oftentimes distant daughters and coddled sons.
She said that centuries ago, a speech by a white slave owner, Willie Lynch, called the Willie Lynch letter, instructed other slave owners how to keep slaves in line through brutal, divisive tactics that would control them mentally for hundreds of years. Jackson added that Willie Lynch would show masters how to break the spirit of enslaved men and enslaved women would learn to protect their sons and their men, subsequently teaching their daughters how to be strong.
“Many of those things we still do today,” Jackson said, adding that DNA has a memory. “There are things in our DNA that may be around [like] feeling oppressed. … You transfer [that] when you have children … [and it] goes into the next generation.”
“A lot of times [Black women] feel like their mothers did not support them, did not love them,” she said. “The adult sons feel like they can always go to their momma; the mother seems like [in some] cases their woman …the sons do things for their momma and not do things for their woman. And you’ll find challenges between mother and son and his woman.”
Jackson said she has worked with families to get out this relationship pattern time and time again.
“One of the biggest things people can do in order to heal from something is they have to be real about it,” she said adding that oftentimes it takes a family tragedy for family members to come together and reconcile. When reconciling, a professional should be in the mix and help if necessary. “Because in our community we don’t [always] see professionals. A professional is skilled and equipped to navigate.”
In a Black studies journal, “A Qualitative Study of the Black Mother-Daughter Relationship: Lessons Learned About Self-Esteem, Coping, and Resilience,” researchers discovered that Black women are “less likely to receive emotional support from kin networks or friends,” which suggests that countless Black women may feel uncomfortable sharing their “emotional challenges or weaknesses” due taking on that strong Black woman trope.
“Moreover, they found that African American mothers may interact differently with their daughters than with their sons. Mothers used more behavioral control with their daughters and used more validation and support with their sons,” according to the journal.
Other groups come to the Black mothers’ defense. In one article, Admirable or Ridiculous: The Burdens of Black Women Scholars and Dialogue in the Work of Solidarity, author Darrius D’wayne Hills noted that Mama Pope (Olivia Pope’s mother) from ABC’s show “Scandal” said it best: “I tell you, being a Black woman — be strong, they say. Support your man. Raise a man. Think like a man. Well … I gotta do all that — who’s out here working for me? Carrying my burden — building me up when I get down? Nobody…we try to help all y’all even when we get nothing. Is that admirable or ridiculous?”
Cameo King, advocate for women and girls and founder of Lansing-based non-profit organization, Grit, Glam, and Guts, which helps 12-17-year-old girls, told the Michigan Chronicle that she helps women, including daughters and mothers, heal themselves in their relationships.
“I consider myself an advocate for women and girls and centering experiences for Black women and girls,” King said, adding that her organization focuses on self-identity, self-awareness and recognizing the “power of your voice.”
King said that authentic young girls and teens lead to authentic women who show up as the best version of themselves.
She is also the owner of The Good Girl Podcast, which talks to women about their flaws, faith, femininity and culture. King added that in working with women, she sometimes sees how they grew up not allowed to be themselves fully, which can impact their relationships, especially with their mothers.
“If you aren’t being who you are, who you were called to be … you are living in state of denial and that affects relationships, how you show up at work and that eats away with who you are,” King said adding that it is especially true for Black women who are often rewarded for fitting into a box. “That fulfills your pocket but not your soul.”
King said that while she and her mother have a great relationship, she empathizes with others who can’t say the same. She echoes Jackson’s thoughts and said therapy can help work through these issues, especially as a result of damaging behavior in the Black family.
“[Therapy is the ability] to be honest of yourself and take accountability for the action,” King said adding that some hard truths include mothers assuming responsibility for any role they have played and seeing themselves as the “villain” in their own story.
“I think that is the root of it,” King said. “Responsibility and accountability and telling the whole truth.”
Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.