I posted one morning on FB, as I’ve done many times before, about my struggles with parenting– a whole list of things that make parenting particularly challenging for me. It was pretty cathartic to say those things “aloud,” but as I got to the end, I felt the need to make it more palatable, to drop some sugary prose on the end like, “But parenting is also wonderful and grand and blah, blah, blah.” And I actually did it. I typed up a quick, cute little something so no one would accuse me of not being grateful for my children or not enjoying the journey. ‘Cus, ya now, God forbid a mother doesn’t enjoy parenthood every second of every day.
But you know what, I took that ish off! Because though it was true (parenting is great and so are children), the road is not smooth and it does not always feel good. And that prickly discomfort is what I wanted to communicate, NOT the warm fuzzies that come at other times. But for some reason, mothers are made to feel bad for not always enjoying the ride. We’re supposed to grin and bear and act like our mystical ties to our children blot out the magnitude of this task. They don’t. I love my children in an unimaginable way and thank God for them daily, but that love and thankfulness don’t temper the strain and friction of being responsible for a tiny person’s life. It’s tough, and I should be able to say that without feeling like I’m doing something wrong.
And so I did. I said what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it and drowned out the voices that whispered, “Shame on you for being other than happy. Shame on you for not presenting yourself in the expected way.” As I submerged those voices and muffled their condemning cries, I was left with a silence that allowed me to feel ok about not feeling ok.
We all need that. We all need to be able to say, “These kids are getting on ALL my nerves and I’m ready to blow,” without someone else saying, “Oh, but children are so precious. Be thankful.” Sigh. Yes, I know children are precious, but sometimes they fight and lie and break things and whine and don’t listen and disturb my peace and make my left eye twitch just a little. And when that happens, I’m not thinking about how precious they are. I’m thinking about how lucky they are that I choose not to use corporal punishment. I’m also thinking about what room I can lock myself in just to get some space. And then it passes and I’m able to function again. But I need my moment. Don’t deny me that.
It is downright oppressive to condition mothers to bury our feelings under a forced smile. Even though most people are trying to help by reminding us of the good, it feels like judgment and it feels like we’ve done something wrong for sharing how we feel.
For those who are wondering, a better response would be to say, “I know how that feels/I’ve been there.” Or maybe you don’t know how it feels and haven’t been there. In that case, just say, “That sounds tough. Hope it gets better.” Silence works too. Sometimes just saying it aloud does wonders. We don’t always need a response. Aside from HELP and support, all we need is the space to truly feel and process the full range of emotions parenting produces.
I wrote on Facebook a few days back that I’d like to exist outside of race. I knew when I wrote it that it was the type of thing that needs explaining. I knew most either wouldn’t understand or would draw from it a message I never meant to send. But still I said it because it’s my page and aint nobody bout to stop me from saying what I want, feel me? it was on my mind and I wanted to share. So here I am to flesh out those bare bones and make myself clear.
I don’t live in an imaginary utopia. Aint no postracial nothing around here (even though I recognize that race only exists because we insist it does). I understand hatred and oppression are alive and well, but I cant trod around in that muck and mire and expect to still have energy left for living. Tried it. It just don’t work.
I guess it was becoming a parent that changed things, because I promise blackness never weighed so much before. I was just as aware and informed, just as down for the cause, but there was no fear, no worry. I had the utmost confidence that this world would do me right. But now I have little black children in my care, and my confidence gets shaky. Every time I hear about another black person killed by police, I rush to change the channel before my kids can understand the implication of such an act. Every time a little boy gets sent home for a “distracting” haircut or a little girl for a natural hairstyle, I think of all the hell my usually calm self would have to raise in defense of my babies. Every time I read about black kids not getting the same attention and consideration in the classroom, I question the otherwise satisfactory school I send them to. It’s a lot. It’s suffocating. I can’t sustain.
There is a quote that says, “What you focus on expands.” I promise its true. I see it and feel it, engulfing me, closing in around my neck, inching up toward my mouth and nose. It makes me feel helpless, like no amount of loving and teaching and protecting will shield my children from those whose minds are already set. It’s a lot. It’s suffocating. I can’t sustain.
I miss the days when blackness reminded me only of joy and strength. When it made me think only of Malcolm’s smile and Garvey’s feathered hat. When it made me think only of Bethune’s pearl necklace and Soujourner Truth’s crisp, white bonnet. It was the excellence, grace and steel of blackness that always stood with me and held me far above an anger I could have rightfully settled in. Growing up, blackness was about family and resilience, about making a way and finding a way. It was about the bump and rhythm of black communities, the laughter that never gets drowned out by pain. Perhaps I was just naive, but I’d like to go back there.
So if its ok with you, I’d like to suspend my blackness for a bit. Hang it up, give it a breather. I’m not going to do anything to my appearance. I was just hoping I could, you know, be. Was hoping I could get a few carefree days where my only concerns would be what to put in my first grader’s lunch and how to keep my house clean. Was hoping I could get lost in the humdrum of everyday life, lulled to peace by the regularity and predictability of it all. A girl can dream, right? Free of worry. Free of worry. Free of worry.
That’s important, the “free of worry” part because I need to must raise children who feel free to take ownership of this world. We don’t do cages. They have to know they can go anywhere and everywhere their efforts take them. But how will they know that if they’re trapped in fear? How will they know that if they learn from me, directly or indirectly, that the world is out to get them? I can’t do that to my babies. Might as well bind their hands and feet. The effects would be the same.
Can I really relinquish my blackness? Of course not, but I can disengage and go into my cocoon. I can stick my fingers in my ears and pretend not hear any of the pounding. May not be the best tactic, but it’s all I got. I’m tired.
Mothers, please be mindful of the things you buy for your young girls (and tweens and teens). I know much of the available clothing is cute and colorful and embellished and even inexpensive, but it is also very small and very tight and not at all suited for a child, especially one who likes to run, jump, play, or just move, period.
Modesty aside, let’s just talk practicality. Does it makes sense to put low-rise, super-short shorts on a child you know will be on the jungle gym, on the slide, on the swing, jumping, twisting, twirling, and doing every other type of big movement kids love to do?
I can’t tell you how many exposed behinds I’ve seen on little girls at the park. You don’t know who could be there, scoping out your baby’s body–maybe even taking pictures and uploading them to some freaky site. Some people are truly twisted.
A lot of moms think its not a big deal; they’re just cute clothes. But I have seen girls’ shorts with the words “low rise” printed on them as a selling point. That means the manufacturers specifically designed the clothes to show more skin… on your young child. That means there was more fabric there, but they instructed the seamstress to cut it out to ensure maximum exposure…on your young child. And to make matters worse, many of the shirts are too short and tight to cover up what the pants don’t.
I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m jumping down their back or judging their parenting. I promise that’s not the case, but if we don’t protect our daughters, no one else will. These clothing manufactures (many of them) don’t care one bit about you or your child. All they care about is making money and advancing the agenda of child sexualization.
Yea, I know… I probably lost you there. Most moms don’t believe there is an agenda to sexualize young children. They think its all about the quickly changing tide of fashion, but when fashion makers continually design children’s clothing that is hardly functional because of how skimpy it is, I don’t know what else to call that. It’s not as if one controversial company decided to make sexy kid clothes. It’s standard practice at this point. I can find teeny weeny girl’s clothes at…
…and pretty much any other store that sells children’s clothing. In fact, when it comes to jeggings, mini skirts, booty shorts and stretchy spaghetti strap tanks, I can find those easily, without even trying. What I struggle to find is a pair of pants that aren’t “skinny,” or a shirt that isn’t “fitted,” or really anything that doesn’t look like it’s sucking on my child’s body. So, trust me, something is going on. None of this is a coincidence.
More than just clothes
As our girls are being dressed in less and less, their self-image is changing more and more. Understand, mothers, these aren’t just clothes. They are messages being sent to and about our children. When a young girl dresses up in her mother’s clothes, the message she receives is, “I can be just like mommy when I grow up.” Assuming you’re a good person (and I’m sure you are), that’s a beautiful message to receive. But when a young girl dresses up in short and tight clothes designed specifically for her, the message becomes, “I can be like an adult now.”
Not when she grows up and is mature enough to understand sexuality, what it means, and how it can be used in good and bad ways. Not after she’s learned about modesty, discretion, and consent. Not after she’s grown out of her impressionability and gullibility. Nope, she gets to take it all on now…as a little kid… who can easily be tricked, mislead, and used.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the change in a little girl’s attitude when she puts on something small and tight. I have. Sometimes it is a subtle switch in her walk or a look in her eye. Other times its a full-out transformation in her behavior. This is because she knows what she looks like, and worse, she knows what that means. Our daughters aren’t blind. They see, just like everyone else, how women’s bodies are used and displayed. They see that women are often treated more like things than people. They see how glitzy and sparkly it can look. They want in–unless we teach them to see what’s really there.
That’s sparkly glamour is an illusion. It’s thinly veiled oppression. As long as we’re busy putting our parts in the front window for the pleasure of men, we’ll never get to develop the parts of us that could truly benefit ourselves (and the rest of humanity). So, again, it’s not just about clothes and fashion. It’s about teaching young girls to not buy into the idea their bodies are to be used as tools for men’s sexual gratification.
Solutions and options
It’s important to note that my daughter hasn’t been reduced to wearing potato sacks. There are clothes out there that are not super tight and small. You just have to be willing to look.
Burmuda shorts- Though the color and pattern options aren’t as varied, most stores sell burmuda shorts, which often come down to the knee or stop right above. I’ve noticed denim shorts are usually shorter and tighter than others, so maybe you’ll have more luck avoiding those altogether.
Relaxed fit jeans- Most jeans are made to fit skinny these days, but you can find relaxed fit jeans that are fitted enough to stay up on a child’s small frame, but loose enough for them to breathe and move.
Hi-low skirts- Not sure how long there will be around, but they are hot right now. They’re are longer in the back and usually come to at least knee length in the front.
Leggings- I wouldn’t advising letting a little girl wear leggings as pants, but I’m all about a pair of leggings under a dress, skirt, or shorts. It allows them to be as active as they want without their little rooties showing!
If all else fails, you can always take an old pair of pants and cut them into shorts. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can hem the bottom to cover the ragged edge, or you can simply roll it up and iron it down. Works for me!
Last but not least, remember who’s paying the bills!- I know what it’s like to have a picky dresser, but I always have the final say when it comes to what gets purchased. I’ve heard some mothers say they’d like to buy longer and looser clothes, but their daughter won’t wear them… To that I say, “Woman up, mom!” She aint running nothing! Sure, she might get upset, she might even cry, but she won’t hate you, especially if the two of you have an on-going dialogue about what it means to be a young woman. I’m no dictator–it’s important for kids to have a say–but there is no way my child is walking out of the store in skimpy clothes I paid for. When I tell my daughter I’m not buying something, I always tell her why. Then I usually offer to buy something else instead. As a general parenting rule, I’d rather focus on what they can have instead of what they can’t.
As an almost-mom, I’d have to say that the hardest decision I’ve had to make so far has been choosing a diaper bag. It seemed like it’d be an easy and effortless task, as I love purses and diaper bags are nothing more than big purses, but my diaper bag search has proved to be much harder than I expected.
I don’t consider myself a diva, a fashionista, or any of those other trendy terms people like to throw around, but I do like to look nice and care about the way I present myself. So when I found myself standing in the diaper bag aisle, surrounded by Elmo, Care Bears and that hunny-addicted Pooh, I knew I had a problem. Does becoming a mother mean I all of a sudden have to revert to my childhood preferences? Because if I was still five or six, I would have been all over that pink and purple Care Bears bag with the matching changing pad; but now, twenty years later, I’m not as interested. My likes and interests have matured and evolved to now include looks that don’t scream “I’ve been watching PBS and Noggin all day.”
My issue with the character bags is more than just aesthetic. It also has to do with the fact that I do not want to become a Justmom. A Justmom is a wonderful, multidimensional woman who, after becoming a mother, puts her entire life on the back burner to focus exclusively on being a parent. These are good-intentioned women who end up deserting their friends, families, husbands, interests, hobbies and, themselves for motherhood. They spend all day cutting carrots, cleaning rooms, checking homework, washing clothes, joining mothers’ groups online, buying children’s clothes and items, taking trips to parks and zoos, and many other child-centered activities. There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things. In fact, they’re all signs of good parenting, but what pushes these moms into the ranks of Justmoms is that they do these types of things only, at the exclusion of the many other parts of themselves that also need to be engaged.
I don’t want to pathologize Justmoms. They’re very caring, nurturing, forgiving, and all around sweet women. My concern is that they don’t put nearly as much energy into their own maintenance as they do into their children’s. They become shells of their former selves as their marriages, social lives, self images, and mental states suffer. Consider the research. According to Ariel Gores’s The Mother Trip, mothers are more likely to be affected by depression that any other demographic group nationwide. I doubt that all of these depressed moms are Justmoms, but I’m sure being a Justmom increases the chances of being included in that group.
Mothers seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and not having healthy outlets to help shoulder that load is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. We all want to be good moms. We want to give our children the best, protect them from harm, prepare them for the future and reassure them of their value. That’s great and admirable. (No wonder Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “paradise lies at the foot of the mother.”) But, in our haste to feed and protect our children, we often forget that one of the best gifts we can give a child is an honest image of a healthy, balanced mother, one that is so much more than a bodyguard/servant. Healthy and whole moms teach their children the benefits of helping self along with those of helping others. They laugh more, handle frustration better, become angered less easily and are pleasant to be around.
For me, the idea of being a Justmom is scary, but I understand that, for some women, the idea of not being one is even scarier. Many of us have a romanticized image of the perfect mom in our heads. We grow up either wanting to be just like our own mothers, who some of us feel were perfect, or the exact opposite of our mothers, who some of us feel were neglectful. The truth is that most moms fall somewhere between perfect and neglectful. Either way, the image of the Justmom becomes glorified and normalized. So once the children start to arrive, your date nights with the husband disappear, your biweekly girls’ nights vanish, the salsa lessons you loved are discontinued, your paint dries up and your brushes harden, the instrument you used to play begins to collect dust, your sense of style somehow gets lost, and your overall personality dulls. Basically, you lose your zest and unique qualities. These are some of the affects of becoming a Justmom.
There was a time in my life when I thought being a Justmom was inevitable. I thought being a good mother meant sacrificing all else. Lucky for me my understanding has changed. I now know that it’s not a bad thing to continue to have a life outside of my child. I know that my husband can continue to be my husband instead of just being my co parent. And if nothing else, I know that it’s ok to hate the Care Bears diaper bag.
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