The Mama That Yelled: Black Mothering Through Depression

by Iresha Picot

She yelled all the time.

Yelled about the house not being cleaned.

Yelled about my school work.

Yelled about spending too much time on the phone.

Yelled that the music was too loud.

She just always yelled.

I can remember thinking about cutting her vocal box out of her once. Or a few times. I told her this in a fit of rage, when I was about 16. She just looked at me and yelled some more. I am pretty sure that Audre Lorde was talking about my mama when she said, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing”.
My mama didn’t always yell. When I was a young girl, my mama was noted for her laughter and the jokes she told to not only her own children, but to the children who would come over to our home. They loved my mama’s jokes and her eagerness to make everyone laugh.
I have fond memories of my mama as a child. She used to let me rest on her lap all the time or ride me on the back of her bike as we went on adventures through our small country town. As the youngest of three girls, I used to have her all to myself when my sisters would go off to school and my dad went to work. And we had fun. Going to her girlfriend’s home, to the beauty salon, out to eat; wherever my Mama went, I was right there with her. Even when my sisters came home from school, there were good times to be had by all. On Saturdays, she would walk the three of us, hand and hand to the Three Guys restaurant for pizza across the train tracks from our home; telling us jokes the whole way. On Sundays, we awoke to pancakes being cooked, and the Alvin and the Chipmunks record being played on our record player. We danced, and laughed. We enjoyed our Mama.
Then things changed. My dad became addicted to crack cocaine. Things became hard. My mother started to laugh less. She started yelling more.

Her workload increased as well.

With my daddy’s addiction, his paycheck would be depleted in two days. Sometimes the same day. Bills weren’t getting paid, and we struggled. We moved at least once a year. Sometimes twice. Our electricity was never on. We couldn’t even afford the $25 dollars for our books at school. My mother started working 2 to 3 jobs to compensate for my father’s habit. She rarely slept, going from one job to the next. We hardly saw her and when we did, we stayed out of her way if we didn’t want to be yelled at. Even moments that seem to be fun times with my mother turned sour. I can vividly remember on one of her rare off days watching our favorite television show, Martin, together. We went from busting it up, laughing loudly at Martin’s punch lines, to her becoming upset. Her mood could change like a light switch.

She would suddenly look up and realize that the house was dirty and the yelling and cursing would start. “Why is the house so fucking dirty?” or “I work all damn day and no one washed the dishes.” It got to a point where we started to enjoy her being away from the home. It was peaceful.
She also developed these control issues. Probably because her own life was spinning out of control. She couldn’t make our plight much better, even by working several jobs. She couldn’t stop her husband from smoking crack. The only little bit of control she had was overpowering her children. If we didn’t do something my mama wanted, she went into her rages. She hid the home telephone when she went to work, and we were trapped in the house without being able to communicate to anyone. She did this, too, with simple things such as the soap powder. If she was mad at us, we couldn’t wash clothes. This was the same for the iron, the cable cord, the soda. She had to have control over everything. Over us. But not herself.


I have great empathy for my mama’s plight now. She struggled to raise children in poverty by herself, and in return, she developed mental health problems. As a mental health professional, I now understand that my mother was suffering from stress related mental health issues. My mama was unhappy in her own life. Even with a husband present, she was raising her children up as an overworked, Single Black Mother. She fell into her own stereotypes. In Black communities, Black women aren’t supposed to crack. We are not supposed to become depressed, even when we experience poverty, poor and unstable living conditions, psychosocial challenges, and white supremacy.

Just because we are Black and Woman.

Black Women, as the keepers of children, suffer silently. They have to be present under this system to raise vibrant children. It is a difficult task, at best, because if our children do not flourish under our rearing, it is the mamas who have to answer for those failures. As the great bell hooks stated, we must “cherish our mothers,” not just uphold them for the things that they do for us, but also assist them in making their load lighter. If we see a mother struggling, we have to be there as a community to lift her up and when we see her not doing well, we have to be able to assist in creating a space for her to be able to say that she is tired and needs help. Yes, we need to cherish mothers.


After I wrote this piece, I decided to not only share the content with my mother, but to also include her voice. What follows is an interview that I did with her when she came to visit me on 5/14/15.
Conversation with my Mama

Iresha: What were some of the struggles you faced with basically raising your children by yourself?

Mom: Trying to pay the bills. The bills were always on my mind. It was a constant worry. Also, for five years, I did not work, and with your father’s drug problem, not only was I thrown into having to go to work, I had to work 2 to 3 jobs, which means I always had to go to work and leave my children around.

Iresha: The name of this piece is called “The Mama that Yelled.” Do you think that you yelled a lot when you were raising your children?

Mom: To be honest, yes. I didn’t know that at the time, but I see how it affected you now. My mother yelled, and her mother yelled. We were just a yelling family and it seemed normal. But yes, I can say I yelled at you all a lot.

Iresha: Do you ever reflect back on that time and wonder what you could have done differently? If so, what are you doing now with your children to change those patterns?

Mom: I could have been a better mom with my attitude and did family things with my children.

Iresha: Do you think that you suffered from depression at that time?

Mom: Absolutely. I just had so much on me and it was kind of hard. I was away from my family in DC and so I had no family here in Virginia for my own personal support. Your dad’s family helped me out a lot with raising you all, but I had no one to talk about my husband being on drugs and having to struggle. I cried all the time. I cried in the morning, at work. Especially, when your father would come home on pay day and there was no money. He had spent it on drugs.

Iresha: What advice would you give mamas, raising children by themselves?

Mom: Whatever you do, put your children first. Be a good mother to your children. And for the mothers and their own health, use your support systems and look to God; because to me that is looking up.

Photo: Shutterstock

Iresha Picot, M.Ed, BSL is a Licensed Behavior Specialist and Therapist in Philadelphia. Iresha is also an activist, with a lot of her work concentrating on prison abolitionist and birth work as a Doula. Her Doula website is

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