Modern Black Mom: Are We Chasing Our Mothers’ Memories or Running Away From Them?

As I walked in the door late from work earlier this week, I was greeted by a pitiful little sight. My 3-year-old daughter was sitting in the middle of her room on her little Dora the Explorer stool twiddling her fingers with a sad look on her face. Not touching anything. No TV. No toys. Nothing.

My husband quickly informed me that she had “went off” on her teacher, screaming “No. Don’t touch me. Leave me alone” repeatedly at her during class. This was clearly unacceptable and I agreed with his method of punishment. However, when I asked how long she’d been sitting there, he said over an hour.

Jesus! An hour. She’s only 3-years-old. That is eons in the world of a toddler and in my mind – cruel and unusual punishment.

This is an argument we have frequently because my husband insists that I go far too easy on my daughter while I insist he is way too harsh on someone who’s only a toddler. In his defense, it is easy to forget that she’s only 3. She’s smart, sassy, inquisitive and picks up on concepts almost instantly. But, that’s not the point. She’s still 3. And, 3-year-olds throw tantrums.

As I look at this argument we have and many that I’m sure other parents have, I start to think about a larger issue. My mother was a strict disciplinarian. In her house, there would be no sitting in the middle of your room. You’d get a whoopin’ and a menacing threat that promised to take you within an inch of your life if you did it again, and that would be the end of it. I’m not saying she was wrong at all. My three siblings and I all grew up to be responsible, productive members of society with no serious flaws. She and my father obviously did something right!

However, I am constantly finding myself torn. I am much easier on my daughter than my mother was on me. My mother always reminded me that she was much easier on us than her mother was on her. I guess it’s just a natural progression. While I sometimes find myself quoting my mother when telling Jordan, “I’ll knock your eyeballs out of your head if you roll them at me like that again,” I also catch myself asking her questions about why she did what she did before slapping first and asking questions later as my mother often did.

I think it’s a challenge many modern Black mothers face. How hard should you be on your own children? Should your mothering style mirror your own mother’s exactly – assuming of course that you had a normal, healthy childhood? Or, should you veer off in your own direction – charting an entirely new path? Or do you just land somewhere in the middle and hope for the best?

You want to create some kind of balance between being too hard on a child and having the label of raising your child like a white woman slapped on you. This phrase that I’m sure all Black mothers have heard in one respect or another got me thinking of a more philosophical question. When did that stereotype begin that raising your child with discipline is Black and raising them without equals White? It may sound a bit too dramatic or too oh-no-not-the-slavery-thing-again for some of you, but I do believe it’s tied largely to our respective roots.

Humor me for a few minutes. During slavery and the Jim Crow era, Black mothers had to raise their children with strict discipline. It was a matter of life or death. If children didn’t behave exactly according to the laws of the time, there would be severe repercussions and the mothers would have to stand by helplessly as their children got whatever harsh outcome that society deemed appropriate.

Little Black boys had better not look too closely at little White girls – lest they end up like Emmett Till. Little Black girls had better not say the wrong thing or get too fly with the White man – lest they end up like Sophia in The Color Purple. (Sorry: I couldn’t think of any real-life example that was as poignant).

It wasn’t a matter of behaving properly. It was literally a matter of life and death. So, when a mother laid down a rule, she had to be sure that her child would follow it to the letter. I think that strictness has followed us into the world we live in today.

I also feel like the modern Black mother in being perhaps a little lighter on her child than previous generations is maybe reclaiming a bit of what was lost over the years because of the need to survive. Call me dramatic if you like but I like to think that my ancestors now look down lovingly knowing that we don’t have to be SO hard on our children now … because we now have the freedom to do so.

Chavon Carroll is a married, 27-year-old mother of a boisterous and funny 4-year-old with a flair for the dramatic. Beyond her two full-time jobs as wife and mother, she also oversees all donor communication for a large arts and cultural organization in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chavon grew up as the youngest of four children in a small, urban Northwest Indiana city with a strong, intelligent and omnipresent black mother of her own whose sudden death five years ago forever changed the fabric of her family. Chavon knows much of her beliefs and own mothering style is shaped in large part by her mother’s influences, and looks forward to sharing the ups, downs and in betweens of motherhood with other women navigating the long journey of Modern Black Motherhood.

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