In Celebration of Black Motherhood: Lessons Learned from My Momma

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by Michelle Denise Jackson

In honor of all the phenomenal Black mothers out there, especially my momma! Happy Mother’s Day!

  1. A mother’s love is from the womb to the tomb. My brother and I refer to my mom as the “original gangsta” of parenting, the true meaning of a “ride or die”. Over the years, I have come to see that this is how many Black Women mother their children. While motherhood is a universal experience and I know women from all backgrounds who are exceptional mothers, there is an undeniable and unique flavor that Black mommas bring. They are the type who will roll with you to the playground to confront a bully. They are the type who will jam up every significant other you have to make sure they “treat my baby right… or else.” Black mothers are as nurturing as they are fear-inducing.
  2. You will always need your mother, no matter how old you are. My biological maternal grandmother passed away when my mother was 16 years old. My mother has expressed that even after almost 40 years, she still misses and needs my grandmother. I understand this, as I am (almost) 25 years old and there are plenty of things I still need from my momma. She is the analog version of Google and Wikipedia in my home. How do I maintain a fresh press-n-curl? How often should I get the brakes changed on my car? Should I open a new line of credit? Why is my fried chicken soggy instead of crisp? My mother has all the answers. 
  3. A woman should never need a man to take care of her. My moms has no qualms when it comes to talking about her imaginary rich, white boyfriend who will buy her a new car and take us on fancy vacations. It’s one of our many inside jokes. But in reality, she has made sure I know to never rely on a man (or any other human being, for that matter) to do for me what I can do for myself. As long as I am of able mind and body, I can and should always do for myself. I feel fortunate to have a mother who is progressive enough to encourage me to secure my own happiness, success, and wellbeing before that of another individual.
  4. Independence is a difficult gift to bear. My grandmother was in her early 60s when she decided to divorce my grandfather. The story of my great-grandmother shooting at her good-for-nothing husband so he finally got the hint to stay away is a favorite family legend. My mother has not remarried since my parents’ divorce 13 years ago. I come from independent women. Strong-willed, fierce women. I consider this a blessing. However, my mother has always reminded me how challenging it can be to go through this life without a partner. As freeing as it is, it can also be the heaviest responsibility. I see many Black Women living their lives this way, either by choice or by circumstance. Ours is a legacy of powerful self-determination, in spite of everything.
  5. Code switching is one of our most underrated superpowers. We all do it. We have a voice for answering the phone when you don’t recognize the number on the caller ID. (Soft, velvety, and slightly melodic.) Or the voice used when someone has made you hot as fish grease and you’re about to give them the cussing-out of the century. (Rapid fire and Southern, no matter where you’re from.) Or the voice reserved for when a child talks back to you. (Deep, cutting, punchy.) Watching my mother for years taught me how to code switch like a boss. In a world that fails to recognize the many facets of Black womanhood, code switching is one of our not-so-secret magic tricks to making it work in any situation.
  6. You have to earn your mother’s friendship. I was in high school when momma first told me, “I am not your friend. I am your mother. Don’t get it confused.” At the time, I sometimes resented that I didn’t have a mother who was more like a peer. Now, I am grateful. By setting up the boundaries of our relationship, she ensured that I would always respect her… but that I could also depend on her to provide for me without expecting anything in return. Since then, my mother has expressed that as I get older, we can develop more of a friendship bond. And we have, to some degree. But I have always appreciated that my mother truly is a mother. Unconditional in her love and giving towards me.
  7. Faith means, “This too shall pass.” My mother did not bring us up in a religious home. We rarely went to church, nor did we read the Bible. Hers is mostly the religion of, “Live, let live, and leave me the hell alone.” But she did instill that we should be faithful in the trinity of time, patience, and a compassionate God. No matter what hardship we were going through, we could always trust it would not last forever. We would come through on the other side of it and keep on keepin’ on.
  8. Every woman needs a pair and a spare. This is my mother’s go-to rule for dating. Before being in a committed relationship, every girl needs to have a “pair and a spare”. The pair is your main squeeze and your backup boo, who can be alternated for different purposes. (For example, one for dinner dates and another for going dancing on the weekends.) And the spare is the guy you keep on the bench and only bring out when the other two aren’t acting right. 
  9. Do not eat food from people whose kitchens you have never seen. This is advice my mother gave when I was very young to be taken literally. You never know how clean someone is or how they keep their home. Thus, shouldn’t eat food from a kitchen you’ve never seen to avoid illness (or bad-tasting food). Since then, I have realized this can be applied to many situations. Whether it’s setting boundaries in a friendship run amok or deciding when to have sex with someone, the rule also holds up. My mother’s genius is one that keeps on giving.
  10. We do not falter; we do not fall. A few years ago, my brother went through a very difficult personal matter. I had never seen him that broken up about anything before… and haven’t since. No one had. On one particular night when he was on the phone with my mom, she uttered words I will never forget, “We do not falter; we do not fall.” Suddenly, I understood so many of the decisions and sacrifices my mother had made. With one sentence, I came to a better understanding of who my mother is—as a human being, as a caretaker, as a woman. She truly is the strongest, hardest-working woman I know. Despite everything she has been through, she continues on. When I look at the grander narrative of Black Women in America and throughout the Diaspora, that is the one trait that unites us all. In the face of the hardships we face individually, collectively, historically, we still have the audacity to persevere and thrive.

Photo: IStockPhoto

Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, and storyteller from Southern California. She has performed her work in Southern California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. For more information, you may visit her website at

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