Even if Gospel music is not your thing, I surmise that there are few Black mothers who are unfamiliar with the soulful refrain of Pastor Shirley Caesar’s music message, No Charge – “…for the nine months I carried you, holding you inside me, no charge…For the time and tears and the costs through the years, There is no charge…For the advice and the knowledge, And the costs of your college there is no charge…Admittedly, one time I got so mad at my daughter that I played that song for an hour as I shuttled her to dance class.
A Complex Quilt
Black motherhood brims with self-sacrifice, collective and collaborative motherhood that imparts a Lion King/Mufasa and Simba flavor of instilling a deep sense of pride and self-esteem in our children. The mama bear protection concept is also very powerful. And although as a group we are still works in progress when it comes to prioritizing holistic self-care, we are oftentimes the glue that holds the family unit together.
Growing up, the word sacrifice was my mom’s anthem – she was always telling me how much she sacrificed for me. My self-absorbed teenage receptors could not begin to perceive what in the world that meant, until I became a mother. Factor in oxytocin, the mommy hormone that makes a mother a mom, to respond lovingly and in a nurturing way to their offspring, after 37 weeks of misery, I mean of gestating a human being, my mind came full circle.
The Bond Concisely Explained
Licensed professional counselor, Dr. Shanita Brown has extensive clinical experience working with Black women, mothers and children. She gives us a closer look into this unique connection, “The mother-child bond is a complex relational connection that expands throughout the lifespan. Mothers occupy such an important role in their child’s physical and emotional growth; they have this innate desire to respond to their child’s feelings, behaviors, and protect them by any means necessary. This powerful bond; a developmental process, sets the stage for all other relationships, and anything from self-esteem, employment decisions, health, life perspectives and more.”
Learning Through Modeling
Whether you were born into a healthy, wholesome unit, a family riddled with dysfunction, or somewhere in between, you may have heard what was said and you certainly learned from observation the norms, values and mores of mom. The way she cooked, cleaned, dated, married, her career pursuits, how she got another job perhaps or how she earned an advanced degree while working full-time and taking care of the family. Or maybe she did none of these things and another mama figure stepped in. It was these daily visuals and those Come to Jesus conversations – those moments you knew undoubtedly when she was dropping gems. “I don’t care if you don’t have a dime in your pocket, if you have hot running water there’s no reason to look like it.” – Pauline Suggs Harris, my late grandmother.
Speaking of the Black grandmother or matriarch (which was our response to rebuffing the mammy image), it can be a very endearing characteristic of Black motherhood’s collective and collaborative mothering as an extended family. There’s mom, grandmas, great grandmas, aunties, Godmothers, adopted aunties albeit mom’s real close friends who surrounded and were involved in your upbringing and helping to change mom’s mind. According to the Black Motherhood & Self-Care Study that Dr. Brown shared with me “other mothering”, those who shared raising responsibilities roots back to our descendants of the African Diaspora. Though mom is the first nurturer there is a tight-knit, intergenerational connectedness with other mothers, which can be a protection for checks and balances of acceptable or unacceptable behavior in child rearing.
Resilience and Strong Self-Esteem
As we’ve seen once again in the unjust citizen’s arrest-murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Dr. Brown adds, “Black mothers exist in a world of structural racism, in which their intersecting identities such as race, gender, and class, contribute to oppressive experiences. Such racist experiences impact their relationship with their children and how they parent.” And yet our self-esteem and resilience remains nearly perfectly intact. Research findings result that Black adolescents have levels of self-esteem equal to or greater than Caucasian adolescents. Despite a long history of systemic and I dare say systematic abuse and oppression, Black women did not internalize negative self-esteem narratives, nor did we accept being measured by the yardstick of White women being the standard. (Qualitative Study on Black Mother & Daughter Bond, Patterson 2004) Proudly, we did not take the bait.
Instead we rely on cherishing our achievements in family and life, our support and social networks, keeping in contact with friends and taking power and pride in being Black. Transmission of self-esteem is a steady intergenerational gift passed down to our daughters. (Patterson, 2004) “Black mothers are the backbone of the family and community…So, the mother-child bond is strong from a natural connection, but also from surviving interlocking racial, social, [and] gender oppressions. Such factors impact a child’s resilience and ability to manage adversities in life,” iterates Dr. Brown.
Shanita Brown, Ph.D, is a speaker, counselor educator and a consultant with over 15 years of clinical and community partnership experience. She specializes in working with Black women and girls that have experienced various forms of relational trauma. Stay connected with her live social media events on Instagram and with her online at www.drshanitabrown.com