No, Deborah Tillman holds degrees in education, founded her own day care centers in Northern Virginia, and dresses like Michelle Obama. She rolls up to the family- of- the week on her “Lifetime” channel show in pearls, a full skirt and kitten heels.
Her approach is no-nonsense parenting: adults in charge, setting rules and boundaries, communicating and establishing an atmosphere of love and respect. She is an answer to my long-held prayer, “Please Lord, let us not pass down to another generation of African American families a legacy of harsh parenting.”
My prayer is that Tillman will teach today’s young parents that you don’t slap children upside the head or push them, that you don’t cuss at them or tell them they are stupid, or joke about their skin color.
Tillman dealt with these issues in a recent episode with an African American couple with 10 children, ages 14 to 1 (and expecting twins). The show was like peeking into the homes children I see getting this kind of abuse in public places.
Who hasn’t seen parents in Target, for example, cuss, slap or say unthinkable things to young children? I have seen mothers, and grandmothers, say awful things to children too small to reach the counter. Put that d#$% thing down. You’re such a little b&$*%. If you want to break a child’s spirit and damage her soul, this is one way to begin.
When I see this kind of so-called discipline I hurt for the child. As a mother I’m outraged. When I see other black women do it, I’m embarrassed and somewhat ashamed. On occasion, I’ve tried to diffuse the situation.
Me: “She must be very smart; that’s why she wants to touch everything.”
Response: “No, she’s just baaaad as hell.”
This kind of parenting style, what I’m politely calling “harsh parenting,” is rooted in the same things that cause domestic violence and abuse - the stresses of unemployment, poverty, lack of education, single parenting, teen parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, poor self esteem.
Black families have passed down through the generations some wonderful traditions - love of education, strong faith, respect for elders. But harsh parenting has been passed down, too.
The mother in the Charlotte, N.C. family with 10 kids admitted that she knew nothing about discipline. Her own mother was in-and-out and she was raised by a grandmother who didn’t spare the rod.
The Dad’s only memory of his father was a severe whipping for dropping some milk. “He beat me. Yeah, he beat me.”
And so, this couple hit their children with sticks, belts and shoes. They practiced discipline by humiliation. On occasion they got in their kids’ faces, grabbed them by the shoulders and pushed them to the ground. The children were violent, too. The older ones bullied and beat each other. There was a lot of crying.
“It was barbaric. It was extremely painful to watch,” Tillman told viewers, later saying, “Dad was beat at three [years old] and said he wouldn’t beat his kids. Here he is, doing it anyway. Repeating the cycle of violence.”
Tillman confronted the parents and children separately, eventually putting into place a family “love circle,” house rules and a signed contract with the parents not to hit their children.
By the time the episode ended the family seemed on a path to calm and cooperation. As Tillman told the couple, “The fact that you’re not beating anymore and that you’re not perpetuating that generational curse, you’re actually starting to break that cycle of pain.”
The reality of reality shows is that televised dysfunction doesn’t change in a few days, even with Tillman’s miraculous “calm down corner.”
However, a weekly, nationally televised how-to in modern parenting, starring a Black woman, has the potential to improve if not change the lives of millions of families. That would be an answer to my prayer.
E-mail me at OldSchoolLessons@gmail.com and I’ll start posting your queries and ideas to get the “Old School Lessons” going. Welcome.
Read more on The Root DC