Black parents, including me, are tired. We are tired of fighting and tired of providing our kids with tough love to help them learn to cope with an often hostile world. It’s easy to become discouraged by statistics that show the various dangers to black mental health, physical health and lives in general. We need that information and research to improve and grow, but we also need a break from the constant negativity.
I recently wrote about why I have rejected the tough discipline that has traditionally been a hallmark of black parenting, because I believe it is the product of fear and of years of systemic mistreatment. Instead, I’m “spoiling” my son to try to give him, and myself, respite from the negativity in the outside world. I want to fill my son with the love the world around him won’t provide, so his father and I are doing our best to let him know he is beautiful, loved and, most importantly, free.
The response to that essay on the long-term consequences of authoritarian parenting was overwhelming and made me want to speak to black parents who felt the same way I do. I’m sharing edited excerpts from seven families who also have decided to love their children harder as an act of resistance.
Trina Greene Brown
Raising my son in the black Baptist church, I often heard the common biblical reference of discipline: “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” which implied that failure to discipline will lead children to unruly behavior. I felt this ever-present unspoken critique of parents like myself who made a commitment to nonviolent parenting. Unfortunately, over time, I began to buckle under the pressure of how a black mother was supposed to instill fear and demand the respect of her children. I began adopting “tough love” approaches that were in direct conflict with my values of equity and justice, particularly as someone who has worked in youth development, fighting for young people to be treated with dignity and respect. I began to question, “Don’t my own children deserve respect?” … Pushing through my shame, acknowledging and atoning with my children, I renewed my commitment to abandon “tough love.”
I have chosen … a nontraditional style of parenting because it’s similar to how I was raised. I believe children learn and develop better when their parents adjust their approach to match the needs and personality of that child. Growing up, my mother raised two daughters with slightly different approaches because we were different. I was quiet, shy and eager to learn. [My son] AJ is the same most of the time. He values correction and although stubborn is not the type who requires harsh treatment. Also, he is being raised in a two-parent household. Dad is more stern, and Mom is more soft, but we still work as a team. All consequences given match the offense, but mostly we focus on requiring him to think before and after he acts. We feel it’s better to teach a child why we deem something wrong or right rather than just beat and punish them because it’s common.
When I think about the type of people I desire my children to grow up and become … intentional, loving … and purpose driven, I know my husband and I play a large role in that. We communicate openly and honestly with our children and encourage them to express every spectrum of their emotions. They don’t have to perform or earn our love. We make room for humanness and mistakes and aim to give a lot of grace. And we do all of this because we know anything less wouldn’t be fair to them. We choose to reject the “tough love” approach because it doesn’t work and only makes the recipient feel rejected and unloved. It doesn’t send a strong, solid and clear message to my children that they are loved by us, that they can trust us and that their hearts are safe with us. And in a world that is filled with hate, anger, racism and violence, we need them to have a safe and secure place. The way we love them creates just that, a safe space. In this safe space, they don’t feel the need to protect themselves, and so their energy can be spent on being children.
I spent a lot of time envisioning what kind of mother I wanted to be to my son. After he was born, I was able to breast-feed him immediately, and we will continue that journey until we decide when it’s best to wean. That bond between us has created a feeling of love. Sometimes I get caught up in trying to check emails or return calls, and when he looks into my eyes while nursing, I just drop everything and speak lovely messages of encouragement or gratitude.
Ace is now a very inquisitive and curious 18-month-old who loves to explore, and I allow him to chase his curiosity and will do whatever I can to help nurture his development. I try every day to be patient, loving and understanding to his needs. At times, it can be trying, and when I feel frustrated or tired, I just take a moment to breathe and thank God to be able to parent this young child to the best of my ability.
Jareesa Tucker McClure
So often in the black community, we’re cautioned against spoiling our babies, and we expect them to be little adults fresh out of the womb. I decided that I would shower my child with all the affection I have, because that’s how my mother raised me, but also because I know that this world can be such an awful place for black children. I’m going to give my child all the love and affection I can to build her up and fill her up, so she can face the negativity in the world in the future.
I was raised in a household where my accomplishments were overlooked and my mistakes were spotlighted. It caused me to be scared to make mistakes for the fear that I would disappoint my parents. When my oldest child was younger, I saw that same fear in him and vowed to give his accomplishments more clout than his mistakes. We always make sure to discuss what went wrong and what he could do better next time, but [those things] never overshadow the positive that he does, and it’s never the last thing I say to him. Positive reinforcement helps to eliminate anxieties that children have about making mistakes that upset their parents. We all make mistakes and it’s a part of life, but I choose to love my children and discipline them in positive ways.
Every day is filled with hugs and affection, every fall is followed with an “Are you okay?” and a helping hand. I always want him to feel supported and protected in this crazy thing called life.
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is a diversity content specialist who produces materials relating to mental and physical health, sociology, and parenting. Check her out on Facebook and Twitter @amrothom.
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