I was an Auntie before I was a Mom. I remember when my first nephew (that was younger than me was born) like it was yesterday. My dad was cutting the yard and we got the phone call that it was a boy and his name was Jeremiah. It was a sunny day in June with clear skies and I remember the grass being so green. My Dad started to sing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog and he was a friend of mine.” He meddled my nephew with that through childhood and even now! My second nephew I had the pleasure of giving him his middle name and he was my first job at 8 weeks old. He later gave his younger daughter the same middle name! I was a babysitter. Those two gave me a run for my money! And there were more nieces and nephews to come.
I am writing this piece for my friend Jackie and Alicia whom are Aunts, and all of the women who want to have a family someday and to the ones that may not be able to. You are a mother by heart. You are a mother because you nurture someone somewhere. You may even be a mother figure to a friend, a sibling, to a class, the motherly one on the job, a doggie mom. You care. You will jump in and fill that roll as an Auntie Mom. I tell my niece Brea I am your Auntie Mom. She’s the fireball of the bunch and I keep close reigns on her because I love her. I was once known as the General and Sargent but, I have been promoted to Lieutenant by my nephew Brandon. I am the Aunt that will play football, dolls, fix you a good meal and bake cookies but, I also believe in discipline.
All of my nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews are my children. I wanted more children but, I am unable to have any more because I had to have a hysterectomy. That was tough and sad. But nothing beats hearing, “Auntie! Auntie Nikki! Ti-Ti!” and getting those hugs. It’s the same feeling as “Mommy!” and receiving love in the hugs. It’s the same pressure to watch what I say and do and how I live my life. I still have to impart instruction, wisdom, and love.
Today my daughter turns 17. 17! I remember the day and the days ahead were filled with concern as to how I would survive this world with a child and as a single parent. I look at her and think, “Wow. You’re actually okay. I am doing pretty good as a parent. Somehow. It’s a miracle!” Somehow by the grace of God, the foundation of firm principles laid by my parents, wisdom I ask for almost daily, and through trial, error, and experience she’s a pretty good young lady. There is no perfect parenting because there is no perfect parent. However, I try to make sure I am doing the best I can.
I take an active approach to improving not only myself as a person but, myself as a parent. Am I being the best parent I can be? What can I learn to help me? What can do differently? Did I say I was sorry? Did I say I was wrong? I read. I pray about it, too and ask for guidance. I approach every year by trying to remember what it was like to be 17. I read any article about being 17. I stay up on trends and current issues. I like to be “in the know” about what she knows. And I do my best to guide this leg of her journey. However, I have started to prepare myself for letting go and being more of the guide and not the driver. I think I may have started her first year in high school more so than middle school. (It’s never going to be easy no matter how much you prepare! And you’re never going to really let go!)
Some parents seem to believe that when their children turn 18 they are an adult and you let them go. You turn them loose. You let them do whatever they want to do. You are done. I beg to differ. They need you all the more in their young adulthood but, in a different capacity. Whether they listen or not, is totally up to them. Hopefully, we have established a good enough relationship, and I believe we have, that we can at least have the conversations needed in certain times. She’s pretty honest about how she feels. I asked her how does she feel being 17. Nervous? Getting close to being independent? She said yes. I told her she will be fine. I would be there to help. To push. To prod. To fuss. 🙂 To teach. To learn with her. Things have changed. We have to adjust as parents and we have to know when to hold to certain principles, values, and morals. I am thinking person. Analytical, logical, and emotional. (Ha!). And because we have to do so much as a parent other than clothe, feed, and shelter, this is why it’s impossible to get everything right.
Some of us grew up in loving and caring environments and some of us did not. Some of us grew up in loving and caring environments that were flawed on some level. Sometimes deeply flawed or sometimes tumultuous depending on the problems the parent or parents had. It could have been an ill parent, an unfaithful parent, it could have been arguing all the time, or the parent could be one that came and went. Today I want to speak to those that grew up with the Critic Parent. The one that ALWAYS had something negative to say or critiqued everything you did or every choice you made.
I grew up with one. Every choice you made, there was a better one. When you did your chores, there was always something you could have did better or forgot. When you did things to try to impress that parent, they were not all that impressed. Each time you did your hair or got dressed, they would frown up at your attire or choice and I am not talking about the typical parent-child disagreement about clothes and hair. This is beyond that. This is a tear down of the child. A ripping of their power to make choices and to feel good about their choices and themselves. All of this is about that and the child needing to be supported, guided, and free to be an individual. I felt singled out from all of my siblings. The boys in the family didn’t have this problem, but the only sister I had said she would experience it from time to time, but as soon as she was able to she left the house.
The constant stares, criticism, correction, and questioning of everything I did, said, or chose literally destroyed my self esteem. I was already an outsider with my red hair as an African American child, my brainy self, my extreme shyness, and artys personality. I wasn’t accepted in many circles and to be home and not accepted was traumatic to my sensitive soul. Did you know, that those who are artists and creative types have a spectrum on the emotional scale as more sensitive than normal and that can swing to more depressed than normal? I had no idea until I started seeing a psychologist. My mother always said “If you just look at me, I would start crying.” I wonder if she created that insecurity within me or fostered it. I don’t know.
I second guess everything I did, said, and every choice I made as a young adult. It caused me to be paralyzed with fear. I had no confidence. If this is normal mines was twice as bad. Even after choices were made I worried that I was wrong, I didn’t know what I was doing, there you go again…not getting it right. I was surprised when things worked out. An even then, I was not sure that things would be okay.
Many things contributed to my bouts of depression and need to want to escape this world by suicide. I know this was one of them. I equated a wrong choice in anything I did as a reflection of how I could never and would never get it right. Even the simplest things. I was beyond self conscious and not just in the way I look, but in the work I did. Even now I have to say “Hey, it’s good enough. You did your best.” I also had to learn to not do what was did to me to others and when I had my daughter, I vowed to not utilize that aspect of my parent. I did take all of the good from that parent, which was a lot, and use it.
I believe there are many reasons a parent does this. I think we expect parents to be perfect or to know better, but the truth is they are not perfect and they do not know “how to” always do better. Hurting people hurt other people. When we are children we don’t know or think about the fact our parents have lived some type of life before us and has experienced some type of childhood…both of these things either good, bad, or traumatic. These things have an effect on the parent as a child, as an adult, and as your parent. Many hurt parents have know idea of the psychological effects of their behavior on their children and we grow up to think many of the things we experienced were normal and acceptable until we meet other children and other adults. If you can’t recognize the signs of your behavior as detrimental to the shaping of the child, then you as the parent continue to do what you do. The generation before me were not privy to psychology or child psychology. They were too busy trying to make a living. The way they dealt with things were to not talk about them. But, guess what? Buried feelings and events of our lives are still alive if they are not dead. However, we as the children who grew up in some sort of tainted or warped environment, now have the privilege of that knowledge that we may be better parents and better human beings. We also have the work of healing ourselves from these scars.
I am now realizing that I survived by learning through trial and error, my commitment to not repeat those mistakes by taking different actions, some education about parenting, my relationship with God, the wisdom of the Spirit, other wise souls, and yes, therapy. I survived by accepting the relationship I have with that parent, sometimes calling them on their behavior and holding them accountable, and other times letting it go. I survived by releasing my anger and hurt. I survived with knowledge of the effects of trauma on people who never admit or talk about what’s really going on, but instead choose to respond with some outward action or to remain silent and bottled up.
However, for this leg of my journey at 42, I am here to be liberated this year and to be legendary in my doings. I need to THRIVE and not just survive. I thrive by forgiving and by forgiving I am free (liberated). I thrive by realizing that parent may never seek counseling, deliverance, or healing, but my choice to not feed into it or to have some compassion for the hurt child inside that parent, is liberating my emotions to choose happiness even if they are miserable. And all of that is a legendary step for my soul’s journey.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I was filled with fear. I didn’t know what to do. I was not married, the daughter of a pastor, and the father of the child broke up with me to be with his long time, off and on, high school sweetheart while my heart was shattered into a thousand pieces. I was in my mid twenties, making decent money, and free to change my mind, location, and clothes at a whim. My sister was the first one to know and the first one to support whatever decision I wanted to make. You see, the shame of being a single mother in the church and in the world, AND a black woman, was and is tremendous for some of us. Also, the double standards are real today just as much as they were 16 years ago. You know, women who have children out of wedlock are heavily criticized and penalized in the church and in society. The man goes scotch free pretty much to be promoted in the church and in the world. However, I found out my dad did not share the same view of the church as he told me “That’s my grandchild and we will do whatever we can to help you and the baby.” Also, through a prophesy a woman told me “God never made a mouth that he could not feed.” I am sure she sense my worry of provision.
I didn’t know the entire time I was carrying my child if I would have a boy or a girl. The second decision I made after deciding to keep my child was to arm myself with as much knowledge about being pregnant and parenting. I wanted to know all about the stages of a developing child during and after. I ate right M-Saturday noon and I had what I wanted Saturday evening and Sunday. I remember thinking, if something is wrong with my baby when he or she is born , I can have a clear conscious it was not my fault. It’s the same way I parent. Be strict when I need to, discipline if I need to, be flexible enough to try a different method if what I am doing is not working, education first, God is a must, admit when I am wrong, have fun, protect, loosen the rope of parenthood and give her more freedom at the appropriate time, be okay with her being mad at me, not understanding why I say no sometimes, because I have to be able to know I am doing the right thing and she will not like it or me all the time, but she will still love me and thank me later. Do all of that and more, so that when she flies the nest I can say, I did the VERY BEST I could.
So here we are at 16. She’s sleeping late like any teenager during spring break. Her room is messy. She’s a smart girl with good grades, a good heart, a funny child with a uncanny sense of humor, wise at times and naive at other times, you know….just a child growing up. She’s enjoyed her first trip to Atlanta, the World of Coca Cola, the Georgia Aquarium (saw a dolphin show), and shopped until “I” dropped. I gladly forked over my money, my family made accommodations and sacrifices to make the trip possible (as I am not working due to permanent health issues). I forgo my usual birthday plans happily (we share the same birthday month and our birthdays are three days apart) for her happiness and a memory of her Sweet 16 she will never forget.
Mother-Daughter relationships are very important as I am sure you already know. The relationships are delicate, fragile, and must be forged throughout a young girls developing stages in order to have a strong foundation for the teenage years and the young adult years. And for many it continues to change, but at the base of that change is a foundation of love and a REAL relationship a mother has created with their daughter. I believe a young girl should spend as much time as she can with her mother. They tell me a woman can’t raise a man, and to some degree that is probably true. Yet, I’ve seen men raised by their mother. If that is the case, can a man raise a woman? Yet, there are men that are left to parent a daughter. The truth be told, a child needs both parents. However, there are just some things a developing girl needs from her mother and a young boy needs from his father. (Or positive male and female role models).
There are so many things a mother can teach a girl and so many things she can relate to. There are just so many complexities in a girl’s life that a mother has already experienced that need to be shared.A mother has the ability to navigate a daughter through life, to shape her into a lady, a confident woman, a self sufficient human being, and a upstanding citizen. She has the ability to impart hope, self esteem, and discipline. She can help her to dream and to face reality. As much as you can tell the absence of a father figure in a boy’s life, you can tell the absence of a mother figure in a girl’s life.
I picked my daughter up from school and as soon as she got in the car I knew something terrible must have happened that day. I said “What’s wrong?” She said “A girl tried to fight me today.” I won’t go into details about the ordeal, but I will tell you one thing that made me proud. My daughter said to her “I don’t fight. I don’t fight unless I have to defend myself. I don’t believe in being violent. That’s not what I do, but if you want to talk it out we can. But, I am not going to fight you.” Then she said the girl kept it up (the teacher was out of the room) and my daughter said she got up and left the classroom. My daughter was so angry her head was hurting. She was so upset, stressed, that she talked about it for an hour. I was angry, to0. BUT, I had to be a MATURE and RESPONSIBLE PARENT and not let my emotions of someone causing my daughter turmoil get the best of me.
She asked, “Was I wrong for defending my friend?”
My response: No, but the best way to defend your friend when someone is talking about them is to REMAIN their friend in spite of. The other girl has a right to say whatever she wants to say about anyone. It’s her right to be a gossiper, a liar, a mean girl. Sometimes it’s a reflection of parenting and sometimes a parent has no idea their child is acting this way. Though, I suspect, they may have some clue and ignore it.
She informed the hall monitor, the hall monitor sent her to another classroom and the teacher in that classroom welcomed her in. Once things were offer they went to the original classroom, to let the other teacher know what happened. In the end, the teacher took care of the situation and she has not had any problems this week.
Another thing that bothered me was my daughter said she knows people talk about people. She knows people even talk about her. However, it seems as if this year, she is more aware of it as she can actually hear them saying things about her. You know, she’s weird or she basically is a student with good conduct and good grades. A nerd, so to speak. Ahhh, I can relate to those days. Plus I had red tha stood out in the midst of African American children. I was called names from Elementary to High School. It did affect my self esteem. She’s also an artsy, do your own thing, don’t follow the crowd type of girl, which I raised her that way from a toddler up until now. I realized a long time ago, my daughter is her own person. But, I also raise her to respect others, let others be themselves, don’t force your religious beliefs on others, don’t put people down and talk about them, and to be kind and tough when you need to be. And to please think before you act and think for yourself! She is not perfect…but who’s child is? Obviously, the mean girl is not perfect. However, some things you just EXPECT from your children. Kindness and nonviolence should be two of them.
To sum it up to her: “I know this was a terrible experience. A worse day in high school history. This will not be the last time you encounter mean girls. Mean girls have self esteem issues. Mean girls are trying to find their place. Mean girls may have family problems. Mean girls can sometimes, after life forms and shapes them, because their parents wouldn’t, can become nice girls or women in the long run. However, when you start working and living in this world, you will find some mean women who are still the same mean girls. Sadly.”
It’s report card time and my daughter tells me her grades as usual. She’s in honors classes and in a special program at her school. I rarely ask to look at her report card because I trust she is telling me the truth. I have never had any reason not to trust her concerning grades. A food student. An honor student. Let me say, she’s in high school and from elementary to middle school, she has happily or hesitantly (at times) shared her grades. I’ve always looked at report cards up until her last year in middle school. So, it just got to the point where I rarely asked. Especially, since we don’t have to sign them anymore.
But, this morning when I woke up the Holy Spirit urged me to ask to see her report card. I did. I knew when it took her a while to hand it to me there was a problem. I prepared myself by telling myself to remain calm, remain silent, until you find the right words to express your emotions. She handed me the card and I could not believe what I saw. Her grades had dropped in two classes and she did not tell me. She lied.
I let my emotions run the gamut before I spoke. After expressing how I felt about the grades, the lie, and that I needed to think on the consequences, I asked her why didn’t you tell me the truth? I have trusted you to be honest about your grades as we have never had a problem with honesty in this area. She said, “I did not want to disappoint you. So I lied.” Then asked her why are you crying? I am not fussing. I am speaking calmly. She answered, “Because I am disappointed in myself. I tried. But, it seems I would do good on the lessons, but not on the tests. Now, I am worried about college.” She is in the 10th grade. I explained to my child the importance of asking for help, noticing when you need help, and communicating with her teacher and me when she needs help. My daughter is shy. She is less shy than she has been in the past only because of my extreme pushing. I know because I was extremely shy and it took me forever to be bold and to build courage. It did not come until my middle young adult years. I want her to be bold and courageous early. I spent half a year in school, in math class, unable to see the board. It was not until my teacher asked me “You seem to always ask questions after I finish board work or your board work has more errors than the lessons I give you. Can you see the board?” My answer was no. She was alarmed. “Why didn’t you tell me? Have you told your parents?” My response, “No ma’am.” They were upset, but suspected nothing because I was an A and B student (mostly) and always managed to be placed up front or ask a friend “What does that say on the board?” When asked why didn’t you tell us I had the perfect answer “I don’t know.” The optometrist was shocked. He showed my parents through the lenses what I had been seeing all of these years. Plus, getting your eyes checked was not something my parents thought to do. We were certainly taken to the doctor and dentist more than I cared to be!
Parenting, is not easy. Parenting is not something you get to run and hide from. It is not something you can ignore. There is no one size fit all child. However, a good parent means stepping up to the plate, uncertain, unsure, but taking a swing at it…over and over. Learning yourself, what works and what does not. Looking at your child through unfiltered lenses and knowing they may be just like you or nothing like you and dealing with them accordingly. She was trying to “handle it herself” not knowing, just like a teenager, yet trying to be adult, which is something we want them to do…grow up! Be responsible, yet not realizing asking for help or being honest is being responsible. Sigh. I am making contact with the teachers and seeing what can be done. This is responsible parenting. This was a teaching moment for the both of us and I am still debating the consequences.