At age nineteen, my mother carried and birthed me. Her parents wanted nothing to do with their unwed, parenting daughter (respectability politics) and her romantic relationship with my father was ending. So, for most of my life my mother raised me on her own with the support of her friends, sisters, and lovers.
Daughter of a single mother is an identity that I have claimed proudly, and also with resentment and contempt. If there were a relationship status for my mother and me, it’d be “it’s complicated” . . . because it is.
My mother is not perfect. No mother ever gets it right. And as the oldest of three siblings I can tell you firsthand: a lot of mistakes are made. The firstborn is usually the trial child, the experiment, the one who parents the parent, the one who gets to see their mother in her rawest form.
Raw is seeing your mother manage her feelings about her lover. Raw is seeing your mother lose her temper and experience the depths of her anger and rage. Raw is knowing how much money is NOT in her bank account. Raw is getting homeschooled about sex in the second grade because your mother doesn’t want you to accidently become pregnant . . . like her. Raw is taking care of yourself and your younger sister when you come home from school because mom has to work. Raw is your mother hitting you and then regretting she did. Raw is your mother hitting you and not regretting it. Raw is your mother loving and marrying a man you hate. Raw is waking in the middle of the night because your mother is having a panic attack and she needs you. Raw is co-parenting yourself and your siblings. Raw is teaching your mother how you want and need to be loved. Raw is to know your mother’s insecurities with love and affection, from men and her family. Raw is to know that your mother lied to your sister about who her father is, and being an accomplice in her lies. Raw is to see your mother’s humiliation and pain when her husband cheats on her. Raw is to see your mother’s joy when she remarries the man she divorced for infidelity. Raw is when your mother puts you on punishment for minor transgressions because she cannot admit that she can’t afford to send you on that school trip. Raw is to hear your mother’s true feelings about her parents.
There are no walls, no shields, and no protections or hushed voices for the daughters of single mothers.
And part of me feels guilty to for writing these truths.
Having public conversations about my mother has been challenging because to tell the truth about our relationship feels like airing dirty laundry, standing against her, testifying against her.
And I ask myself: do my personal experiences and feelings about my mother stand in contradiction to my Black feminist politics? How can I defend single Black mothers and dislike parts of my childhood? How can I stand up against the shaming and blaming of Black women and yet blame my mother for her choices?
That guilt is exactly the point of this writing; I don’t wanna have to forget or go through selective amnesia to be able to love and celebrate my mother.
No mother is perfect, but Black women, especially those who may have been pregnant teens and/or are single moms, are under a lot of surveillance—by the state, by our communities, and by the media. Any fuckup is seen as characteristic of our families: our mothers become pathologized and their mistakes are used against them. There is a defensiveness that follows where I only share the strengths of my family or I silence the parts that do not fit neatly into the defense of Black mothers.
So I am choosing to tell the uncomfortable truths instead.
My relationship with my mother is a far cry from flawless, but it’s one of the most important and influential relationships in my life. While I don’t agree with all of her choices, I appreciate her hard work. And, more importantly, I value the lessons I learned in spite of—and because of—her choices.
I learned to be independent and self-reliant at a young age. My ability to take care of myself expedited my maturation process, allowed me to take advantage of opportunities, and encouraged me to question authority, stand up for myself, speak my mind, and exercise my personal power.
Even though I question her decision making, I know she made hard choices and always did her best to put her family first with her limited income. She went hungry so I could eat. She was self-sacrificing and worked multiple jobs so we could survive. The fact that I knew just about everything that was happening in our home and why is the foundation of my commitment to living in honesty and in truth. Seeing her in her rawest form has driven me to be my authentic self.
And as I begin to see my mother with compassion and to better understand the context of her choices, my commitment to reproductive justice is strengthened. My mother’s experiences with love, limited resources, and respectability politics are a reminder that marriage is not a solution for poverty and that motherhood is a reflection of who we are, even when we are not our best selves.
And for that, I say: thank you mom.
Our mothers should be celebrated in the truth of their complexity and humanity—their contradictions, their mistakes, their successes, and their journeys.
Understanding my mother’s complexity and humanity with compassion is one of the toughest things I am learning to do in my journey of healing and forgiveness. To know the truth about my mother and to love her anyway has been, and continues to be, one of the most challenging responsibilities of my life.
I am celebrating and honoring the lessons I learn by seeing my mother for who she really is, not who I wish her to be. This Mama’s Day I am loving my mother through her imperfections, learning to forgive her for her mistakes, enjoying the parts of myself that come from her, and growing through our relationship.
As a young queer woman of color, daughter of a single mother and the eldest of three sisters, Taja Lindley is acutely aware of the challenges facing women today and excited about transcending our challenges with art, critical thinking, healing and entrepreneurship. Taja is a self-taught multi-media tactile visual artist, performer, full-spectrum doula and reproductive justice activist inspired by women and girls of color. She is a participant in the Strong families blogging project, Echoing Ida. You can follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.
This blog is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.