So I was thinking about some of the famous sayings that have come out of black households, the staple phrases that no matter what part of the U.S. of A. you come from, I’d bet my best set of lashes, you’ve heard them. Let’s go through a few shall we:
“I brought you in this world and I can take you out of it.”
“You got (insert whatever it is you want here) money?!”
“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Don’t play with me, I ain’t one of your lil friends”
By now, some of y’all are triggered and the rest are cackling loudly in black. These statements we joke fondly about and lift them up as quintessential vignettes of black culture. However, I did a thing that millennials are good for, given that we’re the unspoken cycle breaking generation. I actually paused and critically thought about the words, I thought about the implications, and impacts. Something about that last one, the friend thing triggered me… so of course I went down the rabbit hole of great value psychoanalysis if it. The maths not mathing for me on a few things…
I used to hear all the time growing up about how my parents (read: mom) weren’t my friends they were my parents and those lines were to never be blurred, let alone crossed. Now adult me can understand, to some degree, why they may have felt that way. Yet, little me gave zero fucks and wanted my mommy to be my best friend, but she was the typical black mom and that shit wasn’t happening. Like, she had the handbook of all the black mama sayings and spoke them fluently. Now, that I’m a black mama I find myself thinking of these moments a little differently. My upbringing and the old attitudes of black parenting aren't aligning with my feelings towards the kind of parent that I'd like to be. I want to be a lil friend.
What I mean is that I want my child to see me as her friend, I don’t need to be her bestie, but I wouldn’t mind that kind of closeness either. I want to be able to have open honest conversations and not have my child feel as though the power differential that naturally exists between us is an impossible barrier to our communication. I feel that maybe most of our parents couldn’t balance what being a friend to your kid looked like while still enforcing rules and keeping healthy boundaries. Wait a minute…
What if it’s a boundaries thing! Stay with me here… In the last decade, not even, I’d say the 5 years or so, there been this collective focus on the importance of boundaries and enforcing boundaries for our safety and security. What that societal shift has uncovered is that we’re collectively terrible at setting, let alone, keeping clear boundaries. Think about it, we all have that nosey ass relative that stays in everybody's business and/or says anything to anyone and we just excuse it, as them being them, instead of checking that shitty behavior at the door and setting boundaries.
Operating on this premise, maybe it is a boundaries thing. How do you establish a friendship with a person you’re raising, if you’ve never been taught thats a thing that’s actually doable. It’s achievable by setting boundaries when there are different dynamics that need to coexist within the same relationship. It’s hard to consciously parent when you don’t know it’s an option, so of course anything that deviates from that typical strict black motherhood model, seems like an automatic ‘hell no’. I can see how maybe the thought of friendship seemed crazy to my parents because we automatically think of a reciprocal relationship. I don't see myself venting to my kid about how Debbie at work almost got her shit rocked for talking crazy during a meeting, could you imagine? If this is a the thinking for old school parents, I could see how a friendship with their child is completely asinine and completely off the table.
I’ve also seen friendships within the black community with awful dynamics and ZERO boundaries, I’m talking permeable membranes everywhere. So many of our parents and us, hell, have had friendships that weren’t safe spaces at all. So maybe to some parents the idea of friendship is the lawless and chaotic wild Wild West and is an absolute no-go for someone trying to raise decent human beings; some kind of structure is needed. Oooh this is making more and more sense the deeper I dive. Okay, great value Iyanla, I see you!
If there’s any truth to this, it’s eye-opening, but it also makes me a little sad. Thinking of how many relationships between parents and their kids could’ve been better if they had the information and tools at the ready, that we are privy to today. Would it have made them better parents, who knows, but I can say with certainty that it’s hard to fix and thing when you don’t even realize it’s broken.
I feel that it is possible to have a friendship with your child. I feel like if we set up flexible communication boundaries for ourselves, as our kids grow older and the subject matter of what they need to and can talk about changes, it would make us better communicators overall. If I can help it, I never want my daughter to feel she can’t come to me about anything. I’m completely open to the idea of establishing a friendship with her, I’m not just interested in her as my child, but the person she wants to become, and I want to make sure I'm doing the work necessary to meet her wherever she’s at. I want to get to know her over and over again. I want to be a friend to her if she lets me.
The dynamics of black parenthood are changing as we continue to put a lens over things that we collectively need to let go of. We are evolving past survival mode and it’s time for us to download the ability to thrive into our collective DNA. There's so much trauma that we've endured and survived. Survival has been woven into our DNA by the ancestors, we will always be okay, but I feel we’re at a place now where we need to thrive and shift perspectives. The world is changing so fast and the children we’re raising now have to be fully prepared for that world, not the one we came up in. We can't take them backwards, we have to adapt in order to propel them forward, and it starts with hard conversations, conversations that may make us as parents uncomfortable while we do our best to hold safe spaces for our children.
I sound like a fucking PBS special or some shit, but it's just something I'm super passionate about. I sometimes find myself thinking that if my parents were more of a friend to me how would our communication be? Communication isn't great, I don't talk to one parent and I don't trust that I'm safe to show up as my authentic self with the other… and that's okay. I'm grateful for those experience, it's given me a beautiful connection with Black Culture that is invaluable. I can't wait to see what our kids quote from us in the next 20 years, I'm sure some of the sayings will be the same. Listen, that 'You got _____ money?' ain't going nowhere, and I can't wait to use it! Some phrases will be new and different and I pray those phrases anchor my kids to the richness of their blackness while prompting them to want to be better as well. I know whatever the new evolutions of black mamahood are, they're going to be just as iconic.
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