This post is a part of a special series in partnership with Permission to Write called Mom/Me: An exploration of motherhood and beyond. This collection of poetry, essays, and visual media showcase the many facets of motherhood and our relationship to it.
No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you. After all, you’re the only one who knows the sound of my heart from the inside. —Kristen Proby
Motherhood. It’s such a nuanced word, concept, experience. Usually in that order.
The only time I fondly remember wanting to be someone’s mother was as a child. My sister-cousin and I would get all starry eyed dreaming up our future weddings, husbands, homes, and offspring. The JCPenney catalogues mailed to my house played quite a role in these daydreams of our future happiness protected by pristine white picket fences. What better retailer to fill our luxurious homes with cherry wood furniture and sheer window treatments? (That was also a time when Little Lita thought an annual salary of $50,000 made you rich.)
I admire my mom’s love and devotion to me, but I want no parts of that anxiety.
These days, I mostly observe the art of mothering as a spectator from the sidelines, jumping in as an ad-hoc assistant coach—or heckler—when necessary or moved.
Yet, I still find myself peering at the playbooks, learning lessons in mothering from the women I love and admire who have committed themselves to the task. And I would happily play Auntie Mommy and do anything in my power to help or ease some of the burdensome aspects of parenthood for those I hold closest to my heart, few questions asked. (My sister-cousin and I are still close, and she more than made up for my decision to forgo conception: She has nine children, and I’m their godmother.)
People annoyingly speculate on the reasons I choose not to have children. Frankly, what I do (or don’t do) with my reproductive organs is really none of their business, but motherhood is simply not for me. I enjoy the ability to do what I please on a whim. I like giving the kids back. I sleep more peacefully knowing I have one mouth to feed—mine—and that I solely have to be concerned with keeping a roof over only my head. I don’t have to agonize over keeping another human alive. That alone must add years to one’s life. If my mom doesn’t hear from me for a few days, she’s practically putting together a national search party to hunt me down. (If I was 14, cool, but I’m nearly 40.) I admire her love and devotion to me, but I want no parts of that anxiety.
Nevertheless, the absence of biological children in my life doesn’t preclude me from having motherly instincts. My maternal energy often emanates in the way I uplift the girls and women in my life, and those outside of it.
My mother is the woman who instilled confidence in me as soon as I began doubting any parts of myself. She never hesitated to turn whatever “wrong” I discovered in myself as a young girl into something positive.
When I fretted over my small breast size and asked if I should stuff my bra, she told me no; that God would give me what I was supposed to have in the intended time. And when I complained about my size 10/11 feet, she interjected, “Models have big feet.”
This woman was so liberated, she would let me choose my punishments. I was once presented the option of either being spanked with a flyswatter or going a week without TV for something I had done. I opted for the short and sweet sting of a few swipes of rubber against my tush. I imagine I shed a few tears before going back to watching Alf, but I appreciated her diplomacy.
Motherhood is multifaceted. It’s not a synonym for perfection. Even with the reassurance my mom so frequently conferred, there were still missteps. While my mom played an enormously vital role in the development of my confidence, she didn’t always model that same confidence for herself.
Love takes many forms and none of them should be harmful, but healing.
Growing up, I had an alcoholic stepfather who would become verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive when he drank. My maternal grandfather suffered the same malady and inflicted that pain upon his children. My mother carries that pain with her.
Though I choose not to bring forth flesh of my own flesh, I’m doing my damnedest to break the generational curses that befell my family for years. The women shouldered them, and I decided that those ills stop with me.
A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I had a heart-to-heart that ended up being a pleasant surprise. I told her how endangered I felt during all those years of living with an alcoholic parent. I asked her about a particular instance—had she been afraid?
She explained that she’d endured similar hostility and violence with her father. She apologized for not protecting me, for not leaving. I told her she did the best she could with what she had. And in that moment, we extended forgiveness to one another that neither of us was aware we needed.
That’s motherhood: Revelatory in nature, a ceaseless learning experience.
My role as a godmother is to impart wisdom and provide guidance and spiritual nourishment…
I strive to be the beacon of assurance to my godgirls that my mother was for me. I also strive to ensure that they understand how men should treat them, speak to them, respect them, and honor them. My role as a godmother is to impart wisdom and provide guidance and spiritual nourishment; to generate self-awareness, confidence, and assertiveness to all my godchildren—but especially in the girls. There are four of them, and Black girls require all the support and positivity any of us have the time, energy, and resources to offer.
I believe you either become what you’re exposed to and continually fall prey to it, or you become your own shaman and uncover ways to heal yourself. I’ve done the latter, but the work never ends.
Personal experiences, along with observing mothers and those with maternal instincts but without children, have taught me that until we do this work, we are simply shells of adults. We traverse life, reaching for the forbidden and reacting to what confronts us from our core wounding.
Though there are things I needed to see and wasn’t shown as I evolved from a young girl to a woman, I learned how things could be. I’m still learning. And I now know that love takes many forms and none of them should be harmful, but healing.