Parenting for liberation. It’s a phrase that feels so aligned with the concerns of so many Black parents trying to balance the very immediate fears of parenting in a white supremacist society with the desire to raise whole, happy, and healthy children.
It makes me think of something Dr. Stacey Patton, author of Spare the Kids, said to me.
“Imagine what Black parenting would look like without the specter of white violence,” she said. “Imagine what it would look like without all of that fear. Without all of these traps everywhere.”
Trina Greene Brown has imagined that world—and given all of us a blueprint for making it a reality. Her book Parenting for Liberation: A Guide for Raising Black Children is an extension of the Parenting For Liberation universe she created in 2016 to help Black parents heal from intergenerational trauma rooted in slavery and become active advocates for their children.
Trina spoke to mater via email about her book, why many accepted parenting norms are actually oppressive, and how parents can get free and start parenting for liberation.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired to write this book, similarly to why I was inspired to start a podcast and organization with the same name—to amplify Black parent voices and stories around raising liberated children. Black parents who are resisting racism, that [don’t] want to limit their children’s freedom to play, explore, and be carefree, joyful Black babies. Black parents who are learning new ways to raise Black children, who resist harmful practices that were used by previous generations to keep Black children “safe”—such as whoopings, respectability, [and] code switching—and instead raise children who are authentically and unapologetically proud to be Black.
What are some of the most harmful narratives about Black parents that you see parents buying into?
Some of the harmful narratives about Black parenting is that we must be harder on our children, because our children must work twice as hard to thrive in a racist society. Even our forever First Lady Michelle Obama fed into this harmful narrative about Black children working twice as hard for half the recognition.
While it’s true that the playing fields [aren’t] level, and that white folks have an unfair advantage, it is harmful for us to put added weight and pressure our children to continuously overwork to be accepted in a white supremacist world. Rather than buying into our role of working hard to fit in, a liberated parenting method would reject that the onus is on us or children, and instead it’s on the inequitable system. Rather than our children doing the additional labor, how about instead we put the added pressure to dismantle the systems of inequity?
What are examples of oppressive parenting methods, and then the parenting from liberation method?
Growing up, I remember the saying that children are to be seen not heard, which meant that we weren’t allowed to speak up or have a voice about things that impacted our lives as children. The downside to this long term, is that it prevents our children from cultivating their own voice, perspectives, and opinions, and [from] sharing them in what should be a safe space to vocalize. So as they grow older, they may struggle with voicing concerns or speaking out against injustice.
Some of the harmful narratives about Black parenting is that we must be harder on our children, because our children must work twice as hard to thrive in a racist society.
A liberated parenting method would invite our children into dialogue, asking them their opinions and perspectives on issues in age-appropriate ways.
A meme that I’ve recently seen on social media is about the ways that Black parents apologize when they make mistakes—the joke was that Black parents don’t apologize. A liberated parent method is around accountability to our children. In my book, there is an accountability method I shared which is AAA: Acknowledge what happened, Account for the impact, Adapt and make agreements for changes going forward.
How do parents unlearn these more oppressive ways of thinking?
Before parents can unlearn, they must first recognize the harmful impacts. It’s hard to unlearn something that you can’t identify. So similar to how my book is organized, I invite parents to reflect on how they were parented as children and explore if any of those ways of thinking negatively impacted them in their own upbringing.
[By] inviting parents to reflect on their childhood, and their current inner child, and explore what was harmful and what was helpful to their development as children, I ask of parents, what is the healing that your inner child needs? Once the healing begins, and parents connect with their own inner child, they can connect with their own children and explore with them what they want to replicate for their own children and what parenting practices they want to leave behind.
How can families define what liberation means to them, and parent from that space?
Liberation means freedom from limits on thought or behavior. What would be possible if our children had more access to their freedom?
Once the list has been created per person, the family can make agreements about how they can make the freedom requests possible. There may have to be some negotiation to make freedom possible for all parties involved. For example in my own case, a kid staying up late may impact the request to be free from yelling when it’s time to get up the next morning, so we came to an agreement about the bedtime.
What does parenting for liberation mean to you?
Parenting for liberation is tri-fold for me: It means I am free, my children are free, and we fight for our freedom.
In order for me to be a liberated parent, I must first liberate myself from the oppression placed on me both as a Black person and as a woman; I must liberate and resist stereotypical assumptions of who I am supposed to be, and embrace and embody the version of myself I desire to be. When I allow myself to be freely me, then that creates space and capacity for me to cultivate liberation for and within my children.
Finally the third tenet, is parenting in service of liberation: My parenting as a site of revolution, a pathway towards the liberated futures I desire for Black people, which first begins in my home, in my relationship to my children. I see free Black children, who are proud of their heritage and culture, who know their true value and worth, who are happy, joyful, and thriving as revolutionary work.
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