Mothering from the Margins – and Other Side-Eye Assumptions

Mother to Son … Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Mothering has to be the single most important job that I’ve held in my life. But I am bold enough to say what some mothers may think but not want to say: Becoming a mother, especially at an age when I felt that I should have been partying, was not in my plans. I remember the moment that I got pregnant. No, not the day, the night, or the weekend – the exact moment. Life was good. It was my last semester in college, summer 1997 and I decided to visit my high school sweetheart in Florida while he served in the Air Force. It was the first time that I dared to venture so far away without my mother knowing about it. [Of course I didn’t tell her. She would have flipped the script.] The two of us enjoyed a weekend of hanging out and being foolishly in love – or in like. Then the night before I left Florida, we had sex. I remember jumping up at the exact moment and saying, “Damn! I’m pregnant!” I got dressed and stormed outside mad as hell. [Now, why I was mad is beyond me. When you have sex, that’s the risk you take. Duh.] He laughed at me and said I was over-reacting, but I just knew. Five weeks later, no menstrual cycle. I was right. I knew the exact moment that I conceived.
Fast forward beyond our courthouse marriage ceremony, our honeymoon night spent separately – him at the strip club and me at my mother’s house, my pregnancy “you get on my damn nerves” hormones and my six hours of intense labor – only to give birth at 12:36pm just in time to watch Jerry Springer at 1:00pm…and you have me, a young mother who looked at my son and whispered to myself: “Qiana, what in the hell are you doing with a baby? This was not the plan. Grad school was the plan.” But like I always tell my students, we can plan all we want, the Universe’s plan always supersedes ours. So God’s plan was for me to be a mother. [Now, maybe it wasn’t his plan for me to have pre-marital sex, but I won’t debate that issue with anyone because I’m grown – even then, I was grown – and no one can answer to any higher power for me. So let’s not debate religious doctrine. I promise you…you won’t win.]
After two months of looking at my son and asking myself that same question, he made me realize that I was asking a question that should have been an affirmative statement: “Qiana, you have been blessed with this baby. Get it together.” It was not about what I was going to do because mothering was not and still is not about me. I had just completed nursing him and looked down at his face…and he smiled the biggest, most innocent smile that I had ever seen. At that point, I realized that mothering was about him. Mothering was about loving him, nurturing him, raising him. And that’s what I set out to do on that day. So you can imagine my angst when I tell someone that my son lives with his father and I get the subliminal “What kind of mother are you?” look and side-eye. So after 15 years, I thought about it. Hmm…what kind of mother am I?
I’m the kind of mother who understands that I can teach my son everything that I know about the world. We can discuss life, love, females, friends, spirituality, females, society, relationships, and females. I can introduce him to culture, like when we attended the Atlanta Ballet. I can support his endeavors, like when I scream like a wild woman when he plays football. I scream, “That’s my baby.” when he’s on the field, and scream “Put my baby in!” when he’s off the field. I can encourage him to talk about sex with me, like when I needed a drink as he gave me a lesson in “What 15-year-old Boys Know About Sex” a few weeks ago.  I can surprise him with memories that he’ll cherish for a lifetime, like when I took him to see Alabama play in the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando, Florida. I can nurture him to think carefully about his choices and to stand by those choices with confidence once he makes decisions, like when he asked me if he could go live with his Dad when he was 13-years-old. Que the violin and the tears…
He sat me down and gave me a list of reasons to justify his desire to live with his Dad, and none of the reasons had anything to do with me. He ended his list with, “But Mama, I love you. I do love you. I just think you should share me with my Dad. I’ll still call you and come see you all the time.” Once again, I had to realize that mothering had nothing to do with me. It was all about my son – OUR son. I had always encouraged him to speak his mind, to have the courage of his convictions…and this was no different. So while I was sad (still am sometimes) to see him go, I dared not stand in his way.
So to further answer the question, “What kind of mother are you?”… I’ll write this: I’m the kind of mother who understands that my son, our son craved something that I could not give him – a relationship with his Dad. While I know that I’m EVERY woman, I also know that I’m not a man. Of course, I’m not one to say that a mother alone cannot raise a perfectly well-rounded man because I’ve seen it happen. But for me to keep Marcus with me when he wanted to be shared with his Dad would have been an act of selfishness. We should not be selfish with our children.
Mothering, for me, no matter whether my son is here in Georgia or with his Dad in Alabama is never a marginal experience. It is a gift that has been more valuable to my growth as a person, as a woman than any other gift I’ve received. There is a popular belief that many Black women “raise” their daughters and “love” their sons. This ideology suggests that we raise our daughters to be strong and resilient and attempt to protect our sons from everything in the world because we know their plights as Black men in America are likely to be difficult. I have set out to raise and love my son, and deciding (collaboratively with him and his Dad) to support his move to Alabama is not an act of mothering from the margins or failing to raise him. It is an act of raising him with love.
Eclectic GRITS
nilah monet

22 responses to “Mothering from the Margins – and Other Side-Eye Assumptions

  1. As Cinnamon would say, ” you’ve planted your seed now watch it grow”.
    You’ve done a great job raising Marcus, giving him the tools he needs to be a succesful young man!!!

  2. Qiana, as a mother who, at times, has questioned her decisions, I thank you for you honesty and candor. Keep finding things that inspire you to discuss….your heart and spirit are genuine and it shows.

  3. i found this by meddlin on someone else’s page 🙂 i love it.

    my 14 year old daughter chose to stay in KY with her dad when i announced that we’d be moving to atlanta, almost 3 years ago. having been her primary caretaker, i dealt with a lot of emotional conflict and insecurity around what kind of mother i had been, and was, for my daughter to want to live with her father and not me. not me. not me…

    i too, had to realize that it wasn’t about me. it was about her wanting to have a closer relationship with her dad. as a result, by not having to always be the “bad guy,” by missing one another we are more intentional about openly communicating with each other and our relationship has gotten stronger. kudos to you, mama

    • Thank you for reading! The acceptance that sometimes, most times, mothering is not about us is challenging. I’m so glad to have had this experience and to have such a wonderful son. 🙂

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