Mama Bunkfish

Navigating marriage, motherhood, and mental illness on Jesus, caffeine, and naps!

Black Mothers Don’t Hug Their Daughters

I saw those words as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed the other night and immediately thought I’d misread it. Surely it said, ‘Black mothers, hug your daughters more’. I scrolled back up, only to find that I had indeed read it correctly the first time. I tucked it away in the recesses of my mind, wondering what black mothers these were.

The next day, as I waited to pick my daughter up, thinking of what term of endearment I was going to whip out for her, those words crept back into my thoughts. Which black mothers had she been talking about? Not my black mother – who to this very day, as I mother my own children, hugs me every time she sees me. Not me – who hugs my daughter, while I tell her how smart, and talented, and brave she is. What black mothers was she talking about?! I got home and started reading the comments and felt validated in my confusion by all those who said that it was a horrible stereotype but also saddened by the numerous women who said that their mothers didn’t hug them. Ever? Just on special occasions?

As I sat contemplating the hows and the whys, I was reminded of a discussion I’d recently had with a girlfriend. I don’t remember exactly what started the conversation but we got into the idea of the ‘Strong Black Woman’. You know, Miss Independent, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, No scrubs, to the left, black woman? The one Mary sang about while Angela set his car on fire and the one Viola played that many of swore we could never be? I concluded that because we had to be strong for so long (watching our husbands getting sold on auction blocks, losing our husbands, fathers, uncles, cousins to crack, and memorializing our sons being killed while walking home) we didn’t know how to be vulnerable. I explained a story I heard on NPR about how the sheer fact that we are black ages us biologically in a process called weathering. While black don’t crack on the outside, the constant stress of racial and gender discrimination, ages black women on the inside, far faster than it does our white counterparts. All those thoughts made me wonder – was that why some of us don’t hug our daughters?

I told my husband a couple nights later that I had been working this piece out in my head for a few days. He gave me this strange look when I told him the title and we ultimately got around to whether or not I believed it was true. Absolutely not I said. But in that discussion he reminded me of something I’d read in “The Mother of Black Hollywood’ by Jenifer Lewis (which is a PHENOMENAL book) and her relationship with her mother. As she got older and went through therapy, she realized that it wasn’t that her mother didn’t love her and didn’t want to show her affection; she had more pressing issues on her mind. She was raising several children, alone, and was quite poor. Jacob and I agreed that when putting food on the table and keeping the lights on is always on your mind, you don’t always think about hugging your kids a lot. Giving them what they need and even what they need actually means, takes on a different meaning when you have to constantly worry about keeping a roof over their heads.

Here’s where I’m going with this. Yes, some black mothers don’t hug their daughters. But that lack of affection isn’t limited to race. I can’t say that it’s even limited to socioeconomic status. What I’ve found is that as a mother, I love the way in which I was loved, as do most other mothers. That’s not good or bad; it just is. Clearly that’s not always the case and it’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, but I truly believe that most mothers do the best that they know how.

As I was waiting at the car wash Wednesday evening, I could over hear a young woman telling her mother about an accomplishment at work. Her tone quickly changed and I could hear her pleading with her mother to just be proud of her, in that moment, and not to bring up her faults, in that moment. I wanted to tap her on the arm and tell her that although she couldn’t see it then, her mother most likely didn’t know any other way to do things. I decided against it (folks will go off on you these days). But as Jo and I walked to the car, I replayed that conversation I’d heard, and vowed to do better – as her mother.

Until next time…

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