What makes an ideal mother? Is it her race, age, or the money in her bank account? Or maybe it’s her willingness to breastfeed or unwillingness to be away from her child to work outside of the home. Whatever the right answer is, throughout my entire pregnancy, I assumed that I would naturally fall into being an excellent mother to my unborn son regardless of my race, age, or economic status.
My perfect mental picture came crashing down during a cashier shift at my job.
My customer, equipped with a husband, child, and perfectly shiny appearance, started to rattle off the usual questions one asks a fellow mother to be.
How far along are you?
Boy or girl?
Think of a name yet?
Do you plan on keeping your child, because you know it is very difficult to raise children?
It was at that very moment that I realized that I wasn’t viewed as the young, devoted mother working late-night cashier shifts to earn money for her family while finishing up her last year in college. It was then that I realized that I was seen as a poor, unwed, clueless, young, black pregnant woman that was a walking billboard for welfare and little to no parenting skills.
This customer took one look at me and decided that I was not fit to raise a child I’d created. She’d assumed that I came from a long line of unfit mothers that were never able to get ahead of the curve and if it were true, than I too would follow in the predetermined foot steps of my predecessors.
From the moment my son was born, my heart physically swelled up twice its size with a type of love I have never felt before. This itty bitty person depended on me to thrive in this world and it was a responsibility that I did not take lightly. I wanted to be his light in the dark and strength in trying times. I did not want to become a parent based on what I was used to seeing. I did not want to become the mother mine had to be to survive.
I recall my single mother crying as she counted out pennies for us to eat and thinking to myself that that struggle was the norm. I can clearly remember being in grade school, standing in line for lunch, and talking to a classmate about how we didn’t know who our fathers were. My mother became jaded and hardened due to being a single parent of two increasingly out of hand children. ‘I love you’ and ‘Atta girl’ were phrases I thought were reserved for white children who had family dinners and game nights. While my mother did an excellent job turning pennies into a hot dinner, I simply did not want that for my son.
So, during the past 11 months of his life, I’ve picked him up for every whimper, kissed every boo-boo, read every picture book—some twice, fed him from my breasts, made his baby food, and told him I love you every single day.
My mother died before I could make her proud enough to swell her heart. She was gone before she was able to change her circumstances enough to be the kind of mother she could have been. The one thing that customer didn’t take into account that night was how resilient my predecessors had been. Parenting from the heart as opposed to some harsh stereotypical boundaries is about looking into the past and the future at the same time. It’s using your hopes and dreams for your child and the proven success of the past to become a mother on your own terms.
Latifah Miles is a native New Jersey mother of a soon-to-be one-year-old boy. When she is not chasing behind baby Miles, she spends her time writing parenting, crafting, health, and natural hair-related articles for her website, youngfabulousandnatural.com.