I had this whole essay about my journey as a Black, unmarried mother, who is now parenting older children written out and just like that, it needed to be re-written. I have to change what I thought was happening all up n’ through this little soliloquy of mine because of a conversation I just had with my 19-year-old daughter. That is what your children do from day one: they re-write your story just by showing up.
My daughter, Taahira and her 15 year-old brother, Isaiah, have been the center of my world and the Light in my darkness for the past twenty years. I have been their mother for half of my time here on earth. I don’t even remember much of my life before them. I went straight from being my parent’s child to being Tee & Ikey’s Mommy. I have no idea who I would have been without them, nor do I care to imagine. I don’t think anything would have been better than this. Motherhood has been the single most gratifying and challenging undertaking I’ve ever managed not to mess up. Parenting my children has grown me in ways that I couldn’t otherwise fathom. I am truly grateful for the blessing.
Tee called me this morning from the doctor’s office, asking me questions about pap smears when I told her I was writing about being a Mother, specifically being the Mother of older children. I must say, that child has always had interesting timing, (She decided to be born in the middle of an ice storm…her birth story is amazing!) She says to me: “Well, Mommy, with you, it hasn’t felt like ‘raising children’ on my end. It’s been more of a ‘life-guiding’ experience being your daughter. I’ve always felt safe and loved and valued and free, so I’ve never been afraid because I know you got me.”
Wow. Just…wow. [Insert tears here]
I’ve always said that reading the passage on children in Khalil Gibran’s book, The Prophet is what shaped my parenting the most:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
The day that Tee was born, I said to her, “I have to get you ready.” In 1994, I hadn’t read anything by Gibran yet, but I knew that I had to prepare my child for a time that I would not be there. I wouldn’t always be there, because I’m not supposed to be. I had to help her to become confident and strong and inquisitive. I had to show her how to shine her own Light. I finally did read The Prophet when it was gifted to me by a family literacy instructor around the time Ikey was about 18 months old. I felt so affirmed and in that moment, I dedicated myself once again to helping Tee & Ikey build themselves into people who will not only not perish, but also thrive. I saw it as my Divine Responsibility and I still do. I will forever.
I established a family culture of openness, honesty, shared ownership, responsibility and shared rewards. We all learned TOGETHER to emote in healthy ways and resolve conflict in ways that reflected our love for each other. Respect was something that was a given as a basis for understanding, not an earned privilege. Rights came with responsibility, and privileges were suspended if abused. WE TALKED TO EACH OTHER, not at each other. And while no one person in our home was deemed greater than anyone else, we all were allowed private space and private time and the right to say “no” or “not right now.”
Now that they are both sophomores, one in college and one in high school, I see the tree bearing fruit. My children have actively and loudly chosen not to drink alcohol (although Tee did back in October; I know because she called and told me all about it) or be involved with drugs. They are very good friends and leaders amongst their peers. They do very well in school based on their varied individual intelligences and capabilities. I couldn’t be more proud of who they’ve become and are still becoming.
Parenting older children is about letting go, stepping back and having faith in the work that you’ve already done. I taught Tee & Ikey to make good choices by allowing them to make choices. They’ve learned how to express themselves by being allowed to express themselves. They know how to get up because I let them fall a few times, just like when they were babies learning to walk. My children are now “Grown & A Half” and I know that they will make mistakes and have “ouchies” that no longer require a kiss and a Band-Aid. But I am still their “Safe Island” to which they can call always return. That’s who I am to them. I am Mommy, still.
CaShawn Thompson is a Mother, Early Childhood Care & Education Specialist, Doula, living and working in her hometown of Washington, D.C. She tweets @thepbg, blogs at DirtyPrettyThangs.com & curates #MotherhoodInColor on Pinterest.