Mind Love Life Stories

My mother hates Mother’s Day because she never felt loved growing up

Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the cherished forms of motherhood. This one is for the strong mothers, the nurturing ones, for the mothers who have lost children, for the children who have lost mothers, for those who are aching to be mothers, for those who choose not to be mothers. Read more here.

Mother’s Day is coming around again, and for most people, that means planning to do all kinds of cute things for the mothers or mother figures in their lives. But for some of us, it’s a bit less happy and a lot more stressful. And at least in my family, it comes down to good old generational trauma

So it started with my grandmother, my mother’s mother, whom we all call Naano. Naano had three children, and my mother was the second of them and the first daughter. And unfortunately, in South Asian families, daughters don’t mean a lot and they have no significance other than their ability to do house chores or get married. The misogynistic treatment was then compounded because her older brother was six years older than her and her younger sister was ten years younger than her. That meant that no matter what she was doing in life, there was always something more important happening with her siblings. 

And admittedly, all of this is pretty superficial; things with Naano and mum go way deeper and are far more complex. But needless to say, they do not get along, and in fact, Naano pretty successfully ruined any self-esteem that mum could have had. Naano just made everything in mum’s life miserable, from what we’ve heard. Mum has said countless times that she agreed to marry our father entirely just because it would get her away from Naano. She’s constantly beating herself up over something that Naano said to her during her childhood, and when she falls into one of those moods, it’s hard to get her to see that Naano was wrong.

And those moods are much more frequent around Mother’s Day.

I’ve grown up with her always saying that Mother’s Day is silly because you shouldn’t need to mark a day on a calendar to love your mother. And really, that makes a lot of sense. It makes much more sense to say that you love your mother every day and you celebrate them in small ways all the time. But really, it’s not the holiday she’s mad about at all. It’s the idea that she would be forced to celebrate a mother who she feels was never acted the way a mother should towards her. She still calls and keeps up with Naano, of course. But she will always just conveniently forget to call on the second Sunday of May. She hasn’t wished Naano a Mother’s Day since she got married and moved out.

Fun fact to make all this much more complicated, my mother’s birthday is May 10th. That means it always falls within the second week of May and always falls less than a week from Mother’s Day. And this year, it will fall right after Mother’s Day. Things have been hard enough for the past year, but my siblings and I aren’t sure what to expect in the coming days.

She doesn’t talk about her birthdays from her childhood much, but the few stories we have heard made things pretty clear. Naano would throw large parties and dress mum in elegant clothes and show her off to all their family and friends as if she was always that loving. But mum never liked parties or the clothes, so there’s no way to argue this was done for her benefit. 

For as long as I’ve known, mum doesn’t like celebrating her birthday. It’s not as moody as Mother’s Day; she generally forgets she has a birthday if someone doesn’t remind her. When she does remember, she won’t say or do much. She’ll usually insist that nothing happens and things carry on like usual. While not nearly as loud as the Mother’s Day rant, her views on birthdays have shaped how they are treated within the family. We mainly don’t celebrate any birthdays, and when we do, it’s always just a gift a day before or a day after, never on the actual day.

The generational trauma in the family runs deep, and it’s a lot of work to try and unlearn everything. My siblings and I do whatever we can to try and set things straight. We’ve been trying slowly to help mum understand that she is worthy of love and happiness, but it’s a long road to healing all the trauma. One of our usual strategies is to buy her a small birthday gift either well before or after her actual birthday. It’s usually a card or something equally small because she tends to feel undeserving of larger gifts, and that’s not a topic she’s ready to tackle just yet.

Luckily this year, Eid will be falling right after Mother’s Day and her birthday. So we’re having fun planning to make some small cakes and ordering her favorite cartoon characters as French macarons for the event.

She won’t have to think of it as anything more than a way to celebrate Eid if she doesn’t want to, but she’ll still know that we care for her, and the surprise will make her happy. 

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Family Life

Black parents too often disguise abuse as discipline

Every so often on social media, conversations arise comparing Black parenting styles to white ones, and I’ve noticed an unsettling pattern. It seems what Black people tend to associate with Black parenting styles is negative or downright abusive characteristics: disregarding their children’s boundaries, corporal punishment, and humiliation. Conversely, Black people often associate white parenting styles with kind forms of nurturing: effectively listening to their children, being understanding, offering empathy, and respecting their children’s boundaries. 

However, as accurately stated in an article for BBC, “Many black parents identify the refusal to spank as “white,” viewing white parents as too permissive and not in proper control of their children, especially in public spaces.” Notably, a few years back, it was even a common occurrence to see Black parents publicly humiliating their children as a form of discipline for all of social media to see.

In fact, statistics prove Black parents do tend to be considerably harsher with punishing their children, and there is some historical context to be explored as to why. Black parenting methods are a reflection of the harm and abuse we experienced during slavery. In turn, Black parents often discipline their kids in similar ways plantation owners abused enslaved people.

The use of corporal punishment on children is not reflective of pre-colonial West African practices; rather, it is a demonstration of religious European beliefs that people are born innately sinful. So, parents felt they had to beat the sin out of children

Now, however, Black parents strongly believe beating children into behavioral correction can save them from the dangers Black kids are likely to face outside of their homes. Even though, the idea that you can beat a human being into submission or into performing good behavior directly correlates with the institutional practices of slavery.

Correspondingly, America’s refusal to directly address the harm slavery has had on the Black community causes Black people to continue internalizing trauma without any healthy outlet to properly heal. This cycle of unchecked trauma, which is now arguably an inherent aspect of Blackness stemming from slavery, ultimately comes at the expense of Black children. 

The idea that spanking can effectively correct children’s behavior is not supported by facts or statistical evidence. Consequently, the practice of spanking in the Black community is continued for two reasons: firstly, I suspect the use of corporal punishment on Black kids provides Black parents a feeling of superiority or control they don’t have outside of their household.

Secondly, Black parents are trying and failing to save or prepare their kids from the repercussions of living in a racist society. This notion is seemingly well-intentioned. However, it normalizes abuse as a form of love, furthering the cycle of trauma in a manner more subdue. 

Racism partly thrives off convincing Black parents to forcefully get Black kids to conform to white supremacy. This is supported in a newsletter article for the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Stacey Patton examines how racial trauma has influenced Black parent’s use of corporal punishment. The article explains how the American slave trade purposefully targeted African youth.

As a result, kids that grew up in enslavement became adults and “were under tremendous pressure to shape their [own] children into docile field workers and to teach them proper deference and demeanor in front of whites,” Patton states. So are born familiar phrases like “this hurts me more than it hurts you:” a phrase commonly used by Black parents to justify their perpetuation (whether intentional or not) of abuse. 

Dr. Patton also wrote a compelling article for the New York Times detailing her own experience with the negative effects of corporal punishment. Because of the abuse she endured, Dr. Patton ran away at 12-years-old, ending up in foster care. As an adult, she came to realize the direct harm beatings had on her as a child and had to spend part of her adulthood unpacking her trauma in therapy.

Henceforth, the current generation of Black youth must break cyclical family trauma for the sake of our own kids and our kid’s kids. With modern studies coupled with the ability to have nuanced, cultural conversations on social media, we can now understand that spankings and humiliation tactics have been historically harmful to Black children.

Black trauma is cyclical. Therefore, going forward, the way we as a community can remedy those toxic perceptions of Black parenting is by recognizing the trauma of our past and present, regarding both our lineage and personal childhood experience.

We must be the generation of parents that recognize beating Black kids into good behavior benefits no one. It’s on us to change the narrative surrounding Black parenting to be something universally positive and leave this cycle of trauma in the past. To ensure future generations of Black kids can have a healthy and nurturing development as all children deserve.

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