* Written by Roco Price for YettiSays Self-Love Month | “For Black Girls” post series
Nothing is as difficult, or as delicate, as the black mother-daughter dynamic. If you know, you know. And if you don’t, you never will. Black women balance the trauma and the triumph, the weight and the wonder, the burden and the beauty, of living in this skin. We are the most qualified, least recognized, most relied on, least supported, group on the planet. Black women are beacons of love and strength. But something happens when black women have daughters.
If you are a black woman and the words “mother” and “special bond” don’t sit well together for you– if you and your mother are one fault line away from an earthquake– this letter is for you. I cannot promise you answers. But I can commiserate. And I can advise you on a path forward.
I was four years old when I first felt the deliberate distance between my mother and me. We stood in the bathroom mirror, Mommy curling her hair, and me admiring her. She dropped a steaming curl onto her forehead and brushed it gently with her fingers.
“Mommy,” I said, “I want my hair to be just like yours when I grow up.” I was a tiny dam that day. Staring at my mother’s reflection, I held back my true feelings: that my mother was the most gorgeous woman I’d ever seen, that I wanted to emulate her, from her beauty mark, to her hairstyles, to her smoke-dusted belly laugh. Expressing my desire for my hair to be like hers was all I could do to keep myself from exploding with adoration.
She kept her focus, clamping down her curling iron on a fresh piece of hair. She let the sizzle fill the silence.
“No,” she said finally, firmly, “you don’t.” She frowned, never once looking at me. My confusion did little to mask the sting of her rejection. Even as a 4-year-old I knew that there was room for tenderness in that moment, and I was disappointed that none was offered. I never expressed that desire again.
What she meant that day was that she loved my hair, and that it was she who wished to have a crowning glory like mine. What she meant was that she wanted me to be myself, and to be better than her in all ways. But somehow her compassion was lost in translation. My mother seemed to hold me at a distance this way, through word and deed, for most of my life.
I had already begun my quest to know my mother the day I got the call that she had been hit by a car. The SUV struck her body so hard that she landed in the grass, yards away from the point of impact, bloody and shoeless. The accident fractured her skull, lacerated her leg, and loosened her teeth. But it didn’t kill her. And I became keenly aware that my mother could have died without having fully revealed herself to me.
So many black women never get to know their black mothers. Black women spend so much time teaching their daughters how to stand with the weight of the world on their backs that they sometimes forget to teach us that there is room for softness in this skin.
I spent years resenting the woman who raised me because she didn’t mother me how I wanted to be mothered. If you have a difficult mother, the first step to freedom is to give up. Quit working on her and begin the work on yourself. Maybe she will be inspired to heal, maybe not. But you’ll be better for it.
Your second step to freedom lies in your perception. The second I stopped seeing my mother through the lens of motherhood, a new person formed before my eyes. I stopped searching for who she was supposed to be to me, and began seeing her for who she is. She is a woman who was not taught softness. She is a woman with her own dreams and ambitions, who did what she could with what she knew. She is a woman who has my respect. She is the main character in her own story, and not a villain in mine.
Today I don’t recognize the woman I make smoothies with as the woman who raised me. This “new” her is due in part to her own evolution, and in part to mine. I can still count on one hand the number of times she said she loved me. But she speaks softly now, and I finally understand the 65,000 reasons a woman needs to scream.
Black mothers, I implore you to shed your layers. Show your daughters who you are. Reveal the softness in your story. Peel for them. Black daughters, I pray you receive what you yearn for from your mothers, and that you grow to be a black mother who gives it in return.