Motherhood as an Act of Social Justice

As an expectant mother, I am ruminating on how I want to raise our child. Observing how my friends and family members raise their children, and culling from my own experiences, provides me a plethora of options.  Now I am just trying to shape ideas and options into a core and foundation. After having a profound discussion with Tiffany, an admired colleague and friend about her framework for motherhood, I begin  launching questions for my own exploration.  She detailed the facets of her motherhood as an act of social justice, framing it in historical, racial, economic and gender contexts.  Her insightful and incisive framework had me thinking for days.  I wondered if others conceptualized motherhood as an act of social justice, so I asked them.  Three peers, whom I grew up with from the old neighborhood, shared their insights and perspectives.  This post explores the ways these four women contemplate motherhood as an act of social justice, as well as my pondering. The goal of this post is not to provide an absolute singular definition, but a space for mothers and mothers-to-be to ponder, contemplate, and collaborate regarding the responsibilities, challenges, and questions each of use contemplate in defining and situating motherhood as an act of social justice.

 

Entering my fifth month of pregnancy.  Rife with questions and blank spaces, saturated with checklists and preparation, in awe of my body transforming and the life within it transforming me.  I am wondering about motherhood.  Among the well wishes, positive affirmation and advice, one admonition resonates.  Write a journal.  Record what you are experiencing.  But it’s been stop and start.  Like putting key in ignition and flicking it to turn over the engine.  The potential is there, yet getting the car engine to turn can be difficult.

The spark was ignited the past week chatting with Tiffany.  While catching up on old times and new ventures, Tiffany began detailing her newest happiness—that of raising her one year old son.  She is an accomplished woman, one who I admire professionally and personally.  She is a former corporate lawyer and director of human rights initiative in housing, and current founder and director of an international nonprofit organization.  Tiffany approaches life with a spiritual scope and thoughtfulness of her actions as having global implications.   She is together.  If you know Tiffany, you know she works with a high level of focus and devotion.   She is committed to changing the world by advocating the social and economic rights of people.  Through her organization, she empowers the young to be agents of social change.  When it comes to her work in human rights and activism, she brings margins to focus, margins to center.  She is deliberate in what she does so as to touch many, empowering them to touch eternity.

As our chat forged deeper into conversations about motherhood, Tiffany shared her journey on the road converging motherhood and professional duties.  She disclosed her battle in toggling her roles and responsibilities as a director while simultaneously being a new mother.  Wanting to balance her career choice with maternal responsibilities, she shared her joy and frustrations evolving from this duel of dual commitment.

Tiffany’s experience resonates with me.  I am at a crossroad in making a pivotal decision, whether to remain in the workforce and balance it with motherhood, or leave the workforce altogether.  My dilemma unfolds from mingling professional responsibilities with now making decisions on how to lovingly and fairly fulfill what I believe to be my maternal responsibilities.

But this known world of work is one I cherish.  My work as an educator fulfills me.  It completes me, a calling that I invest intellectually and spiritually in fulfilling.  Just this past July I trained several teachers in a local school district in classroom management strategies.  The joy came through several strands: (1) fostering a safe space for them to share frustrations and dilemmas, (2) build intimacy with colleagues as individuals and as a group, (3) introduce several strategies and support their practice of them, and (4) support them in building collegial relationships across classrooms and school buildings (PreK-12) to continue fostering their network of support after the training.  I share this example to say that the core of my world is in helping others help others.  And I invest a lot in positioning myself to do such work.  Fifteen years of schooling (from bachelors to doctorate) and ten years in the work force as teacher, assistant professor, instructional coach and now consultant.  But now, as did Tiffany, I now find myself deliberating how to toggle this old work world with the new commitment of motherhood, deliberating whether the two can meet, harmonize, and thrive.

During our conversation about work and motherhood, Tiffany introduced a premise that became the impetus for her decision to leave the workforce, and for me to write this post.  After toggling both responsibilities through working at home and part-time, she began contemplating whether the combining of these two worlds was aligned with her calling or possibly conflicting with it.  She resolved that the dual responsibilities positioned her to duel with her center.  She resolved to make the conscientious decision in leaving the workforce to raise her son.

Framing her decision through historical, racial, economic, and gender lenses, Tiffany gave sound rationale and justification for choosing to solely devote her time and efforts to motherhood.   Recount in the days of slavery when economics and racism minimally permitted Black women to raise children within intact nuclear families (or choose to stay at home to raise children), placed no value on their child rearing and instead bastardized it into a commodity, exploited and divested rightful income to sustain a household, and situated slave mothers to have to work in harsh agricultural conditions with babies in tow.  Yet despite the historical ashes a phoenix can still arise.  She shared that as a descendent of the African Diaspora she had a responsibility to remember how Black motherhood was displaced and disregarded.  She was real clear that because of historical afflictions and lack of choices, she now as a descendent, would pay homage to ancestors by doing what we were not allowed.

Tiffany also raised concerns about the duplicitous benefits of the feminist movement.  While rightfully advocating for equality, she also felt it positions women to take on what she identified as a fragmenting of self to prove one’s worth.  To her it situates women to do work as inexhaustible dynamos, obligating us to balance working and motherhood “for the cause” of economic and gender equality.  And considering the ethnic factor (are all women equated equal within a feminist movement?), she brought up that as a woman of color there is inequitable pressure to oblige this liberating banner yet contradictory harness.  She admonished me that as professional women we are in an advantageous position to make different choices in the rearing of our children than our ancestors—we actually have a choice in how we want to proceed.  Thus, we have a duty to make informed decisions in how we plan to raise the future for our children and raze obstacles to it.

Tiffany shared that raising a Black son takes on particular significance for her.  With the phenomena of the cradle to prison pipeline, and statistics about Black male incarceration, employment and educational experiences, Tiffany is mindful that black males face an uphill challenge to prosper within this country.  So she, as an agent of change, wants to ensure that her manchild knows a promise land. And so, she shared that she made a deliberate decision in how best to do that, by being readily available to commit to fighting on the frontline by being a stay-at-home mom.

It is these factors to which Tiffany attributes her motherhood as an act of social justice.

I am digesting Tiffany’s profound framework.  She impresses me on the clarity of her purpose and mission as a mother, unfettered by agendas not aligned to the promotion of her son from margin to center.  Her motherhood is aligned with her work ethic in emancipating others, with the focus now on making provisions to emancipate paths for her son.

At my own crossroads, there are things I know I want to enact; it is just now thinking through how to do them.  My own mother, a woman of accomplishment and deep thought, also left the workforce to raise me.  I admire her, and want my method of motherhood to model hers.  While not defining it as an act of social justice, she invested in me by making sure I was surrounded by books and resources,  pushed me to step into voids and created new things within them, and held me responsible for taking care of others. I think I manifest these expectations in my personal life and professional work, as I witnessed her doing as she raised me.  My quandary is whether I can merge these roads as well as she did, and how my friend Tiffany is resolute to fulfilling.

I also wondered if working moms share in similarly align their work as mothers, and what challenges they meet in fulfilling such a framework.  I wrote several of them on Facebook and through email, asking them to describe in what ways they define their raising of children as an act of social justice.   I wanted to know what factors and experiences inform their decisions, and the questions they ask themselves too.  The three shared here are my contemporaries. We grew up in the same neighborhood and attended many of the same schools.  From a generational perspective they offer insight in how they define motherhood as an act of social justice and confines within which they try to exercise it.

Marjorie, a school classmate who is an educator, shared how she frames her motherhood as an act of social justice by empowering her two daughters to thrive in cultivating their individuality, standing up for themselves, and availing herself as a guidepost when needed.  She disclosed that in raising them she has learned to discern their individuality, and in so doing, recognizes her responsibility to accept their distinctions and assist them to evolve into the individuals they choose to be.  She describes her parenting as both direct and intuitive, one that provides parameters on her daughters’ behavior (but does not limit their potential and interests), while simultaneously being responsive to the needs they tell and don’t tell.  As a Jewish woman raising bi-ethnic daughters (her husband is Puerto Rican), Marjorie also disclosed that she is conscious of how others may construct and stereotype her daughters, and that her work as a mother is to teach them how to counteract such constructs.  The raising of her daughters is to empower them not to allow themselves to be limited by others’ perceptions, instead to rise above myopic expectations others try to impose on them.  She also shared that her situating of motherhood as an act of social justice is one of affirming for her daughters the belief they can each stand on their own, and confirming for them that they can lean on her for alliance and reliance when needed.

Kamara, another school classmate, situates her motherhood as an unwavering act of being a teacher, protector, provider, and advocate.  She describes her experiences in raising a preteen son as teaching him to become the best decision maker possible, to discern which challenges command his attention and investment, because by her description he takes in everything as a challenge.  She describes him as being perceptive of what goes on around him, so her work has become to protect him by helping him decipher what to challenge and what not to challenge, what to follow and what not to follow, and what to participate in and not participate in as a leader.  She shared that her son has a keen awareness of worldly circumstances and events (citing such things as global warming, earthquakes, kidnapping, death, and plane crashes), and takes initiative to alleviate worldly woes. Her emphasis lays in providing him help and practice to make the best personal decisions as possible, as well as what and how to address worldly circumstances.  Motherhood as an act of social justice also means for Kamara being an advocate for her son in the NYC school system, actively advocating to insure the best educational and social experiences for him.

For my lifelong friend Carla, also a fellow educator, obtaining knowledge was a pivotal part of her growing up.  Her dad was Afrocentric, a scholarly and politically conscious role model who read voraciously.  In similar fashion, when asked of her defining of motherhood as an act of social justice, one responsibility she shared was the passing on of cultural history. Building a home library and taking him to libraries is one way she fulfilled this expectations for her son, now a college freshman for whom she has built savings to fully finance his college education.  She also situates motherhood as an act of social justice by sharing that it is all parents’ duty to raise children who commit to making the world better than inherited.  To this end, she shared that she preaches and teaches by example, showing her son that it is his duty to be involved in his community as evinced through her own work with parent associations, school leadership teams, and giving to charity.

In coming full circle, my peers were right about journaling.  It provides a landscape for you to see what you are thinking.  Writing is like a map that helps you chart direction.  I am in a valley contemplating the mountains that will be climbed and trails to be forged.  Right now, my motherhood is evolving.  The dilemma is the most sure thing. Emanating from Tiffany’s, Marjorie’s, Kamara’s and Carla’s insights are even more questions.

  • How can I balance duties I have to educators with the calling and new duty of educating a new life?
  • What framework shapes my motherhood to be an act of social justice?
  • How will I know what facets of our child’s personality to give parameters (and when), and which ones to give free reign (and when)?
  • What challenges will I have to help our child watch out for, and how will I teach him or her to discern them autonomously?
  • What are the experiences I should now have to emulate for our child?

As I sit and type, to my left are the four pictures our sonographer gave us to take home of the morning’s ultrasound.   I stare at the pictures as I try to write this conclusion. I see my baby’s growing body, its hands and legs and heart and brain.   I feel the constant kicks and stretches of my baby’s internal curiosity.  Our baby can hardly wait to meet the world.  I stroke my stomach to soothe it.  While not yet having answers, the one surety I have is that I am in good company to ask questions.

**********

You ever have a profound conversation that afterwards you are still thinking on what you discussed?  I hope this post piqued your curiosity and interest.  In what ways do you regard the raising of children as an act of social justice? Would love to hear from you . . .both as an expectant mother and out of genuine wanting to learn more from you.  You are welcomed to post a response.

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5 thoughts on “Motherhood as an Act of Social Justice

  1. T,

    I am pleased to be able to respond to this article as you were present when my son was just a child. Granted, the backgrounds that encompass our pregnancies are vastly different we both have embarked upon the same journey. Having raised a child from birth to age 20, I can tell you this, motherhood is absolutely an act of social justice because you are and always will be your child’s greatest advocate. Raising Omari was a pure joy until he turned 13 years old. At that point, everything went wrong. Although his father was not around, he had my finance in his life, I had consistently been there, and kept him active in sports, music and reading. He had sleepovers, pool parties and all kinds of gaming console fun with his friends all financed by yours truly. I felt I was truly blessed.

    What I did not realize is that despite my background, his comfortable living and his upbringing, society and peer pressure proposed some dilemmas for him that I never imagined he would encounter in the school system and county we were in. The City of Duluth is relatively quiet and quaint. City Hall and the Duluth Police Department literally just moved into modern buildings two years ago. Prior to that they were still in the tiny home style buildings located near the train tracks in the the center of downtown. It’s the type of town where neighbors know one another and care about one another’s well being. If you recall the incident with my infamous neighbor “The Runaway Bride”, you might recall that she lived in my town, less than a quarter of a mile from my house. Even I contemplated joining the search party. Considering the environment I’d nestled my “baby” into, I never would have imagined in a million years that his high school had nearly 8 gangs present, recruiting and committing criminal activity on school property during school hours. In all of eternity, I never would have foreseen my son joining one of these gangs!

    I brought this story up to illustrate how very possible it is for a well educated and well mannered child with good upbringing and supportive parents to fall under the weight of pressure from their peers. This was my introduction to my personal need to bring social justice not only into Omari’s world….but into the world of his friends. I would never suggest that you completely throw away your goals and desires to raise your child because even now as an “empty nester”, my goals and desires are what keep me going.

    I would submit to you that while you embark on your journey, keep the lines of communication open always. Be flexible no matter what because I promise you that it WILL BE required. The world has so much disregard for our children these days and they are treated like adults at younger and younger ages. No one seems to care that they are just children anymore. Prepare yourself to do both, but maybe work part time rather than the full time grind. It’s not my intention to scare you but my career was in such high gear and my ex-husband was so mentally absent that I was not in a position to work less and focus more on Omari through those trials. Somehow, I felt that he would need me less as he got older and to my dismay, I discovered I was absolutely wrong. As he got older, he needed me in more ways significant to his immediate future perspective. It is when your child becomes a teenager that you understand just how important their literal tomorrow is. With teenagers, the next few hours can make the difference between vast amounts of joy and earth shattering pain.

    Keep your ears to the ground, keep your child’s trust, never think that your plan cannot change for it will, and it will do so several times before you arrive at a place of stability for you all. Most of all, try to stay away from responsibilities that will make it nearly impossible for you to break away if you need to.

    I didn’t know about your pregnancy so I’d like to congratulate you! I am wishing you all the joy that your heart can stand. Cherish every single moment. Take pictures, videos, keep all the silly drawings, and remember to laugh and be silly with your baby. I’m so excited for you and I’ll be looking forward to seeing pictures!

  2. Tee,

    When it comes to mothering you’re going to be a natural. Trust me. The decision to leave the work force, work flexible hours or stay in the game and do the family balancing act is truly a personal choice for you and your family and your needs will change at each stage in your life. You’ll read all about the so called “Mommy Wars” but don’t pay it too much mind because every woman has to do her and your true friends and supporters will still be by your side no matter what.

    Motherhood as a social action is multi-faceted and goes through a variety of stages. Motherhood as a social action applies to all mothers from the boardrooms to the parks because we all have that same responsibility.

    Soon to be mothers practice social action when exercising, getting rest and eating healthy foods to stay fit and to grow and birth strong babies. They practice social action when reading aloud, listening to music and loving on their unborn child.

    New mothers of infants and toddlers practice the social action and early childhood development of their young children by introducing them to the new world around them – teaching proper etiquette, mannerisms and social skills in small group settings (the start of “play dates” (smile).

    Mothers of elementary and middle school children and tweens practice social action by making sure their voice is heard in the schools and across the district at PTA board meetings, as active participants in guiding the education of their child/children in and out of school – We can’t just expect the teachers and school board to snap their fingers and make everything right with the school world.

    Mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and all types of designated care provides must do their part to help their child/children become successful students and future leaders. We have to help with homework, ask questions when we’re uncertain, resolve issues when need be and show up in our children’s lives and experiences to offer verbal and sometimes non-verbal support.

    Mothers of social action assist with personal struggles and celebrate achievements. Mothers of social action research the resources available. Mothers of social action are lifelong role models implanting family values, memories, traditions, spirituality into the next generation to hopefully pass on.

    Mothers practice social action when helping middle school tweens and high school teens learn to make wise choices and layout the future on their on accord. Mothers of social action will help their child to find his or her voice – be their own unique individual. Mothers of social action make it their personal project to find and pull out the hidden gifts and talents that their child has yet to realize deep within and share with the world.

    Mothers of social action take comfort, pride and lean on the voices of the past who have shaped them into the mothers that they have become for the better. They lean on husbands, partners, family, friends and fellow mothers going through the same things.

    Most importantly mothers of social action seek first the kingdom of God and pray for constant knowledge and understanding – I need to do this much more. This may all seem overwhelming but never worry my fellow “Soon to be Mother” of a curious new and cherished soul in your world and ours, because you my dear sis are truly blessed! And loved… Peace and joy to the three of you.

    Love always,

    Tonya
    p.s. I hope this helps a bit.

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