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.