In Pursuit of Liberated Mothering

Cross-cultural dialogue, especially among moms of color, can build new narratives that challenge the legacies of white supremacy and foster healing.

I learned early on that the words “family” and “parent” invisibly imply white. I saw no mothers who looked like me, a coalition-minded Black mama whose agenda spanned multiple marginalized groups in parenting literature, support groups, or even my social circles. The limited representation in media frustrated me and made the hard work of mothering while wading through generational trauma amid ongoing injustice harder. I was envious of the carefree, racially untethered white mothers and pissed that my motherhood was characterized by hypervigilance and fear. My personal and professional goal was a more liberated Black motherhood.

I realized I wasn’t alone. The history of maternal liberation in communities of color runs deep. Stories of organized mothers encouraged me—like La Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and Mothers Reclaiming Our Children, a multicultural organization founded in Los Angeles in 1992 to protest mass incarceration and demand the liberation of the children and communities impacted by it. Scholars like Patricia Hill Collins, books like Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, and graduate coursework like my class on women of color in the United States revealed the parallels and interwoven experiences of mothers of color.

That revelation helped inspire my own effort, FreeBlackMotherhood, a virtual communal space and ethnographic movement encouraging Black mothers and other mothers of color to maintain their sense of self during motherhood. Central to FreeBlackMotherhood’s framework is the belief that “if we free ourselves, the children will follow.” That’s why we uplift the emotional vulnerability and self-reflection of Black mothers and others as crucial parts of building healing communities.

I’ve witnessed the power of narratives of maternal liberation in Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous communities both online and in traditional media. I feel curious and inspired about what we can learn if we engage in a cross-cultural dialogue that challenges the legacies of white supremacy with the pursuit of healing. In these spaces, parenthood—often specifically motherhood—is a site of resistance. We challenge one-dimensional narratives on kinship, achievement, and interconnectedness.

Reclaiming Kinship and Connection

“You can’t survive motherhood without kinship,” says Panquetzani, a postpartum healer, wellness coach, and doula who offers ancestral healing rooted in Mesoamerican traditional medicine through her practice Indigemama. “Western culture separates us. They tell us to live secluded in single-family homes, and it gives us the impression that if we ask for help and if we need support, then we’re weak. Then we’re not mothering material.”

She notes this perspective manipulates us to “struggle in silence” and view martyrdom as noble. Colonial views of mothering are individualist—but belonging and support help make mothering easier.

“I understand that all children are sacred, even if they’re not my children,” Panquetzani says. Ancient Mesoamerican worldviews believe children are borrowed, not owned, and reject “good or bad” behavior binaries for children. Instead this perspective considers a child to be “a being that is connected to nature, that is simply communicating their needs for survival.”

Panquetzani notes that some elements of this tradition, like babywearing and bodyfeeding, are practiced in white Western culture—albeit without reverence for the Indigenous cultures from which they come. “We have the ancient custom of carrying what is most sacred close to our hearts,” she says of her own ancestral traditions of babywearing. “I want my daughter to learn that she could trust to be held. I want my children to know that you are deserving; when you need to be supported, when life gets heavy, you can count on being held.” This communal care benefits the parents too, Panquetzani notes; she encourages us to see mothers’ shared plight and concerns everywhere, including Gaza and Palestine.

Where Western culture prioritizes independence in children even before it’s developmentally appropriate, Panquetzani believes in communicating unconditional love and ongoing care and support for the children in her life and community. “Because in community and kinship in Indigenous resistance, [the children are] always going to be taken care of, if not by me, [then] by the community. If not by the community, then by Mother Earth.”

Challenging Perfection and Achievement

Iris Chen, an Asian American woman of Chinese ancestry, says she sees a persistent awareness in her community of one-dimensional narratives of Asian parenting—often called “tiger parenting.” However, there is less recognition that this authoritarian, hierarchical type of parenting is based on trauma, scarcity, and fear. “I think that [type of parenting] has to do with historical, cultural trauma in our motherlands,” she explains. “Whether it’s colonization, war, poverty, things like that. … I think many of us—and the generations before us—came from a lot of struggle.”

She notes the energy of colonization and colonialism can unintentionally show up in parenting. “That is, in a more micro context, what happens with authoritarian parenting: You view your child as something to colonize. You have your values, and certain ideas of how things should go down, and you impose them onto your child.”

While she notes that Asian communities aren’t a monolith, Chen believes the themes of war, communism, migration/immigration, and pressure to assimilate surface consistently across these communities. That’s why the mission of her organization, Untigering, is to encourage parents to shift away from authoritarianism toward conscious, respectful parenting that is culturally accessible and relevant. Chen wants to empower Asian parents, reminding them they have agency over their narratives and parenting practices. She and Untigering envision a culture “where we’re not pressured to need to fulfill somebody else’s definition of who we need to be … [or] to fit into somebody else’s definition for us.”

She says this pressure manifests as feelings of otherness, alienation, pressure to leave cultural customs and languages, and overachieving. And Chen knows this firsthand: Despite meeting all the expectations of being the model minority—the good school, job, and salary—she still felt unfulfilled, and realized that tying her value and identity to her performance left little room for her to experience unconditional love.

So now Chen and Untigering offer that unconditional love, and work with Asian parents to help build a foundation rooted in “empowering them and supporting them to live the life that feels right for them instead of needing their success to feed my ego.”

“I think we need to pull that apart a little bit and, again, recognize how a lot of tiger parenting is rooted in trauma, and it’s not inherent to who we are,” she says. She goes on to note that My Grandmother’s Hands author Resmaa Menakem discusses trauma that’s decontextualized over time and looks like culture. “These are trauma-based responses, where we feel like … our only hope for survival and success [is] to climb the ladder, or we need to keep our children under control and obedient and compliant to survive. And to keep them safe.”

Chen believes it’s possible to recognize the usefulness of these behaviors in a cultural context, and then assess whether they still serve us now. But she also denounces binary “all or none” approaches to culture and creates hybrid strategies that preserve health, like community, language, and tradition.

“It doesn’t have to be individualism versus collectivism,” she explains. “The community does thrive more when we can hold space for our individualism in a way that’s not coercive or conformist.”

Challenging Anti-Blackness and Punitive Discipline

Leslie Priscilla founded Latinx Parenting after becoming certified as a parent coach, facilitating workshops with hundreds of Spanish-speaking parents in Orange County, California. The organization supports Latinx families in embracing trauma-informed, healing-centered, nonviolent, and culturally sustaining child-rearing.

Much of her work aims to end “chancla culture,” which she says survives through the use of oppressive strategies—including corporal punishment, shame, and fear—to manipulate children into behaving in ways that please adults. “La chancla is in reference to a sandal or flip-flop, and in Latinx culture, it is frequently referenced as having been used by our immigrant or Latina mothers to get children to change behavior—either threatening or actively using it to physically hurt us as children,” Latinx Parenting’s website explains.

“From the time I was very young, it was clear that there was a difference in my experience between the ways I was treated as a lighter-skinned child of immigrants, called güera, in comparison with my cousins who were more brown and called things like prieto,” says Priscilla.

Growing up in Orange County, she says she remembers the overt suggestion that whiteness was beautiful, and she felt tremendous pride walking around in a body of lighter skin and fair hair. But while supporting parents in developing healthy discipline through Latinx Parenting, she also found harmful perspectives on colorism and race.

“It was evident that I had to incorporate conversation around racism and discrimination, because not only were families continuing cycles that prioritized whiteness and white ways of being, but the stress from the racism and discrimination that people like my mom experienced in navigating the white gaze definitely affected parenting,” she says. She also adds that the constant stream of deadly police violence against Black men and boys, and Latino men and boys, shaped her understanding of how racism, discrimination, and colorism impacted parenting. In 2014, Robert Villa was having a mental health crisis and was reported by neighbors to be unarmed when Tustin Police shot him at an apartment complex neighboring Priscilla’s mother’s. “Trayvon Martin shares a birthday with my oldest daughter, and to this day, we honor him,” she adds.

According to Priscilla, Latinx Parenting’s posts on colorism didn’t get engagement on social media early on. But within two years of starting Latinx Parenting, George Floyd was murdered, and she noted that it wasn’t only white cops who were killing Black and Brown people. “Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile as he was reaching for his wallet in 2016,” she says. “I knew that it wasn’t just white people who were raised to fear or be averted to Blackness. And I also knew all of that came from a white supremacist caste system that made our survival dependent on our alignment to whiteness.”

Priscilla says this is why anti-racism is a core component of Latinx Parenting. “The way I’ve seen whiteness glorified as supreme embodiment via colorism and intracultural racism is not possible to ignore,” she says. “Because I can identify the channels through which those are passed on to the psyche of children, and because I was that child who had to unlearn my own internalized white supremacist tendencies, I place great importance on inviting parents and caregivers to reflect on how that shows up for themselves and in their relationship with children.”

These beliefs get internalized as anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, she adds. “This is how I know our liberation is tied, and that despite what we were raised to believe, we are not each others’ enemies. There are many Afro-Latinx and Black Latinx individuals who resent the binary of ‘Brown vs. Black,’ because it excludes their identity,” she says, noting the complexities of exploring identity in Latinx communities. “Still, we as people who identify ourselves as belonging to the Latinx diaspora should also recognize what belief systems have been adapted into our families for survival purposes and what started that: colonization.”

 

This article was originally published by Yes! Magazine.

 

Going Further:

About the Lead Author

A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandezhttps://www.instagram.com/freeblackmotherhood/
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is an award-winning writer, speaker, and activist working to amplify Black women’s voices in the mainstream dialogue, especially within conversations on health and parenting. In addition to YES! her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fast Company, and a host of other publications. She is also the founder of the #FreeBlackMotherhood movement. She can be reached at amfcontent.com for business inquiries and on social media for social connections.

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