Mama Joyce and Kandi

Daddy smelled her perfume first. And then it hit me in a wave. It was the first Thanksgiving that I’d made up my mind not to be sad that Mommy wasn’t here to cook and eat and celebrate family with us. As a thank you, she made her presence known. For this—for her scent, for her spirit, for the memories she created, for the almost four decades God gave her to be in my life—I was grateful.

After I ran into the bathroom and cried for a few minutes, I closed my eyes real tight and breathed really easy and talked to her—told her “thank you” for being my guardian angel, told her that I was still madly in love with her, told her that she’d be so very proud of her grandbabies, with their smart, pretty, sporty, amazing selves, told her that I’ve been trying my best to make her proud. I told my mother, too, that I missed her so—that I just know she must be having a time in Heaven.

Today, I am remembering that moment. And making an addendum to my talk with Angel Mommy, one that specifically thanks her for being a kind, respectful mother to her grown-up daughter. Earth Mommy was strict and no-nonsense, sure. But she was also a mother who was keenly aware that once she was no longer financing my life and I was out from up under her skirt and her roof, she had to respect my flow—that she had to stand back and let me make my own decisions, even if, quietly, she thought they were big, gigantic, fat mistakes that I would regret.

This became most apparent when I had daughters of my own. I wrote about this once in my post, “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” so I won’t go in depth too much here except to say that just when it felt like those who were closest to me were judging me the harshest, it was my mother who made clear that she trusted my abilities to make sound decisions for my family and that she had no interest in telling me how to raise my girls. In short, she trusted me—knew that she’d raised a good, smart kid who has the tools to fight the good fight.

My father, thank God, thinks the same way—and I adore him for it.

I know Mommy and Daddy didn’t have to be this way; the world is littered with mothers and fathers that mettle and strike fear and criticize and demand and do all that it takes to control their children, even when they’re grown. Such seems to the be the relationship between music impresario/adult toy pusher Kandi Burruss of The Real Housewives of Atlanta fame, who, this season, has been having quite the time holding onto her fiancé, Todd Tucker, despite her mother’s almost maniacal dislike, distrust and all-around hate for her daughter’s intended. Mama Joyce, as she’s referred to on the show, has made clear to Kandi that Todd, a production manager and line producer, is too broke for her daughter, is out for Kandi’s money, is making her daughter turn her back on family and (gasp!) failed miserably when he purchased Kandi’s engagement ring (Mama Joyce implied that it was cheap, too rinky dink for a woman of Kandi’s stature and presented on the wrong day). In Sunday’s episode of RHOA, Mama Joyce accused Kandi’s best friend, Carmen, of sleeping with Todd, cursed her out and had to be held back from throwing her open-toed, platform heels at the girl—in a wedding dress shop while Kandi was off in the dressing room trying to find the perfect outfit for her nuptials.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that watching this particular RHOA storyline leaves my mouth agape every time; no matter how well-meaning, Mama Joyce’s meddling in Kandi’s personal relationships is infuriating, and Kandi’s refusal to defend her man and respectfully ask her mother to back off gets my pressure up every week. Clearly, Mama Joyce raised a helluva woman: Kandi is smart, accomplished, rich, sweet, loving, a good parent to her own daughter and a formidable force in every business venture she touches. In other words, she’s a boss. And she has her mother, in part, to thank for those abilities.

But Kandi is also grown, and no matter how much Mama Joyce thinks she knows best, she needs to let her daughter make her own decisions—even if those decisions are horrible mistakes. This is the stuff that good parenting is made of—giving your kids every tool in your arsenal and then standing back while they use those tools to build a life of their own, picking up their own tools and hammering their own nails and breaking a few things along the way. The desire to parent never goes away, I gather. But it takes on a different hue when the child becomes the adult.

My father recognizes this, thank God, and plays his part accordingly. Daddy is never short on good advice; he stores it in reservoirs in his heart, ready for the doling when I come to him with a problem or seeking advice. He’s quick with answers; most of them are good. Sometimes I take that advice. Sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes it works out for me. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I am not broken.

And when I screw up, which happens more than I care to admit, Daddy keeps his “I told you so’s” to himself.

And we continue to love each other with abandon, with a mutual respect that only grows with time.

I have no doubts that Angel Mommy would have been the same way if she were still on this side of Heaven.

And so right here, right now, I promise myself that I will do my best not to Mama Joyce my daughters when they get grown. No accusations. No constant questioning. No helicopter parenting. Definitely no flying shoes. I will trust that I was on my j-o-b. And I’ll enjoy watching my daughters… soar.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I won’t “Mama Joyce my daughters” You know you just made up a term that will be used all around these innanets…LOL Loved this post. It has inspired me to write something too. 🙂

  2. Watching Mama Joyce’s antics made me so thankful for my mommy. I still live with her for the time being and despite this, she doesn’t treat me like a child. She has never been a meddler and she damn sure wouldn’t show her ass while I’m trying on wedding dresses.

  3. I totally agree. My goal is to raise my daughters to be able to make their own decisions. I pray that Kandi learns to set boundaries with her mom so her relationship with Todd can move forward. If that is the man she has chosen, her mother should respect it. Sadly her mother didn’t approve of her previous fiancé, so it seems to be a pattern.

  4. Amen to this post right here! I went through the exact same thing with my mother during my engagement to my now husband. My mother acted a fool no matter how much I told her to back off. I went right on with planning my wedding, without her input. She swore up and down she wasn’t going to come to the wedding, but lo and behold she was there. 2 years later, we’re still married and she keeps her mouth shut.

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