I can’t remember the exact circumstance that led to her giving me the most sage advice to have ever saged; maybe it was when Mari cut a reverse mohawk down the middle of her scalp, or maybe it was when my step son, Mazi, drank cat milk. What I do know is that I’d come unglued, and my mother, in all her wisdom and insight, broke down a mom’s job description as such: “Your job as a mother is to keep your kids from killing they fool selves.”
All facts—real talk. If we are worth our salt, we moms spend an enormous amount of time keeping our kids from as much hurt, harm and danger as we can humanly manage. But our jobs are much more complicated than that, of course, and so much more goes into how we parent our babies. With my daughters, I was most concerned about watering my flowers—providing the right amount of love, encouragement and empowerment to help my daughters flourish.
This isn’t necessarily the easiest proposition for Black girls—not in a society that stands at the ready to blast their self-esteem, question their abilities, stereotype their existence. Tell them they’re nothing. Or worse, act as if they’re invisible. Parenting them, then, needed to be deliberate.
If I had to compile a “parenting playlist” of advice for how I poured into my babies, it would, no doubt, be set to some D’Angelo-styled melodies over a dope Dilla beat, with these Parenting in 100 Words shorts—juicy bites of how-to’s on raising fierce girls. Each of these parenting “snacks,” brought to us by the good folks at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication, pack a wallop of information that works double time to help our kids… grow. There are 25 100-word posts in the Parenting in 100 Words loop, but I found six that speak to how I parented—and continue to parent—my own babies. Check it:
Be a Lighthouse
This is a parent who balances care with protection—who guides her children by providing both warmth and rules so the kids don’t hit the rocks and sink on their journey to adulthood. I’d like to think that I did this with my babies—I loved on them wholly, fully, and gave them the space to be exactly themselves, with only a few specific demands: that they bring their best selves to all that they do, and that they forgive themselves if they fell short, and then get up and try again. What more could I ask of them? Click here to see the Be a Lighthouse nugget of advice.
Focus on the person, not the behavior. This is STELLAR advice, because we live in a world where Black children are punished—and in some cases even killed—for bad behavior, and then stereotyped as terrible people instead of kids who made a mistake or were simply testing boundaries just like every other kid their age. A huge part of my job as a parent has been to recognize age-appropriate behavior, correct bad behavior, and love my babies through it all, knowing that they are incredible human beings who will make mistakes that have little bearing on the fact that they are incredible human beings. Click here to see the Be a Lighthouse nugget of advice.
Write a Letter
Use your words and tell your child just how much they mean to you and how confident you are in their ability to navigate teenhood. I did this for both of my daughters; when they turned 13, 12 of my closest female friends and family members and I, penned letters to my girls, giving them advice on how to march into womanhood. In those letters, we told them about the importance of loving themselves, trusting their gut, asking for help when they need it, how to navigate dating, and so much more. I presented those letters to them on their birthdays, in keepsake boxes so that they can always go back to those letters and read that sage advice, which was every bit as relevant today at age 19 and 16 as it was at age 13. Click here to see the Write a Letter nugget of advice.
Don’t Stereotype Teens
Teens need to hear that they’re awesome from the adults in their life—and how! For our babies, on top of the stereotypes we heap on teens—they’re lazy, ornery, attitudinal, impossible—Black kids also get stereotyped as dangerous, mischievous, criminal and so many other negatives that put them in legit danger. But we know better. We. Know. Better. And we need to consistently, constantly remind our children that we do. Tell your babies they’re awesome. Because they are. Click here to see the Don’t Stereotype Teens nugget of advice.
Parenting in 100 words describes this as “taking active steps to care for yourself and invest in your relationships and hobbies.” Words can’t describe how important this is—not just for us adults but also for our kids, who can be overwhelmed with school work, extracurricular activities, community and church work, employment and obligations at home. I’m constantly imploring my daughters to take the time to honor themselves: take a bath, take a nap, sit and be still, go for a walk, lift weights, read a book for pleasure—do what brings joy. It works wonders for me as a woman. It works wonders for them, too. Click here to see the Model Self-Care nugget of advice.
See What I See
Teens see themselves through their parents’ eyes, picking up on the signals we send them. So it’s important they see themselves in the best possible light. Tell them you SEE them—know that they are capable of being their best selves. How’d I do this with my babies? When they were little, I borrowed the words of author Marrianne Williamson to implore them to be great. “Who are you not to be?” I’d ask. “You are divine.” I believe that with all my heart. And I needed them to know that. They do. Thank the stars above, they do. Click here to see the See What I See nugget of advice.
Check out the Center for Parent and Teen Communication’s Parenting in 100 Words page to devise your own parenting playlist. What’s does your playlist sound like? And what “songs” do you play in your own parenting journey? Tell me in the comments.
This post is sponsored by the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. You bet your sweet tookus every bit of both the stories and opinions are mine.
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.