Being My Mother's Rainbow Baby Made Childhood Harder—I Decided to Parent Differently

I'm committed to 'just parenting,' a style that helped me build a great relationship with my daughter, launch my podcast 'Griotte's Beat,' and more.

Child being held up by parent surrounded by flowers

Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines

I was born shortly after Pearl’s passing, my mother’s first living child. Pearl had been 3 months old when it happened, under unknown circumstances. So the doctors called it sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Pearl became the ghost that haunted me because my mother wouldn’t talk about her, about what happened. Instead, mother’s silences and fears turned me into a vulnerable child.

Like countless Black mothers, my mother was hypervigilant about her children, especially me. She insisted that I wore flannel undershirts in the Caribbean summer and kept me inside the house while the neighbor kids danced and skipped in the rain. She was afraid I would catch pneumonia. Pneumonia—a stand-in for death—was always right around the corner. 

My mother suffered ancestral collective grief and grief that came from the sudden and traumatic loss of her firstborn.  She responded to that loss by contracting around me. Protecting me. Dr. Joy Degruy described this kind of diminish-to-protect dance that Black mothers do. But what is its impact on their children?

I mostly felt oppressed. Her preciousness toward me isolated me from the neighborhood kids and cousins. It was suffocating. She did not really see me. Although she intended to protect me from threats, real and imagined, the unwitting message was I was frail and incapable. I was not prepared to address the injustices that come with being a Black woman. Just parenting centers justice in the parenting relationship.

When Justice Leads

Just parenting my own daughter meant that I listened, acknowledged, and legitimized her words and feelings. I was her custodian, but more importantly, I was her guide. She already had virtues, talents, capacities--assets--that I was helping her cultivate. I practiced looking for and reflecting back the good in her. This was not to promote arrogance or vanity, but self-knowledge, confidence, and capacity—essential qualities for Black children who are navigating hostile and often degrading conditions. 

I was not her owner, primarily focused on controlling and directing her, but rather a gardener doing a lot of facilitating and tending. Gwendolyn Wallace, a young activist, and Griotte’s Beat guest described a similar approach in her emergent kindergarten classroom where the curriculum and walls reflected back to the students their interests and insights.

Parenting Honestly

Auntieclare Rezin, another Griotte’s Beat guest, practices just parenting her three children, ages 6, 8, and 10, by talking to them about the injustice around them, according to their capacity to understand. Many parents did not want their children to know about the murder of George Floyd and the racial uprising; Auntieclare did. She introduced the topic at the dinner table, letting them know they could stop the conversation at any time. 

One opted out of the conversation, another wanted some details and then signaled when it was enough, and the last wanted the full story without graphic images. Each exercised their agency by establishing their individual boundaries. Each child determined how much, if at all, they wanted to engage in the story and their parents respected that boundary. 

Seeing Our Children Clearly

Just parenting allows us to see our children clearly. Not who or what we want them to be but who and what they are. On Children by Kahlil Gibranunderscores parents’ gardener/caretaking role. It can be difficult to practice just parenting when we are tired, sick, or overwhelmed by daily living. It takes time, energy, and a sense of connection. 

Our society is now structured so that these are very resources that many Black parents lack. My mother’s love was hiding in plain sight, but she was too tired and disconnected to see me. And I, too, know that fatigue and disconnection. I've lashed out with harsh words or silences or cutting glances. My just walk required that I ‘scour’ my behavior--as another guest Layli Maparyan, a scholar on Black women’s genius put it—and apologize to my daughter. 

Weaving a Net That Supports Them

Just parenting also involves community. I loved being a mother. And I loved to work. But I quickly understood that I could not be my daughter’s only mother. I centered my parenting on her needs and not on my limitations. She and I cultivated a host of aunties-- my besties and her classmates’ parents. They complimented me. I drew on the resources of that community to raise her. 

One aunt took her year after year to So You Think You Can Dance shows while I stayed home and slept. They loved it. Another parent substituted for me at her middle school soccer games, while I was at work, giving me the regular reports. I didn't feel guilty. Over dinner, I listened to my child as she replayed the games, shared the details of her school day, or discussed a new fantasy story that she was writing. 

I was at work when she lost her first soccer playoff game. Her best friend’s dad comforted his daughter and mine. My absence did not impoverish her but enriched her with a village that loved her.

Before my mother died, she told me that her constant prayer was to see her children reach adulthood. She lived with that fear all of her life. I always knew that my mother loved me but I didn’t feel that love, often because she centered control in her parenting. It was difficult to connect with that love in the presence of fear and control. 

In raising my daughter with justice, I wanted her to have the space to feel my love and devotion to her.

When I conceived of Griotte's Beat, I didn’t imagine that I would be revisiting my childhood or parenting. But just parenting has been liberating and fruitful. My daughter, Camara Aaron, is the producer of the podcast and it has been a meaningful collaboration.   It called for me to see my daughter as she was and I had the freedom to be me—to be truthful.

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