Black mothers, not all but many, have struggled for generations to show love openly to their daughters. When us daughters speak of our mothers, we always seem to justify the absence of this seemingly simple gesture of affection by saying they were just trying to survive. We say they had a lot on their plates, especially with a husband and other children. Perhaps some of us have even said that they were learning to mother during a time where drugs were being pushed into their communities. That domestic violence was being normalized, and dealing with our abusive fathers was enough. We call them “old-school” and laugh it off by saying that’s just the way they are.
Somewhere between the blurred lines and confusion that not having this experience has caused, we daughters have found ourselves thinking critically to recall examples where we could actually visualize our mothers showing us love in a way that wasn’t coupled with resistance. And somehow, while we always seem to find some sort of semi-satisfactory understanding from eventually seeing things from the glasses of our mothers and empathizing with them, a part of us still asks, “why did it have to take so long for me to know my mother loved me?” We think, “why wasn’t it easier to see and feel my mother’s love?”
How we can remember Black mothers’ love in pieces
My mother was one of those women who I’m sure loved things- loved me- but didn’t express it much. As I reflect on her role as my mother, I can’t recall many times where she outwardly verbalized that she loved me. Mind you, I can only speak from my limited time with her since she passed away when I was twenty-two. I remember she once said she loved me when I told her I loved her before leaving to Florida for my cousin’s graduation. Petrified of getting on a plane by myself, I remember wanting her to know that in case something were to happen. That is the most vivid memory I have of her saying she loved me.
Outside of that, it’s honestly difficult for me to piece memories together of her verbalizing that she loved me. I have been forced to think about the times she playfully teased me or made facial expressions to joke with me. Unfortunately, this is the case for so many of us. I have been forced to tell myself those were acts of love. And I do believe they were. I know her clothing me, feeding me, and making sure my hair was done were all acts of love. I’m proud of her for being capable of doing those things while managing her internal battles. While dealing handling these things with an abusive husband and a drug addiction. But a part of me wishes I had examples of her love that I didn’t have to piece together or think super hard about.
The pieces can become enough
As I was taking care of my mother on her deathbed, I still didn’t hear the words I had hoped to hear. But she held my hand, and she squeezed it tightly into her fingers that had gone skinny with her ailing health. She closed her eyes tightly, and she did tell me to do what I love. See, I have always been an empath. I have always been quite sensitive and empathetic to others. And she knew this about me. She wanted me to be strong, because she knew I would need strength to make it in this world. And so I had to accept those words, although they made me feel like I was settling with them. But they have become enough for me to know she loved me.
What Black mothers need to do to show their daughters more love
I believe it’s important for Black mothers to tell their daughters they love them. They need to have memories that showcase love that come to their minds with ease, instead of in fragments. They need to be held, hugged, kissed, and soothed not just in moments of pain and strife, but in moments of joy and happiness.
Black mothers also must take ownership of the resistance they feel about showcasing their love to their children. They should become aware of it. If they have difficulty becoming aware of it, they should accept its revelation when it’s brought to their attention. They must disassemble their fear around saying those words. Perhaps, then could they invest in the healing work it takes to break this cycle that is causing their daughters pain. A pain that their daughters then pass down to their own children. The excuses of “that’s not who I am” and “my mother didn’t say she loved me” are not valid. They aren’t valid because it’s never valid to do something just because someone else did it.
When my mother was dying, I felt it in my bones. I didn’t want her to transition. But I also felt like I would be okay once she did. Up until that point, I had to be okay with so much. Ultimately, I was okay with being the one to say, “I love you,” for the last time.
Did your mother have difficulty outwardly expressing her love for you? Let us know in the comments!
A Short Disclosure
*Before you jump in my comments and say, “I’m generalizing and making an assumption,” I’m speaking from my own experience and of some experiences from people I know (also, I said not all). Therefore, I’m speaking to the daughters where this scenario is valid, and to those open to this perspective.