For centuries, parenting is just one of the battlegrounds my people have had to fight on, consistently. It’s important to remember that every warrior requires rest to keep up the fight.
When I think of parenting while Black in America, the old adage “there’s nothing new under the sun” comes to mind. Parenting Black children has always come with an added dose of stress, trauma and fear.
During the time of chattel slavery, enslaved peoples and their families were vulnerable to the threat of separation and harm. Parents were constantly worried about whether their children would be fed, abused, killed, or sold— never to be seen again.
When slavery was abolished and America entered into the Jim Crow era, a whole new set of worries began to weigh on the minds of parents in Black communities.
Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the south. These laws affected what school your child could attend and resources in your community, and fueled the fire of those filled with hate. Safety, education, access to care, and general quality of life were just a few of the concerns.
The civil rights movement met much of the injustice from the Jim Crow era head on. With the all-too-recent passing of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Black parents felt there would finally be some change for their children.
Educational opportunities and access to resources played (and still play) a pivotal role in economic independence. While our communities fought and struggled to be seen and treated as equal, Black parents also worked hard to establish a strong foundation for their families and communities.
Pouring heart and soul into our children and raising them for a world better than what currently existed was a luxury for some. For most, survival was the focus.
Parenting in and of itself is not for the faint of heart. But to discuss parenting from the Black perspective is to discuss living in a state of chronic stress and anxiety.
Knowing from day one the world will not see your bundle of joy as you know them is heartbreaking. Preparing yourself to teach them about a world that doesn’t value them does something to your psyche. Adding in day-to-day concerns that your partner or children will not make it home alive takes our stress to another level.
For most Black families “normal” childhood experiences are met with at least two additional layers of caution. Discussing discrimination as early as preschool or dreading the day you’ll have to sit your children down for “the talk” has become common practice over the centuries.
Teaching our children how to safely navigate this world isn’t centered on seat belts, street crossing rules, and “the birds and the bees.” It’s focused on making sure they make it home alive.
Understanding the impact of stress on mental health is important. Being in a state of chronic stress increases the risk of developing depression and anxiety in some people.
It’s important to understand that the stress we experience is not only derived from our personal interactions, but also from epigenetic memory.
A 2017 study found that living in chronic stressful conditions may affect DNA for more than 10 generations. Epigenetic memory can trigger intense emotional responses to circumstances that mirror what our ancestors have experienced.
Parenting while Black means chronic stress, subconscious and remembered trauma, and constant concern for our kids’ well-being. All of this is exhausting, and necessitates strategies for continual self-care.
Go offline when needed
As the news cycle and social media updates flood your feed with current events, be mindful of your capacity. If you feel the information is draining your energy levels or if you are having a strong emotional response, take a moment to breathe.
It’s necessary to process your feelings at a rate that is most healthy for you. Setting limits to online activity and creating boundaries around the conversations you engage in can help regulate your stress levels.
Look to tradition
Trauma is not the only thing that has been passed down from our ancestors. Deeply healing and restorative practices through tradition live on. Gathering together in movement circles, dancing, drumming, and singing are all traditional ways of releasing stress.
Eating together and telling stories from the past is also a lighthearted way to share history, laugh, and create intergenerational bonds. These practices are vital to repairing wounds and connecting us to each other and ourselves.
Explore meditative and healing therapies
Grounding ourselves physically with yoga, stretching, and meditation can have a profound effect on our healing process. Creative art therapies that center our culture and values can also help heal generational wounds seen and unseen. Nourishing our bodies with foods that help reduce anxiety can assist in our day to day functioning as well.
If you’re in need of additional support, choosing a trauma-informed, culturally competent therapist may also be a great option for you. Some resources to find a therapist near you include:
Make rest a priority
Last, but certainly not least: rest. Quiet your mind and take moments of stillness for yourself throughout the day. It can be hard to resist the urge to stay on top of the ever-changing updates, but they will exhaust your mind.
Rest not only reduces stress, but has been found to improve your overall health. Getting a good night’s sleep can boost your immune system and allow your body to heal and restore itself.
While it is true that there is nothing new under the sun, it is also true that each day brings with it a new opportunity. Each day presents an opportunity to grow, heal, change, and create a world based on true respect and honor of one another’s humanity.
Jacquelyn Clemmons is an experienced birth doula, traditional postpartum doula, writer, artist, and podcast host. She is passionate about holistically supporting families through her Maryland-based company De La Luz Wellness.