Growing up, I can’t even count how many times I heard my mom yell the words, “I’m not one of your little friends.”
In fact, it’s now a running joke in the Black Community, because I’m pretty sure all of us heard these words growing up. But as a mom who’s doing things differently with my own kids, this isn’t something I say. In fact, I let them know, with intention, that I am their friend—their very first one.
The damage of not thinking of my mom as a friend
Let me preface this section by saying that I love my mom more than I can put into words. She did the very best she could as a mom, and using her example as a starting point has made it so my own journey in motherhood is something I’m proud of. But there was some room for growth. Why?
I learned about my period from reading the book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I learned about sex from movies. When I was raped, I didn’t tell her.
Growing up, I felt like I was an outsider in my home—never quite comfortable or able to really let my hair down. I knew my parents loved me without conditions, but I really wanted them to like me, and I wasn’t sure they would if I wasn’t perfect.
That’s not to say that I was the perfect child. I was far from it, but my acting out was on purpose. It screamed, “I NEED YOU IN A DIFFERENT WAY!” But because my parents were raised in the age of “kids are to be seen and not heard” they showed up in the way they were taught.
As I navigated adolescence and my teen years, I dealt with a lot my mom didn’t know about because I didn’t know how to broach the subject with her since she wasn’t “my friend.”
I never thought of adults as anything more than teachers. Instead of talking to me about what was going on, I was accosted with questions about using drugs when I slept more in high school or being pregnant because I was gaining weight. I was escorted to Weight Watchers meetings instead of being talked to about depression and how I was processing surviving multiple sexual assaults.
When my mom did see that something was going on, she took me to a therapist that helped me navigate how my trauma was playing out. This was really helpful. But what I needed was for my mom to be my safe space. I needed her to be my friend so that I could feel free to come to her for guidance as I navigated my feelings, thoughts, and more.
See, my mom is an incredible woman. She’s strong and smart and resourceful. She’s not perfect and is quick to make sure that you know that. But she works hard and loves even harder. While through conversations we’ve had in my adult life, I’ve learned she didn’t know how to show up for me in the way that I needed her because she was figuring life out as a parent of two children with her own history and baggage.
But it was because of the work my mom had done on herself that I needed her guidance through those tough times. And now? We are friends. I don’t know if she’ll admit it but we’ve worked really hard on our relationship to bring it to where it is now.
Why it’s important to be my child’s friend
With my oldest, I started out the same narrative telling her that I’m not one of her little friends. And then a couple years ago, I stopped.
She wanted to tell me something but felt like she couldn’t because I’d told her that I wasn’t her friend. It’s amazing how much of a gut check your children holding a mirror up to you can cause.
I knew how she felt because I’d felt this way too. And the truth is, there shouldn’t be anything that is off limits to discuss with me. If I depend on friends, pop culture, and others to educate my daughter on the important things (or even not so important things), she may be misinformed and make decisions that aren’t conducive to her goals in life.
To date, we’ve talked about sex, what rape is, bullying incidents, how certain things make her feel, crushes at school, different laws, slang terms, music lyrics, and more. Trust me, these conversations are not easy, and as I have them, my insides are screaming and crawling with discomfort. But at the end, she always thanks me for talking to her and answering her questions.
Being my kid’s friend is hard but worth it
Recently my friend brought up how she wasn’t her daughter’s friend and alluded to how she speaks to her friends. As we chatted, I told her that I don’t want my kids to be disrespectful to their friends either. So if my daughter models our relationship with her friends, she’ll be fine. And this is something that I reinforce with them as well. While their relationships with their friends are more lax, they are still built upon a foundation of mutual respect.
Talking about all the things under the sun with them is hard. I never want to see my kids as sexual beings but the reality is that some day, they will be. The more we talk about taboo topics, the less taboo they become.
I want to tell them what to do and demand that they do it because my life has taught me so much. But my job as their mother, their first and wisest friend is to guide them and support them down their own path of life.
I know it’s an unpopular opinion to have in my community, but I am my kids’ friend, and I always will be.