I am single mother of four children (aged 15, 12, 10, and 7), a social worker, and as of June 15, 2017, I will be a 200-hour CYT. I juggle the demands of all my roles while trying to remain sane and moderately “yogic.” It’s a tall order and all too often, I’ve berated myself for falling short of internal and external expectations.
But here’s the thing:
I am not anyone’s “Strong Black Woman.”
I’m not super human. I’m flesh and blood. My soul is not made to endure and support emotional labor of epic proportions. Maybe my “rebound, bounce back, pull it together” game is too good. I (and countless other women like me) may have made genteel poverty and heart wrenching struggle look seamless—but a thin veneer of invincibility is as fragile as it is stifling.
The tears in my eyes are not a cue for people try to convince me to stay strong!
Is my pain, frailty, and vulnerability so alien and off-putting, it has to be shut down before it makes the world insecure?
Regardless of the rationale behind the insistence that I woman up, numb up, and soldier on (ad nauseam), I must decline. As I lay down this banner of #StrongBlackWoman, my full experience and expression of the human condition and range of emotions is not a license for bewildered on-lookers and would-be advisors to:
Remind me of all the strong black women who’ve gone before me, including my deceased mother. (Maybe her early death was partly due to the cancerous and unrealistic expectations laid on her mortal frame. The demand that she joyously and tirelessly give, nurture, love, care for, support, and understand—but only sporadically receive the same.)
Regale me with the list of my own prior accomplishments. For example: “Girl, you completed your master’s degree with three children while pregnant with your fourth, and two months after your mom died.” I must object to that admonishment with, “Nah Girlfriend. That master’s feels like a practice in economic futility when my meager salary and disproportionate debt results in having to tell my babies, “No, I can’t afford…everything I’d like to give, and many of the things you need.”
Bullsh*t me about how: Lack, stress, struggle, and strain will only make my children “stronger!”—knowing nine times out of ten, you’d never want your own children to become that kind of “strong.”
Douse me with clichés, scriptures, comparative analysis, and anecdotes of others’ survival, for lack of tangible solutions. I know it’s well-meaning. Hell, I’m guilty of blurting out these empty pleasantries. But honestly, they sting like antiseptic and do little in the way of actual healing.
Explain to me that, “Giving up is not an option because I have children.” I’m externally agreeing, but on the inside I’m thinking, “Maaaaan are you serious?! People give up and give in every day—with and without children.” I don’t have an iota of judgement toward them either. I understand and empathize with their “why.” All I can do is meditate on: “There but for the grace of God go I.” (Damn—I even cliché myself.)
Say it will all be “okay.” Sure, I tend to nod in polite acknowledgment. I suppose I’m trying to force myself to believe said advisor is right. Nevertheless, I’m wondering if I even understand or agree with this arbitrary version of “okay.”
Direct me to seek solace, help, rest, or reprieve in my “family,” “tribe,” “circle,”…square, trapezoid, or whatever support term or shape that’s assumed I possess to cushion and comfort me from the blows of life. See, “my family,” (those most dear to and invested in me and my children) passed in ’09 and ’16.
I’m not utterly without caring people. On the contrary, I have helpful guest appearances and recurring characters in the movie of my life. As much as I value and appreciate their contributions, there remains only five in the official cast. (Six, if Yazzie, our four-legged baby girl, is counted. And she must be.) There is no one else sharing day-to-day realities, joys, and struggles alike, with me and mine on our “Real World: Black Family in the Burbs” edition of life.
Tell me, “God has a good man for you and your children.” Don’t get me wrong, love and marriage are beautiful. Although the patriarchal, religious, and proprietary aspect of the institution don’t jive with my egalitarian world view, I acknowledge there are many wonderful benefits of having a life partner. I’m in awe of how committed partnerships function as anchors of tradition and guide future generations.
Still, just because I’m in awe of the space program, that doesn’t mean being an astronaut is in my future. There was a time that the desire to be married and “belong to someone” was all-consuming. Marriage and traditional family was the altar I prayed, sacrificed, and worshipped on. In order to move forward with the life I have, I had to let the idol of relationship go. I fully accept that no one is coming to save us. I may have missed my shot at NASA and marriage, and that’s okay. I’m not scanning the skies for Superman. I’m not Lois Lane or Superwoman.
So, not today, and quite possibly, never again will I resign to this birth-wrong of having to be a “Strong Black Woman,” silently enduring more than I’m able.
My heritage has led some to believe that as a black woman, I’m a mule—bred and born to bear the weight of any and all maladies. My melanin is amazing and #Blackgirlmagic is manifest, but my heart and soul aren’t made of Teflon. I’m as equally capable of breaking as I am bending.
I grow tired. I am human. I’m at my wits’ and strength’s end. I wrestle (not wrestled—this is fully present tense) anxiety and depression weekly, if not daily. I’ll likely rebound. I will pick up the pieces and configure them into some new dimension of me. The sun will come out tomorrow and all that “Orphan Annie” ish.
But right now: The toll of being a single mother of four, raising black sons and daughters in a racially charged and increasingly and blatantly hateful environment is mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially exhausting and I don’t have an ounce of energy left to pretend all is well.
I’m not willing to drown in shame and stigma behind an overwrought smile.
The Facebook fantasy, IG Flawless, Tweettastic, snappily filtered versions of my reality will have to take a seat in the corner today.
All I have left is my truth.
My yoga is my honesty. My yoga for today is dropping the pretense—the sh*t is just too heavy. Satya (truthfulness and integrity in all matters, the second of the Yamas) is where I can commit at this moment. It’s true—I love asana. It’s true—all yoga helps. It’s also true that the thought of rolling out my mat today seems like an unbearably weighty item on an already over-full plate. There may be a tear laden savasana when my children go to bed…or maybe not.
Tonight, I hope to find rest and strength in surrender.
Author: Misha Williams
Image: Monique Prater/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman