Being a mother is as hard as it is beautiful. As the mother of an 8-year-old girl, I can personally attest that kids are hard work without even trying to be. Mothers often talk loudly about how rewarding motherhood is while mumbling about the challenging parts, out of fear of not being seen as good parents. As both a mom and the daughter of a lesbian mom (Stenovia Jordan, pictured with me in the photo to the right), I've learned that motherhood is not for the weak.
My mother had to drill it into me that I needed to watch my sassy mouth, be more respectful and speak proper English. When I was a preteen, and she would try to get me to understand the value of taking a bath every day, I argued that I'd just get funky again after playing double Dutch, so why try to stay clean? She had to use bribery to get me into that tub.
During my teen years, I spent all of the hard-earned money she had put into my new savings account on a father who hadn't done anything for me in years, trying to gain his love while neglecting hers. She forgave me for my stupidity, made me get a job and then slowly began adding to my college fund once again. But no matter how good a parent my mother tried to be, she was judged harshly for being who she was.
People told her that she was a detriment to her child and unfit for motherhood. I remember falling out of our third-story window in the projects at age 6, and my mother nursing me back to health while those around her blamed her negligence for my fall. A few years ago, I realized just how easily accidents happen when my own daughter jumped off the couch and onto our glass table, splitting her eyebrow open.
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Over that long-ago incident and the biases they held against her, my family tore me away from my mother for years, but she kept trying to get me back. When it didn't work, she took two buses and two trains to see me faithfully every weekend, even when I didn't want to be bothered. I didn't appreciate all the sacrifices she made. I turned against her because everyone told me that her being gay and poor was wrong, which meant that my mother was somehow undeserving of my love.
She fought for me still, despite what I did. At times I was not a good daughter, and it took the beautiful person inside her to embrace the ugliness inside me — and to love me anyway. Life was brutal to my mother, and she worked daily not to repeat the mistakes her own mother had made.
She grew up poor on the West Side of Chicago with an abusive parent. On the outside, my grandmother was a well-respected churchwoman, but she scarred my mother by repeatedly telling her that she was stupid and beating her mercilessly.
My mother, a soft-spoken, nature-loving teen, left home to escape the abuse. Without support or stability, she eventually dropped out of high school and struggled to survive on her own. She experimented with drugs and tried to bury the pain in whatever vice she could get ahold of. She married my father, a handsome young man from Louisiana — a union that lasted for about three years. During that time, she gave birth to me, her only child.
After all my mother and I had been through, it still didn't register how difficult raising a child could be — until I had my own. Already, my daughter refuses to keep her room clean, forgets to brush her teeth, fights in school and incessantly runs her mouth while the teacher is talking. I often hear my mother speaking through me, saying all the things I said I'd never say, because they actually work. I remember thinking that parenting couldn't be that hard if you were a good mother. My mother understood that she couldn't control me, so she had to guide me, with the faith that God would work it out in the end. And he did.
It was my mother who taught me to throw a ball, feed the homeless with whatever was in my pocket and always to fight for what I believe in. She taught me that I didn't need makeup to be cute. We found and painted rocks, caught cicadas under glass, slept in our small backyard tent and shared our dreams under the stars. She taught me to shop in thrift stores and to be comfortable with being poor and different.
I wore my quirkiness and thick glasses with flair and confidence. She encouraged me to graduate a year early and go off to college, although her heart was aching at the thought of seeing me leave. She saw me through my own heartbreaks, a failed first year in college, my first rocky years of marriage and the birth of my child. She is my confidante and my friend, and together we have come a long way.
Although my mother was judged in the worst and most unfair ways, she rose through the ashes — a modern-day phoenix. I am so proud of her, and I aspire to be as strong. She went back to school and finished her education. She kicked a drug habit. She found a trade that she loved in construction work and has a successful career. She found the love of her life and is blissfully happy. She fought for me and got me back.
Our job as mothers is to provide shoulders for our children to stand on and pray that they grow wings to outsoar us. The best gift is to watch them fly and hope they look back long enough to appreciate who and where they came from.
So Mama, on this Mother's Day, I want to thank you for sharing your struggles. I want to thank you for teaching me how to be a woman and to trust myself as a parent. Thank you for accepting all of my faults and loving me anyway. I know that this small act of gratitude pales in comparison with all you've done, but it's the very least I can do. Happy Mother's Day!
Tina Fakhrid-Deen has been an educator and activist for more than 15 years. She just completed Let's Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth With LGBTQ Parents (Seal Press).