Black culture has some parenting norms that have become staples in media about African American childhood. A few years ago, Denzel Washington explained to an interviewer when speaking about the “Oscars So White” movement that black culture is automatically recognizing the smell of hot combs. That’s one example. Celebrating birthday parties to the Stevie Wonder version of “Happy Birthday,” is another.
There are also some pieces of our culture that are more destructive than productive. This extends into some of the parenting norms many of us likely grew up with, but perhaps did not benefit from. They can be difficult to stare down and decide to do away with, especially as black children grow into black adults who welcome children of their own. But in order to truly effect positive change for the black community, or what’s left of it, I think there are some parenting behaviors that we should put down once and for all.
1. Stop using shame as a means for manipulating kids.
This was used on me when I was growing up, and while it certainly was an effective means for getting me to stop behaving in certain ways, it has also revealed itself to be one of the contributing factors to planting the seed for my anxiety to grow. Beratement and shaming seemed to usher in an internalization that I was somehow never going to be good enough, or that I was unloved. After all, embarrassing and shaming people in public is something people do to people they do not care for. I have also met several other black adults for whom the same was true. Consequences for poor grades, not abiding by rules, or disrespect certainly have a place, but leave shaming out of the disciplinary actions you take.
2. Refrain from comparing your children to anyone.
This is especially relevant in the colorism conversation – it is not nice to compare one child’s hair, body, or mannerisms to another. This merely encourages the thought process that our children should be aspiring toward norms that are not attainable for them. Comparisons do not need to be overt, either. They don’t just happen when you line two children up and tell one that he/she does not measure up to what the other one has. It also happens when you publicly fawn over eye colors, hair textures, or other features that your child does not have. If we want our little black girls to love their brown eyes, we have to tell them that their eyes are beautiful. If we want black boys to grow up, respect, and love other black women (regardless of whom they might choose to marry) we have to treat blackness and black femininity as something beautiful. We cannot expect our children to grow into adults who love themselves for their uniqueness if we do not celebrate their uniqueness.
3. Stay away from the hierarchical approach to exercising authority.
There is a saying (and I have no idea who said it; Google’s results were inconclusive) that one is never too old to learn, and never too young to teach. Yes, as the parent, you are the authority over your child’s life until they reach an age and ability where they can be self-sufficient. And yes, you should absolutely be ushering them toward that launch point. But it is ridiculous to assume that your experiences and knowledge will spell out the reality your children will live through. Here is an example: Thirty years ago, the guaranteed path to success was to earn a trade, get a two or four-year college degree, or get a job and plant yourself within that company for 25 to 30 years. You could work your way up, the company would probably reward your loyalty by not ever laying you off, and not as much training or education was needed to really propel yourself up the corporate ladder. This is not the case anymore. In fact, the idea of just doing one thing for all of your professional life seems ludicrous today. Diversifying your skills and having multiple ways of earning money is the best way to stay professionally relevant and lucrative in today’s world.
The world has changed. What worked for us when we were young has gone stale. Be open to the different pathways your children can and will take for finding their place in this world. I do not recommend simply brushing your child’s ideas or aspirations off because that wasn’t how they did it in your day. Your day is over. Don’t fight progress. Step into the future.
4. Stop celebrating boys and punishing girls.
I covered this in a previous blog post, but I think it’s evident now that we cannot keep holding little girls accountable while letting boys skate. Black boys should be expected to be just as responsible as black girls. Black girls should be given the same opportunities as boys. You get the point.
5. Allow your children to voice all of their emotions in healthy ways.
One common trend in the black community is to minimize emotions. Open discussions about feelings do not occur often enough around black tables and among black family members. However, the suppression of emotion usually manifests in other behaviors later on. If we are to truly correct some of the problematic behaviors black people exhibit, we need to allow ourselves and our children room to speak honestly on how we feel. While the work is difficult, it can lead to better relationships between black parents and their children, and I see this as a positive for the community. Maybe your mom and dad were not big on this, but consider being the parent you felt you needed growing up, not just the parent you saw.
As always, make the choices that best suit your family and its needs. While doing so, keep in mind what you want to raise. If the goal is to have healthy, high-functioning, successful children, that accomplishment takes intentional steps. Just because something worked for you does not mean it will always work for your offspring, and perhaps there are ways you can improve on the methods used to mold and shape you into the person you have become. We all want the best for our children, so be sure to give it to them through your parenting.
Antoinette is a consultant, author, yogini, and host of The Midday Reset Podcast. When she is not advising clients, authoring books, or recording episodes for her podcast, she is enjoying life with her husband and two children. Find her on Instagram @msantoinettechanel.