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People, at every age, have their own very real and legitimate feelings, emotions, dispositions, and personalities. With that said, children are people too. Unfortunately, in many communities, there isn’t a lot of space given to children to express themselves. I see this far too often in Black communities. Black culture practices a version of cancel culture when it comes to children. There’s a lot of “stay in a child’s place; only speak when spoken to; and children should be seen and not heard”. Additionally, in response to children experiencing negative feelings, I’m sure we’ve all heard or even said some version of “what could you have an attitude about?” or “what could you be stressed about? Wait until you start paying bills”. With these types of widely stated and practiced ideas that invalidate children’s feelings or even the legitimacy of them having feelings that deserve attention or respect, at which point do we expect our children to make the switch from children who weren’t allowed to speak their minds and weren’t given space to express themselves to adults who communicate well and have a high emotional intelligence?
Imagine ignoring the fact that children are experiencing stress and other big feelings that they aren’t given the tools to navigate when we can look at the gut wrenching facts and as we know, numbers don’t lie. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24 and has been increasing EVERY YEAR since 2007. The CDC reported that those rates rose nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018.
As parents, guardians, and adults, we have to understand that our interactions with children are giving them the blueprint for how they will eventually navigate adulthood and independence. Although a lot of us raise our children with the ideals that we ourselves were raised on, it’s time to give some of those ideals a look and consider where they were birthed from and that a lot of them are outdated and detrimental. I like to think of our input in children’s lives as filling them up. If, for example, you constantly speak to your children negatively, if you feel like you’re above apologizing to children when you’re wrong, or if you don’t value quality time and interaction with your children, what type of adult do you think will be born from that blueprint?
I have many peers, who are in their 30s and 40s, and can’t remember their parents ever saying ‘I love you’. I know many people who to this day are still waiting to hear “I’m proud of you”. I know too many people who can list very specific ways their parents let them down, but will never receive an apology or even acknowledgement of any wrongdoing. It’s also crystal clear the ways those things have had an everlasting negative effect on their relationships, self esteem, self worth , and overall livelihood. While I do feel like we owe our parents some grace being that many of them grew up in time’s where it was extremely difficult just being black (which heartbreakingly, is still an issue), there is some clear negative generational trickle down that we need to put an end to. Some of our parents either experienced or were being raised by parents who experienced things like the Jim Crow Era, the 80s crack epidemic, extreme poverty, and countless other traumatic things that only left time and space for survival and not much else. There is a clear distinction between the capacity of someone who was raised on softness and love and the capacity of someone raised purely on survival. To bring this thought full circle, if you grew up never hearing “I love you”, it may not be comfortable, natural, or ‘normal’ for you to verbally express that to your own children (or other people you care about). If that resonates with you at all, let this be your call to action to work through that block because it matters. Children deserve to be filled with patience, uplifting, encouragement, respect, and most importantly, love.
While as a people, we are still living in the trauma that is blackness in America, we are also moving towards a space of understanding. Understanding that therapy is ok. Understanding that a lot of adulthood is unlearning our childhood traumas. Understanding that a lot of our experience was normalized trauma. Understanding that we have an opportunity to be better and that our children don’t have to experience (and more importantly, we shouldn’t want them to experience) every hardship that we had to. Let go of the idea of ‘I experienced that and I’m ok so they’ll be ok’. The harsh reality is a lot of us aren’t ok. A less harsh reality, it is easier to raise a child in love than it is to fix an adult who wasn’t raised with any. Listen to your children. Get to know your children. Be a safe space for your children. Be someone your child can trust. Talk to your children. Check in often. Support your children. Help them explore their interests. And dare I say, be a FRIEND to your child because if we know nothing else, we know a black mama wasn’t “one of our little friends”. I challenge you to be to your children who you needed when you were a child.
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