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Loving With Intention

Love With A Goal: Lets Talk About Parenting Styles

Love with a Goal Let’s Talk About Parenting Styles A few weeks ago, I attended a training on motivational interviewing. The trainer was a young African American psychologist. Her energy was dynamic and captivating. More than a few times during this three-day training, this psychologist used the term “love with a goal”. There was something about this term that resonated with me. What does this look like when we think about families – particularly families of color? How might these four short words help me to better understand beliefs and practices observed within families of color; and the daily choices we make for ourselves and for our children? In our lives we take on many identities – some more valued than others. My most important identity has been “mom”. For most of my son’s life, I have parented as a single mother. I won’t say I parented alone, because my son has been blessed with a large and loving extended family and has always been surrounded by a community of support. Like all parents, I have questioned whether the choices I made as a parent were also the best choices for my son. I have had the usual worries and anxieties – and then those moments of deep pride and joy. And, at key points in his development, he and I have had the talk. No. Not about sex. That’s for another post! This is the talk that any of us parenting a Black child – particularly a Black boy child – in the United States has had to make time and space for. It’s the thing that made us cringe just a little when our White friends commented on their perceived shared experiences with us in the parenting arena. It’s the talk about how to exist in a world that has little to no investment in your existence. When to hold your head high and when to disappear into the background. How to maintain your self-esteem in the face of constant racial aggressions and micro-aggressions. How others’ choices can’t always be your choices because, as I would say to him, your cushion is not as well-padded as others. And, most importantly, how and when to use your voice. Nelson Mandela states that “One of the ways we can build a better future for our children is by empowering them through allowing them to speak up for themselves . . . the rights of children must, importantly, include the right to be themselves and to talk for themselves”. While I agree with Mandela, an understanding of how best to give children of color voice and personal agency can be challenging. Historically American society has offered little in the way of space, encouragement, or tolerance for children of color to “speak up for themselves”. This has been particularly true for African American boys. Recent data shows African American children represent 15.5 percent of students in public schools nationwide, but account for 39 percent of student school suspensions. The numbers are worse for prekindergarten students – where black children represent 19 percent of preschool students and 47 percent of students suspended from preschool (Strauss, 2018). In the 2015-2016 school year, Black students represented 31 percent of students arrested or referred to the police – a 5 percent increase from the 2013-2014 school year (Blad & Mitchell, May 2018). What the research does not support is the idea that Black kids are engaging in more suspension-worthy behaviors than White kids. Instead, according to the research, schools and teachers are making disciplinary decisions based on preconceived beliefs about Black children, guided by implicit bias. In Federal Report Confirms Discipline Disparities, Camera (2018) points to research indicating “students of color suffer harsher discipline for lesser offenses than their white peers and that racial bias is a driver of discipline disparities". Black children tend to get disciplined more frequently and more harshly for subjective offenses such as being disrespectful or being disruptive. See Morrison (2019) recent post, Black Students Face Racial Bias in School Discipline highlights a relevant study done by Princeton University. We in the African American community have been intuitively parenting with these consequences in mind long before researchers began to publish findings. In many of our communities, an inordinate amount of time is spent teaching our children how to keep your feelings and opinions to yourself, how to not ask too many questions, and how to be extra vigilant in new and unfamiliar settings. The natural inclination of children to demonstrate curiosity, seek acknowledgement for accomplishments, and openly investigate their world have not always been safe behaviors for children of color. There is no manual or guidebook that explicitly spells out this style of parenting. Rather it is learned behavior passed down through generations and fortified by lived experiences. This style of parenting is often more unconscious than conscious. It stems from determination to see our children grow and thrive. From the obligation we hold as parents to attend to the safety of our children, and from the responsibility to be our children’s first and best teachers on how to navigate the wider world. It is how we hold our children close and let them go all at the same time. And how we ensure that their self-esteem remains intact when in the arms of a world that is not always welcoming. It is love with a goal! Does this style of parenting have unintended consequences to a child’s natural need for self-expression and assertiveness? Absolutely! Particularly considering the African American culture consistently demonstrates, and highly values, skills at being creative and inventive with words and language. But without being too dramatic, this style of parenting represents the best way many families of color know how to be protective and loving parents – with a goal of keeping our children safe while simultaneously tending to their cognitive, social, and emotional needs. My next post of this three part series will go further into the pros and cons of this style of parenting – so look for it! In the meantime, share your thoughts and comments. Looking forward to hearing from you! Marcia P. Chichester, LCSW-R For Amazing in Color/ amazingincolor.com

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