Lessons From a Caribbean Mother
On Sunday, the world will stop to celebrate the mothers in our lives. I couldn’t help but think of all the amazing lessons Caribbean women hold near and dear from their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. I come from a family of matriarchs. My grandmother was the head of the family. She led with grace, compassion, and generosity. My mother, aunts and older cousins all seem capable of making something out of nothing. My mother spun gold out of the hardest of circumstances.
It’s funny to me that Caribbean mothers have this reputation of being extremely strict and powerful disciplinarians. That wasn’t the case with my mother. With her, I’ve always been allowed to be myself. FREE. She taught me to have a voice, an opinion, to act like I belonged in rooms that I had no business in. My mother taught me that I was valuable, important, worthy, and capable of changing the world. She made sure I knew that to remain all of those things I had to be resilient. I had to be able to get knocked down and get right back up. That’s just a small taste of all the things my mother has taught me.
As the day for celebrating mothers draws near, I wanted to take some time to reflect on and highlight some of the lessons from our mothers There is nothing more complicated than the relationship between a Caribbean girl and her mother. Caribbean mothers don’t have the reputation of being tough for no reason. They definitely can be but there is much more love and nuance than they get credit for. There are wisdom and magic in Caribbean mothers. Here are the Lessons from a Caribbean Mother from the CGWB community:
“I’ve learned so many lessons from my mom—she’s overflowing with all sorts of wisdom. She’s largely responsible for the woman I am today and I can’t even begin to thank her enough. I think one of the biggest lessons I got from my mom had to do with my education. Back in my school days, if I brought home even a 97% she’d tell me I did a great job but would ask me what happened to the other 3%…lol. Like many Caribbean parents, she kept me in line about my studies—I did very well in school. Although she was strict about me doing my best, she was a very loving mom who would always have the right things to say whenever I felt teased or less than. She’s my biggest hero and I thank her for EVERYTHING she’s done for me.”
~Danielle Gray the Style and Beauty Doctor
Just Do It
“What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your mom?” I think of something clever. No one wants to read that she didn’t teach me anything special. I perk up. “Well, she taught me how to be a woman,” Lies. “She taught me how to love unconditionally.” More lies. “She taught me how to care for myself.” I’m no longer even convincing myself. She simply wasn’t the type. Three children. Never enough hours. Never enough pay. But somehow I’m able to be here, telling you my story with my own child ready to tell my impact on his life.
I can never answer the question “What’s the greatest lesson learned from your mom”. It should be “What hasn’t your mom taught you?” How to fail. How to give up. “Well you just have to do it,” she would say. “Who’s gonna do it but me?” She would mutter after I begged her to rest. You see, Caribbean moms have a pride that runs as deep as their culture runs pure. “Do for your children what your mother did for you.” The greatest gift my mother gave me was the ability to understand that motherhood grows past lessons and scoldings and making ends meet. That actions screamed louder than words could ever reach. Because my mother showed me how it was done. How to “do it”. I hear her voice now, “You just have to do it.”
From the day, I was born my mom taught me how to be memorable. Memorable in my actions but most importantly memorable in my authenticity and love of self — a recurring lesson that would prove itself to be the theme of my life, starting with my name, Nefertiti.
Growing up I hated my name because of how different it sounded in comparison to others and the inability of most to pronounce it correctly. For years, I felt helpless, frustrated, insecure, vulnerable, and at the mercy of those who teased me. One afternoon, in more of a straightforward approach than I expected, my mom told me to stop searching for approval and embrace my uniqueness. She told me that kids were always going to make fun of my name and that the only way I’d feel inferior was if I gave them my consent.
In college, my mother was a part of a cultural group called “The Daughters of Africa”, where she first discovered and decided that my name would be Nefertiti five years before my birth. Nefertiti means “the beautiful one has come” and according to historians Queen Nefertiti is made out to be one of the most powerful, stunningly beautiful and controversial queens of ancient Egypt. My mother often says that she named me after a queen because she wanted me to grow up and carry myself in a manner befitting of one. Instantly I became instilled with a sense of pride and esteem. My newfound sense of self-worth and individuality ignited a lifelong campaign for me to teach others how to embrace what makes them different, just as my mother taught me.
Your gift always makes room for you
“Your gift always makes room for you.” I’d heard it a million times from my mom and I’d even gotten sick of it but now, years later, it makes sense. The very things I am talented in or what allow me to be successful in my life and also what helps me to provide value to others. It’s crazy how all these years later, that phrase that she told me whenever I felt like I was average, has become the very mantra of my life and something that I always encourage others in my life with.
We bear each other’s burdens
So I got pregnant at 18 and my family had a hard time coping with it. And I couldn’t understand why. So I was complaining to my grandmother saying, “it’s not like they’re pregnant. It’s me dealing with the consequences.” In the calmest voice (and you know West Indians are never calm), my grandmother looked at me and said, “When one man buss ah poop, di whole house smells it.” I started to understand from that very moment, my unplanned pregnancy was everyone’s to share.
My mother holds a very special place in my heart. Not just because she’s my mother but also because she has played an integral role in shaping the woman that I have become. There are several facets of our relationship that I’m thankful for, but I’m most thankful for the moments in which I learn from her transparency. My mother was born and raised in Guyana, lived in Trinidad during her early twenties and then at 25 made Brooklyn, New York her “semi” permanent home. (I say semi because Guyana will always be home for her). It’s interesting to make a distinction between what I’ve learned from her as not just my mother but as my “Caribbean mother.”
As a Caribbean mother, I think one of the most important things she’s taught me is self-care. There were a lot of times where she didn’t have to explain why I should do so, but seeing how self-care benefited her inspired me to do the same. Whether it was taking the time to make sure that you looked “presentable” (because you simply cannot leave the house looking “anyhow”), to knowing how to prioritize, it has greatly impacted my journey into womanhood. Because of my mothers transparent self-care I’ve never been afraid to cry, as well as know when to pick myself back up and continue to do what’s required of me. I’m always grateful for her and hope that one day I can teach my daughter just the same.
~Asha Boston The Dinner Table Doc
One of the greatest lessons that my mother has taught me is that, no matter what you are dealing with, no matter what you have been through, no matter what people have done to you, you must focus on self-preservation, on healing yourself, on living your life for you. You’ve got to try your best not to let things get to you, and you’ve got to take care of yourself because no one else will do it for you. As she says, “Yuh cyaah let people kill yuh dead!”
During the toast and cake cutting at her surprise 50th birthday party, I declared to a room full of her childhood friends, coworkers, blood relatives, and adopted the family, that I aspire to be at least half of the woman that my mother is. I am so honored to bear witness to her life, and I am grateful to be able to also call her my friend. Momma, I know you still have many more lessons to teach me. I am here for them all, ears open, eyes bright, arms outstretched, palms facing upward, ready to receive. I can only hope that, in turn, I am able to give to you as much as you have given me.
~Sherine Andreine Powerful
Let’s keep this going, share one lesson you’ve learned from your Caribbean mother.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!
Let’s take some time to show some love to the mothers all around us.