Mama's Writing

Akilah Richards | Mama’s Writing

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.

Nurturing a healthy relationship with my children requires a lot of me. This is not a complaint, it is an observation, and I’m absolutely up for it, though I’m surely not always clear on what “it” means. I don’t get much clarity in my parenting walk, what I do get are clues and cues, which lead me to recognize, and sometimes change, my old patterns. One pattern I notice is that I sometimes find myself reacting to my own reaction far more than I’d like to admit. Let me explain.

Inspired by true shit in my real life, told vaguely (so as not to put y’all all in my children’s business)…

One of my daughters says something that offends me. 

Part of me knows not to jump to conclusions, and to mind my power, because I know that as Mother, I can change the entire weather in the house with my feelings.

The other part of me is blasting the words “No. She. Didn’t?!” at top volume, and it’s starting to feel like I gotta show somebody that I’m not the one for the bullshit.

I storm out, slam a door, and congratulate myself for not … 


that’s not what I wanted to do either! 

If she would’ve stormed out slamming doors, I would have followed her, stopped the door from slamming, and probably started talking about how walking away wasn’t the right move, and that slamming doors is a sign of disrespect, blah, blah…

-Me, reacting to my own reaction. A regular occurence. 

That format I used, the short bursts of words, is found all through my journal pages, too. When I see myself in words like that, I get a chance to give a little attention to the multiple parts of me that showed up when I felt cornered, offended, or otherwise wronged

  • The little-girl-Me who would rather walk away, and take the consequence, than take the “shame” of being “disrespected”…
  • The mother-Me who doesn’t always know what to do when she’s hurt, but knows not to retaliate…
  • The early-twenties-aged-Me who will “be damned if she takes shit from anybody!”…

In that true-story moment, all of those aspects of me showed up, and when I write, it’s more likely that I’ll notice them. Having noticed that pattern several times over, I am learning how to give those aspects of myself some attention. And sometimes I can do that proactively, so that those parts of me can grow, right along with the other aspects of me that know exactly how to move me/us toward healthier, safer ways. 

React. Notice. Write. Examine. 

Having had this react-notice-write-examine experience a million times over, I’m clear af that this journey of motherhood is one of the spaces where writing, for me, is required. Writing is not one of my hobbies, it’s one of my survival skills. I have always written my way through my thoughts. And because much of my parenting work started out very much in my head, writing is how I get to be with it beyond the confines of my mind. 

Before becoming people’s mama, I was very think-y, very logical about most of my choices. My own mama even called me schoolmarmish one time, which I don’t even think I understood, but I felt like it was giving mean, crusty teacher energy, and surely didn’t feel like a compliment. But fast forward to my mid-twenties, when my first child and I birthed each other, and I moved (just a little bit) out of my head, and over into the things that were actually happening in real life. 

Those real-reals included (among many other things) my child’s personality, her assertion of boundaries (even as an infant!), and my budding realizations about how I was mimicking parenting instead of fully deciding how I wanted to parent. 

Uggh! All of that felt like too much sometimes, and that collection of too-muches began to build up, and reckon with my ingrained habits and my strongest fears. Thoughts often collided and conflicted with each other. Still do. Some even learned to co-exist with my old habits, which can be tricky, because that can cause me to feel like however I’m showing up is just how I am, and not something that I can possibly change. Can you start to see (or feel, through your own life examples) how all of this got, and still sometimes gets convoluted for me? So when I get caught up in those nets, writing is one way that I get to detangle and decide what’s what, and what’s for me. It’s a freedom move, albeit sometimes a temporary freedom, and that’s what writing brings me. It is part of my ritual work to do the things that make the free in free people feel real. 

Writing as one means of channeling my freedom. 

One of the main ways writing channels freedom is that it helps me to give voice to the things that I might not even recognize matter to me. Sometimes, as I’m writing something down, the feeling I have from writing it gives me some information, some direction, about what’s going on with me. 

And sometimes it’s a thing I didn’t realize was happening, or affecting me. Whether I’m jotting it down as a note, or whether I’m typing it on my computer, or my phone (or even speaking it into my voice memo app and seeing the words appear), how I feel when I’m writing it, is a big part of what I look, listen, and feel for.

When I take my thoughts out of my unvoiced headspace and into something that I can see, it’s like an invitation to a quiet room where I can question things. Not like a dark, dank interrogation room with the spotlight and the stress! I’m talking about a softly-lit room with cozy seating, herbal aromas, the sound of water, a big mug of ginger-mint tea, and the just-right-for-you temperature fi set up di ting propa! That’s what it can feel like sometimes–space to safely stare at these discoveries, which often invites expansion, not understanding, but still, some level of reprieve. It’s like those feelings that show up as I’m writing help me to notice that my body is working through something, and it might need me to slow down, and get more present, or create necessary-for-now distance. 

It’s not always words though. 

Even with all the ways words and me go together, there is a big caveat with writing. Gotta name it, and it is that words (in the words of the sangin and writin’ his ass off musician called Maxwell) can be demeaning, because they can’t always describe what’s really poppin’. 

You feel that? I’m thinking:

  1. By the time we get to wording a thing, there are already so many things between us and what we want to convey
  2. Words have context; they mean different things to different people
  3. There are all these schoolish, un-do accolades for being able to find the “right” words. So oftentimes that’s what we look out for, both as the listener and the say-er, to the detriment of really being able to just say messily, imperfectly, what we actually mean. 

And so while writing has been such a vessel for me, I am now learning, in the middle of my 40’s, how not to rely so much on writing, but to notice things. To let experiences that I tend to write my way through, just work through me, and me through them in whatever forms.  

I find lately that it is movement, it’s dance, it’s noticing how I’m getting stronger, it’s literally pulling my body up on a pull-up bar, or on a pole. Those are some things that have been far more fueling and nourishing for me than just words. So, while the writing is important, there are other ways that things right me too, and all of that affects how I show up for my daughters, as myself, honoring their right to do the same.

Akilah S. Richards is passionate about mindful partnerships and conscious parenting. She started Raising Free People Network, a digital multimedia platform for education, deep listening, and emergent collaborations within the intersections of privilege, parenting, and power. Her unschooling podcast is called Fare of the Free Child, and her latest book, Raising Free People: Unschooling as Liberation and Healing Work is available through PM Press, many local bookstores, and on Amazon.

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Filed under: Mama's Writing


Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow.