Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Starr Davis.
What recent writing accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?
I am proud of the pieces I’ve written about neurodiversity. I debated whether to share this aspect of my parenting journey, as it directly relates to my daughter. I felt it was important to share the joys and challenges of raising a neurologically diverse Black girl. Mental health is an issue that is gaining more attention. We’ve been slow to openly discuss personal issues worried about being labeled or being further discriminated against in education and at work. The more we share about mental health, the more we can support our neurodiverse children.
Was this accomplishment shared and supported by your children?
My daughter is young and doesn’t know the content of my work. She knows that I like to help others and think she’d be okay with what I write about.
Tell about a time mom-guilt emerged (or emerges) in the midst of your writing process.
I am hyper aware of putting their business in the street. I worry that oversharing might embarrass them, which is why I use pseudonyms and rarely, if ever, post their photos. I’ve kinda frozen them at ages 9 and 3 years old.
If you could go back and give yourself advice before becoming a mom, what would it be?
I would give myself permission to ask for help. I really thought I had to do it all. As an adoptive parent, I felt I was solely responsible for their every need. I didn’t want anyone to say or insinuate I was in over my head. In hindsight, my early mommy logic was a blend of ego, fear and perfectionism. The truth is, I needed naps and help with the laundry.
What topics, artistic channels, or forms have become present that were not there before in your writing since becoming a parent?
Topics around mental health and the Black community are beginning to show up regularly. We typically don’t publicize our struggles, preferring to suffer in silence or refrain from asking for help because we don’t trust the medical system. In the last few years, Gen Xers like Olympian Simone Biles and tennis phenom Naomi Osaka are driving conversations about the importance of prioritizing mental health. Their transparency is helping young Black people share their challenges with depression and anxiety. Neurodiversity is another topic that is getting a lot of attention. This is exciting as many children and adults need support in our post pandemic world.
TikTok was not around. LOL
Do you ever find yourself dealing with censorship as a mom-writer? Explain your thoughts on your children eventually becoming acquainted with your work.
I definitely censor my work, especially if I am writing about my kids. I work really hard to balance sharing not exploiting whatever is going on with them. I don’t want to offend or make them vulnerable to unsolicited (read:negative) comments. Their lives are not open books and there is lots of information that remains
How has parenting bolstered or inhibited your creativity?
Parenting has turned me into a journalist. That is not my training but I have found it to be a fountain of creativity. I have two children who are different and I have had to adjust to who they are. This has stretched me creatively and inspired me to think outside the box.
Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?
Parenthood has profoundly shifted my writing. I used to hold back for fear of how I would be perceived. Plus, as a history major, I was taught to observe and write from a distance. It wasn’t until grad school that I learned to incorporate myself in my work. And still, decades and parenthood had to happen for me to embrace writing with more emotion and vulnerability.
How has the internet influenced you as both a writer and parent?
The Internet has been great in terms of reach. I have encountered writers and readers from all over the world, because of email and social media. I’m also challenged by what gets published and what doesn’t. The immediate availability of information keeps me on my toes though I have to remind myself that I am an oven, not a microwave. I can’t/won’t massively produce content because my words are important to me. I try not to waste them, even when the Internet makes me feel like I’m behind in my literary pursuits.
How have other mother figures you have encountered in your community influenced your parenting? Your writing?
I love to learn and gain wisdom from those who’ve come before me. Books and essays written by mother writers tend to have humor threaded through their narratives. This skill makes harder topics like unpacking being raised by an abusive or narcissistic parent or having to admit that parenting is really, really hard easier to relate to. Before I began writing Motherhood So White, two Black mom writers, whose books came out before mine, gave me valuable advice. They counseled me to be authentically Black and to tell my story in a way that made sense to me. Often writers of color are asked to tone down racial themes so as not to offend white readers.
How do you balance motherhood/parenting and finding the space to write?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as balance. As a single parent, I don’t have anyone to take turns with, so I write when I can. Usually, I write while they are at school or on Sundays, which is our (mostly) activity-free day. If I am on a deadline, I put my son in charge of dinner and remind my daughter to do as he says.
Who are your writer-mama heroes?
I have lots of writer-mama heroes but Toni Morrison stands out. Her work is timeless but her career as a novelist didn’t happen until she was in her 50s. I love that she curated a massive, award-winning literary career during mid-life and beyond. So many people give up falsely believing that if they haven’t made it at some magical age (say younger than 40), they’ll never succeed. As a mom writer in my 50s, I am just hitting my stride and like to think the best, like Ms. Morrison, is yet to come.