Mama's Writing

Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts | Mama’s Writing

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

Are there days when you feel like a mother who writes, and others when you feel like a writer who is a mother?

This is such an interesting question because I think I work really hard to not make any one of my intersecting identities greater than another. I’m 100% a mother and 100% a writer. That said, society doesn’t always get that. There are certainly moments when one of my roles feels secondary to another and, if I’m honest, I carry so much guilt when I do allow that to happen. When I’m writing, I’m ever conscious of the fact that it’s time spent away from my child. And when I’m with my child, I’m ever aware of the call of my stories. I can’t shake it either way. But I suppose I find my sweet spot in the belief that I want my daughter seeing me pursuing this passion of mine. I want her to know that there is room in heart and world for more than one thing she loves.

What surprised you about motherhood?

I think the biggest surprise was just how much my child would help me understand myself and my personal narrative. That generational thing is real and there are many days when I “catch myself” in my parenting. Trying to do things differently and yet unable to always shake some of the familial patterns. I always joke that my daughter is like my little mirror, but it’s true. She is constantly reflecting back to me who I say I am vs. who I really am. I’m not sure I expected that in the beginning.

What’s the secret to surviving motherhood?

Most of us will survive no matter what we do. That’s the truth. We’ll make mistakes and have bad days and maybe even ensure our child’s future therapy bills, but barring some tragic event, we’ll get through it. And maybe that’s good to know? Hell, some days I’ll surely take it. But when I think about what I really want from my motherhood experience, I know it’s more than just survival. I want to thrive in this thing. And the secret to that, I think, is self-compassion and empathy. I think we need to always be extending ourselves grace. It’s important to me to trust the process and truly believe that I am the exact mother my child needs—flaws and all.

What’s the worst motherhood advice you’ve ever gotten?

Whew! “Sleep when the baby sleeps” comes to mind. Like, how? My daughter is ten, and I’m still trying to figure that one out. Also, I think any advice in general that assumes that every mother has (or even should have) the exact same background, experiences, resources, or capacity, sucks. Just saying.

Knowing that your children will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing?

It’s scary as hell. I’m extremely transparent in my work about my healing journey; the trauma I’ve lived through. So I do worry about my daughter reading my non-fiction and being shocked and/or embarrassed by my story. Or even feeling like she has to live up to whatever I’ve written. However, that doesn’t stop me from being so candid—mostly because I believe in the power of “giving stories air.” I believe that we heal through the sharing of our stories. And so if it means that she gets a clearer picture of who her mother is and what she’s lived through, then, in the long run, it can only be a good thing.

What real-life mother do you admire in your community? What attributes do they have that inspire you?

I’m not sure if there is a specific mother I could name. I can say that I have great admiration for some of the Black and Brown mothers who are leading the conscious and gentle parenting movements. I truly believe they are disrupting some really challenging generational norms by centering the humanity of children and creating new language for us when it comes to discipline and emotional support. There’s a shift I’m seeing where people are reconsidering the whole “beat that behind and ask questions later” [mindset] that many of us grew up on, and I’m inspired by that.

Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so?

When it comes to process, there was definitely a shift. Before becoming a mother, there was a freedom to write when I wanted, where I wanted, and without concern about time spent at the laptop. Now, I have a hyper-awareness of how much time I spend writing and what the potential impact could be on my child. I’m never without the thought of “am I stealing attention away from her?” That said, I accept that experience as reality and do my best.

Writer, educator, and speaker Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts has published 18 books including several collaborations with numerous high-profile authors. In 2021, Tracey became one of 20 writers who contributed to the groundbreaking book, You are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience edited by acclaimed researcher, Brene Brown, and founder of the MeToo Movement, Tarana Burke. Tracey’s collection of lyrical essays, Black Joy: A Strategy for Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration (Gallery/Simon & Schuster) will be released in Feb. 2022.

Tracey has spoken around the country on topics related to writing/publishing, race/social justice, healing, parenting, and faith/spirituality. Her publication credits include Oprah Mag, The Washington Post, Essence Magazine, The Guardian, The Chronicle for Higher Education, Ebony Magazine, and The Root. She is a professor of English and Black Studies at the Community College of Philadelphia and the founder of HeARTspace, a healing community created to serve those who have experienced trauma of any kind through the use of storytelling and the arts.

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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.