By Ayyona Janae
I remember growing up and hearing all about daddy issues and how much growing up without your dad being present can create problems down the road. In not knowing how to interact with a man or never having received the love of their father, little girls that would soon become women (sometimes before their time) would experience hardships within their relationships with boys and/or men, be it platonic, romantic, or sexual. Like tons of other Black women, I’ve also experienced this first hand in three forms. The first form is my biological father not being physically present, which of course led to a lack of emotional presence. In regards to the second form, my stepfather was physically present, but I felt like my own presence was only tolerated by him because of his relationship with my mother, which then created another level of an emotional void. The third form I experienced was more secondhand, but the effects were still evident. Though my grandfather was physically present, he was emotionally absent, as he grew up in a generation that promoted a form of masculinity that would later come to be understood as toxic, and in his mind as long as he was handling his responsibilities—financial support, physical presence, and inclusion in disciplinary actions—then that was enough. I mention this form because I think this form may have affected me most, one reason being he was the only father figure I knew for most of my life, but also because I was raised by a single mother whose parenting style was birthed from the unaddressed trauma of that form. I didn’t realize my mommy issues even existed until recently. Once I came to an understanding and an acceptance of how my relationship with my dad affected me, I addressed it. However once I addressed it, I still felt a void, but this one was different. I began to examine the history of my relationship with my mother—miscommunication, lack of communication, refusal of understanding, authoritarian behaviors, lack of affection, disregard for emotion, the list goes on—and though no relationship is perfect, these were the building blocks for toxicity.
So how exactly did my mommy issues begin? Four words: “Because I said so.” Of course, questions may be arising, especially if you’re Black and have heard these words. In our culture we tend to share similar experiences regarding our upbringing and adherence to the “requests” of our parents without question is no exception. In the Black household, you do not ask “Why,” you just do as you’re instructed, and if you do inquire for reasoning you are met with either the aforementioned statement, a tongue lashing, or an ass-whooping. Now sure, this shouldn’t be what caused my issues, and it wasn’t; however being called ‘dramatic’ when I was expressing emotion, being yelled at and then ignored in the midst of an anxiety attack, and being punished upon the admittance of suicidal ideation did. I don’t think I’m the only one who has had encounters like these, and I think that’s because we have been taught that these types of reactions are warranted, but what do experiences like that do to us? How do they affect our perspectives on communication and emotions? For me, these instances taught me that my voice was disregarded and that my emotions were of no value. I also lacked healthy communication skills due to developing a fear of being met with a volatile reaction upon initiating important conversations.
Despite all of this, my mother is not a bad person, and for those who have had similar experiences, it is necessary for you to also understand that your mother may not truly be a bad person. I came to this conclusion by becoming more aware of where she came from and her relationship with her parents. I began to understand that she could only do what she knew how and she couldn’t give what she didn’t have. For a while, she saw no wrong in her actions; she just saw it as her being a good parent and her only true reference for parenting was her own. More recently, I have discussed my feelings with my mother, and that’s because she had begun to do work on herself. As a result, she’s become more open to these conversations. Even now, we are working to improve our relationship and learning to love one another in the ways that we need, and acknowledging that we both had been taught to operate from a place of survival rather than love.
Just like my mom, I began working on myself once I realized that the scripts I had been following about interpersonal relationships weren’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle. This meant first getting honest with myself about how all of this affected me. To loosely paraphrase Maryam Hasnaa, it was time to reparent my inner child which meant having very hard conversations with myself about myself. I had to point out the beauty that my mom never pointed out in me. I had to acknowledge and validate my own emotions, which taught me that my previous interactions with individuals who did not do so had become an area of comfort for me. I had to accept the reality that before my most recent relationship, I was never as “in love” with sexual and romantic partners and prospects as I thought I was—just addicted to the potential affection I didn’t feel. I had to unlearn patterns and form new ones based on the life that I knew I did not want, and sometimes that’s what you have to do. Some situations are out of our hands and we have to do with them what we can. Our circumstances are meant to teach us, and the lessons are meant to assist us in our journey. As cliché as it sounds, I had to teach myself what it really meant to operate from love by loving me. And even though we took the long way around, I think I owe that all to my mom.
Ayyona Janae is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. She is an herbalist, holistic wellness practitioner, and sex-positivity enthusiast and has a podcast called “The Clinic” where she discusses all three. Connect with her on Instagram @ayyonajanae and @theclinicpod.