When I was pregnant with my son, I was determined to be an awesome mother. I sat down one day and made as list of all the principles I wanted to teach him. Now, nearly eight years after I made that list, I can’t even remember most of what I wrote. I vaguely remember writing some pretentious shit about tolerance and independence (not that being tolerant or independent is pretentious, but the list itself was). And even though I can’t find the list, I know for sure that my mommy game is super strong for one simple reason: I don’t give a fuck.
Now I don’t mean I don’t give a fuck about being a good mother. My success with raising my son is my greatest achievement. It’s the only commitment I’ve made in my life that I’ve never considered breaking or dishonoring. When I say I don’t give a fuck, I mean I don’t give a fuck about what society tells me constitutes being a good parent.
For the first four years of my son’s life, I did everything by the book. I was rigid with the bedtime routine. I read him stories every night. I was obsessive about his diet. I was steadfast in my commitment to putting him in timeout and ensuring he served his sentence. Anytime we stepped out of the door he had to be perfectly pressed, not a hair out of place or a wrinkle to be found. I trained him to always respond to adults with “sir/ma’am.” And by some miracle I, whose potty mouth is most accurately compared to a gas station toilet, managed to never let a single fucking curse word – not even the occasional “damn” – slip out around my boy.
What I didn’t do, though, was analyze how my by-the-book mothering affected my child. I failed to take into account that my black son would face a world that would punish him even if he fit into their well-dressed, well-spoken, impeccably-educated, clean language, respect-for-authority bullshit respectability model. I didn’t understand that while my job is most definitely to prepare my child for reality, it’s also my job to indulge the fantasy, imagination, creativity and individuality that live within him. I was so obsessed with presenting myself as the perfect mother that I lost sight of what was best for my son. The packaging was more important than the product.
Then one day, my husband, son and I went out to dinner. My son spilled his drink all over his white shirt. “Shit!” I blurted out. I was mortified that I’d cursed in front of my baby. I looked at my son’s stunned face. “Sorry, boo,” I said, “Mommy didn’t mean to say that.” To my surprise, his little ass burst out laughing. My husband and I laughed too. Later on that night as I was tucking him into bed, he asked, “Mommy, are you mad at me?” “Of course not. Why, boo?” I asked him. “Because I spilled that stuff on my shirt and I know you want me to be neat and clean.” “No, it was an accident, baby. Mommy ain’t mad.”
The next day, I took the biggest box I could find and packed up all my fucks. I told myself that from then on, I would be the kind of mother I always wanted as a child. I assured myself that no books or specialists were there with me everyday. I was done forcing my son to conform to all these best practices, without minimally tweaking them to his personality and needs. I believed I could change all that shit.
And I did. I was like, “Fuck a bedtime.” He’s not in prison. It’s not automatically “lights out” at 8:30. If the kid wants to stay up an extra half hour to finish watching a movie or play one last game, I grant him that. Shit, a half hour won’t kill him, and if staying up a little later makes him tired in the morning, that’s a hard lesson for his ass not to try to negotiate when mommy says, “Go to bed.” Every now and then he wants breakfast for dinner. No problem. I’ll take my ass in there and whip him up some pancakes at 7 PM. He wants to go to a movie on a school night? Cool. Finish that damned homework so we can eat dry ass popcorn and laugh for 90 minutes. Sometimes when we go to run errands on Sunday morning, he doesn’t feel like getting dressed. Instead, he’ll go put on this costume from two Halloweens ago. No problem. If he wants to walk around looking like he’s wearing a culottes Transformers body suit, it’s not the end of the motherfucking world.
Raising my baby to be perfect is impossible. He was born perfect. My task is to try to keep him as close to that innate perfection as possible by giving a finger to what everyone says he should be. So I’ll read him a story, but if he’s not interested, I’ll toss that motherfucker and we’ll cuddle in my bed watching a movie and eating ice cream. I’ll iron andmatch his clothes, but when he doesn’t like what I’ve picked out, I’ll let him pick out his own outfit even if it consists of more color than a 64-count crayon box. I’ll work on him, but I’ll let him be. And most of all, I’ll continue to do this mommy shit as fucklessly as possible, not giving a damn who thinks I’m too lenient, too indulgent or too hood.