The stigma of being a mother, a POC, and having more than two children is alive and well. Growing up this stigma was seared into my brain by way of watching my mother struggle to raise her four children. By comparing my extended family, aunts with 5 and more children, to those of my non-Mexican peers at school. By the government and the media where they automatically assumed that a POC family with multiple children is likely on welfare. If I wasn’t drawing comparisons in real life, then I was busy analyzing them from the TV shows on Nickelodeon. Those where the white families of the main characters never had more than two or three brothers and sisters.
Eventually, I learned it would be in my best interest to not have more than two or three children – any more and I would risk looking like a poor, dirty, can’t keep her legs closed Mexican woman. The same as (I admit) I thought of other family members because they were POC, like me. Maybe not that they were dirty or poor, but definitely that they didn’t know how to plan for a family. I thought, “who on earth would want to have more than three children?” “They’re uncontrollable, they constantly cry, and the moms are always mad.” “I won’t be like that.”; Oh, the naivety.
Ironically, I have now found myself with one more child than what I considered “ideal.” Funny how life throws you curve balls. Here I was perfectly planning to have my third child, and suddenly I was presented with not one more but two. Throughout that pregnancy, I was riddled with obstacles that seemed to want to prevent their birth. After they had been born, I was preoccupied with making sure they met their goals to bring them home from the NICU. Once they were home, there was only one challenge to overcome daily, survive. My point being that having children is more than just the amount of children you have.
Now let’s flash forward to today. I have been avoiding going to any store with all my kids for fear of being labeled. How crazy is that? None of the things I once thought of people who fit into that monstrous stigma are real, and yet they are keeping me from going about the regular chores that come with being a mom. The stigma is then aggravated further when I read stories from other moms dealing with strangers’ snide comments about how they “need to learn how to control their children,” or “if you can’t keep them quiet then why did you have them?” Plus other nasty things people say.
So why is it then that this stigma haunts me? Raising my children has taught me what reality truly is. You cannot plan anything. It was not my fault that I had twins instead of one child for my last pregnancy. My beliefs have evolved into paradigms more complex than those of a child. I would have believed I knew how wrong it is to assume anything about any race – that striving to be white isn’t the end all be all. However, I am living in the environment that I idolized on those Nickelodeon TV shows when I was young, where the white family has a nice home, nice cars, a SAHM, and nearly the perfect amount of children. I live in a town where most of my white friends have less than four children. I am surrounded by the white ideal.
It would seem this stigma has turned into much more.
Luckily, I DO presume my beliefs have evolved. Labels are meant for our food, not people. There should never be a basis of self-worth stemming from the quantity of children you have and what your skin color is. You should never judge me on the premise of what you think is the “appropriate” number of children to have. There is no such number.
The strife I put myself through to raise my daughter in a stable environment is not just a thing privy to non-white folk. With my blood, sweat, and tears, I was able to help procure my home and temporarily provide for my family. That I ended up in a white community was only a coincidence brought about by the location of my husband’s job.
I want to highlight this stigma because I am well aware of how prevalent it is throughout the POC community. Sadly, even my family has been critical of my brood, and it is unacceptable – even if said in a joking manner.
This stigma was never “taught” to me by my mother or father outright. They never once told me that I should only have a certain of amount of children, but they also never mentioned I shouldn’t judge others for it either. So, my job as a mother, a POC, is to overcome it and learn – so that I can teach my daughter that she can be a full woman regardless of how many children she has. Irrespective of her skin color and most of all her choice to “keep her legs closed” because what she chooses to do with her body is none of our business.
One of my coping mechanisms is always to put on my brave face and separate the self that cannot with the self that can. So, in keeping with my personal growth goals for this year I am ready to put my big girl pants on and take ALL my children to the mall by myself. I am opening up to feeling vulnerable but not being vulnerable.
Before closing, I want to state I do realize my husband is a white man (duh). He married himself a complicated woman but in doing so has benefited immensely. His experiences as a white man are vastly different from those of men of color. His privilege as white equally so. Being married to me has given him a unique perspective, and thus, made him a perfect ally – for both sides. I can explain to him what it is like to be on my side of the tracks and in the same manner, I can see how he is hardly any different from me: two people, just trying to live their life as best they can.
Finally, if you find yourself in the midst of someone’s unruly children, don’t be an ass. Instead, offer assistance or a gentle smile. After all, a mother’s (or father’s) work is hard and never ends. Let’s not pile criticisms on top of her/his already tremendous job.