Sometimes, the traditions we are raised with are toxicity under the guise of “family values”. Consequently, I was no more than 11 when I started feeling a residual discomfort around my family. I cannot shake the cacophony of snickers hailing from the kitchen table on hot Thomasville days: “She don’t even comb that baby’s hair. I won’t even go over there, you know she don’t know how to clean her greens. That carpet–CHIIIIIILE. I ain’t never seen nothing like that in my life”.
This snippet of conversation is only a fraction of the way my family gossiped about their own sisters, aunts, and cousins. Her value depended solely on her ability to clean, cook, tend, and much more importantly, her ability to keep a man, of whom carried no responsibilities. You were by far a better woman if you always had a clean house and a 40 year marriage than you were if you went to school and focused on a career– trust me, I know that cousin; per the family gossip, she had to be gay.
How did the women in my family do it so seamlessly, and so effortlessly that any woman who couldn’t, didn’t deserve a shred of empathy?
In my home, my single mom was an open mind, warm heart, and progressive thinker. I wasn’t allowed to cook and make messes in her kitchen, and despite doubts that I’d grow up to be worth a damn, my mom always told me if I were ever hungry, I’d be smart enough to feed myself. Fast forward to now, where I’m making scratch-made sauces and hand breading like Ramsey himself is breathing down my neck. Not only do I cook for my family, but I own and operate my own business, I bar tend, I attend my herbalism classes, I take care of my son all day, and not to brag, but sometimes, I even shower.
Despite this, after those 8 hour shifts at the bar, I come home and I’m met with the cacophony of snickers. My toddler could be laid out anywhere from the couch to the bed, as well as my husband. Dinner may be put away, it may not. Dishes are undoubtedly everywhere from the counter to the table. Who knows when the last time I scrubbed a baseboard was? How could I even think of it, when I know I’m getting about 4 hours of sleep until my husband goes back to work? And cleaning with a toddler is a sliver of hell that I do not wish on anyone. Then, when my husband gets home, I have to finesse dinner, and getting ready for work, then getting to work on time. We do this over and over and over, and then we are exhausted.
When you work to live, the time you get with your family is sacred.
How did the women in my family do it so seamlessly, and so effortlessly that any woman who couldn’t, didn’t deserve a shred of empathy? How could I work all my jobs, hold my child, be a present partner, spend any time at all with my family as a family–let’s just omit the shower thing for the sake of honoring balance–and be the woman I was made to believe was truly worth respecting?
The short answer is I can’t. When you work to live, the time you get with your family is sacred. People love to remind you to enjoy your child while they’re young but when you are hustling day, after day, after day just to keep food in their young mouth, frankly, there’s no time to stress about a clean carpet. My house is dirty because more than just living in this house: I’m loving in this house, I’m building in this house, I’m growing in this house, and I’m making memories in this house. I’m making those memories that come back when you smell something your mom would make only on Saturday mornings, not the ones that greet you at the door to tell you why you’re bad at being a woman.
We all know the only way to maintain that picture perfect kitchen is to cut a corner somewhere, and I refuse to let that corner be my sanity, my child’s mental health, or my relationship with my husband. I’d rather be all in with them, all the time. So, for my family, we have chosen to rewrite some values.
- Omit them all. Value this family.