By now I am certain many people have heard about and perhaps seen the video of Baltimore mom, Toya Graham using any means necessary to keep her 15 year old son from throwing rocks at police officers during the Baltimore protests (www.cbsnews.com/news/baltimore-mother-toya-graham-on-why-she-smacked-son-i-dont-want-him-to-be-a-freddie-gray/)
When I first saw the video, I imagined the intense fear that had risen up in her. To think that her teenage son had placed himself in the ultimate of harms way. The thought that her son could be killed right in that moment left her with no other choice but to control the situation.
I can’t imagine exactly what I would do if it were one of my sons but I did comment to several people that I would’ve wanted to hear his reasons for doing that and I would have had an open conversation with him beforehand. I was certain that having constant open and honest dialogue could have either prevented him from going to throw rocks or allowed her to take him out of the situation without hitting him.
But this is where it gets interesting. When I looked into her back story, I found that she had in fact listened to him, talked with him, reinforced the values she has been teaching all six of her children and then told him not to go. She even had her daughter who intends to be a police officer talk with him. But he went anyway.
So… What’s a mother to do?
How many of us have been there? I have. We use our best non-violent technique, which for many of us is a clear, decisive departure from our parents’ methods. We work it.
Then our child looks up at us with that “don’t give me that crap” look, or worse keeps having that tantrum or completely ignores us. What’s a parent supposed to do?
It seems easy in that moment to fall back on the habitual techniques ingrained in us by our parents. Many of these are cultural norms passed down from generation to generation. Even Toya Graham said that hitting her son was not what she wanted to do but it was certainly within her reach in her toolbox. Even I, Ms. Conflict Resolution have found myself yelling at the top of my lungs at one of my sons, just as my mother did to me. Much as I hated it when it was done to me, there are times when it easily slips out without any challenge or questioning.
That is the joy and the frustration of parenting, even our best techniques can fail in the most heated moment. All the more reason why our skills and techniques should be questioned and challenged by us. Conscious parenting needs to be fluid, binding both introspection and invention. Toya Graham’s experience raised a cry from many for “back to old school parenting.” In other words, good for her. After all, there’s nothing that a good old fashioned spanking won’t cure.
See Ylonda Gault Caviness’s recently released book, “Child, Please: How Mama’s Old School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself.” Others cried for an end to what they called “barbaric practices.” It’s time to leave that behind and go new school.
As much success as I have had with my “new school approach”, my sons are 19 and 14 and we have a great open, respectful, noisy relationship. It is in fact challenging to keep the new school going. Sometimes I want to take the easier approach and fall back old school and declare, “because I said so. End of discussion!” To keep it 100, as the kids say, sometimes I do. But most days my style is “new school with an old school chaser.”
I have learned a lot of new skills that take me away from the traditional parenting techniques of my African American, “I’m a black mom so don’t even try it” culture. But some of those skills are still in my toolbox, buried underneath the new stuff, but still there. It’s hard out here for parents.
Everyday I try to consciously choose the most effective techniques for strengthening my relationship with my sons and teaching me to be a better me. Toya Graham, I salute you for making conscious choices, evaluating and standing by them in the face of national scrutiny (even Oprah, queen of promoting new school parenting, called to congratulate her on going old school) and for opening up an important discussion.
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