Black women children marriage self esteem unconditional love

Children Are Not Trophies

In the office of the doctor who performed the fertility treatments that resulted in the birth of eight babies to a mother who already had six were pictures of children — walls filled with pictures of children.

These pictures were referred to as “trophies.”

Children are not trophies. They are not accessories. Children are not to be “used”for the purpose of building one’s self esteem. It is foolhardy to bring children into the world so that we can “have someone who will love us unconditionally.”

I have heard this kind of thinking so often — from all kinds of women. Something else is going on in the mind of a person who believes, or whose experiences have led them to believe, that the only way they will get unconditional love is to give birth to someone they hope will give it them. That is an incredible indictment on society — and it is an indication of the deep wells of emptiness with which people are struggling (knowingly or unknowingly). I have heard this from young girls who believe that “this baby is going to love me, and I will finally have someone good to love.” I have heard this from adult women who believe “this baby is going to complete me.”

Children are more than self-esteem tools or companions. What an incredible burden for a child to carry! Mary Pender Greene, a brilliant psychotherapist, often provides free marriage and relationship workshops in our community. She has said often that people who are considering marriage must not go seeking for someone to “complete them.” It’s not the responsibility of a mate to make you a whole person. You are a whole person. When two people come together, it is not one half meets another one half. The ideal is that one whole person meets another whole person — and two whole people are joined together. Many marriages and relationships falter because people expect their mates to “complete” them. We can be wonderfully fulfilled by our relationships when we approach the development of those relationships as whole people — people with interests and passions…people who have done or are doing the necessary work to be emotionally healthy. We all need help to be emotionally healthy — and we should seek it when we need it!

If a marriage will falter because an adult mate is unable to make up for all of the emptiness that their mate feels — what do we expect will happen with children who cannot make up for all of the emptiness in their parent’s lives?

As a parent, I know that my children love me. But there are times when they don’t like me. I say “no” when they want me to say “yes.” I say “yes, you will” when they want me to say “no, you don’t have to.” Raising children is not about creating a group of people to surround and affirm me. Regardless of how they feel about me, my responsibility is to parent them with love. It is my adult responsibility to understand that I don’t parent them so that I can have someone to love me; I parent them because that is what they need. And I know that my parenting skills are weakest when I am slipping on my own commitments to myself.

Children are amazing, simple, easy, incredible, loving, gifted, funny and wonderful! They are also complex, exasperating, moody, selfish, childish, boorish, and stubborn! They should have the freedom to be all of that and to grow appropriately — and they can only if we don’t expect them to do something that not even another adult can do — be someone or something they were not intended to be, or perform a function that belongs to God only.

Black women God Rachel youth

What are We Doing?

A few years ago, I recieved an invitation to preach for a women’s retreat. I love ministering to women. I love the church. And I appreciate any and every opportunity I get to gather with sisters and “get away.” But there was something about this invitation that just really turned my stomach.

Maybe it was because the invitation came to me about 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

Maybe it was because I just couldn’t get the pictures of those children, our children, so incredibly abandoned by the richest country in the world out of my head.

Maybe it was because I knew that the very paper the invitation was printed on cost so much more than what many are willing to give to make a difference in our communities.

I don’t know. That invitation sickened me like none other. And then it hit me: one of the things that structural evil depends on is for women of faith to be preparing for retreats, spa days, getaways and the like. While we are “retreating” our children are being incredibly abandoned. Our retreats don’t even have to be like the much criticized “mega-fest” conferences of which hopefully, many people are sick and tired and done with.

We retreat in little ways every day.

  • Refusing to speak up when a child is being mistreated because “that’s not my child” and “I’m tired.”
  • Refusing to speak up when resources for after school programs, child care, pre-K are scare in our communities.
  • Refusing to speak up and hold our own community institutions accountable for quality and thoughtfulness, not just just cultural competence.
  • Refusing to step in when a young woman is obviously over-tired and overwhelmed and dangerously on the edge of abusing her child.

We have retreated, gone off to focus on “our own.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of the retreat. Jesus retreated often. He took a day here, a morning there to get away from the press of the crowd. But his getting away was not about forgetting. He retreated to commune with God and came back with power for the people. When many of us come back from these retreats and conferences, we come back with empty wallets and purses, disembodied praise DVD’s — and no power to do anything that will make the difference for people who are still hungry for a word from God.

So, I did something with that invitation to preach at that women’s retreat that I rarely do if I can help it: I declined. I did my own hair and nails and bought a new pair of pantyhose. And then I spent the weekend just being “present” with the children in my church — affirming those who needed encouragement, buying new toiletries to give to growing young women, providing an ear and a shoulder and transportation home for a grandmother who is raising her children’s children. I also started doing research about how the children and families in my church’s neighborhood experienced life in that neighborhood.

You can’t change what you don’t know…and I want to know.


A Voice in Ramah…not bought; not satisfied and not consoled until all of God’s children, Rachel’s children (Matthew 2:18), my children see abundant, God-filled life.