I just returned from an extraordinary experience speaking at a large women’s conference in Memphis. When I walked back stage, I was stunned by a roaring symphony of excitement. In front of me were five or six African American women with deep, syrupy voices belting out songs to God. The stage rumbled beneath my feet. As a Caucasian buttoned-up worshiper of God, I was excited. I loved hearing the passion—almost desperation—in their voices.
After they finished, a beautiful woman from Sudan walked up to the microphone and began to pray in her native tongue. I understood nothing and everything that she said. Clearly, she was thrilled to be talking to God. She needed something from him and the assurance in her tone told me that she believed that God would deliver for her. She got God.
Then I went up to the microphone in my red skirt and pumps. My voice was pale compared to theirs. What did I have to say? I began to speak and made eye contact with the women to see what they needed, what they wanted from me.
I saw all types of women from different backgrounds. Some had left their Lexus or Mercedes in the parking lot; other women had taken three buses to get there. Some shouted “Amen” when I spoke and others lowered their heads. I scanned to my right and saw a flash of brilliant color. About a dozen women sat in the first rows with red, yellow and blue dresses and head pieces. They were refugees fresh from Somalia. At once I felt inept. What could I say to them, who knew a rigor and harshness of life that I could only imagine? My mouth got dry.
I talked about the struggles and inadequacies that we feel as mothers. I talked about the importance of parenting from our inner beings, not from the pressures that we feel around us. Mothers in America have boarded the “crazy train,” I said, because we feel that we need to do exactly what the next mom is doing. We over schedule, over parent, exhaust ourselves, and drive everyone (including ourselves) around us stark raving mad. Our ultimate problem, I said, is that we don’t trust our hearts and our instincts.
We parent from fear, not strength.
Suddenly, these words raised the heads of every woman in the room. I could see them look at me. Every mother knows fear. Single mothers in downtown Memphis know fear. The Somalian women had lived side by side with fear for years. And those whose children attend private high schools and who are gunning for Yale know fear. None of us wants to lose our kids to what lurks out there to swallow them up. The only difference between us was the shape of the enemy staring at our kids.