Parent Corner: Parenting, Racism, Mental Health, and Finding Support

Nov 11 2016

Parent Corner: Parenting, Racism, Mental Health, and Finding Support

Every new parent can use some reassurance at some point as they adapt to all the changes and challenges of parenthood. African American parents are up against some unique challenges–racism, stereotypes, and cultural attitudes about mental health.

Sometimes it’s easier to be surrounded by others who get it. That’s why the Balance After Birth for Women of Color group exists–to give a safe space with other parents who understand what it’s like to face the impact of racism and cultural differences in addition to the regular ups and downs of parenthood. We wanted to hear directly from the women who attend this group about what it’s like to be an African American parent and what being part of a support group for women of color means to them. Below they share some thoughts.

On the availability of resources for African American families to address depression and anxiety
“No! There are few resources to add enough assistance to truly help you toward sustaining lifestyle changes. The services that exist are disjointed. If you are qualified and receive benefits for one service, most likely you will not be qualified for any other services that you need to rise out of your current circumstances. So when additional hardships happen, and they will, you go back down to survival mode, which throws you back into anxiety, panic, and depression. It is here where bad choices are most likely made. Once you are able to climb out, you are right back to where you were, but worse because now you may have bad credit, broken relationships, poor health due to lack of being able to take proper care of yourself. It is a perpetual struggle.”

Other challenges involving availability of resources are locations and lack of transportation. One of the group members stated when she was seeking assistance with DSHS, she was told to sell her car to make ends meet. So now she struggles with having to transport herself and her children on the bus, making several bus changes to get to her appointments. “It seems sometimes people working in social services programs are apathetic, just doing a job. It appears they are very judgmental towards folks enduring hardships. I’m often asked, ‘Why are you not willing to work?’, without inquiring about my circumstances. For instance, I am disabled and have disabled children who have special needs. With so many challenges, it is very difficult to rise out of your circumstances.”

One woman added, “In dysfunctional homes, life skills are not taught because your parent or guardian does not have these skills, skills such financial skills, establishing credit, etc. Thus the cycle of dysfunction continues because these resources are not available to you or are unknown.”

Another woman commented, “There are not services that help with treating anxiety, panic attacks, or depression before crisis mode happens, such as suicide, violence, drugs. There is also a strong stigma about seeking mental health treatment.”

On how race and culture have affected their feelings about parenting
The feeling of being judged or labeled is strong. One woman shared that she feels that it was expected that an African American woman is just going to spank her children and not care to try to make their lives better.

One woman shared that because her children are the minority, she has to push them to be their best in school just to be able to compete. “My children have less benefits and privileges as others, so they have to work extra hard just to make it.” She said she has to work hard to advocate for her children to not allow them to be labeled. These moms have to work extra hard to advocate for themselves which may come across as combative–they are often misunderstood.

On race and culture and depression and anxiety
“It contributes to it!” one mom shared. She told about a time she was shopping at a grocery store and was asked by three different employees if she needed some help. It finally dawned on her that they must be afraid she was going to steal something. At the register she was immediately asked to show her ID. Prejudice and perceptions of being judged are strong, which make it difficult to reach out for help for fear of being looked down upon.

On what keeps them coming to the support group
“Ms. Linda [group facilitator]! She represents the group well. She is very passionate about our group. She is loving and warm. Linda is honest with you and helps you see alternatives. She listens and makes sure she understands what you are saying. She says, ‘What I hear you saying is…’ She is tactful. She is empowering. She connects naturally with people.

On recommendations for other moms who are struggling
The group unanimously stated, “reach out to a group.” One woman stated that if she misses group she feels incomplete. This group of women is so strong and supportive of each other. When one shared a challenge she was having, other women encouraged and offer her suggestions.

If you’ve been thinking about attending a support group, PS-WA has a lot of options listed on our website: http://perinatalsupport.org/for-parents/supportgroups/ .

Balance After Birth for Women of Color meets every Thursday from 10-11:30am at St. Clare WIC Clinic Bridgeport Center, 11216 Bridgeport Way SW, Tacoma, WA 98499.