Whether she’s raising a brood of five on her own, parenting from a war zone, earning her diploma and homeschooling or caring for little ones with special needs, no one’s more resilient, resourceful or radiant than an African-American mom. In their own words, seven extraordinary women share their passion for parenting.
Interviews by Claire McIntosh with Rod McCollum
The Multiples Mom
“Raising triplets is challenging. But I have a system and lots of help.”
Notoya Green, 36 | stay-at-home-mom/blogger | New York City Children: David, Eva and Samuel, 19 months
Before becoming a mother, I worked full time as a practicing attorney. My husband and I went to law school together, started a business together, and now we have triplets. Our babies were born prematurely, so sometimes I get stressed about whether they will meet all their developmental milestones. Thankfully, they have so far! My kids are pretty smart.
Making the transition to being home with my kids was difficult. I work grueling hours (much more grueling than my attorney days), except now my work conversations are about burps, poopy diapers and Gymbo the Clown. My blog, tripletsintribeca, gives me an outlet. It allows me to carve out a part of my world that is just for me.
Raising triplets can be challenging. I’m a great mom, but I am just one person with one pair of arms, and it is physically impossible to take care of three babies at once—especially when all three are crying at the same time.
I depend on a lot of people. I have to. My family lives in New York City. My mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and sister help out in a big way. I also have one full-time nanny and one part-time nanny, as well as a full-time housekeeper, which makes me very lucky.
It literally takes a team to get us out the door. It would be much easier to stay home; but I sign them up for every toddler program I can find because I know it’s important for their development. These classes also don’t come cheap, but I’ll do whatever it takes to make my kids more successful in school and in life. I usually have at least one other person with me—sometimes two, if we go to Mommy and Me.
Sometimes, none of my helpers shows up on a given day for whatever reason, and I have to get through it alone, from feedings to bath time. It can be tough. Recently, the triplets all got sick at the same time, and it was so stressful. It also took longer to nurse them to wellness because they share the same toys and pass germs back and forth. I belong to a group for mothers of multiples, and it has helped a lot to spend time with others who know what it’s like.
The best support anyone can offer a parent like me is to offer to pick up groceries at Whole Foods or to go to Babies “R” Us to get something we need.
Most people assume I never sleep, but I’ve got a system: I’ve trained my kids to sleep through the night and at certain times during the day. It makes a huge difference.
What amazes me most about my children is how different they are from each other, even though they are triplets, and how different my relationship with each of them is.
Last Mother’s Day, I got an entire day off while my husband and others took care of the babies. I went shopping in SoHo, got a manicure and had dinner at a favorite restaurant. But now that they’re talking, the best gift of all is hearing my three call me “Mama.” That is music to my ears!
The Single Mom
“There seems to be more of a stigma for African-American single mothers.”
Tiffany Fitzgerald, 39 government relations coordinator
Davenport, Iowa | Children: Nailah, 18; Eric, 15; and Maya, 14
One year, my kids made me handmade cards on Father’s Day. I knew they understood what I am trying to do: be everything for them.
There seems to be more of a stigma associated with being an African-American single mother. I think people don’t believe any of us actually marry our children’s father. I also think people believe that we have children by several different “baby daddies” and that we got knocked up at 15.
I married young—at 21—and didn’t take the time to really understand what marriage was and what kind of man I really wanted in my life forever. As I grew as a person and began to develop a stronger sense of self-worth, I filed for divorce. I thought about the type of role model I wanted my son to have, and the example of a husband I wanted my daughters to have.
It amazes me that my children understand so much about my life and still trust me. I have been very honest with them about the mistakes I have made.
My son will tell me that he doesn’t want something because he doesn’t want me to spend money. I am so thankful they trust that I am going to take care of them, even though they understand our financial situation.
Last year was a big year for my oldest. She was inducted into two national honor societies and has been accepted into three of the five top universities she applied to. We are still waiting to hear from the last two. I am a very proud mom.
I can’t stop being a mother when my job gets tough. I work with local, state and federal-elected officials to discuss, educate and lobby for legislation that helps my organization better serve its patients. Recently, I was working on a project that would mean millions in revenue for my employer. During long hours and many weekends of research and writing, I explained to my children what I was working on and told them they could help me by doing what they know they need to do, plus a little extra. There was a time I was close to tears at work, but I pulled through it.
I hope to serve as an example to my kids. I tell them that we don’t have the optimal situation, but we do have a responsibility to each other to make it the best situation we can. One of the things we do together as a family is to volunteer. We’ve done citywide cleanups; filled sandbags during a hurricane; engaged in service projects in the classroom. I also serve on several committees and councils dealing with education, literacy and homeless services.
Sometimes all I need is a soft place to fall. Not even just “me” time, but a time to be able to vent, cry or scream. I want to be able to say I am afraid, worried or stressed—without judgment or finger pointing and head shaking.
In the beginning, I didn’t date much at all, and when I did, my children didn’t meet anyone [I dated]. I became good friends with a wonderful man. We are now dating seriously. It’s a long-distance relationship, so we’ve been able to take things slowly, and I don’t have to deal with him or the kids competing for my time. It’s good so far.
The Military Mom
“I can’t be there all the time—but that doesn’t make me a bad parent.”
Capt. Estacy Porter, 34 | Army public health nurse Fort Benning, Ga. | Children: Zion, 12; Hezekia, 9; Nina, 2; and Zipporah, 9 months
I was born and raised in the Bronx. I love my hometown, but I’ve known since age 12 that I wouldn’t make a life there. I got accepted to a few colleges in my senior year of high school, but I was intrigued by the opportunities the Army offered. It was also the quickest way out of New York City. I had planned to stay three years; I’ve served for almost 17. The longer I serve, the prouder I become of this organization.
I am in training in San Antonio, while my husband, Demarlo, is serving in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor. We have a great support system that helps keep our family strong. To maintain stability, the kids remained in Georgia. So we have my husband’s grandmother and aunt, plus my mother, rotating and staying with the kids. My husband’s aunt took full responsibility without hesitation and has moved in with the kids for a couple of months until we both finish our commitments. I always make sure to have a backup for the backup for the backup.
Mothers are nurturers. When illness or anything happens to our children, we want to be there. I can’t be there all the time—but that doesn’t make me a bad parent. I have learned that it isn’t necessarily about the quantity of time, but the quality.
My toughest moment as a military mom was being stationed in Korea. During that time, North Korea attacked South Korea, but I was stationed farther south from the attack, promoting disease prevention among soldiers. I arrived a day before Nina’s first birthday in September 2010. Two days later, I learned I was pregnant with Zipporah. My second son had recently been diagnosed with anxiety. Demarlo was in Iraq. I wanted to have my stomach rubbed or show him when the baby kicked. I was not to be reassigned Stateside during the pregnancy and would have to give birth without any family present. In spite of these factors, I had to remain strong. My husband has been able to witness the birth of only one of our four children.
When we found out we were having a girl, I called Demarlo at 3 a.m. (Korea is 14 hours ahead) and had him go on Skype to see the ultrasound. On the day of her birth, I had one of my co-workers call Afghanistan, and my husband immediately called my cell phone. My happiest moment was when Demarlo brought the kids to Korea to visit their newborn sister and me. I got back to the States in July.
There are those who think we military moms don’t care or don’t have our priorities straight: “How can you do it? How can you leave your kids?” Some people think it’s easy, but it does get hard maintaining the balance of family and work.
My love for my children is deep. I am willing to sacrifice all for them so that they may have a wonderful life. I love the fact that they share their most intimate fears, struggles and joys with me. When I’ve had a rough day, they know to grab my hand and pray for me.
The kids have learned early how to adapt to change. We move every three years or so. When I came back from Korea, I had to prepare Zion and Hezekia to move to another school. At first they were apprehensive because they were leaving their friends, but they have adjusted well.
Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I hope that the values and beliefs that I have instilled in them will carry them throughout their lives. I will know that despite whatever struggles they face, determination, perseverance and passion will push them to keep moving forward.
I am so looking forward to Mother’s Day this year because I will have the wonderful
opportunity to spend it with all four of my children—together!
The Stay-at-Home Mom
“Black moms who homeschool are in the minority.”
Sabrina Priest, 31 | accounting student/owner, bellisimababybags.com | Fredericksburg, Va. Children: Xavier, 10; Dorian, 8; and Brianna, 6
The big myth about being a stay-at-home mother is that we are supposed to have a sparkling clean house, dinner at the same time every night and all the time in the world. Well, it can be quite chaotic at times. I have laundry to do, appointments, activities, college courses, the demands of running a small business—and the list goes on.
I made this choice out of necessity. At age 4, our oldest son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum and also with Attention Deficit Disorder. I was working full time, but doctor’s visits and therapies for him became more important than my job . My husband, Paul, and I decided I should quit. To adjust to one income, we moved to a less-costly town.
Xavier did great in a head start program, but when he started first grade, I didn’t feel he was getting the proper support despite having an individualized education program. In 2009, after much stress with public school administrators, I decided to take my son’s education—and that of his siblings—into my own hands.
Since I’ve been homeschooling them, I’ve been in a unique position to see my children grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. We talk freely and are very honest with each other. My special-needs son has finished all his therapies and continues to progress.
Not having to abide by someone else’s schedule is truly liberating, but maintaining one of my own has been a work in progress. I try to enforce a daily schedule for learning, field trips, co-op groups, music lessons and other activities to infuse structure and routine into Xavier’s, Dorian’s and Brianna’s days.
Homeschooling in the Black community is an interesting dynamic. Moms like me are a minority—even among those who stay at home. I’m proud to be a member of a national nonprofit for stay-at-home-moms of color, Mocha Moms, Inc., in which I’ve found other mothers to whom I can relate. I enjoy moms’ nights out with fellow Mochas for dinner, seeing a movie or having a potluck.
It wasn’t until I became a mother that I truly understood what a blessing is. I have experienced every emotion known through my kids. I love when they disagree about something but a little while later are running around playing or cuddled up on the couch reading or watching television together. They are adjusting well, especially our oldest. Sometimes, none of us feels like a lesson, but we will learn something new through a video or field trip.
I don’t have a parenting manual. But if my kids grow to become adults who have a sense of self and of responsibility, who understand their purpose in life, who respect others even when they disagree, and who replace the words “can’t” or “don’t know” with “I’m going to figure it out,” then I will have succeeded.
The Urban Mom
“My kids have grown closer to me through the hard times.”
Dana Rankin, 46 | ordained minister/owner of exhaletoexceljewelry.com | Kansas City, Mo. | Children: Darnell, 30; Seani, 17; Serenity, 11; Elijah, 12; and Josiah, 9
One misconception folks have about kids who are raised in the ’hood is that they have no home training. When we go to more affluent neighborhoods, and even when we visit some churches, people just assume that my children have no manners and are uneducated. But my kids do not have rough edges. Just the other day, Josiah was in a store with me and he mispronounced a word. He said, “Mom, that word sounded like something else. Did I just cuss? Because I do not want to. I want to be obedient.” I had to smile. Serenity has a gift for writing; she entered an essay into a contest and won us a brand-new Saturn SL1!
Our zip code has been called the most dangerous in Kansas City. This concerns me as a single parent. Random shootings keep me up at night; I’ve called the police three times about nearby gunfire. We have a spacious fenced-in yard that my children never play in for fear they will get hit by a stray bullet. In fact, there is a bullet hole in our living room window now. I’m concerned about drugs also. My kids can’t ride the Metro bus without being sickened by the smell of marijuana, and sometimes I see drug dealers by our driveway. Neighbors often call the police anonymously to get them off the block.
My son Elijah loves hip-hop. He likes to imitate behavior. He thinks it is cool to go to jail like some of the rappers have done, and I want to make sure he associates himself with the right crowd rather than the wrong one.
I’d love to see moms in this community support each other emotionally and look out for one another more.
Last year was especially tough. In the past, I was in an abusive relationship. My abuser located us, and we had to move into another domestic violence shelter. My children are tight-knit. They have been through much adversity but still are very loving. They have grown closer to me through the hard times.
My most meaningful Mother’s Day was when the kids saved up and bought me a ring with a rose on it and made me handmade cards. They told me they loved me, and Serenity said, ‘Mom you have strong faith.’ My kids are such a blessing.
The Gay Mom
“She calls us both ‘Mom.”
Renee Perrier, 42 | social worker/child protective services supervisor Washington, D.C | Child: Amaris, 3
I began a relationship with my partner, Karen, six years ago, and it was a gift that she also wanted a family. That desire eventually led us to a fertility clinic, an anonymous donor and my becoming inseminated. My first Mother’s Day was so special. It was great to receive congratulations and cards because my dream of motherhood had finally come true. I love children and the gift that they bring to the world.
Amaris makes me smile every day. She’s such an incredible child. She grabs my face and says, ‘I love you hard!’ What amazes me the most about our relationship is the overwhelming love. I see her walking around, and I just adore her. My happiest moments as a parent over the last year have been watching Amaris grow.
She calls us both “Mom.” That was a decision that Karen and I made during pregnancy.
The biggest misconception about gays or lesbians raising children is that we are somehow different. Karen and I go to work, come home and pay our mortgage, like any other couple. I just choose to spend my life with a woman. What are people afraid of? If you walk past us, you wouldn’t be afraid.
Children have endless energy. My toughest parenting moments are usually when I’m tired. Karen is my anchor. When I’m exhausted, she will say, “Take a time out. I got this.” I appreciate that. Karen and I both work in children’s social services. We balance work and family by juggling tasks. We have a routine and always communicate if we can’t stick to it.
What keeps me up at night? I work in child protective services, and what I see every day—the horror, the abuse—sometimes makes me worry about Amaris. But when I watch my baby—her language and confidence, her diverse friends—then I feel that I’ve succeeded so far as a parent.
If we need help or support, we reach to our “village”—Amaris’ godmother or godfather or a neighborhood friend. Neighbors usually help with information, such as which schools are better. They also offer moral support. I told one neighbor that Karen and I are to be married on June 16. There were so many well wishes from all the neighbors. It was overwhelming!
The Mom of Special-Needs Children
“I want my boys to have the same opportunities as everyone else’s children.”
Shae Freeman, 29 | full-time student | Tempe, Ariz. Children: DeVion, 11; Donovan, 7; and David-Anthony, 4
I was a young mother—pregnant at 17—but I took care of my health and had phenomenal prenatal care. My oldest son’s rare medical condition isn’t due to anything I did or didn’t do. He has a chromosomal defect. My middle son showed signs of autism early on but was not diagnosed until after he started kindergarten. My youngest child is perfectly healthy, and I didn’t do anything different with my last pregnancy.
Once I learned that something was wrong with my first pregnancy, I got busy finding out what my baby was facing. He would end up being diagnosed only after years of my fighting to have him seen by the best doctors, doing research, joining support groups and educating myself on what he would need to survive. My firstborn arrived a month after I turned 18, and by the time I was 19, I had earned others’ respect as an advocate [mom who was] educated about my child’s condition.
DeVion has Klippel Trenaunay syndrome, a rare disorder affecting the lymphatic and vascular systems, which causes soft tissue and muscle overgrowth, internal organ overgrowth, bone overgrowth or undergrowth, bleeding disorders and vascular birthmarks. His right middle finger is enlarged; he’s had his left arm below the elbow amputated in one of nine surgeries. He’s not currently able to wear a prosthesis, so he uses his right hand and his left foot for a lot of things. He plays video games with his toes—and he’s really good!
My children make me smile. The three are supportive and loving, and they help each other, such as when DeVion needs assistance, or when my autistic middle son, Donovan, becomes overwhelmed and has a crying episode. If I am ill, DeVion takes care of the home.
I was determined not to become a statistic and reflect all the reasons why teens should not become mothers. I finished high school and attended college to study nursing, but I fell in love with emergency medicine and became certified as an EMT. I’ve kept my GPA above 3.7 and will complete my associate’s degree and paramedic certification in a few weeks!
My kids are my little heroes. Without them, I don’t think I would have found my passion in medicine or really understood the importance of advocacy and fighting for what’s right.
I have had discussions with all three of my boys about calling 911 and what to do should one of them, or I, become ill. Well, DeVion had a bad morning on which he began to show signs of severe blood loss, so I had to call 911. I woke Donovan, and he and David-Anthony went into action, grabbing their clothes. My middle son called their dad—I’m a single mom—and my youngest looked out the window to let me know when the fire truck arrived. It wasn’t until later that evening that I realized just how seamlessly they did their tasks. I felt so proud of them.
I have my moments when no one is looking, and I break down and cry—not from being overwhelmed, but out of concern and fear: fear for my oldest and his health and concern for how they’ll fare as they become men. I want my boys to have the same opportunities as everyone else’s children as they become adults. But the reality is that things are going to be different for my oldest two.
I have very strong, intelligent young men. My mother and I taught them using an online/homeschooling program for a while, but they will transition into public school soon. We have a beautiful connection, and I thank God every day to be blessed with such wonderful children!
Real-Life Resources for Moms
> Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom by Kristin van Ogtrop (Little, Brown and Company).
Wit and wisdom from the editor of Real Simple
> Balance Is a Crock, Sleep Is for the Weak: An Indispensable Guide to Surviving Working Motherhood by Amy Eschliman and Leigh Oshirak (Avery Trade)
Survival guide with a funny side
Time-saving tips, at work and at home
Raising Safe Kids
> National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org; 1-800-799-SAFE)
> ACT for Strong Families (actagainstviolence.apa.org)
Program mission “to mobilize communities and educate families to create safe, nurturing, healthy environments that protect children and youth from violence and its consequences”
> The Black Book for Single Moms: 30 Days of Inspiration by Alana D. C. Fenton (CreateSpace)
Finding grace one day at a time
Smart advice on careers, relationships, finances
> RaisingHim Alone.com
Empowerment activities, resources, expert advice for women raising sons
> Girl, Get That Child Support by Cathy Middleton, Esq. (Smart Mom Publishing)
Track down a deadbeat, prove paternity, increase your current award
Articles on how to afford staying home, beating stress and what to do if you miss your old job. Plus: Cost of raising a child calculator
> Mocha Moms, Inc. (mochamoms.org)
Support group for mothers of color who have chosen not to work full time outside of the home
Getting-started guide, curriculum reviews, local resources
> K12 (go.k12.com)
Online courses for purchase
> The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends, and Female Service Members by Kimberly Seals-Allers, Pamela M. McBride (HarperCollins)
The ultimate guide to life, love and logistics
> National Military Family Association (militaryfamily.org)
The Operation Purple program runs camps for children and teens, family retreats at national parks, and camps geared to the needs of children and families of America’s wounded service members.
Acclaimed blog by lesbian mother features parenting tips, book reviews, news about LGBT families, plus political and legal news and commentary.
> GayParent Mag.com
Magazine (print or digital download) covers adoption and fertility info, wedding planning, summer camps and family travel
> A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples (Nolo) by Attorneys Dennis Clifford, Frederick Hertz and Emily Doskow
Understand the practical and legal aspects of having and raising children
Moms of Special-Needs Children
> Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children by Gina Gallagher and Patricia Konjoian (Three Rivers Press)
Sanity-saving advice from two sisters who’ve been there
> Married with Special-Needs Children: A Couples’ Guide to Keeping Connected
by Laura E. Marshak, Ph.D., and Fran P. Prezant, M.Ed., CCC-SLP (Woodbine House)
Award-winning guide to keeping close and coping
> Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime Approach to Help Children Relate, Communicate, and Think by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., and Serena Wieder, Ph.D. (Da Capo Lifelong Books)
Parent-tested and approved advice