Disclaimer: Zero research went into this piece (except for watching decades and decades of Native boys growing up under incredibly loving Native moms). Indeed, absolutely nothing that I write below is backed up or verified by science, just observation, and an inspirational conversation in Santa Fe.
Native women and Native men have, like the vast majority of America, serious, serious problems living with each other (as evidenced by the fact that divorce rates in America are now down to 45%). As I get older and examine my own life, and also am graciously invited to share in other lives, I’m beginning to realize that the problems between Native women and men begin in adolescence or childhood. Heck, infancy.
Really, really, young.
See, a LOT of those Native female/male problems comes down to this: Native boys and men expect wayyyy too much from Native mothers. We never truly grow up in that regard—we get used to mom always cleaning up our messes for us. As young boys, we get used to moms always using their Magical Mama Spit™ to slick our wind-blown hair back behind our ears and we get used to their Magic Mama Breath™ blowing the eyelash out of our eyes. Except that as we grow older, the Magic Mama Spit™ turns into dollars (that mom really doesn’t have) that bail us out of bad situations and the Magic Mama Breath™ becomes excuses that magically makes us feel better about the childish decisions that we continue to make.
Mama continues to be there for us. She continues to be our superwoman. Her Superspit™ and Superbreath™ always makes us feel better.
Even in adulthood.
Still… -sigh- …superwoman is not realistic. Superwoman is not sustainable. Superwoman kills moms and also kills relationships and…well, we’ll get to that soon. But in the meantime, suffice to say that Mothers, Native and non-Native, are not superwomen. Yes, Native mothers seem to have a superhuman amount of love to give (largely as a result, oddly, of the historical trauma and peculiar persecution that Native women have endured; indeed, it seems like individuals that continue to give love when love seemed utterly pointless, futile and even dangerous to give have a special capacity to love), but that does not make them “superwomen.”
Therefore, in honor of Mother’s Day and hopefully to start a conversation of reconciliation with our mothers (and girlfriends and wives), I offer this piece to suggest giving moms a little rest from having to play the superwoman. I offer this piece as an idea for mama’s boys—just like me—to love Native moms slightly better. With absolute love and admiration and respect I offer this thought: we need to stop the superwoman and let her just be a woman.
Let’s be clear: all of us have some accountability in the Native Superwoman Complex. It’s a vicious cycle, complex and deep. Still, some bear more responsibility than others.
Native men contribute greatly to the superwoman complex by being absent in disproportionate numbers, leaving the parenting burden to fall into the mother’s lap. We further contribute to the superwomen complex by being unemployed in disproportionate numbers, leaving the financial burden to fall into the mother’s lap. When it’s all said and done, Native men have a great obligation to change this because we cause a great deal of the harm, yet we definitely cannot do it alone because Native women also hold power and investment in the superwoman complex. Indeed, even regarding Native men’s lack of financial support, it is deep as many of our communities simply do not enough job opportunities and so contributing financially is difficult. This is not an excuse—we’re trying to be constructive, so no excuses are necessary because no one is judging. It’s just a fact.
Native Communities contribute because non-parental men are loathe to step up and act as the proxy parent for those little Native boys running around. This is endemic within our communities—now, it’s actually become a thing to ridicule, when someone is raising another man’s biological child. There are few Tribes with programs in place to mentor the children (male AND female, although I’m focusing on male) of single mothers. In past times and in many communities, when the father was absent from the child’s life (perhaps he fell in battle or disease), an uncle or other close relation was expected to step up as the father figure. Now, there is no real protocol and as a result nobody knows whose responsibility the child is (except blaming the single mother).
Native Mothers contribute by doing the most humane and logical thing that they can do—trying to be the mother, the father and the supportive Native community all at once. It makes sense—who else is going to raise the child? Moreover, there tends to be this sense of guilt; the dad made the choice to leave and the mother inexplicably feels that it was her fault that he left, as if she should have simply endured more. Therefore, Native moms tend to ostensibly say, “Since dad is gone and there is no male role model, I will have lower expectations for my son because he had nobody to teach him…” Mom tends to handle the son with kid gloves, so that the son doesn’t feel compelled to leave the same way that his father did. The mother serves the boy hand and foot, as she would the man of the house if he were around, and this odd emotional incest happens that makes the boy dependent on the mom. The excuse-making begins, and the superwoman cape goes on.
Native Boys contribute because we simply soak up the strangely incestuous love and never inquire why we get preferential treatment over our sisters and girls within the community. We’re doing the most logical things in the world—enjoying privilege—why would we question it?? It’s like white privilege—folks usually only question preferential treatment when they’re getting the short end of the stick. Finally, we contribute as we grow older by expecting our significant others to act like just our mothers—doing everything for us, laundry, cooking, cleaning, changing the baby’s diapers, etc. When the significant other doesn’t behave like a domestic servant, we end our relationships unceremoniously because our girlfriends/wives/main squeezes are not superwoman (and/or have no interest in being superwoman). When that happens, we say “She has no home training.” The truth is, she has no interest in being our mom. We have been effectively infantilized and we did nothing to change it.
Obviously, there are exceptions to these so-called rules. Whether these categories hold up absolutely, however, is beside the point. The point is that Moms simply deserve better. They deserve better than having an absentee partner that expects the woman to do everything for them, and they deserve better than for history to repeat itself when the child begins expecting the mom to do everything for them. They deserve better than to feel guilt when a man decides that he isn’t mature enough or capable of being a good and loving father. Ladies, please say it with me one time, “It’s not my fault that my child’s father was not mature enough and/or loving enough to stick around and be the loving father that my child deserves.”
It’s not your fault. Yet, in order to fix this, it’s going to take some teamwork, some faith, and some very tough love.
We need teamwork because, at the end of the day, we are all in this together. Native women, Native men, Native children and Native communities must succeed together—and we will only straighten this out if we work together.
It’s also going to take a couple of generations—it’s a cycle. We’ve got to weed out all of us spoiled mamas boys who breastfed till we were 8 and are used to superwoman moms—it’s going to take awhile. But like most great things within our communities, it’s going to start with the women. The superwomen complex will begin its demise when Native women decide that they are going to hold us Native men to our end of the bargain—both fatherhood, and boys as well—and that they will no longer don their capes in order to make excuses for the man’s failings. Stop covering for them-this process requires PAINFUL honesty. “No baby, your dad just didn’t see you this weekend simply because he didn’t make time for you. I’m sorry that’s the way it is, but that’s the way it is. I still expect you to clean up your room and take out the trash.”
You ladies have been doing the job of an entire village since you became mothers.
That’s not your job. You are not superwoman; you are incredible mothers that deserve a rest sometimes. Put your cape away—enjoy your day.
Happy Mother’s Day. Love you.
Blackfeet Nation Enrolled/Suquamish Nation Immersed