In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrity influencer and mom Tanika Ray reveals how childhood trauma held her back—and how she’s breaking the cycle.
I don’t have physical scars, but the emotional neglect I experienced as a child weaves itself into every decision I make, and many of my own parenting mistakes come right out of that messy childhood trauma. As an intentional mom, I’m determined to dismantle this pain, start the healing process, and move forward with different decisions.
Unearthing buried trauma
I spent years dealing with addictions, bad relationships, and body image issues, but I failed to dig down to the root of my pain. Only recently did I discover that each of these issues stemmed from my own mother’s emotional neglect. I’m still in the beginning stages of healing, but solving this mystery has finally set me on the right path.
We all have a primal hunger for our mother’s love and nurturing. You cannot overstate the power of our role as moms. From the earliest days, our kids have been watching us. As they grow up, they’re learning how we react to every situation.
Once we understand the importance of our role, we can be intentional with every move we make. It doesn’t mean that we will always get it right, but it does mean that when we make a mistake, we apologize and figure out why we got it wrong.
When we’re on autopilot, we react to our kids in the same way our moms reacted to us all those years ago. When we’re brave enough to confront that pain, we open ourselves up to learning another way.
Mother’s Day began a healing process
I’ve always played the role of the dutiful daughter, spending every Mother’s Day with my mom. This year, I spent Mother’s Day at the beach with my best friend and our kids. Instead of playing my usual role—biting my tongue and walking away—I opened the door to tell my truth.
My parents reacted in a way I never could have expected. They called and texted with words of affirmation. To a grown woman who had gone through a lifetime without hearing those words, they sounded foreign.
I thanked my parents and asked for time to process this change. I haven’t reached the point of full forgiveness. I know it’s there. There’s a desire, but there’s still so much pain to work through. My mom can’t work through that pain for me. The only person who can do that is me.
Breaking the cycle of trauma with words of affirmation
I was terrified to have a baby. I had no idea how to become the mother I wanted to be. When I was seven months pregnant, I turned on the television to see Oprah talking with Dr. Shefali Tsabury, the author of The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. It turns out that was the inspiration and guidance I needed; she showed me how to be a mother who respects her child.
Society conditions us to believe our kids don’t know what they’re talking about. But when I was a child, I knew what I was talking about. The fact that nobody listened to me affected my competence, bravery, and willingness to put myself out there.
Everyone around us is so quick to correct us, devalue us, and tell us we’re wrong. My daughter will face that in the world, so at home, she will be told how amazing she is. Parents: we have to speak up. We have to tell our kids they just created the most beautiful drawing we’ve ever seen. These words of affirmation build them up and make them brave.
When we break a kid’s spirit, they no longer dare to dream. They do only what everyone else is doing — they stay small. I knew I wanted to raise a bold, confident, and self-assured kid. I wanted to allow my daughter to inform me about the person she was.
If we are brave enough, we will stop treating our kids like possessions. We will not tell them what clothes to wear, what sports to play, what foods to eat. That control takes away their identities. They are left wearing the masks we place on them. They are lost to themselves and left to deal with the trauma.
Moving forward with what matters
When I was preparing to give birth, I spent a lot of time sorting out the parenting values that were mine, and which were the values that I inherited from my mother. I was determined to discover the things I wanted to keep and the things I wanted to throw away. I loved the way my mom made me breakfast in the morning, but I hated how she disregarded my opinions. I made a list of the things I would carry into the next generation and the things I would work to discard.
My mom is shifting in her beliefs because of the independent spirit she sees in my little girl. My daughter is the most extraordinary child. She’s full of light. She walks into my parents’ house giggling, loving, and hugging everybody. When she says, “Grammy, I love you so much!” those words have to send my mom back to me as a little girl. By watching my daughter walk through the world, my mom is experiencing a different way of mothering.
Initially, I wanted to right all the wrongs in my own youth by raising my child. I find instead that being an intentional mom is a daily process. I self-correct as I go. Raising kids is complicated, but I make sure to check in on the relationship I have with mine every day.
Tanika Ray is a Spelman graduate and renowned as a television personality, entertainment journalist, and pop culture specialist. She is the host of the new mom-centric podcast, Mamaste. Ray has also developed her community of 99,000 on Instagram. She has worked with NBC, CW, HGTV, LIFETIME, TLC, BET, TVOne and hosted for shows OWN’s Ready To Love and Ladies Who List, HGTV’s Design Star, and CW’s OhSit game show.
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