Daughterhood can be so heavy, but I have found that being honest about the hard things can make the load somewhat lighter.

-Sherronda J. Brown

Living Single began streaming on Hulu at the beginning of this year, but I have only recently had the chance to start re-watching the 90s sitcom.

Throughout the show’s five seasons, I identified with each of the main characters at various moments, but there was only one episode where I was able to find any common ground with the snooty Regine: S1, E26 “She Ain’t Heavy, She My Mother.”

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In the episode, Khadijah’s mom, Rita, brings Regine’s mom, Laverne, to the apartment for a surprise Mother’s Day weekend visit.

Laverne is an invasive, controlling and concern-trolling mom. She over-shares her daughter’s business, invades her privacy and riffles through her things. She violates her daughter’s boundaries and disregards her wishes.

It becomes clear that Regine’s lifestyle, aesthetic, and often abrasive personality have been built around her eternal desire to defy her self-centered, guilt-tripping, gas-lighting mother.

All of the tension in the episode comes to a head when the women go to the spa and Laverne begins to comment on Regine’s life. She starts with a familiar question, but Regine knows what’s coming. She has heard and answered and dodged this question a million times. From across the room, she interrupts: “No, mom! There is no man in my life.”

“Well, we’re not getting any younger,” Laverne continues. “Girl, when you gonna get married and put some beans in that oven?… I was talking to Kyle this morning about your situation… I wanted a man’s opinion on what you’re doing wrong.”

Embarrassed and enraged, and rightfully so, Regine’s body shakes as she expresses her disappointment. She feels betrayed and belittled and disregarded, but Laverne accuses her daughter of overreacting rather than examining her own actions.

“A little respect would be nice. I am the only mother you’ve got.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice, now did I?”

Laverne storms out of the room. She is the one who has been hurt. Her daughter is mean—always has been. She’s going some other place where the people will be nice to her.

Later, as the women sit and discuss daughterhood in the apartment, Sinclaire says, “Fighting with your mother is pointless. You can’t say how you really feel.”

“As bad as I feel now, she’ll find a way to make me feel worse,” Regine replies, and that’s exactly what Laverne does. When confronted about how she has disrespected her daughter’s privacy, she calls Regine “a spoiled, disrespectful child” and runs from the room again, this time in tears.

Even though the two are back on speaking terms and laughing together by the end of the episode, there is still no accountability on Laverne’s part. They settle back into their strained relationship, accepting it as normality, and even take a joint dig at Khadijah and Rita for their genuinely loving relationship.

“Look at you,” Regine chuckles. “You act like mothers and daughters are supposed to be best friends.”

Watching this had me in my feelings about how many of us Black daughters are walking around with wounds because of the moments in which we were not mothered well.

Unfortunately, many recreate these same types of traumas with each new generation of daughters. Black girls, and those assumed to be girls, are often gas-lighted, shamed, silenced, and pressured to adopt the heteropatriarchal model in which women are apparently meant to exist as nothing more than someone’s wife and mother.

“She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother” had me all the way in my feelings because, damn, an emotionally abusive mother is heavy. She’s heavy as fuck. And daughterhood—this shit is heavy, too, and we need to be honest about it.

Not being able to say how you really feel, and having the person who hurt you make you feel even worse when you try to discuss your feelings should not be anyone’s “normal.” Someone refusing to admit they wronged you and not apologize for it should not be anyone’s “normal.” And yet, it is.

These experiences become a benchmark for how relationships are supposed to look, and if we do not challenge it, we wind up like Regine and Laverne who see a healthy mother-daughter relationship as wholly alien and even insulting.

We need to be honest about how emotional damage during our formative years can and does contribute to our level of emotional intelligence, and impacts our ability to maintain healthy relationships throughout our lives.

When these things are done to us by friends and lovers, we are more willing to name them as abusive and traumatizing, but it seems to be much harder with our mothers.

We need to be honest about how racialized, gendered, and patriarchal expectations shape our experiences as the daughters of Black mothers who likely had the same one-liners thrown at them in their younger years.

Lectures about how to compose yourself as a future wife and mother. Don’t be too aggressive, too fat, too masculine, too intimidating. Let a man lead you, he is the head of the household. Black men go through enough, it is our duty to support them.

I know it is difficult to go up against accepted rhetoric and ideology which construct Black mothers as infallible idols and caretakers, but we need to, when the circumstances call for it. We can’t let tradition or fear set the tone of the conversation for us, because being honest about the many traumas of daughterhood and naming them for what they are is how we can begin to find ways to heal from them

We need to be honest about the fact that a whole host of us are telling a lie when we say, “I turned out fine.”

How fitting that I would be writing this in my childhood bedroom while “home” to celebrate Mother’s Day. How appropriate that the words for this essay would come to me just after my mom and I argued and she accused me of laziness, which she has often done in the moments when I do not perform daughterhood to her liking.

Lazy is what I was called as a pre-teen and teenager when I was unable to move as quickly as she wanted me to while completing chores, when I was actually working through the fatigue that came with my undiagnosed depression and anxiety.

Lazy is what I was called when I struggled with math in school, when in reality I very likely have a learning disability that still affects me as an adult.

Lazy is what I was called when I put little to no effort into the exercise and dieting that she tried to force on me as a child, when the truth was that I didn’t hate my body. She did.

And lazy is what I am today, because my objectives, my priorities, and my work look different from hers.

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Mother’s Day is complicated for me, as it always is, but I have had far more clarity about my relationship with my mother since I have been able to admit that she was my first abuser.

Daughterhood can be so heavy, but I have found that being honest about the hard things can make the load somewhat lighter.

Mothers can do so much damage just by mothering us in the only way they know how. We need to learn new ways to mother.