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Self-care and motherhood: addressing the ‘leak in this old building’


By Coshandra Dillard

A friend and I were discussing an article about the invisible work of mothers and how it leaves some feeling exhausted and lifeless.
But we decided a long time ago not to be shamed into fitting into a very harmful class that celebrates being a supermom while ignoring our purpose in life.
The article laid out the dilemma simply: as mothers, we pour much of our energy into our children and partners before filling our own cup first. Sleep deprivation and stress-filled days are almost a given, as we are busy with feeding, clothing, cleaning, loving on, and educating, while also earning a paycheck away from home.
Somewhere in between, we’re supposed to enjoy a social life and be aesthetically pleasing to a patriarchal-minded society. Because, what nerve of a woman whose face isn’t beat and her body isn’t looking like a snack every day? (this is sarcasm, of course).
We’ve accepted that mothers should be a smiling, doting figure who nurtures endlessly without acknowledging her own needs, desires and vulnerabilities. We guilt women into feeling some type of way if she isn’t tireless, fierce, and virtuous every single day.
As I’ve written here, believing that women can be all to everyone before she’s been all to herself is quite dangerous, particularly for black women.

There is nothing wrong with praising our mothers, grandmothers, aunties and other elders who cooked around the clock, kept a clean house and reared respectful children. But it is wrong—and neglectful— to always assume they are fine and want for nothing.
Many black mothers are leaving this Earth, some early, due to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, and depression. They often were too busy being everyone’s caregiver, counselor and taxi.
Less articles are written about the efforts to detach women from this burden.
During our discussion of the aforementioned article, the gospel classic, “There’s a Leak In This Old Building,” was evoked in my friend’s mind. The song references the weakening of the physical body and a yearning for an escape to the afterlife.
We can connect the song to self-care, rather than its literal meaning. There is a brokenness in our bodies (our temple, or building) often brought on by stress and negligence. Now is definitely the time to make a change, or to move toward self-care.
The phrase self-care is a buzzword these days, but it is indeed necessary to thrive. (Notice, I said thrive rather than survive).
The key to escaping the incessant demands of motherhood that threatens to reduce us to mules, is to unapologetically create an environment in which we get to be a whole person first.

In the spirit of this topic, I created a YouTube playlist: For Black Moms Who Considered Liberating Themselves Because Nobody Else Will. I’ve broken down some of the best lyrics from these songs below into five categories: Be vulnerable, be spiritual, be encouraged, be unapologetic, and be a friend.

BE VULNERABLE. Because we get tired, sick, hurt, and depressed like everybody else. We over think, love too hard or not enough. We worry about the world we bring our children into. These songs are great examples of the complexities of black women who long to find their voice and purpose.

Pieces of Me by Ledisi.
Best lyrics: Like every woman I know/ I’m complicated for sho’/ But when I love I love ’til there’s no love no more/These are the pieces of me

Lost and Found by Ledisi
Best lyrics: Souls pass me by/Why can’t they see me here?/Touch me one time, just like magic I will reappear/Sadness like the rain, it showers over me/ I wanna feel again/Please someone find me

Weary by Solange
Best lyrics: Be leery ’bout your place in the world/You’re feeling like you’re chasing the world/You’re leaving not a trace in the world/But you’re facing the world

When I Wake Up by Jill Scott
Best lyrics: But when I wake up/everything I went through would be beautiful

Cranes In The Sky by Solange
Best lyrics: I ran my credit card up/Thought a new dress make it better/I tried to work it away/But that just made me even sadder/I tried to keep myself busy/I ran around circles/Think I made myself dizzy/ I slept it away/ I sexed it away/ I read it away.”

Fly Like A Bird by Mariah Carey
Best lyrics: Can we recover?/Will the world ever be a place of peace and harmony/with no war and with no brutality?/ If we loved each other we would find victory/ but in this harsh reality sometimes I’m so despondent that I feel the need to/fly like a bird

Be Happy by Mary J. Blige
Best lyrics: How can I love somebody else/ if I can’t love myself enough to know/ when it’s time, time to let go.

High by Ledisi
Best lyrics: I’ve been thinking ’bout time/I’ve been thinking ’bout space/I know I might sound crazy but I’m tryna get down in a real good space

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone
Best lyrics: Baby, you understand me now/ if sometimes you see that I’m mad/Don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel?/ When everything goes wrong you see some bad/ But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

BE SPIRITUAL. Whether you grew up in the church or are finding other ways to tap into your spirituality and become more mindful, these songs will feed that hunger. Black women, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, know how to be self-reflective.

Prepared by Jill Scott
Best lyrics: I been reading my old journals/ Checking to see where my head has been/And I been apologizing to some people, some bridges I needed to mend/And I been eating more greens, getting my body alkaline/Oh I’m gonna be super fine/And I been lettin’, lettin’ some old ideas go/I’m making room for my life to grow/I just wanna be prepared

Open My Heart by Yolanda Adams
Best lyrics: My hopes and dreams/ are fading fast/ I’m all burned out and I don’t think my strength’s gonna last/So I’m crying out/ crying out to you/Lord I know that you’re the only one who is able to pull me through

There’s a Leak in This Old Building
Best lyrics: There’s a leak in this old building and my soul (has got to move) … /I’ve got another building (a building not made by man’s hands)

Deja Vu by Teena Marie
Best lyrics: The soul feels like the universe/ It’s vast and never ends/ Stars to me are children/Babies are my friends/ God is like a galaxy, within my spirit flies/ Felt this way a million times/Please don’t ask me why

Higher Than This by Ledisi
Best lyrics: You gotta let go of your insecurity/Explore the passion in your possibilities/You will find love and no love can be higher than this

BE ENCOURAGED. Because sometimes you need someone to tell you it’ll be OK, that you’re beautiful, that you’re capable, or that you are enough.

Golden Days by Kem with Jill Scott
Best lines: Oh please, don’t fall in the abyss ’cause something negative once ruled you/Please! Understand I’m from where you are and I’ve got to fight my demons too/ Please! Don’t give up because somebody broke your heart or some things fell through/ This is life/You owe it/ Life does not owe you Okay!”

Do What You Gotta Do by Angie Stone
Best lyrics: No longer will I be afraid/I had step out and depend on faith/I wanted to give back what he gave to me/So, I opened up my mind, opened up my heart, and made a brand new start/I sang from my soul/passion kept me holding on

Work That by Mary J Blige
Best lyrics: Feelin’ great because the light’s on me/Celebrating the things that everyone told me/would never happen but God has put his hands on me/And ain’t a man alive could ever take it from me/Working with what I got, I gotta keep on/Taking care of myself, I wanna live long/Ain’t never ashamed what life did to me/Wasn’t afraid to change ’cause it was good for me

Masterpiece by Jazmine Sullivan
Best lyrics: Who is this I’ve tried so long to fight?/Filling my heads with lies that I’m not good enough/ Then I heard something in my ear tell me I’m perfect/Now that I know the truth/time to show and prove

BE UNAPOLOGETIC. Because dammit you are a work in progress and you love yourself anyway. Be bossy. Be smart. Be foul-mouthed. Be sophisticated. Be petty. Be ghetto. Be cool. Be extra. Be wild. Be modest. Be sexy. Be loud. Be shy. It doesn’t matter who or what you are as long as you just be.
If we don’t embrace who we are, who will? We’ve been blessing the world with our gifts forever, and it’s always a good time to celebrate ourselves. Janelle Monae gave us a gem in the song Django Jane: “We gave you life. We gave you birth. We gave you God. We gave you Earth.”


And in Womanifesto, Jill Scott’s spoken word piece, she proclaims “I am gifted. I am all of this. And indeed, the shit.”


Django Jane by Janelle Monae
Best lyrics: Black girl magic/y’all can’t stand it/y’all can’t ban it/ made out like a bandit/ they been trying hard just to make us all vanish/ I suggest they put a flag on a whole ‘nother planet

Womanifesto by Jill Scott
Best lyrics: I am not gonna lie and pacify/ I am arms to hold/I am lips to speak/ I am a muthafu**ing G

Take Me As I Am by Mary J. Blige
Best lyrics: Now she’s older now/Yes, she’s wiser now/ Can’t disguise her now/ she don’t need/ No one tellin’ her/ what to do and say/no one tellin’ her who to be/ She’s on solid ground /She’s been lost and found

Golden by Jill Scott
Best lyrics: I’m taking my own freedom, putting it in my song/ singing loud and strong/grooving all day long/I’m taking my freedom/putting it in my stroll/I’ll be high-steppin’ y’all/letting the joy unfold

Sex With Me by Rihanna featuring Fabolous and Trey Songz
Best lyric: You know I got the sauce/You know I’m saucy

Broken Clocks by SZA
Best lyrics: I’ve paid enough of petty dues/I’ve had enough of shitty news

Grown Woman by Beyonce
Best lyrics: I can be bad if I want/ I can do wrong if I want/ I can live fast if I want/ I can go slow all night long

BE A FRIEND. Because there is nothing like having the ear or a shoulder of another human being. Everyone falls into one of these categories: going through something, coming out of something, or about to go through something. Reach out to other moms because they most likely can relate to your situation.

You Are My Friend by Patti Labelle
Best lyrics: All of it. If your spirit isn’t moved from Patti Labelle’s classic I don’t know what to tell you.

I Need You to Survive by Hezekiah Walker
Best lyrics: I need you /You need me/ We’re all a part of God’s body/ Stand with me agree with me/ We’re all a part of God’s body/ It is his will /that every need be supplied/ You are important to me/ I need you to survive

Count on Me by Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans
Best lyrics: I know that life can make you feel/it’s much harder than it really is/ but we’ll get through it/ Just don’t give in

Best Friend by Brandy
Best lyrics: Whenever I’m down/with all that’s going on/it’s really going on/just one of those days to ya/ you say the right thing/ to keep me moving on/to keep me going strong/what else can I say?


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