I gave this speech to a group of young mothers at Covenant House in Washington, DC in 2013. I believe the sentiments expressed can help other mothers who are wrestling with purposeful parenting.
In Bishop TD Jakes’ book “Mama Made the Difference,” he credits his mother as the one who inspired him to strive for more in his life. He gives the credit to his mother because he says that she was the first one to believe in him and to let him know that “Son, you can become anything that you set your mind to.”
Bishop TD Jakes is one of several ordinary people who went on to do extraordinary things because their mothers believed enough in them to let them know that you are somebody and that you can make a difference in this world. Renowned brain surgeon Ben Carson says that it was his mother who told him that he was smart and that he could learn to read when the teachers told him that he was the dumbest student in the class. NBA superstar Michael Jordan says that it was his mother who planted the seeds of greatness in him that let him know that he could become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Nationally recognized poet and author Maya Angelou says that it was her mother who told her that she was special and intelligent and that she could become whoever she set out to be. Again, these are all examples of ordinary people who went on to do extraordinary things because they had a mother in their life who cared enough to speak to the potential and greatness that God placed inside of them.
And there is nothing special about these people. God has placed seeds of greatness inside each and every one of us. We all have gifts and talents and a calling on our life that is unique to us—even our children. It’s up to us as mothers, stepmothers, aunties, grandmothers, and caregivers to speak to the greatness inside of our children to let them know that they are special. They are unique. They are gifted. They are wanted. They are smart. They are beautiful—even when the world says otherwise. We as mothers have a unique opportunity and a divine calling and responsibility to nurture and shape the next generation of critical thinkers and leaders.
Yesterday as I was driving my son to his speech therapy session, we heard a sermon on the radio titled, “The Leader in Your Lap.” The preacher was talking about Moses and his mother who did not know at the time, but she was raising a child who would grow up to become a great leader and deliver his people from the oppressive hands of Pharaoh. She may have been nursing her child, but she had a leader in her lap. And I thought that sermon was so powerful because none of us know who our children will become and what they will do. We don’t know who is sitting on our lap. Some of us have given birth to doctors, engineers, revolutionaries, presidents, teachers. We don’t know if we have a leader sitting in our lap. During slavery, every time a baby was born the people would ask if this baby was the one who would deliver them from the grips of bondage. They would ask each other, is he the one? Is she the one? It’s because they knew the potential for greatness that each life carried. The same still holds true today. Who will be the one who will deliver us from the grips of economic depression, mass incarcerations, homelessness, and sickness and disease? Who is this potential leader sitting in our laps?
And whether or not our children reach their full potential is determined by what we do as mothers right now. Their potential is determined by what we instill in them today. Our children are like seeds who need nurturing in order for them to grow and fully mature.
The first time I realized that I had this power and influence as a mother was when my son was about 1 year old. During his speech therapy session, every time he completed a task correctly, he would look at me to see if I witnessed him finish the puzzle or put the block in the appropriate place. Each time he finished the task, he would look to me for praise and approval. Even at 1 year old. That’s when I realized the awesomeness of the task that God had given me. That’s when I realized the power that I had to either build this little boy up or tear him down with my words and actions. This little boy’s self-esteem, self-worth and value are all wrapped up in me. It’s the same for all children.
And I’m not talking about money. It doesn’t take a lot of money to give our children the best of ourselves. They don’t have to have the latest and greatest sneakers, clothes or toys to know they are loved and that they have you in their corner.
I was raised by a single mother who had five children. We lived in subsidized housing in Silver Spring, MD. We never had much money and my mother couldn’t give us everything that we wanted. We didn’t have the fanciest clothes or the latest toys or video games, but we were never lacked for love and words of encouragement. We always knew our mother loved us and that she would do anything for us. We knew we were important to her. And as TD Jakes’ says, that made all of the difference. I would not be the woman I am today if it were not for my mother. I would not be the mother to my son I am today if I didn’t have that positive example of a mother in my life. Now, I can pass the love that I received from my mother onto my son and my daughter and prayerfully, the cycle will continue.
My husband and I were watching “Iyanla Fix My Life” on OWN the other day with rapper DMX and his son. And we couldn’t believe a statement that this hardcore rapper said on the show. He said, “No matter how hard you are, everyone needs to be someone’s baby.” DMX’s mother was not a positive force in his life, but his grandmother stepped up to the plate and gave him the love that he desired and needed. And DMX’s case is not unique. There are many children who grow up to become adults who are suffering because they were never someone’s baby.
Everyone needs to be somebody’s baby. Our presence does matter. Our love does make a difference in the lives of our children. The words that we say to our children can either build them up or tear them down. We can nurture those seeds of greatness planted in the hearts and minds of our children or we can destroy those seeds with the work of our own hands. It’s up to us. The choice is ours. Our children will grow and mature, when we grow and mature. Our children will be healed of their hurts and disappointments when we find healing for ourselves. It begins with us.
There’s a quote that says, “The most powerful force in nature is a mother’s love.” Let us never underestimate the power that we have to shape and influence the lives of our children. Let us walk in that power and use it to make better lives for our children and for generations to come.