Why Rest Is So Important for Black Mothers

written by ERIN MCINTIRE
black mothers and rest"
black mothers and rest
Source: ColorJoy Stock
Source: ColorJoy Stock

Rest and wellness for Black moms and Black women is not only integral to our survival, it is an act of resistance to the white supremacist culture we navigate with strength and endurance daily. When Black women rest and take care of ourselves, we are upholding our own humanity and the humanity of our ancestors. When we rest, we are saying to the world that there is a different path that we can all take to live full lives and thrive. When we rest, we are undoing the culture that treats us as commodities and throws us away when it is done using us.

When Black women rest and take care of ourselves, we are upholding our own humanity and the humanity of our ancestors.

Here’s the thing, though, many Black women and mothers know what I’m talking about and agree that they want to rest, but cannot rest. Sometimes this is because our children, our spouses, our loved ones, or our friends are being brutalized by the police. Sometimes it’s because we are fending off racial harassment and sexual harassment in our workplace. Sometimes it’s because you have to be at more school meetings for your child because your child is facing discrimination in the classroom. Sometimes this is because we have to take action to uphold the civil rights and human rights of ourselves or other communities of color. Sometimes this is because we are the main financial support within our family—oftentimes, it’s because many people depend on us to show up and support them. 

Black women are pulled in so many directions because they are the most impacted by racism and oppression within their community but also have to actively organize to protect their community at the same time that they are being harmed. Most Black women I know wear invisible capes fending off systemic racism wherever they and their families go. All Black moms who I know are superwomen, whether they wanted to be or not.

thank you Black Women protest sign
Source: Gayatri Malhotra | Unsplash

For Black women to truly have rest and wellness, we need allies to support us in dismantling systems that have us running in all directions; who treat their children and families with humanity, dignity, and respect. No tokenism. No B.S. They need white parents and POC parents to examine their internalized racial superiority and anti-Blackness and not spill it onto their children, into the schools, and more. They need allies who will fight for Black history to be taught in school (and not just during Black History Month). Plain and simple, they need allies who will help to undo racism as it appears across our culture in all aspects of life. When more allies appear, Black women can rest and do less to protect their own.

To the Black Mamas out there who are at their wit’s end, I see you. I’m not a mother (just an auntie to a 3-year-old and an “adopted” auntie to many friends’ kids), but I see you.

“For Black women to truly have rest and wellness, we need allies to support us in dismantling systems that have us running in all directions.”

I want to give some helpful resources for Black moms, but I don’t like calling them “tips.” Tips tend to treat people like they are the problem and assume that “if only we fixed this one thing about ourselves, then we would be well.” I just don’t believe that, especially when it comes to Black women and Black moms. I believe the systematic illnesses that Black moms and Black women face require us to undo systemic racism before we can collectively and individually become well. But if I were to give you some, it would be these:

Decolonize your rest

A lot of times, we have Instagram images of luxury in our heads when we think of “rest.” We think that we aren’t resting unless it looks like it belongs on a magazine cover. We think that we have to rest in certain ways for it to be rest (think bubble baths, vacations, etc.) or buy certain products for it to be rest (or it doesn’t count). We think we have to rest a certain number of times in a week or it doesn’t count and if we can’t do that then we don’t rest at all. But none of these things really are rest, rather they are a performance of rest and advertising designed to make you feel bad or inadequate and buy things to fix these perceived inadequacies.

Rest is about your personal connection back to your soul, your mind, and body. It is unique in each person and doesn’t look or feel the same in each person. Whatever brings you home to yourself is your rest. Whatever brings joy to your family and community is your collective rest.

mom and daughter laughing
Source: Any Lane | Pexels

Reclaim your time in the ways you can by saying “no”

One of the biggest reasons Black women don’t rest is because they often don’t center themselves and are supporting other people in their lives and community. Sometimes we don’t have choices about this and our rest has to be “small” moments (five minutes or less) during the day. Other times we can dedicate a whole day to rest. Accept and know that it’s OK if your rest ebbs and flows like an ocean tide. 

At the very least, focus on breathing

If you are feeling like you want more rest in your life but have no time right now, one small practice that you can take with you anywhere is breathing. For an easy breathing exercise to ground yourself and show compassion towards yourself, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart allowing yourself to notice the rise and fall of your inhale and exhale.

This is something that I personally pull out on my busiest days or when my time is “not my own.” You can do this for a minute, five minutes, or longer… just remember that your rest can adapt and serve you. The more that you practice taking moments for yourself (whether it’s this simple breath exercise or something else), the more you get practiced at taking up more space in your life, prioritizing yourself first before supporting others. Please remember that you are not broken, our society is. You are whole, you are worthy, you are loved, and you matter.

My Experience Navigating Pregnancy and Birth as a Black Woman