-By Sariel Genean
I was in the fifth grade when my mother found out that my father cheated on her.
While my father was running an errand, I was playing the bowling game on his Nokia when a text message from a person I was not familiar with interrupted my game. I ran to my mother’s room and handed her the phone, so she could give me confirmation that I could finish my game, but I knew something wasn’t right when I saw her expression after reading the message.
She was quiet as she looked through the phone. Seconds later, she began packing our things, and chaotic energy filled the home.
My father returned home shortly after she had the car packed, begging her to stop and stay. I cried on the porch of our home because that’s all I could do. My mother was telling me to hurry into the car, and my father was telling me to go inside the house. After they realized that the neighbors would soon be troubled by their yelling, they came inside, and my mother never left.
For months, our home was a battlefield. I saw my parents argue for what seemed like days at a time. I saw my mother cry, and I saw my father filled with rage due to frustration. However, my mother stayed. She stayed in our home and continued to be a mother to me, to give love to my father, and to pray over us. As I got older, the question remained in my head – why did she stay?
Did she not value herself?
Did she think this was love?
Did she think I didn’t know she was accepting less?
Was this a sacrifice for me, her child?
My parents began to distance themselves from each other and create individual lives that occasionally overlapped when it concerned me. They would sleep in separate rooms, rarely spend time together, and hardly speak well of one another. More often than not, they would argue, and on rare occasions, they seemed like they enjoyed each other’s company. I listened to my mother normalize their behavior for the sake of keeping our home together.
For years, I watched my mother, this magnificent being, be a warrior inside of our home just as much as the outside. She never gave up, and she never lost sight of what was important to her – keeping our family together.
However, at a young age, I internalized that she was settling. I watched her fight a fight that was beneath her in every sense of the word. I knew that my parents’ relationship should not have been that hard. She deserved to walk into peace in her home and take off her armor from the day.
To begin to make sense of my mother’s decisions, I had to start by recognizing that one person’s perspective of settling could be another person’s story of sacrifice. My mother decided to fight for me to live a life I didn’t know I needed.
As a young minority in Columbia, South Carolina, it meant the world to me to have my parents present for meetings with my teachers, at my cheerleading competitions, and to help me with my schoolwork. I can remember the faces of authority figures at my middle school when both of my parents would attend parent-teacher conferences. If I was sick at school, I could call my father, and if he couldn’t get there, my mother certainly would. In fact, it became an expectation that if I went to the nurse’s office, the nurse would call my father first because she knew, from our conversations, that he worked from home.
I had the privilege of hearing the phrase, “I don’t know, go ask your father,” and being able to walk down the hallway to my father’s office to ask a question. I had the knowledge of two individuals, advising me as I made decisions for myself that put me in a position to do amazing things in my future. What I could not conceptualize as a child is that regardless of the condition of my parents’ relationship, my mother valued being able to present our family as a whole.
As an adult, my mother expressed to me that her decision was, indeed, that of sacrifice, as she wanted me to live in a home with both parents. If you let my father tell it, he often says that they did not agree on much, but they agreed on raising me to the best of their abilities. Even if our family wasn’t perfect, it was something that I could never take for granted. And for that, she will always be my hero.