New findings underscore the ways that being a Black mother in the United States involves navigating aspects of parenthood that are explicitly tied to dealing with anti-Black racism.

“All mothers experience stress; but Black mothers in the US experience additional stresses specifically related to parenting and racism,” says Mia Brantley, author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University. “That has consequences for the health and well-being of Black mothers. If we want to develop ways to support Black moms and Black families, we need to have a deeper understanding of the challenges facing Black mothers—and how Black mothers respond to those challenges.”

For this qualitative study, Brantley conducted in-depth interviews with 35 Black mothers from across the US. All of the study participants had at least one child between the ages of 10 and 24. The interviews were designed to collect information about how Black women think about motherhood and mothering, as well as how Black mothers feel race and racism influences both their parenting and the lives of their children.

“There is a broad understanding that motherhood is, while rewarding, also a demanding responsibility,” Brantley says. “This study found that, while Black mothers share many of the same concerns as other mothers, Black motherhood is distinct. That’s because—in addition to wanting their children to succeed—Black mothers also take steps to both protect their children from racism and help their children learn to navigate a society where they will experience anti-Black racism.”

Brantley categorizes the ways racism affects Black motherhood into three areas: protective mothering, resistance mothering, and encumbered mothering.

Protective mothering refers to practices designed to help Black children avoid racism. Specifically, Black mothers will often restrict children’s activities or behaviors in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that that their children—particularly sons—will face racist comments or actions. Black mothers also take steps to encourage agency—particularly for daughters—so that their children feel able to stand up for themselves.

  • Resistance mothering refers to efforts to promote positive self-image, with the goal of combatting racist stereotypes their children encounter outside of the home. These activities might include educating children about Black artists, leaders, and accomplishments.
  • Resistance mothering is really about empowering Black children and parents, so that they take pride in themselves and their culture,” Brantley says.
  • Encumbered mothering refers to the fact that Black mothers feel the need to be constantly hyperaware of the risks that racism poses to their children.

“Black mothers report that they are unable to fully enjoy and celebrate the accomplishments of their children, because they can’t ‘turn off’ their fears about how racist behavior may affect their kids,” Brantley says. “Black mothers feel that they always have to deal with preconceived notions about Black mothers and children, and that society essentially gives Black women no room for error.

Read the full article about Black mothers experiencing racism by Matt Shipman at Futurity.