The Burden of Grown Folks Business


I've been tracking Hurricane Irma coverage all week. Though not too close with many of them, a chunk of my family lives in the US Virgin Islands. My mom grew up with them. Spending summers in the island to see them. They're my grandmother's brothers and sisters. They're real family, so so matter how distant (both physically and emotionally) I may be from them, their well-being is still important to me.

My immediate family life was pretty quiet. We went to family gatherings a few times a year, usually around the holidays, and stayed in our own world during other times. My mother was dedicated to raising her kids, and working her butt off to do so, so driving around CT to see family wasn't always in her plan. And though, in the moment, I didn't mind only seeing my family during important occasions, I realized that I missed out on many of the stories I could have been told. See my mother was dedicated to forging a perfect picture for us. She didn't burden us with the reality of life's shortcomings or the hardships of how her cards had been dealt. To us, everything was fine; even when I asked. My grandmother was the same; according to my mother, you couldn't pry a story out of her to save anyone's life. It was all "grown folks business" — even when we became grown.

I didn't grow up hearing many family stories. I was kept in the confines of a "perfectionist story". My dad was my mother's first boyfriend. Both my brother and I were planned. And my mother went to an all-girls (majority white) private school. There was this 'American Dream' that I often considered my family to have fulfilled. Though not rich, we were blessed with a house in the suburbs, pets, and a swimming pool that I was gifted on my tenth birthday. This was the story I held onto for most of my life. A story of 'good' decisions and privilege. It was that story that spoiled me. The story that told me that with hard work great things are attainable. That with proper planning tragedy won't strike. That the ways of my mother—and the ways she instilled in me to follow—should be the ways of the world. However, as I age, I notice that the truth of the world has escaped me when the truth of my family's story did. And though staying out of grown folks business was the norm in my family, as it is in many black homes, I now notice the damaging potential it can have on the young folks who weren't yet—and still aren't—grown enough to hear them.

While my mother withheld information to protect me, I've often battled with whether or not this protection was beneficial, or if it caused more of a hindrance to my development—particularly into young adulthood. Had I allowed the stories told to me to consume me so much, that the reality of my family life, upbringing, and generational patterns wrongfully didn't exist? Had I become a positive, or negative, product of my environment because I let my environment become what was told to me, rather than the one that was lived? Was my environment a lie?

I had such a perfect vision of what my life was. I had never imagined the blood, sweat, or tears that my mother endured to make it seem as such. Her experience, my father's experience, and my brother's experience were all different from mine. They all knew the truth—or some rendition of it— while I was involuntarily operating in a fairy tale. But I always wonder was that fairy tale better for my growth? Was being sheltered a necessity for me to become who I am today? And furthermore, should grown folks business remain just that: grown folks business?

Children should not have to bear the burden of adulthood. I grew up believing that, and still do. Children shouldn't know when bills aren't being paid or when marriage issues are occurring. But at what expense do you restrict the truth from your children? Is it possible to share your familial history (the good and the bad) and protect the child from the painful past at the same time?

While I can recognize the burden parents have on identifying what to disclose to their children, it's also important to acknowledge that there is a burden on young folk who are kept from family history. There's a cycle that can repeat if things aren't truthfully disclosed. There's room for emptiness and incompletion with every story left untold; with every truth left unshared. And that's something that can't go ignored. That while protecting your child from what may be considered a terrible family past, you are increasing the chances of them making the same mistakes, and reducing the possibility of them actually getting to know their familial truth. This is taxing to us as we grow into young adults. As we journey to find ourselves. As we work to build our own families. As we experience situations that we're unable to handle because we were sheltered from it growing up. As we tackle everyday life without the secrets we may have needed to know to navigate it.They say, in order to know where you're going, you must know where you've come from, but how can we truly know when the closest source to us is hiding our historical truth? And, how do we get to where we're going with such an omission? 

I suppose, like in all things, there are two sides of this. At the most basic level, one side shows me the people who've been made aware of all of their family flaws. People who have been exposed and let that anger tear through their destiny. The other side can be the same. A group of people as angry at not knowing; of never having known; of never being respected enough to know. There's never a sure answer to what would have happened had I known—had any of us known. But there is now a new sense of awareness, understanding, and compassion to everything I grew up thinking.

My mother sat down with me this summer. She told me some of the things I didn't know, and other things I was able to piece together on my own. She told me the truth. We spoke about who she was growing up, her upbringing, her relationship with her siblings, and some of the family gossip. I appreciated the conversation more than I was able to express to her. The transparency that I longed for; the honesty that I needed years ago as I approached young womanhood; and the openness that could've benefited me during some of the most challenging moments of my adult life. It was all necessary, but perhaps, it would have only felt so in that very moment. Perhaps, had I heard it a moment sooner, I would not have held onto her words as diligently as I did.

I absolutely appreciate my mother's efforts to raise me away from the drama and destruction of family gossip and 'grown folk business'. I appreciate her for shielding me from what may have been  destructive forces in my own life. I thank her for loving me enough to put me first, even if it meant keeping me away from certain things and certain people, to protect and provide. I owe her the world for painting such a pretty picture of it [the world] for me; for making sure that my eyes never saw the true evil that lurked outside of my home. For putting me in a position to want to mimic the decisions I thought she made, rather than the ones she actually did (though not all of them were bad).

However the question stills pierces my mind: Am I better or worse off having stayed out of 'grown folk business'?

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