Nefertiti Austin is the single mother of two children she adopted from the foster care system. Her memoir, “Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America,” comes out in September.
Name: Nefertiti Austin
Location: Los Angeles
Family: Two children, a 12-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter; two Shipoo (Shih Tzu/Poodle mix) puppies named Siddhartha and Monsieur Lafayette.
You write a lot in your work about your experience as a single, black, adoptive mother. What is it that you most want readers to know about that experience?
I’d like readers to know that in the 21st century, motherhood is still centered in whiteness. Often other versions of motherhood are marginalized, ridiculed or ignored. Even as an academic, I had struggles finding parenting role models who were not white.
What initially pulled you toward adoption?
I think adoption was always in the back of my mind. I was raised by grandparents who made me feel loved and safe. While I spent time with my parents, I craved the stability my grandparents provided and my life was good. Also, my BFF, Lori, is adopted. I saw how well she turned out and watched her pursue a career as an adoption social worker. Lori shared countless stories about children in need of homes, love and stability. Those stories tugged on my heart strings and made me think I could help someone. From my grandparent’s example, I knew that I did not have to give birth to be a parent or to make a difference in a child’s life.
Tell us about your memoir Motherhood So White coming out later this year, and why you felt compelled to write it.
I started writing about black people and adoption because I could not find any mummy narratives by or for women who looked like me. I was disappointed by this erasure and my early writings were rants! Later, those articles became essays on race and gender in adoption. I thought I had curated a collection of essays but my agent suggested a memoir. I was surprised. I was like, really? Who would want to read about me? I had simply answered the call to adopt and that decision was natural, not special.
Anyway, my memoir is about how I was awakened to the fact that in America, there are two motherhoods: One white and the other, black. Trayvon Martin’s death shook me into reality. My whole idea of motherhood changed, as I was now a mother willing to disrupt her child’s innocence by teaching him about racism to protect him from racism. White mothers don’t carry this burden, unless their children are of colour.
Ultimately, I wrote Motherhood So White out of necessity. I wanted black mothers who come after me to have multiple perspectives on motherhood, not just the mainstream definition of who gets to be a mum in America. I want white mothers to see black mothers on the page and know that we are all allies in the quest for raising compassionate children in a racially charged era.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
Absolutely. I try to get everything done between the hours of 9 and 2:30 PM Once school or practice is over, my needs disappear. Every blue moon, however, I will lock myself in my bedroom and tell my son, “You’re in charge, just don’t turn on the stove.”
How much outside help do you get? Who or what can you not live without?
As the kids have gotten older, I have slowly amassed reliable help. Between my Aunt Carolyn, an 85-year old former co-worker and my godson, I get out a little more. But my entire ship would capsize without the friendship and support of my village of mum friends. They help with carpool, homework, summer camp, and snacks. They are the absolute best!
Tell us about a family ritual.
My kids and I sit at the dining room table and eat dinner together every night. There is no set time for dinner, because my son’s practice schedule dictates how late or early we eat. Dinner might only last fifteen minutes but I treasure that time with them.
Has there been an aspect of solo parenting that has been particularly difficult for you that you think would surprise most parents who have partners?
Being a single mother is hard and I don’t wish it on anyone. It was the right decision for me at the time, but having a husband/partner (who helps) in the home would be priceless. Single parents make every decision: Which school to attend, vacations, discipline, lunch, religion, and there is no one to bounce those decisions off. We get all of the blame or all of the glory. Either way, sometimes it is nerve-wracking not having an intimate partner to remind you that you are doing the best you can.
What do you want your kids to learn from your example?
I hope they learn to help others, not for accolades, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Is there a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you?
Put your oxygen mask on first.