Hi, my name is Tonita Austin. This is my family (minus Mr. Brian Dawkins, who was superimposed onto the background after we took this picture!). I am a 48-year-old self-employed, independent mother of two children James and Janai, twelve and seven respectively, and we live outside of Philadelphia, PA. I was married over nine years, and am currently separated. I am a writer, poet and accountant and have been self-employed for fourteen years. I make my own hours which makes it easier for me to support my children’s emotional and extracurricular needs. However, this blog is not about our lives as much as it is about sharing what I’ve learned about raising, educating and basically parenting children of color. I started this blog not only because I often hear what a “great mom” I am, but because when I searched the internet for blogs/advice on parenting African-American children, I found limited resources. A good friend suggested I start one of my own, so here I am. I am not the perfect parent, but I am a devoted mother. I don’t know it all, but I am a quick learner. I don’t make the right choices all of the time, but I am always open to outside help for me and my family. I am here to share some of my parenting tools, successes and failures with other parents of color. And since there is no “perfect” parenting style, I will often invite some of my friends as guest bloggers to share their personal stories.
I was raised in a home with both parents; my father went to work and my mother stayed home to take care of us. She and my father made it clear that education was extremely important and that we owed it to ourselves to work hard and do our best. As a stay at home mom, she exposed us to the importance of volunteering in our communities and tried to support any talents we had by engaging us in extracurricular activities. There were four of us and we were taught to take care of each other and support each other. I carried many of these principles with me and instill them in my children as well.
I buried my mother in my first trimester while carrying my first-born, and had already lost both sets of grandparents so I felt clueless when my son was born. I read just about every parenting book, website and magazine that I could get my hands on because I felt I had no one to counsel me and out of fear that I wouldn’t do “it” right. Fear in this instance enabled me to read about a variety of parenting styles and helped me come to the realization that I didn’t want to necessarily raise my kids the way I was raised. I now know that there is no one way to parent and your parenting style needs to meet the needs of the individual child. I believe that we are not here to force children to be what we expect. I believe that we are here to love, nurture, support and guide them and to allow them to be their authentic selves. I parented by watching my children’s interactions with people and things in their environment. It allowed me to be present, to learn who they were and to meet their needs. My kids are not perfect, but I get compliments on their behavior when we are out in public and I’ve never laid a hand on my children. I just show them the same respect I expect from them and it works.
Over the years I have found that parenting African-American children, especially in a suburban area is more challenging than I expected. I am an activist at heart and have had to challenge the status quo often in order to gain the benefits for my children that others acquire with ease. I want to support any other parents who face the same challenges and are looking for the support, advice and resources to support their children. I am an avid learner and I believe I have an intuitive connection with children which allows me to see them as they are and meet their needs. I took a Parenting Partners workshop over five years ago at my son’s elementary school and as a result was asked to train to become a Certified Parenting Partners Facilitator. Over the course of two years I’ve co-facilitated over five six-week intensive parenting workshops in the Delaware and Chester counties and I love it!
I am not vegan, but I do believe in buying organic and all natural, farm fresh meats and produce whenever I possibly can. I also believe in a homeopathic approach to treating illness in our family. I don’t do it on my own, I have local practitioners that I trust and have proven results with using either the teas/powders they prepare or store-bought homeopathic medicine from our local Natural Foods store. I have one child who is gluten sensitive and have tried a lot of gluten-free foods ; some that are good and some that aren’t so good. Again, I am no expert, but I am happy to share all of the products that have worked for us on my “Items I Love” page of this blog.
I also have a “Gifted” page on this blog for issues specific to raising children with intellectual and creative gifts. I have one intellectually gifted child (was reading at the age of 3 and counting up to 100 in chinese by the age of 4) and one who is creatively and spiritually gifted/talented (extremely intuitive, has a great ear for music and just learned to read sheet music!). The both are something to be proud of, but with gifts come challenges and I will also share those with you. I myself was identified gifted at the age of six or seven and at the time there was not much information about the gifted nor support for parents of gifted children in our community. You were labeled by your peers as “the brainiac” or “smarty pants” and you almost resented being pulled out of class to go to the Academically Talented classroom. I remember them wanted to skip me a grade in second grade and bus me to a school for gifted students, and my parents I believe mostly out of fear of the unknown chose not to do either. I believe they didn’t want me to be separated from them, and my peers so I spent the rest of my elementary and middle school years being the “smart kid” in the classroom. Elementary school was easier because many of the kids in my classroom were also very bright, but when I went to middle school I saw the disparity and the evil looks when I constantly raised my hand, almost always had the right answer and was the teacher’s pet. My “peers” hated me and often threatened me at recess. Of course I survived middle school, went on to earn a full scholarship to an all girls’ boarding school in Virginia, and was amongst the first class of women ever admitted to Columbia University’s Columbia College in 1983. Yet, when my son was identified gifted and it was time to decide whether he would skip a grade or just receive accelerated classwork, I recalled my youth. I didn’t want him to be the “smart kid” in the classroom, getting teased or tormented for knowing more than his supposed peers. I wanted him to be placed amongst his peers, and I met with administrators until they agreed to have him skip first grade. I knew my son and I knew what he was capable of. I believed in him. I could tell that they thought he would fail but he has continued to exceed every expectation set by the school and myself. I’m so proud of him.
My daughter has a gift for music. She asked for voice lessons and received a scholarship at the age of five for piano, so she’s taking lessons for both. She has a beautiful voice and learned how to read sheet music before her 7th birthday. She is also spiritually gifted and very sensitive to the energy of others around her which is a whole other challenge! Her gift is not necessarily measured by standardized or IQ tests, but I nurture it and advocate for her just the same.
Of course there are other challenges with raising children independent of their father, but I would like to stick to basic parenting on this blog. If you have specific questions or challenges in that subject area, please feel free to email me directly or check out my personal blog Toni’s Room at www.tonitalove.com.
My wish is that the information that I share here will help support new parents, soon to be parents, grandparents and current parents who need resources and tools to support their children/grandchildren/foster children/God-children or other youth in their lives. I believe that our children are here to teach us wonders about ourselves but we must give them the permission and support to be authentically themselves first!
Please subscribe, comment and share anything that helps you and make it a great day!