Here's what my tough-as-nails mother said when I asked her the hardest thing about parenting
For Women’s History Month, we asked our writers to sit down with their unsung heroes — their moms — and explore a topic the two don’t normally discuss. Our writers dug deep into subjects like careers, finances, and gender roles, and were shocked by what they learned. We hope you’ll be inspired to have a new kind of conversation with your mother or mother figure.
Throughout the course of my 10-year journalism career, I’ve interviewed my fair share of celebrities and politicians. But none of those conversations intimidated me as much as interviewing my own mom.
So when HelloGiggles asked me if I’d be interested in doing a Q&A with my mom for Women’s History Month, I leapt at the opportunity. It was something I’d been mulling over for a while and decided there was no time like the present to get to know my mom as a person rather than just my parent.
Growing up, I vividly remember my mom commuting to work at the local gas and electric company in skirt suits with big shoulder pads and tennis shoes (hey, this was the ’90s). I didn’t really understand what she did then (and, if we’re being perfectly honest, I still don’t, despite her working for the same company for 30+ years), but I knew she was a boss.
When my sister and I were older, I remember my mom gracefully stepping down from her position as supervisor to spend more time with us. She made it clear that there were more important things in life than a paycheck and a title.
My mom has always been tough as nails and she doesn’t take crap from anyone, not even her own daughters. So I could barely believe it when she told me, during this interview about parenting, about the brief crying spell she had after I was born… my mom doesn’t cry.
But what this taught me is that she’s human, too. A mom, yes, but also a woman. After all, she was once my age, dealing with the same things I’m grappling with now.
L’Oreal Thompson Payton: What were you like when you were my age?
Tanya Thompson: I’d just had your sister. I was so happy seeing you two get along with each other, so that was good. We were a nice little family of four. I knew I didn’t want to have any more children after 30. Your age group holds off on having kids now. It’s not unusual for you to get established first and then have kids. But I got my career started fairly early right after college and it all worked out. I have no regrets. You have to do what’s right for you.
LTP: Something that’s been plaguing my mind with so many of my friends pregnant right now is how did you know you were ready to have kids?
TT: We’d been married for three years. I figured I didn’t want to have kids after 30, so we decided to start now. I was 26 when I had you and 30 when I had your sister. Is there a time when you’re 100% ready? Probably not. But we saved up and were prepared financially.
LTP: What was it like becoming a mom for the first time? I mean, you were 30 with two kids and I’m just trying to keep this succulent alive.
TT: You try to prepare as much as you can. I think after I got over the first cry, I was okay as far as, Am I doing this right? It just works out as far as what you study, read, classes, and common sense. It works out.
LTP: Now, you and Daddy have been together for 40 years and married for 34 years. And he was your first boyfriend. How did you know he was The One?
TT: He hung around after he had the chance not to hang around… I just knew. We had been dating for two weeks and I said, “I guess we’re going to get married one of these days.”
LTP: Was this before or after you invited yourself to bowling with him?
TT: This was after that. So I invited myself to bowling and after that I figured he’d ask me to the spring affair, which was the junior prom and our first date. I just knew. That was it. There was never a thought about going out with anybody else. I guess we’re like geese… don’t they mate for life?
LTP: I think so? And penguins. So how did you balance it all being a working mom?
TT: If it weren’t for Nanny and Pop-Pop, we couldn’t do it. We didn’t have to worry if someone was mistreating you or not taking care of you right. There’s a difference between grandparents taking care of kids and a daycare. I didn’t have to worry about you all, so I could focus on my career.
LTP: Why was it important for you to go back to work after we were born?
TT: I’ve never been a homebody anyway. So I needed to be with adults or else I’d drive y’all crazy. But basically I was making sure that you and April saw that it could be done. That a relationship is a partnership. Like I said before, you can do bad all by yourself. You don’t need someone just because they’re a man. You have to make yourself happy. And don’t let anyone say it can’t be done just because you’re a woman. It’s possible. As your grandfather said, “Can killed can’t.”
LTP: What kind of obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome in the workplace as a woman of color?
TT: I don’t know if there were many obstacles. When I started, it was a predominately male job. But the company didn’t stand for discrimination, so I never had any problems with my workers. So I’ve been lucky in that aspect. But my biggest hindrance was perfection and trying to do a good job. I’m my own worst enemy. So I was getting in my own way. But overall, I did a good job and that’s what I’m proud of.
LTP: So that’s where I get my perfectionist tendencies from. What were you like as a kid?
TT: I was your average kid. I was talkative. And we went places all the time. Pop-Pop exposed me to as much of the city and country as he could. I was happy. I had friends and we went outside and played. Life was a lot simpler back then. It was a good time, a happy time.
LTP: What is your happiest memory?
TT: I don’t think I have one happy moment, per se. Getting married, having kids, those are all happy memories. I remember early spring mornings and mid-afternoons at Nanny and Pop-Pop’s house. Nanny had these nylon curtains in the middle room upstairs that would blow with the breeze. Those were cool, relaxing, lazy days.
LTPl: Conversely, what is your saddest memory?
TT: Losing my parents.
LTP: What advice do you have for me at this stage of my life?
TT: You need to chill out and stop trying to be perfect. Accept things as they are and laugh at yourself. The sooner you stop worrying about stuff, the better off you’ll be.
If you can’t fix it, there’s no sense in worrying about it. There are some things you can’t fix. If it’s that pressing, give it to God and ask for help. Then go ahead and walk away from it. You might need to come back, and you might need to walk away altogether. I’m sure that stress has taken some years off my life.
LTP: Okay, tell me how you really feel! LOL! What’s the most challenging part about parenting?
TT: Things happen and you can’t fix it, but you do the best you can to try to fix it. You two didn’t get the jobs out of college that were promised to you, and that hurts to know that I can’t do anything about it. When you work hard and things don’t turn out as you’d hoped… But it’s not what God wanted you to have. And you have patience. I’m trying to get better at it as I get older. But the biggest challenge being a parent is seeing you get hurt or disappointed.
LTP: What’s the most rewarding part?
TT: Seeing your accomplishments and your exposure to different things. We liked taking you two different places when you were young so you could see what else is out there. You went to Mexico for the first time when you were 4. The grass never grew under your feet. So it’s rewarding to see you all grow into successful adults.
LTP: What advice do you have for HelloGiggles readers?
TT: Be true to yourself. You’ve got to love yourself before you can love anybody else. Be helpful. Don’t be conceited and selfish … you’re not going to make it through life like that. Be kind to others. Help when you can. Find things you like to do because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like, but you still need that paycheck.
People are so much more into themselves these days. But we’re all in it together, so you may as well try to get along with each other. Just be nice. Smile at somebody, you might make their day or save their life. Smile at them, acknowledge them. Be kind to one another, make the world a better place.