I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome mama of two Amelia Allen Sherwood to Frida be Mighty. I first met Amelia on Instagram, when she took the time to call me out on an ill-considered post I had written on parenting. Amelia reminded me that intersectionality is vitally important when speaking about issues like peaceful parenting; structural inequality has an impact on parenting and this needs to be discussed and addressed, especially by those with a voice and a platform. I am honoured to be able to share Amelia’s powerful and important words with you. This is an interview that I recommend reading twice, three times, as many times as you need for some of Amelia’s messages to sink in.
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
My name is Amelia Allen Sherwood. My pronouns are she /her. I am a descendant of Freddie Lee Tyson, a man exploited by the syphilis experiment (please google if you do not know about this history) but he was more than his oppression. He was a carpenter and helped build Moton Field, where the famed Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly during World War II, he later worked as a firefighter and loved to build. I am a descendant of Charles Sherwood Senior, a man who fought for his country in World War II and dehumanized when he came back on American soil yet he still managed to buy his own home! I am all of my ancestors dreams, their legacy, their voice, so how can I not honor them. For all of the ancestors I cannot call by name, I love you and the fight continues.
I am a mama of two amazing children named Nesta Tafari (5) and Shiloh Brave (3), and a partner to an amazing beautiful black man I call my Rasta. Our family lives on the stolen land of Quinnipiac people, but you may know it as New Haven, Connecticut in the U.S.
I wear many hats in the field of education. I am the Dean of Social Emotional Learning at a public Montessori school, an anti-bias & anti-racist organizer, and Montessorian of Color in training. My only real job that matters is to show up for my children every day and be better than what I was yesterday.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
We have a rhythm that crescendos and descends throughout our day. It never really feels the same, but fits for our family. Usually, my Rasta leaves the house before I do. The kids crawl into our bed (if they didn’t scurry in in the middle of the night) whether we are in it or not! We start our morning routines with lots of kisses and gentle tugs to the bathroom/ room to get ready. We have some type of quick meal. By the time my Rasta gets back, I am out the door and off to work while he drops off the littles. He loves bringing his children to school and I love to have a little me time before I go into work. When I get to work, I try to ground myself and shift my mind to care for my other children at school. By the time I get the kids in the afternoon, get home, and clean up from the mess of the morning, the children usually play around until dinner and bath time. We read books, off to bed, and repeat til the weekend when we have more freedom to slow down our days.
Are there any philosophies or books which have influenced your approach to parenting?
There are so many philosophies and books that influence my approach to parenting, but my experience of being parented has influenced me significantly. Some of the ways I show up in my own children’s lives have been muscle memory of childhood. It is a cycle of change and progress. My mother was a single mom, rebuilding herself after addiction, and going to school full time. It was hard for her to be fully present and stress got in the way of authentic connection, so there are traits that I have taken from her and behaviors I have had to unlearn. For instance, she let me sleep in her bed until I was 12 years old! No matter how much she wanted her alone time, she always made space for me and even in my adulthood, I find so much healing force by crawling in her bed after a tough week. I am still unlearning the yelling.
I found Circle of Security and attachment parenting working in early childhood programs. It is a parent intervention workshop that centres attachment theory, held for eight weeks. The model just made a lot of sense and I am a proud COS facilitator now. There are so many other influencers in my life like Tiffany Jewell and Britt Hawthorne that challenge me to free up my children in a not-so-free America.
You are an experienced Montessori teacher, and Dean in a Montessori school – what was it that first drew you to train in the Montessori method?
I think I am still growing in my experience and learning. I have been in Montessori spaces for almost six years and this is the year where I am actually getting my training. When I got out of college, I stumbled across a position in an early childhood center with the name Montessori in it. I immediately started googling and reading up to prepare for the interview. At the end of my searches, I think I wept. I cried for the little black girl in me that needed this type of learning. I cried because if I had Montessori math, I would be a different person, but ultimately I saw so much liberation in following the child and cultivating a love for learning that all children should feel in their education. Montessori education can be a vehicle for healing marginalized communities and there are so many great examples of this across the world!
I think there is often a view that Montessori education is only for wealthy, privileged children, something you are actively working to dismantle through your work. What would you say to parents who might think that Montessori is not for them, perhaps because their family doesn’t look like the Montessori families they see on Instagram or Pinterest, or because they can’t afford expensive materials?
I would say to them that the Montessori community has harmed People of the Global Majority as has any other powerful institution. We are doing a disservice to the legacy of Maria Montessori if we continue to let white supremacy inhale and exhale into a theory based education that was suppose to liberate poor, unwanted children in the hood.
We are contaminating a pedagogical approach with our own biases, privileges, and experiences.
As a Montessori community, we have to acknowledge this in order to change the elitist view and go back to the roots of where Montessori started.
Our children deserve to be free and I believe Montessori can do that when it is rooted in anti-bias and anti-racist practices, academic rigor, and social emotional learning. Ask hard questions. Tell your story and find a Montessori program that is challenging the status quo (lead teachers of color, leadership of color, and equity in their mission). This type of education is for everyone.
You said something to me recently which made me sit up straight in my seat: “Most black women want their children to feel liberated, we just know the world sees their freedom as a threat instead of being just children.” This truth is something which is rarely acknowledged in parenting circles (something I have been guilty of): that peaceful parenting as a black parent is much harder if you live in a racist country such as the US or the UK where you are still more likely to be expelled from school, arrested, or killed based solely on the colour of your skin. Seen through this lens, peaceful parenting becomes more nuanced. I wondered if you wanted to talk a little more about this?
Historically, black children have played different roles throughout the American timeline. When they were captured and enslaved through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, there was a mass displacement of family and community. So from the very beginning, folx used their bodies like machines.
One of the hard truths of American history is slave farms where children and adults were literally being forced to mate because they were apart of an industry. They were seen as a commodity like tobacco or cotton. I remember a story where if a pregnant enslaved person got a beating, they would dig up a hole to protect their investment. This is just a piece of historical trauma black families carry in their blood. After we were technically free other adversities were created to police, surveillance, and silence black children and families.
Today, institutional racism and white supremacy continue to uphold the lie that black children are inferior to white children to the point where some black people have bought into too. So yes, we want our children to feel liberated, but it is very nuanced.
I have had to have too many conversations around race with my littles. My children are both under 5 years old. We live in a world where white children don’t learn that they are white until their black friend gets treated differently or goes to college. There is a great privilege to shield children from racism because they are not impacted by it. Whether I am at the aquarium or the grocery store, I have to be on watch. My two black children have had their hair touched, strangers come up to tell them to stop being so wild, and they have had children not wanting to sit next to them. Parenting in public is an act I dread every time I walk out the door.
I am learning how to calm the rage and advocate/educate people when harm is done, but I am only human. I too have fallen into my own internalized racial oppression doing the very same things I fight against. No black mother wants to yell or to hold their child closely in public, but they are literally being jailed and killed at alarming rates because of their very existence. Home is a safe place for their freedom to be just that! When that door closes, they know mama is a different person.
Something I love about the Montessori method is the importance it places on peace, and peace education. What are some of your favourite resources and / or ideas for discussing peace, social justice, and anti-bias / anti-racist ideas with young children?
In my experience (and I can only speak from it), peace specifically in Montessori has been a way to silence children of color. I try to use the lens of justice. My friend Britt says, “When a child has been harmed, I give them the language to say ‘and don’t do it again’”. I try to live in justice rather than peace. Peace is an inner feeling and justice is empowering others to see people like mirrors. There are a ton of Instagrammers that have more resources on their pages. Some are Tiffany Jewell, Britt Hawthorne, Katie Kitchens, The Conscious Kid, Teach and Transform, so many more!
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
There are so many joys in parenting! My favorite is simple. It is in the morning when I am setting my intentions and I hear them rustling from their slumber. That first hug and cheek kisses is the best. I wish I could bottle that moment every day and open the jar when I get really old to remind myself of the feeling of being loved in the morning time.
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
O gosh… all of it (lol)! I find the most challenging is typical: tantrums, whining, and not having the privacy you once had. It is the time when you and your partner haven’t been intimate, hearing the big prancing of little feet coming to rain on your morning sex. It is the tantrum that just never ends and you stepping away makes you feel guilty, but you know if you don’t, you will have one yourself. It is dreadful winter blues when you have to be the most creative because you cannot go outside and the whining feels like nails on a chalkboard. It is all of this and yet we still show up, bear hugging our big feelings away… and drinking lots of coffee!
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
Creating memories your children will be proud to recall makes for a beautiful childhood. They won’t remember how you worked your ass off to buy that toy. They will remember the walks in the park, explorations in the backyard, and the scrumptious meals they helped create! Meaningful experiences make up a delightful childhood.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
You are enough! Slow down when you can. Be your child’s playmate even when its hard (I am still trying to free up myself in this). Connect with them and remember behavior is a language. They are telling us something. Listen.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
There are so many. I am always a sucker for Amelia Bedelia, but my favorite in this moment is The ABC’s of the Black Panther Party by Khalilah Brann and Chemay Morales-James!
Thank you so much for your powerful and important writing Amelia.
Further links and resources
I’d like to add a few resources of my own, especially for white parents like me: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race / White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America (I have just started reading this and it is really challenging and eye opening) / Me and White Supremacy: The Workbook.