Maya Angelou was the poster woman for what it looks like to be your own person. She did not cage her mind by the sexism and racism that surrounded her. She did not limit herself by the abuse she experienced. And she knew how to rise above the internal noise that abuse, abandonment, sexism and racism create in the mind. Maya saw herself as separate to all that negativity. She distanced herself from other people's expectations, because she knew she had to. Being free from other people's expectations is an essential part of speaking your truth.
Maya Angelou was an exceptionally strong and gifted woman, but we all know that no one makes it alone. Someone must have given Maya a hand up for her to have flourished so vibrantly. I only got to see Maya through her books, so I don't know how many people in her life gave her a glimpse of her greatness. But in reading Mom & Me & Mom, where Maya tells the story of her relationship with her mother, I see that behind this strong phenomenal woman was another strong phenomenal woman -- her mother, Vivian Baxter. In Mom & Me & Mom Maya reveals the emotional genes she inherited from her mother and grandmother, and how these genes enabled her to own her power.
The wisdom in Maya Angelou's mother-daughter story is that she describes a relationship that rose above the labels and expectations of what it means to be a "good mother and daughter." These two women connected as women, as people and as mother and daughter. They were able to build a bridge across the hurt and unmet expectations that lay between them by understanding the parameters of their lives and why they made the choices they did.
Hurt and unmet expectations are inevitable in any mother-daughter relationship, and the way Maya and Vivian were able to bridge them is a beacon of hope for all mothers and daughters. I believe that one of the key pillars of their bridge is that Maya really knew her mother and Vivian really knew her daughter. Maya knew the stories of her mother's life. She understood the limitations Vivian Baxter had to navigate during her life and the strength she embodied. And in return, Vivian was able to empower Maya by showing her the strength and power she too embodied. All too often I find that this kind of deep knowing is missing between mothers and daughters. Daughters don't know enough about their mother's life and mothers don't get or create enough opportunities to tell their stories and be known as a person in their own right.
The wisdom in Maya and Vivian's mother-daughter story is that these two women did not conform to the conventional role of mother and daughter. They were able to reinvent their way of relating as mother and daughter without losing themselves in the roles. This I believe gave them each breathing space. It's part of their inherited legacy that enabled Maya Angelou to soar to such brilliant heights.
Let's learn from Maya and Vivian's example and start telling our mother-daughter stories. Let's get to know each other as people rather than only as mother and daughter. And let's give our mothers the freedom to design their own lives, which means daughters will inherit the same freedom.