Mom, I Got My Attitude from You (and That’s Not a Bad Thing!)

By Malahni Banta

Dear Mom,

The big question appalled and surprised parents often ask their child after a confrontational or revelatory moment is, “Where did you get this attitude from?”

I know you hate to admit it, mother of mine, but I get much of my determined and strong-willed nature from you. I and many other millennials just like me are at a point in our lives when the world is spinning just a smidgen too fast, the bonds we’ve made throughout childhood are all too often broken, and the only things we have that are constant and prevalent are the lessons and the behaviors our parents have taught us.

Mom, I know it’s hard dealing with the teenage angst, the constant sighing, and the ever-changing moods that come with raising a child. But you should also marvel at the fact that I’ve made it this far, that I’m healthy and happy, and that I continue to become more of who I am because of the guidance and persistence that are you.

Be glad you have a grounded child with a common-sense-filled head on her shoulders, who won’t take no for an answer.

Be glad you have a loud, talk-your-ear off little human to call your own.

Be glad because these children with “attitude” are the very ones who shape and save the world.

When I was small, I would attend barbecues and family events and wander away from my parents. It wouldn’t be long before someone would stop me to ask whether I was my mother’s daughter.

“Your mom is Melissa,” they’d say, a warm smile on their faces. “Is that right?” I would nod, which would prompt a short series of awkward questions and comments, perhaps followed by a quick, dry remark, and then that famous line: “Yes, you are your mother’s daughter.” Just as, I assume, parents feel when their child talks back or defies them, I was appalled at this statement. To me, I acted nothing like you, Mom.

No one says, “I know you’re Melissa’s daughter because of your eyes and nose” (although I’m sure these things help in the identification process); it’s the character traits that seal the deal. Like you, I am reserved yet confident—I may be quiet, but I don’t allow others to overstep the boundaries and rules that I’ve set for myself. I am kind, but I am not to be taken advantage of. Dry wit, intuitiveness, intelligence, and yes, maybe a little bit of attitude—these are the things I am grateful I have received from you.

There’s nothing wrong with having attitude. After all, where would we be if we didn’t have the drive to stand up for ourselves and protect our thoughts, minds, and bodies?

Like for most black individuals, attitude is what defines you and me, and it’s what keeps us from being mentally oppressed, defeated, and out-talked. Attitude is a non-violent form of protection and confrontation—where would we be in the world without this tool? Surely not where we are; where you are, Mom, or where you’ve gotten me.

Mom, when people ask me where I get my attitude from, I tell them: you. And when they ask me where I got my drive, my work ethic, my good hair, and my sense of humor, I say you as well. I will always say this. And I’ll tell them of the times you made me keep on pursuing things I’d half given up on because I thought they were “too hard.” I’ll tell them about the days you sat my siblings and me down and lectured us about how we allow people to treat us and what it means to be a young African-American boy or girl in this world. I’ll tell them of the times you pushed us to be better versions of ourselves. I’ll tell them where I got everything.

When I’m asked why I am the way I am—why I refuse to allow others to hurt me with their words or actions, why I think and speak about things openly and without fear, and why I think about things in a more complex and emotionally-responsive light—I’ll tell them.

I’ll complain to you about the arguments between us that leave me wondering about how God made us so much alike that we hardly even noticed.

But I’ll tell them about you.