Dr. Raquel Martin is an experienced licensed clinical psychologist, devoted professor, acclaimed researcher and scientist who believes deeply in the power of Black mental wealth – an affirming, lifelong journey that encourages Black people to center mental health practices as integral and intentionally linked to success and wellbeing.
Dr. Martin is on a mission to radically reimagine Black possibility by promoting Black mental health as key to legacy-building and longevity for generations to come.
As a mom, partner, mentor, and a Black woman navigating racism, gender bias and oppression, she embraces the importance of protecting mental health. Dr. Martin is publicly transparent with her own experiences and vulnerabilities because she knows that “healing in public helps those who need to heal in private.”
I got to chat with Dr. Raquel over zoom, and let me tell you, I could’ve talked with her for hours. As a mother of two young girls (7 and 4) who struggles with anxiety and depression, it’s so refreshing to hear perspectives like Dr. Martin’s that are real and raw and relatable. It’s a long interview, but 100% worth the read. I hope it encourages you.
Vittoria: Well, I’d just love to start off by you just sharing in your own words what you do and why you do it.
Dr. Raquel: So, I’m a licensed clinical psychologist, I’m also an assistant professor and scientist within my university, Tennessee State University. I have my own private practice where I do therapy, individual, group, and family therapy as well as consultation services, and speaking engagements. I did a TEDx in January. And my focus is primarily black mental health, anti-racist and anti-oppressive frameworks, and identity development.
I’m also a mom, I have two boys, one is four and one is one. So, I’ve always been pretty passionate about mental health, especially mental health that prioritizes the black community, because there’s so much stigma around mental health overall, especially with the black community and with the impact of like epigenetics regarding trauma sustained and mental health. And when racism was discovered, as a, like a public health identify as public health crisis, I really felt the need to make sure that like my platform, when it comes to content creation, focuses on that narrative and ways to support people in different environments. Lately, I feel like I’ve been getting more of a mouthpiece with mom’s stuff.
I very much find a purpose to healing in public to help those who heal in private. And I’m very transparent about days that suck and days that are amazing and putting the “and” in between those because they are both there. And lately, it seems like more people are resonating with oh, so how do you see this as a professional and as a mom? But I’m giving a name to the things that we don’t really get to talk about. So, I integrated that between my own personal experience as a mom, as well as my professional experience, working with moms and having training in that. And I’m able to work at different age levels as well, like some of my patients are having their own children. Some of them are thinking about children, some of my students are, you know, they think they’re grown, but their kids.
So, I feel like by being transparent, I make it a safe space for people to feel comfortable sharing, like, oh my gosh, my child touched me, and I wanted to like jump out, just jump out the window. I’m like, you sound like you’re experiencing sensory overload. I can say this from a mental health perspective. And I can also say this from the fact that I am hiding in my pantry, because if one of my children touches me again, I’m going to leave.
Vittoria: Oh, man, it is so real. It’s so real. Did you expect that your social platform would kind of lead in that direction [of motherhood content] eventually?
Dr. Raquel: No, I didn’t even expect to have a social platform. I started on social media, because some of my patients were complaining about needing more accessible resources. When I was at Hopkins, and they were talking about how they needed more accessible resources. And when I went online, I was like, Oh, you’re right…I said, I can easily do this. And honestly just expected to be talking to maybe 10 people. I never dreamed that my platform at this point, has like over 900,000 followers across platforms when it comes to TikTok and Instagram and YouTube. And the mom piece just came out with the fact that I’m just transparent about anything, everything anyway. When I was in school, I was more transparent about the stressful aspects of school and my life and my day to day and becoming a mom talking about like the delivery piece and the the fear of delivering, especially with black maternal mortality rates and my recovery…why did no one tell me this? I would have appreciated it. You know, so many times people talk to me about oh, you know, this is what you do while you’re pregnant. No one talked about the whole aspect of the fourth trimester, no one talked about…honestly the gross stuff with delivery. Like when my water broke, I was like, “this is disgusting”. And I just I feel like a lot of times people don’t do it because they feel shame or they feel isolated, or they feel uncomfortable. And I don’t have any of that, personally, my threshold is very high. So as long as it helps one person I don’t care. I’ll talk about everything.
“As long as it helps one person I don’t care. I’ll talk about everything.”
So, when I came into the space of having two little monsters, I call them my monsters, I call them my bosses, because they know I work for them….When social media is done right, there is this amazing aspect of being able to see people through the shared experience of what I call the mama mafia, because there’s no more shared space and supportive space than moms. And just being like, you are a goddess, you take that nap, who cares? Right? When it’s done right there’s amazing community. So, I tried to make sure I’m an option of being able to do it right, from my experience, but also giving some info about developmental expectations and you know, the impact of the fact that corporal punishment doesn’t work or talking about being touched out… just trying to integrate the whole aspect of everything.
I think so many times, one of the stressors I saw with a lot of my patients before I had children was the expectation to prioritize being a mom above all else. And I very much think my children are one of the planets in my orbit, but they are not my world, right? I was a human before I met them. And I really feel like all children should be able to see their parents prioritize other things so that they know that that’s normal. We normalize apologies, they need to understand that consent doesn’t start or stop at any age. So, if I want space, I tell you that I want space. So, you know that you can tell me when you want space, right? Just being fully functioning humans. And I think that’s the thing that makes parenting even more difficult, right? Just being like, everything centers around your children now. I mean, your child may, they may be having an issue and they need to be picked up at this moment. But at this moment I’m experiencing sensory overload. So, “mom can pick you up in five minutes. Right now, she’s going to sit in the bathroom on the floor. And breathe and regulate myself.”
“And I very much think my children are one of the planets in my orbit, but they are not my world, right? I was a human before I met them. And I really feel like all children should be able to see their parents prioritize other things so that they know that that’s normal.”
We’re all going through it. It’s just, we’ve been so used to people, you know, someone has been shamed, or guilted after they shared their experience that they just stopped sharing it. Me? I’m very much an east coaster. And if you hate what I have to say, then logout, but somebody else it can help…I’m just really trying to normalize it, because we deserve to be whole human beings, our children deserve to see us prioritize things other than them.
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Vittoria: I really love just your passion for having a space where people can feel seen, because I think you’re right, everyone’s on social media. And so how can we use it to actually create community or a sense of belonging? We’ve totally bought into this idea when our kids are younger that I’m just going to be exhausted and burnt out and lost until they’re out of the house. And you’re kind of flipping that and saying, it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, we will be tired, and you can take care of yourself. Both, and.
Dr. Raquel: I find that when I’ve worked with patients, who…the only thing is their child, or their child was the only thing that the parent had, when they do eventually leave, and they build their own lives it’s really tough. It’s tough on the child, because a lot of times they feel as though it’s their responsibility to give their parents something to do and then they start feeling guilty. It’s tough for the parent, because they put so much of their identity into their child that they don’t really know their likes or dislikes and stuff like that. You can have that transition where you figure out new stuff that you enjoy. But it’s sometimes when I see scenarios where there’s a bit of resentment towards partners in the new family that the child has built. It’s because sometimes they feel like [they] get more access to [the] child than [they] do now. And [for the child, they think], “What? I don’t remember filling out a request form to be born. And I didn’t ask him to cancel everything. And I didn’t ask you to make that your boundary, like you did that on your own accord, you know?
Children are developmentally set up to be selfish, they’re set up to take and take and take, because that’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s up to you to say, this is what I have to give. People will feel upset about the change in transition, but it’s really that they violated their own boundaries. A boundary is what guides your behavior, a rule guides someone else’s behavior. Your children are going to be set up to take, that’s what they should be doing. But your boundary is to decide how much you give. And when you cross that own boundary, when you violate it yourself, it just, it really severs the relationship that you can have with your children. And it’s not their fault. You know, like, if I let my youngest climb back in the womb, he probably would. If I helped him his entire life, he would probably enjoy it. It’s up to me to be like, I’m going to put you down. I know that you’re not in pain. I’m going to go upstairs, and I’m going to, you know, shower or something like that. Like, I have to set that up myself.
“Your children are going to be set up to take, that’s what they should be doing. But your boundary is to decide how much you give.”
Vittoria: Yeah. Oh, man. I had a conversation with my mom recently, because my husband and I were going out on a date. She was asking us to come over for dinner. I was like, oh, sorry, we have plans. And she said, you and Jon, go on more dates than your dad and I ever went on in our marriage. And I was like, well, that’s on you! That’s fine. That worked for you. That doesn’t work for us. We’ve got to go out.
Dr. Raquel: I need to engage the person that I decided to create these children with, I said to my husband the other day, we were having like a rough morning. It was like eight o’clock in the morning. But we had already been on for two and a half hours. And we’re on tantrum number 52. And I whispered in his ear, “I just want to remind you, that we are not the problem. Our children are. Okay? We’re amazing human beings. We used to be funny. We got good taste in music. We’re amazing. They are the problem. Yes. It’s a ‘cut this up in concentric slices, or he’s going to send it back’.” You know?
We had a relationship before these children and in order for, in my opinion, to make them become fully functioning human beings and have good priorities and stuff, they need to also see us have hobbies, too. “My mom, she [hangs out] with me. And she also has her friends. And I see what healthy friendships look like.” And, “My mom got stuff right. But she also got stuff wrong. So once you apologize to me, I understand what an apology should look like.”
Vittoria: Yeah. Modeling. Generally, as parents, you know, we’re being pulled in so many directions. What are some of the most common issues that you see come across in your practice with parents? And in regards to their mental health?
Dr. Raquel: I would say, not understanding the difference between boundaries and rules. I see all these articles about like, what do you do when someone violates your boundaries? And those articles are always wrong, because the only person who can violate your boundaries is you. So that title should be, “What do you do when you have violated your boundaries?” And how do you identify what contributed to violating your boundaries? I make sure that we speak about food in a healthy way, right? It’s not about good food or bad food. It’s about different foods gives you energy to do different things, different foods stick with you longer. So when I went to my parents’ house, and they told me that my daughter was eating too much bad food, what got in the way of me stating that we don’t talk about food that way? So I think when people can define differences between boundaries and rules, they can also further define their own parenting boundaries, and see what that looks like for them.
I think being touched out is something that happens with a lot of individuals and not setting appropriate boundaries. I have to acknowledge that I need to have a certain amount of alone time every single day. If it’s at six pm every single day and I’ve established with my husband from 6 to 6:30, I sit by myself and go upstairs and I violated that boundary? Now I feel like I’m going to have to pick up my child and I can’t refill my cup. And because of that, I’m saying that my child is the issue, but really communication was the issue. What got in the way of me stepping away?
There isn’t enough conversation about the difficulties with mental health that happens with dads. A lot of times it’s attributed to the birthing person. However, men are going through significant changes within their sleep routine, their hormone regulation, not to mention birth trauma of watching whatever happened to your wife and trying to be perceptive with that. So I also see lack of normalization of men discussing when they’re having difficulties. There’s a significant thing placed on men. I always say patriarchy is detrimental for everyone, because the aspect of feeling like now you have all this protection that you have to do and you’re the only person who can do it – that’s patriarchy…Feeling that now everything is your responsibility and not feeling like you can talk about it, that is the issue mental health wise.
“I always say patriarchy is detrimental for everyone, because the aspect of feeling like now you have all this protection that you have to do and you’re the only person who can do it – that’s patriarchy…Feeling that now everything is your responsibility and not feeling like you can talk about it, that is the issue mental health wise.”
I also see differences regarding this transition with – whether it’s multi caregivers in the home or with grandparents and stuff – putting their expectations on you regarding parenting. You gave a perfect example of a what I would say it’s like a script level statement, “that was your choice, and this is mine.” My job is not to make you understand, my job is to let you know that this is my choice Just acknowledging the differences between how you were reared versus the way you want to rear your children is something that I see people struggling with and being able to state that without being offensive to their parents.
I feel that a lot of parents lately are making sure that their children are taken care of. But they feel as though there’s so many apps out. there’s so many toys out, there’s so many things that state that you should be doing all this with your children that I think it’s overkill. I think there are different ways to engage your children that don’t have to involve play. Lately, I’ve been more so integrating my children into tasks that I have to do in the first place. The goal is engagement, the goal is connection. But it doesn’t mean that it has to be playing because honestly, no matter what I do, I’m doing the play wrong. So if I have to fold clothes, I’ll give you a set of clothes to fold with me. Because you just want to be close to me. You’re going to do a terrible job, but you’re going to do a job and you enjoy doing it and I’ll refold them later, right? I make biscuits on Saturdays, and I give my son this certain piece of biscuit dough to make. He makes his own biscuit, totally overworked biscuit. I have to do it anyway, so I don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on him and playing with him because he’s learning that I’m integrating you within myself. A lot of times parents are feeling this requirement to play with their children like 50,000 hours a day. And I really always encourage them to try to incorporate your children in the stuff that you’re going to do anyway. Even if they’re not helping you cook the entire dish, give them a cutting board, give them the safe things to cut with and they’re just gonna go to town and you can still get something done. The expectation is incredibly unrealistic. And then also prioritize them learning life skills, right? My son can make his own PB and J and to me, it looks awful. Children are actually more likely to eat foods that they engage in making in the first place. Like they might not eat the whole thing, but they’re more likely to try it.
“I think there are different ways to engage your children that don’t have to involve play. Lately, I’ve been more so integrating my children into tasks that I have to do in the first place. The goal is engagement, the goal is connection.”
Vittoria: I mean since I work from home full time, that idea of bringing them alongside these things that I have to do is necessary because I literally don’t have time to sit with you and play. I have to do the laundry now I have to do the dishes, and they love doing the dishes, and I have to wash them over again. We’ve got stuff to do. That’s just reality.
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Dr. Raquel: We have stuff to do. That’s just what it is. And I don’t want them to feel like they’re a burden getting in the way of what I’m doing. So just come do it with me….Trying to engage them in different things and understanding that it is going to be tough and justifying your emotions by [saying], I feel overwhelmed, because this is overwhelming. Just normalizing. I feel tired, because, you know, sleep is a torture technique. And I’ve been tortured for years. You know, don’t feel like you have to totally align with someone else’s experience. [I tell] my patients, “next time you say, ‘I feel this way’, before you disparage it, I want you to say, ‘I feel sad, because this is sad. I feel overwhelmed. Because this is overwhelming.’” If you feel the need to justify your emotions, then just repeat the word, right? I feel justifiably angry and exhausted. And I feel like that helps a lot. As well as just understanding that it’s going to be difficult.
My child has an issue with screen time. I personally, when I was growing up, my great grandma called the TV, the idiot box, and I never forgot that. I personally don’t really watch that much TV. My son has a difficult transition from it because we only watch TV on weekends. And every single time we transition from TV, it is the most stressful thing. It would be an hour-long tantrum. It feels like it. Some parents may [say], “Okay, we don’t watch TV”, but the only way to keep teaching them how to transition better is to keep doing it. I feel it’s a big struggle for parents. “Well, they acted like monsters at the restaurant.” I’m going to tell you a secret. You gotta go again. And again.
Vittoria: Our kids have lessons to learn!
Dr. Raquel: They have lessons to learn. And I feel like that’s a big struggle. I think a lot of times the [perspective] is to avoid it. But I think parents need to realize that they have to keep doing it. And then just adjust… We make sure we go to restaurants at nonprime time. Oh, you want to go on a Friday night? I would rather mop the ocean honey. Yeah, I’m not going to a restaurant Friday night with my children. So I feel like a lot of times when you get stressed out you avoid it, but that kind of increases the issue.
Vittoria: Well, this is a good transition into the last question I’ll ask. Ergobaby parents are parents typically with younger kids and these parents, you know, are in the trenches. Sleepless nights, diaper changes, potty training, all the messes all the things. So what would be a few pieces of practical advice that you’d give to these parents to take care of their mental well being?
“A lot of times we fill up our tank when it’s empty. You need to fill it up when it’s half full.”
Dr. Raquel: One of the biggest things is going to be self-monitoring. Here’s the thing. A lot of times we fill up our tank when it’s empty. You need to fill it up when it’s half full. And in order to be able to do that, you need to identify what the signs are when you get there. [Something like], “I can hold you for like 15 minutes” when I’m like towards a quarter empty. If it’s like five minutes to [handle] touch, I need a break. I also know in my body that I have increased heart rate and everything sounds way louder. I have skin thickening and sensory overload and I know that that’s what I’m leaning towards [empty].
One of the biggest things I state is to quantify in your day to day when it goes too far because we always have those moments where we raised our voice we didn’t mean to, or we’re a little shorter than we want to be. Take the time to see what led up to that point. What were the signs that I was getting to that point? How can I count on them in the future, and work on filling it up at half full.
The biggest part is starting with education – educating yourself, and then educating those around you. I had this issue when I was first nursing my first my first son, and it was constant touch, and my husband touched me and I flinch. And of course, he felt terrible about that. But I had to educate myself on being touched out. So, I could tell him what it was. So we could normalize that, and so that I could tell him what I needed during that time. When it comes to parenting it’s very important [in those early parenting years] to over communicate. We over communicate a lot, and it sounds absurd, but it helps because we forget stuff every single second. I forget to blink at some point, you know, I don’t know if I’m blinking or sleeping like I legit cannot tell the difference. We use statements such as “this is what I got”, versus “this is what I needed” when we have disconnects – make the point to advocate for what your needs are and don’t feel bad for sharing them. Just like you said, we’re in the trenches. Okay. We just make it to the next day. And you do so much by eight o’clock in the morning – they’ve been up for hours and had multiple tantrums, I’ve done four butt changes I’m wiping butts, noses, ears, I don’t even know why this food is wet. Take it moment by moment to understand that it’s not necessary, in my opinion, for both of you guys to be 100% the entire time. I’m able to take a step back and identify during the day with my husband, when I’m going to check out a little bit to take a minute over to the side. And when he’s going to do that. I’m very lucky to have a partner who gets it…I’m in the front room with them. And they’re both playing with me, there’s no reason for you to be in here. They don’t need all hands on deck right now. So, what I need you to do is slide out the back and get some time to yourself.
“…we’re in the trenches. Okay. We just make it to the next day. And you do so much by eight o’clock in the morning – they’ve been up for hours and had multiple tantrums, I’ve done four butt changes I’m wiping butts, noses, ears, I don’t even know why this food is wet. Take it moment by moment…”
[Another piece of advice] I would say is bringing other activities into play and having them play with stuff that is pretty simple. If my son gets sick of painting, instead of painting in the coloring book, I got a big piece of paper, and then I put it on the wall. The novel aspect is painting on the wall. But it’s not really different. Be parenting, but you don’t have to be fully active. The name of the game is just keeping them engaged and switching it around…I make it a point to come up with little activities, things like cutting up paper from the Dollar Tree, or we can make bubbles or play Legos in the tub. You can do the washable paint on the wall. I think that’s also helpful to have these little activities where they’re going to make a mess, but they can kind of be a little bit self-contained so that maybe I can drink my coffee, lukewarm, it’s never going to be hot, I’ll probably never have hot coffee again. But setting up activities like that can really help your mental health because when you feel like it’s your sole responsibility to entertain your child, it’s very stressful.
I always say don’t feel guilty for your needs. Anytime you feel that guilt – that mom feel, that parent guilt, that dad guilt, just remind yourself, “I can’t be the parent my child deserves when I am not rested, I cannot be the parent my child deserves and when I have not eaten…My child deserve someone who can regulate themselves so that I can co-regulate them.” And that’s the best way to advocate for yourself…I always say combat that guilt by acknowledging the fact that your children deserve a fully functioning human and we teach them. If we’re not regulated ourselves, they’re not going to get that. So, advocate for yourself, educate….And hopefully, that was enough. I can go for days.
“I always say don’t feel guilty for your needs. Anytime you feel that guilt – that mom feel, that parent guilt, that dad guilt, just remind yourself, ‘I can’t be the parent my child deserves when I am not rested, I cannot be the parent my child deserves and when I have not eaten…My child deserve someone who can regulate themselves so that I can co-regulate them.’ And that’s the best way to advocate for yourself…I always say combat that guilt by acknowledging the fact that your children deserve a fully functioning human and we teach them.”