Trey Anthony: Why some mothers struggle with saying ‘I love you’

By Katie O'Connor - Published on Jul 05, 2016
Nam Kiwanuka talks with Trey Anthony, award-winning playwright, actor and comedian.

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I love you. Three little words that pack a powerful emotional punch. For Trey Anthony, an award-winning playwright, actor, producer and comedian, these three words created a legacy of doubt and hurt in her family.

Anthony is the writer and executive producer of Da Kink in my Hair, a critically acclaimed play set in a Caribbean-Canadian hair salon. She later launched the play as a television show, becoming the first black Canadian woman to write and produce a prime-time Canadian television series.

She is back with a new play, How Black Mothers Say I Love You, and its precursor, a candid documentary called When Black Mothers Don’t Say I Love You.

Both works explore the lives of West Indian mothers who were, by necessity, geographically separated from their children, and the larger ripples created between parents and the children they left behind.

Anthony got the idea after a conversation with her grandmother, who left Anthony’s mother in Jamaica for six years while she established a new life for her family in England. Her grandmother said her biggest regret was leaving her children behind. Anthony filmed the encounter, and showed it to her mother.

“I was just really blown away that this woman who I thought didn’t really think about that or hadn’t been bothered by that just started to break down crying and just talking about this big regret,” she tells Nam Kiwanuka in tonight’s episode of The Agenda in the Summer. “And when I showed my mother, my mother’s response was exactly the same. She was just like ‘I never thought she loved me, I didn’t think she cared about that.’”

Anthony’s mother eventually left for Canada, leaving her own daughter behind in England for three years. The experience stuck with Anthony and shaped her relationship with her mother. It’s real-world stories like this that Anthony uses to explore the gulf between emotions and words.

Here are some excerpts from Anthony’s interview with Nam Kiwanuka:

On the need to say ‘I love you’:

“I think for my mother and grandmother, and even for the women I interviewed; a lot of them said I didn’t feel the need to say it. They were like ‘If I put food on the table, if I put clothing on your back, then you should know that I love you.’ And I think a lot of these women are very much in survival mode, and they see saying I love you as a sense of weakness or ‘Why do I need to say this? I’ve showed you.’”

On motherhood:

“There was a cycle in our family of my grandmother left my mother, and then my mother, she also left me and I was raised by my grandmother. I was exploring at that time looking into motherhood and I kept thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to mother if I haven’t been efficiently mothered?’”

On forgiving her mother:

“I became much more forgiving of my mother as I started to see her not as my mother but as a human being who was very fractured, who wasn’t loved properly herself. Who didn’t have a mother who expressed emotions. Who didn’t have a mother who she could talk to.”  

Katie O’Connor is a producer at The Agenda with Steve Paikin

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