Oprah calls her a "Wonder Girl" and says her parents "have done an incredible job creating a powerful, independent woman."
Grown-ish actress Yara Shahidi, and her mother, Keri Shahidi, are redefining what we think of the parent-child relationship. Intimate. Honest. Nonjudgmental.
The two help each other with their most troubling issues—and celebrate their differences. Here's how they do it.
The Greatest Gift
My Mother Gave
Me—and It Didn't
Cost a Thing
From Holden Caulfield meandering the streets of New York to every YA movie or TV show ever made in which the story depends on the parents "conveniently" not being around, it seems clear: We have gotten used to the narrative of Teenager vs. The World. And sometimes, it truly feels like that. Sometimes, it truly is like that. My generation is inheriting a world riddled with political, social and cultural problems, and yet we're also being told our avocado toast obsession is bankrupting the family budget. Over and over, it seems that our parents—and adults in general—"just don't understand."
Fortunately, that isn't how my family was/is/will ever be structured. Whether it was the absence of television in my life or just the very intentional parenting that I was provided, my relationship with my parents stems from one thing: dialogue.
Watching my mother maneuver through the world, I recognized that the gift that she possesses and that she has bestowed upon me is that of well-informed opinions. Our conversations are built on the foundation of mutual respect and an understanding that our perspectives are well crafted and worthy of each other's attention. What a lesson to learn as a little girl: My perspective, opinions, words are worthy.
We share the understanding that it is impossible for one person to know everything, and so have released ourselves from any shame or stigma of not knowing something. We recognize that the contexts in which we grew up are, on the surface, very different, but that the visceral reactions to the problems of our lives are the same, no matter what the decade and no matter what war we are protesting.
Possibly one of the most tumultuous journeys I have taken in my 18 years was discovering how to cultivate relationships with people around me while still respecting my boundaries and value system. This is a conversation that has kept my mama and me up many a night—sometimes with tears in my eyes, and sometimes with a sense of hope when Mommy verbalized all the feelings that I had kept pent up and was unable to identify.
Photo Credit: Taylor Miller for BuzzFeed
I even remember the personal shock of realizing that my mother—who I call a "professional professional" because she seems to have it all together—was going through something with one of her friends that was parallel to an experience I had just had. Time and time again, we realize that age doesn't apply to the cyclical nature of life, and, more times than not, the two of us can relate on almost any topic. Because of her openness and transparency, it's easy to listen, truly hear what she is saying and figure out how her story and advice is applicable to my situation.
When it came to identity, it was Mama who turned to me. Being fortunate enough to be in the vanguard of a movement dedicated to creating the terminology and power to self-identify, I can understand how sometimes it feels as though an entirely new vocabulary is being introduced each day. Rather than dismissing this as a trivial aspect of Generation Z, Mommy wanted to learn! And so, we sat down and discussed the term "cis" (or "cisgender": when your gender identity aligns with your birth sex), what the "+" is in the LGBTQ+ community, the importance of pronouns, and how we recognize that we both still have even more to learn.
These are the conversations that form the foundation of a relationship that negates the stereotype of a dysfunctional and adversarial mother-daughter bond. Sharing in this way, for me, means that I have more than a mother; I have an ally. And I have a source of wisdom. And I have an active listener. Together, we are building a bond based on trust.
Photo by Kevin Mazur / Getty Images
I feel fortunate to have been raised by a family that has remained invested in my growth. My family believed in education as a tool that assists in exploring how to be of service to the world and for the sake of building the "thinking muscle." My family was also nontraditional, as it had always included biological relatives, teachers, neighbors, parents of friends and so on, which felt to me to be a full and rich upbringing because I was encouraged to seek knowledge from those around me.
As a child, I frequently woke up to the deep voice of my father reciting his affirmations into our old, clunky tape recorder. Written on my spirit was the potential to be and do anything. Time after time, I heard my father say that to himself and to me and my siblings. On the basketball court—where my father took me and my older brother—I played full court, many times alongside nine men. The courts reinforced for me that traditional norms and expectations were simply untrue.
Academically, my brilliant mother taught me that math and analytical thinking were fun and exciting, during a time when girls weren't expected to excel in the field. My mother showed me that math was made for me and that I could enjoy it like the puzzles we completed together on the weekends. And, thanks to her, I was a whiz kid in math.
Photos by Kevin Mazur / MG18 and Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images
Now, as I near 50 years of age, my husband and I have three children. Our first child, Yara, is a beautiful reflection of my first foray into my own womanhood as a mother. While she travels on her path, entering into her 19th year, Yara has consciously moved toward her purpose. She has been offered a seat at the table with others who are impassioned to push back on inequity. She is creating bonds with peers and mentors who inspire her curiosity.
During their conversation last month, Yara and Oprah talked about what drives them to seek their purpose on the public stage. And to see Yara sitting alongside a woman who illustrates the essence of purpose-driven living reflected so succinctly our familial and spiritual guidance.
Daily, people ask Yara and me about our relationship and our commitment to each another. As I watch Yara blossom into young adulthood, I revel in her accomplishments, as I remember the teenage fears all too well: the uncertainty about forming bonds of friendship and trust outside the home, the angst around traveling the world, and the hard lessons about using your internal voice as support. Along the way, Yara continues to find the courage to persevere on her personal journey to finding what is true for herself.
All I did—and still do—was to be open and honest with her as well as to assure her that the only goals she had to reach were those she decided for herself. Letting myself be vulnerable in front of her has been the biggest gift to our relationship. I share my insecurities and flaws because I am still growing and learning, and I want my daughter to know that.
Photo by Rich Polk / Stringer / Getty Images
Photo by Gotham / Contributor / Getty Images
My daughter teaches me something new every day, and for that I thank her every day. I ask for her insight and wisdom because she is not merely my child but a child of the world, with a depth of understanding that is uniquely hers. During a period of loneliness, I turned to her to discuss meaningful friendships. I was missing a sister group that I could lean on, and didn't know how to create one at my age. It was my daughter who reminded me that the friendships I already had were the foundation of the group I desired. It was my daughter who encouraged me to find my outdoor life, even though I have had a lifelong fear of dirt and grass! And it is my daughter who now joins our robust walk-and-talk hiking group that I formed with my dear friend Fox @keriandfox.
It is through my daughter's eyes that I see my potential, and I am grateful. My investment in her has been one of love and responsibility. I was taught, and believe, that when children let us peek into their world of dreams, we have an obligation to nurture those dreams. For example, Yara fell head over heels into the world of literature at the age of 5, and so we created our own literary canon filled with inspired authors and books, steeped in diversity of thought and people, for her to access.
When she showed a love of history, we traveled to sit among sights she had only read about. When she showed a strong academic aptitude, we searched for educational institutions that kept her inspired and excited to learn. When Yara moved past our career as mommy-daughter commercial actors and into her own television and film world, we celebrated these new opportunities. We share our favorite books, poems and movies with each another—mom to daughter and daughter to mom. We share the love of our bond publicly and openly because it is a gift that is hard to contain.
Keri Shahidi is a mid-westerner, turned Angeleno entrepreneur, wife and mother to three beautiful children. Trained as an educator, Keri went on to complete her Master's in Business, with the intention of creating her own opportunities and fulfilling her dreams. Raised in an atmosphere of visualization, manifestation and abundance, Keri found and married her co-conspirator, Afshin Shahidi, a renowned photographer and cinematographer.
As a successful commercial actress, Keri has starred in numerous international broadcast and print campaigns. Keri and Afshin are parents to three compassionate, driven children, who are also successful actors. With over 21 years in the entertainment industry, Keri has used the experience she has gained while navigating her and her children's careers to assist others in understanding and navigating the entertainment industry. Keri deeply believes that the power of community, abundance, gratitude and focus have been the cornerstone of her family's successes and adventures.
Yara Shahidi is an actress, model, activist and breakout star of ABC's Emmy- and Golden Globe- nominated comedy series "black-ish." She stars as popular teen Zoey Johnson, an ambitious, technologically infatuated high school student. Shahidi currently stars on the "black-ish" spin-off "grown-ish" which explores Zoey's transition into adulthood as well as issues facing both students and administrators in the world of higher education.
Since "black-ish" launched in 2014, Shahidi has been awarded a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress, a Gracie Award for Female in a Breakthrough Role and, most recently, highlighted on TIME Magazine's annual 30 Most Influential Teens list as well as Forbes 30 Under 30 on behalf of her television contributions and humanitarianism. Shahidi is definitely one of Hollywood's most heralded young talents as she continues to use her platform to empower and inspire others. Politically engaged and purpose driven, Shahidi launched Eighteen X '18 earlier this year to empower first time voters to turn out for upcoming mid-term elections.
Last June, Shahidi graduated with honors from The Dwight School in New York and will attend Harvard University where she will double major in sociology and African-American studies. A lover of Greek mythology, history and public service, she spends her free time reading classic novels, rock climbing and traveling with her family. Shahidi resides in Los Angeles with her parents and two young brothers.
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