Being a celebrity woman in the entertainment business doesn’t exempt me from heart-break or the ups and downs of love. And my life sometimes imitates my art. Playing Tasha on the hit TV series, just as pouring my heart into my music brings me joy. I’m currently writing my own songs and working on an extremely vulnerable album that I can’t wait for you all to hear. You’ll discover that at my core I’m still the girl next door—the girl from East Orange, New Jersey, who had a dream. But I can use my voice to empower other women, so I’m sharing my story with you.
As a woman and a young mother, I’ve learned that we should never compromise our happiness for anyone, especially in a relationship. Women are used to sacrificing for others, and sometimes that selflessness becomes dysfunctional. You know in your heart when you’re not happy and when you’re feeling undervalued. As soon as you realize that you are settling or conceding your worth, you have to make a move. Check in with yourself and say, “Wait a minute. Is this what I want? Is this who I really am?”
My ex and I broke up three months after our daughter, Zuri, was born. I was devastated. I didn’t tell anybody about our breakup for two years, because I was embarrassed and ashamed. I recently wrote a song about it (“Stay Too Long”) because I’m not afraid to share what happened anymore. Breaking up with someone you love is real, and you might still have to put on your lipstick and your heels, walk into work and be able to deliver. And that’s hard. I went back to work shortly after having my baby girl, and I was trying to find my footing every day. Since then, I’ve learned to be unafraid and not compromise my happiness for anyone, particularly a man. As women, sometimes we say, “Well, I don’t want to be with him because he’s not this or he’s not that.” But sometimes it’s not about what he is or isn’t. It’s about what you need, sis. That’s another valuable lesson I’ve learned. I made a difficult choice to end a relationship because I had to put my own needs first.
The truth is, I was afraid to become a mother, and I honestly did not feel ready. I was uncertain about my relationship and unsure if I was going to get married. I wanted to have this perfect life because I had seen it in movies and my parents have been married for 48 years. Then it hit me: The perfect life that I envisioned may not be God’s plan for me right now, and it’s okay to be on my own journey as long as my daughter is healthy and happy.
I had to put the picture-perfect fantasy aside so that I could focus on finding the right happinness for me.
It took a while to get here. I went to counseling and had a spiritual adviser. Maintaining my sanity was challenging some days, but with my counselor’s help and the support of my family, I made it. We all go through tough times, and it’s okay to say, You know, I just need something different. No disrespect to your partner or your ex, but you might just have to recognize that you’re going in different directions. I had to put the picture-perfect fantasy aside so that I could focus on finding the right life, the right relationship and the right kind of happiness—for me. That’s been a huge shift for me, but I’m staying true to what Zuri and I need.
Right now co-parenting is what’s important to my ex and me. We may no longer be together, but we’d like to make sure that the respect is still there. Zuri needs to have a strong and healthy relationship with her father. It was important for us to continue in counseling to help us co-parent in the most positive way we can. You have to do whatever works for you and your family, and that’s what I’m trying to do—what we’re trying to do. Our ultimate goal is to make sure Zuri is safe and happy and has a strong relationship with both of her parents. As a Black girl, she needs her dad in her life to show her affection and love. Her grandfather, too, teaches Zuri how she should be treated and adored. When she grows up and starts dating, she will remember what it feels like to be well loved. It takes a village. If you are sharing parenting duties, I encourage you to find the common thread—which is your children—and put aside your issues, your unhappiness, your anger from the past.
I’m not going to lie. There are good days and bad days, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m doing my best. God has really blessed me. Even when I didn’t see it, He was blessing me. I now see that when I thought I was losing something, God was just opening up a door for something new and better to come into my life. When Zuri was just a few weeks old, I remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” to get me through some of the roughest days. As some of you know, I grew up singing in church, and something about that classic hymn always calmed my spirit. It reminded me that we all have a light inside us that’s meant to shine, and thankfully, I’ve passed that light on to my daughter. In the words of my girl India.Arie, “I am light.” I am also beautiful, special, quirky, ambitious, happy and made to be great. Never again will I dim my light for anything or anyone. That is the lesson I want to pass on to my daughter, so I must lead by example.
Being a single mother doesn’t have to mean you’re unhappy: I bought my first home a few years ago, I star on Power and I’m dating again. I didn’t get married, and I don’t have a fairy-tale love story (yet), but I’m stronger than ever and having fun too. With everything I’ve been through in my life—like not working for a few years, being kicked out of a girl singing group [3LW] and experiencing heartbreak in love—the biggest lesson I’ve learned is patience. That’s what it took for me to get to this point, and I’ll need it to keep growing as a woman, a mother and a future wife.
I’ve also learned what I will and will not accept. I won’t just jump into a relationship because I may feel lonely or want companionship. Ladies, it’s so important to seek your own happiness first, then, when the time is right, get into a relationship that nurtures you. Be patient, sis. It will come to you. And you deserve it.
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of ESSENCE Magazine, available on newsstands now.
Photographer: Adrianna Favero
Stylist and Producer: Brian McPhatter
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