Teresa Caldwell, Bow Wow’s Mom, Gets Candid About Surviving Domestic Violence

Teresa Caldwell can call herself a domestic violence survivor—and an author—helping other women overcome emotional and physical abuse. Caldwell re-released her book I Once Was Her, which details her life story, her experience with intimate partner violence, and how she fought to overcome her trauma. In addition to her advocacy work, the  multi-hyphenate is the former momager to her son Bow Wow and an entrepreneur.

Caldwell is quick to point out that there needs to be a cultural and mindset shift when it comes to domestic abuse. For the Black community, this month should be of particular importance—according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “[d]ue to systemic racism, racist policies, and racist societal structures, both Black women and Black men experience intimate partner violence at a disproportionately high rate.” Per the numbers, more than 45% of Black women and 40% of Black men “have experienced intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes.”

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Caldwell recently sat down with ESSENCE to talk about her book, being the OG momager, fighting through adversity, and how she hopes to inspire other women.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ESSENCE: What was the inspiration for writing your book and telling your story and why did you feel compelled to re-release the book now?

I’m a survivor, and I felt like I could help another survivor. Why not tell my story and share my experiences and what I’ve learned? No one ever taught me to love, so I wanted to share my story, hoping that I can help at least one person. I re-released it now because my launch date was right in the middle of the pandemic, and I couldn’t really promote it before because of COVID.

ESSENCE: What advice for do you have for those who are suffering from domestic abuse?

People always say, “why can’t you just leave?” It’s not that simple. It’s hard. My advice would be to talk to someone that you really trust, somebody who’s not going to judge you. I formed a plan, and the person that I talked with helped me form this plan, and that’s how I was able to get out. I always tell people, “You’re not alone in this.” There are so many women, and men too, and children that experience this unfortunately.

ESSENCE: Indiana State Rep. Vanessa Summers said, “…sometimes in Black culture, it’s looked down upon when you ask for help. You lean on your support systems. You don’t let others know what’s going on inside of your home.” Why is this viewpoint so toxic, and how can we change that narrative within the Black community?

You attract who you are, and I attracted what I’ve been through. I thought it was okay because that’s what I saw. I saw my mom being abused, so I thought that that meant love, that meant they cared about me, and a lot of women feel like that. We have to talk about it more, because even for me, I was ashamed. I didn’t even want my son to know my story. We have to talk about it, and it’s ok to get a therapist. I did and spent so much time and money on trying to fix myself, to protect my son and make sure that he didn’t have to go through what I went through.

ESSENCE: You just mentioned that your mom was a victim. What can be done to break this vicious cycle?

I want to emphasize again that you have to talk about it. You have to get help. Getting a therapist really helped me, because, if you don’t fix the issue, you will bring that issue to whatever relationship you’re in. If you have abandonment issues, you will bring them into your next relationship, and it’s hard dealing with a person who struggles from abandonment or being a survivor of domestic violence. Even now, if somebody talks to me in a certain type of tone, I feel like I have got to protect myself and a shield goes up.

ESSENCE: What resources or tools do you utilize when you feel like you’re in a situation where your “shield” is coming up?

Any type of relationship that I enter, I let them know that I’m a survivor, and these are the things that trigger me, these are the things that make me put up a wall, these are the things that make me defend myself. I hope that when I let people know what triggers it, that they will understand and not do [what triggers me].

ESSENCE: Switching gears slightly. You were a momager before Kris Jenner trademarked the term back in 2015. Can you tell me about your experience as the OG momager?

For me, it was hard to balance the two because as he got older, I realized that I was always in a manager mode, and not in mom mode, and for him, it was like, “oh my gosh, when you call you’re always talking about business?” So, that was kind of hard for me to maneuver back and forth. I always had to fight my way through because there was always somebody trying to remove me, like “you got your mom being a manager. You’re 18 years old, your mama should not be managing you.” Somebody was always trying to come between us.

I know my worth today, but I didn’t always know my worth. Now, I know who I am, and I know what I bring to the table.

Then he came to me maybe three years ago and he said,” Mom, I no longer want you to manage me anymore.” I was so hurt, but I understood why when he said, “Mom, you have been managing me my entire career. You have given so many of your years to me. It’s your turn to do what you want to do. Let me help you.” Now, I was able to write my book. I was able to open another boutique, and my interior design business took off, so now I’m able to do me!

ESSENCE: You wear so many hats. Can you tell me about your different roles?

I am an interior designer, and I’ve done that for years—I used to do a lot of athletes’ homes, but Atlanta Falcons’ player Grady Jarrett pulled me out of retirement and since then, I’ve been back! I also have a partner, Michael Elliott, who has really elevated my career, and we opened up a new boutique in Atlanta called The Taste Boutique. One thing about me and fashion is that I love seeing women feel beautiful. I just want women to feel empowered. I want them to know their worth, and I want them to always feel beautiful!

ESSENCE: Speaking of empowerment, what can we as Black women can do to empower ourselves, and what is something that you do to empower yourself?

I am a true, strong believer and am very, very, very spiritual. I have a really deep connection with God, and I allow God to guide my steps. I don’t do anything unless I pray on it. I know my worth today, but I didn’t always know my worth. Now, I know who I am, and I know what I bring to the table. I don’t allow anything negative into my soul. If you sent me a long text message and I know that it’s negative, I will delete it and won’t even read it. With social media, I don’t even read anything.

For empowering others, I’m always down to support my sisters and my brothers, and I think that we as women need to do more uplifting of one another and I think we need to support each other more, especially in the Black community.

ESSENCE: What do you hope that readers will take away after finishing your book?

I would love for them to take away that she went through a lot and look at where she is now. Know your worth, put in the work, and that pain is temporary. You have control over you. Again, the pain doesn’t last forever. You have the choice and the ability to change that, because I did, and I hope to inspire that in others.

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