"I was afraid of being a bad mom, of not living up to the great moms that I grew up with," Union told E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview. "I didn't want my lack of understanding or knowledge on every single thing to leave this gaping hole in her life."
A drastic expectation of herself, to show up literally knowing it all. But the Being Mary Jane star—whose upcoming BET+ show Gabrielle Union: My Journey to 50 is all about self-discovery and her insatiable lust for learning as she tours Africa with family and friends—eventually realized that she was allowed to not have all the answers when it came to parenting.
"As I got more confidence," she recalled, "I'm like, 'Oh, we're all winging it? We're just doing the best we can.'"
And spending those two weeks traversing Africa with Kaavia—"I don't get just two weeks of time with anybody, not even myself really," Union quipped—was especially beautiful.
"It gave me even more confidence to trust that, maybe, I'm solid at this," she said, "and I'm raising happy, healthy, free Black girls."
Motherhood is "one of the best things I've ever done in my life," Union added. And Kaavia is not only an awesome" kid with "big, big opinions," but "we're just waiting for her to tell us what's really the tea, 'cause she has it."
Speaking of barely having time for herself, Union gave a shout-out to the support system that helps care for her and Wade's sprawling family, which in addition to Kaavia includes Wade's son Zaire, 21, and daughter Zaya, 16 (with ex-wife Siovaughn Funches) and his son Xavier, 9 (with Aja Metoyer). The retired NBA star also helped raise his nephew, now-21-year-old Dahveon Morris.
Kaavia will often seek out Zaya, whose room is right across the hall, even before her mom or dad, "because she's a trusted big person," Union shared, sweetly imitating how her little one will say, "'You got to get a big person.'"
Union's younger sister lives with them, as well, and she and Wade moved their respective mothers nearby during the pandemic.
"Our village is vast," she said. "So when I talk about Kaav [taking] her first steps to Queen Latifah, it's because she's in our village." (The star of The Equalizer is already teaching Kaavia how to shoot pool, so the walking was a success.)
At the same time, with so many cooks in the kitchen, Union wants to make sure they're all bringing healthy ingredients to the table.
"We have committed to raising free girls, but we all have to be on board," she explained, "which meant a lot of us got back into therapy to really get over some of the things that we didn't heal from in our childhoods, that we started subconsciously passing onto [Kaavia]."
Once they noticed they were repeating certain patterns, Union said, "It's like, 'No.' We have to heal first so we can be better village members for her, for Zaya, for ourselves, for each other's children. 'Cause we don't have to pass on every single thing and that is our responsibility to [snipping motion] cut those cords when we are made aware."
Union herself has been in therapy for three decades. Before she embarked on an intracontinental journey to trace the roots of her heritage ahead of her 50th birthday on Oct. 29, 2022, she passed the 30-year mark of her sexual assault at the age of 19, a trauma that admittedly shaped how she'd been navigating the world.
Traveling "forces you to look at yourself," Union said. "It forces you to see what have you been centering in all that you do."
Still "broken" when she set out, "there weren't even pieces left to put together," Union described. "So by the time I threw all of that dust and, you know, a couple big chunks here, smaller pieces there, onto that plane—I didn't know what was going to emerge at the end."
But while she was away, she said, "I found myself. And you hate to reduce something to 'It was magic'—but it's the magic that can come from knowledge that Africa's not a country, it's a continent. And the reason why we [refer to it] like a country is because we were stolen and we were separated, and there are ancestral deep wounds that have never been healed. The more that we each return, and we are each continuing to reach out for one another, is how we start to heal those bonds."
Needless to say, plugging into this history has been life-changing.
"I'm a different person when I know myself," Union reflected. "For 50 years, it was almost like I had a different mask on, and it was led by trauma. Being in Tanzania, in Ghana, in Namibia, in South Africa, allowed me to take the mask off and realize, Oh, this is my superhero origin story."
More in touch with her power and potential than ever, "the next 50 years can be so many things that I never even imagined," she said. "I can be something different. I can figure out what it's like to move through the world without centering my trauma. What if I just take it out entirely and fill it up with things like peace and calm, real joy, and kindness and compassion. What is that like?"
Gabrielle Union: My Journey to 50 premieres Thursday, June 15, on BET+