The Single Parent Trap

The Single Parent Trap

As a single mother of two boys, we have serious work to do in the Black community and there are some very deep wounds festering among us. I sense hurt, resignation, resentment, anger, confusion, and emotional fatigue.

Though we may disagree on root causes and solutions, I believe there’s one thing we should all be able to admit: single parenting and the attendant and antecedent dynamics are longstanding and complex, especially as they relate to relational issues between Black men and women. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think I have at least some level of understanding of these issues, and a degree of empathy for both sides. So in that spirit I offer some words to us all.

It’s futile to attempt to dialogue on the issue of single mothers, their children, and the men who fathered those children, without speaking truth into the situation. So from that point I begin.

Some Hard Truths

1. Strictly speaking, mothers are not fathers. This is true whether the parents are married and raising a child together, or separated. The truth of this statement lies not only in function, but in form. To insist that somehow mothers can be fathers is to ignore some very basic realities.

Fatherhood, like motherhood, originates and is defined not just by what a parent does, but also by who the parent is. So then, gender is a foundational underpinning of parenthood. Men are fathers; women are mothers. Acknowledging this truth in no way minimizes or detracts from the unavoidable reality that there are some women who do things that we would traditionally associate with a male role in a child’s life, just as there are some men who perform some of the actions associated with a female role.

But there’s more to parenthood roles than what we do; indeed what we do, and how we do it, is bound to be influenced by who we are. For example, I can teach my son to shave or tie a tie. I can show him a razor, explain how to put the shaving cream on his face, what to do if he nicks himself, etc. I can cover all the technicalities of the process. His father can explain those same things to him, using exactly the same words I use. But it’s not just about the mechanical process; it’s equally about the nuances that come out while father and son are going through this ritual. His father can tell him about the first time he shaved, who helped him learn how to do it, how it feels to get razor bumps. As a man, his father can help our son identify as a man who now does things that other men do. These are things that as a woman, and by virtue of the fact that I am a woman, I simply cannot do. We desperately need to come to terms with this because as long as we resist this truth, we perpetuate a number of undesirable consequences. These are just a few of those consequences:

• We short-circuit the identity formation and development of our children. It’s important for kids to understand how men and women function differently in families and in society.

• We potentially rob fathers of the opportunity to fully grow and develop in their role. Sometimes all a man needs to step up is for the mother to step back … even just a bit will often be enough.

• As women, we overtax ourselves trying to fill roles we weren’t designed to operate in. If we are indeed the only parent in our child’s life, then of course there are actions we must do. But we can do them while acknowledging that as a woman, there will be something missing because we are not a man.

• Sometimes people and resources that could fill some gaps in our child’s life go untapped because we believe that we are indeed mother and father. Simply put, we don’t look for what we feel we haven’t lost.

2. Mothers and fathers both need to determine if they’re really putting the needs of their children first. I know this one is challenging. So much hurt and pain often passes between parents that our emotional baggage piles up on our sons and daughters, and we often don’t realize what’s happening. When fathers are absent or uninvolved, it causes an incredible strain on everyone involved, including grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members.

But the strain is equally damaging when mothers are hostile, resistant, or overstressed. Let’s commit to being better parents. We must ask ourselves some tough questions, for example:

• Am I willing to let the other parent perform his/her role in the way he/she wants to and is able to? Or do I insist that my child’s father/mother parent like I do?

• Do I pray for my child’s mother/father, that they will be the parent my child needs? Or have I made it difficult to pray because I have unresolved issues that I can’t let go of?

• Do I consistently support the other parent’s efforts, no matter how small I think they are? Or do I instead focus on what I believe the other parent leaves undone?

• Do I make every reasonable effort to overcome obstacles that challenge me as I try to be a good parent? Or am I making excuses for why I’m not taking care of business?

• Do I accept constructive criticism and feedback from the other parent on how I could make our relationship and interactions as parents healthier, and then work diligently, and without resentment, to address those issues? Or am I more interested in being right and winning arguments?

• Do I have a martyr complex? Do I find reasons to refuse help so that my child will see me as the better, more committed parent, and therefore shower more love on me? Or am I actively seeking the other parent’s input and suggestions with a true intention to work with him/her?

Pray, Think, Talk

There are, of course, many more questions that will give us insight on the position of our hearts. But the ones shared here can at least get us started on a road that leads to more transparent, effective parenting. In a future column, I’ll outline some additional ideas to keep the conversation going.

So, what do you think?

Do me a favor. Read this article all the way through, and then put it aside for 24 hours. During that time, pray about what you’ve read and how you feel about it. Ask the Lord to give you insight on what applies to you and what He wants you to do about it. Then read the article again. Please share your thoughts by commenting at any point in this process.

I love our community and I’m praying for us all.

John Edwards Is Not Guilty

John Edwards Is Not Guilty

ACQUITTED SINNER: Former Sen. John Edwards and family last month outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was found not guilty on one of six counts of campaign corruption. The judge ruled a mistrial on the other five. (Photo: Chucky Liddy/Newscom)

The campaign-corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is history now. His former mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a daughter, is now on tour promoting her memoir, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. She announced during a TV interview that she and Edwards are no longer a couple, but will continue raising their daughter together. Soon, both will be out of the news cycle, but their saga possibly offers a lasting lesson for many Christians concerning this question about sin and crime.

A jury found Edwards, an admitted sinner, not guilty on one count that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in order to hide his adulteress affair. The jury deadlocked on five other similar counts. The acquittal hasn’t totally exonerated Edwards of campaign finance crimes, but the U.S. State Department dropped the case anyway.

Edward’s sin with Hunter occurred while he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States and while his late wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer. Like many men (and women) caught in an immoral self-inflicted bind, Edwards lied and lied until the truth, as it always does, eventually came to light. Many people who paid attention to the case agree that Edwards was put on trial more so as punshment for being unfaithful to his dying wife and for his hubris to believe he could sneak his secret into the White House.

And so Edwards publicly confessed his sins (which the Bible, in 1 John 1:9, states will be forgiven) before God and the world. However, should the government criminalize a sin that basically affects only the imperfect consenting adults involved? Should the church get riled about certain sins, while giving a pass to others?

I’ve been wondering about this most recently since President Obama announced in a TV interview in May that he supports same-sex marriage. The president caused an uproar among many Christians that still simmers, including among many of his supporters in the black church. But should the government, under political pressure from the church, legislate against same-sex marriage, especially when in America two consenting heterosexual adults can marry and divorce without the church being involved? Should most Christians insist that same-sex marriage be illegal, when homosexuality is actually listed in the Bible equally among other sexual sins, including adultery, that are not federal crimes?

A sin is a transgression against divine law for which Christians believe the sinner will be accountable at the judgment seat. The sinner mainly puts him or herself at risk with God. A crime is an action against the people that injures the “public welfare.” Like a drunk driver who runs a stop sign, or an armed robber, committing a crime puts several innocent people potentially at great risk. The government, working on behalf of the people, therefore has a duty to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Does the same duty apply to non-felonious sins?

Obviously many sins are also crimes such as, for example, being a serial killer. But what injury does same-sex marriage between two consenting adults cause to the public welfare? Is it more severe than adultery? Is it more destructive than divorce, a sin that often tears families and wounds innocent children? God allows divorce (which should be a last resort when reconciliation fails) under certain circumstances. Neither adultery nor divorces are federal crimes. Thankfully America is a democracy — a nation of Christians, believers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists, who for the most part believe in preserving the separation of church and state, and not a theocracy, as in living under Sharia law.

A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Perhaps they’re saying it should be treated like adultery or divorce; it may be wrong, but people deserve the free-will right to choose who they want to (or don’t want to) be in a committed personal relationship with.

During closing remarks, Edwards’ attorney Abbe Lowell reportedly told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”

Perhaps Christians who are adamantly against two consenting same-sex adults having the legal right to marry should adopt this reasoning, too.

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

The holiday season is a special time of peace, joy, goodwill toward others, and … job cuts.

Just scan the headlines of companies announcing layoffs. (A good source is DailyJobsCuts.com.)

It wasn’t always this way. But even before the current Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007, companies had become less gun shy about blasting employees around Christmastime. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an outplacement firm that tracks jobs cuts annually, in 2005 found that between October 1 and New Year’s Eve, the odds of being downsized increased 54 percent.

Shedding jobs in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year helps companies to balance their books and start fresh in January. For the jobless, it can make for a wrenching cheerless holiday. Meanwhile, those on the employment bubble are left thanking their lucky stars, that is, until the next round of cuts.

Heartless or just business?

Actually it’s both. The motive is certainly not about “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” This is why, ironically, losing your job during the holidays may be the best gift for you.

How do I know? It happened it me.

In November 2006, my supervisor called me into his office as if nothing was wrong, told me that my services were no longer needed and handed me a manila folder. This was just six months after I had joined the well-known company, relocated my family (with two teens in high school), and bought a home. As devout and God-fearing as I would like to think I am, I didn’t feel very spiritual at that moment. But the scripture is true: “What man means for evil, God can turn to good” (Gen. 5:20). I eventually chose to join God’s plan to use that dark moment to refocus me on faith, family, and a brighter future.

I got fired up.

How did it happen? My book, Fired Up, explains the four steps:

1. Talk About It. I immediately told friends and family what happened, instead of wallowing in shame.

2. Pray About It. Through daily prayer I reflected on my past accomplishments, which inspired and helped me plan my next career move.

3.  Feel It. I embraced my emotions, but managed them. When anger raged and I felt like hurting the guy and cursing the company’s owner for the cowardly classless way they fired me, I let it flow. I also took a kickboxing class as an outlet to kick and punch out anger.

4. Forgive. These first three steps helped me to learn from the situation and reject the bitter feeling of wanting harm to come upon my ex-supervisor and the company’s owner. They weren’t thinking about me, and so I was cheating my family and myself by ruminating about them. I refocused on “Me Inc.”

Job cuts come with the territory. Especially if you’re an at-will employee (and not under contract), you can be slashed at any moment. For those who have gotten the ax, wanting to return the favor to your former boss is a waste of time and energy.  The appropriate F-word is “forgive,” so that you can move up to what God has prepared for you.

As I mentioned, employers want to start fresh after the New Year, so December and January are actually good times to find your next job, if that’s what you want. Maybe God wants you to start that business he placed into your heart! Either way, stay focused, keep your head up and put your feet to the pavement. For those who are dealing with a jobless loved one or spouse, particularly a male, here’s some advice to help them press on:

1. If you’re married, encourage your spouse. The Bible teaches that women have the power “to build up” or “pull down” their homes (Prov. 14:1). Wise women understand “death and life is in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21). The guy is already feeling inadequate as a breadwinner. Instead of tossing more dirt on his fragile ego, show that you’re in the trenches with him. Likewise, men must encourage their wives through a job loss and love her sacrificially (Eph. 5:25-27).

2. If you have children, include them in the recovery process. Together, tell the kids what’s going on. Too often we shield children from bad news because we don’t want them to be disappointed. Forget that. It’s a disservice to them. Children need to learn how to handle hard times because they will become adults who will have to handle hard times. So, there won’t be any expensive Christmas gifts under the tree this year? Tell them why and that the holiday is about Jesus the giver not Santa the credit card debt creator. They’ll survive, and you will too.

3. Cut expenses and eliminate debt. Most of the economic pundits claim that America must spend its way out of the recession for jobs to return. Guess what? Those old jobs that required obsolete skills aren’t coming back. The banks — especially the ones that were bailed out by our tax dollars — are cutting expenses, investing and reaping huge profits. Do the same.

4. Pray together. Job losses often trigger divorces. God allows us to face challenges so that we can shed the excesses and distractions of daily life in order to refocus on Him — the source of our increase. Losing income is a wakeup call to recognizing who your Provider truly is.

It hasn’t been easy, but these God-directed steps worked for my family and me. None of us have been hungry or without shelter. I moved on to better employment. I have my own radio show. I’m pursuing a doctorate. My book and consulting business are doing well. (These things likely would not have happened had I remained in that old position.) Our two teens are in college. My wife and I remain on the journey.

Losing your job is never easy, but it’s not a death sentence. What you do afterward is an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God and think more creatively about the days ahead.

The Christmas season is about faith, family, and future. Don’t let a job loss — a painful but temporary thing — take your focus off of what really matters.

Can Madea Save Kim Kardashian?

Can Madea Save Kim Kardashian?

CONTROVERSIAL CHOICE: Tyler Perry's decision to cast reality-TV personality Kim Kardashian became even more controversial after the starlet announced she was divorcing Kris Humphries, her husband of 72 days. (Photos: Newscom)

After a week of watching the fervent character assassination of Kim Kardashian in the comments section of his website, Tyler Perry recently turned the tables on his Christian fans asking why the reality star should be excluded from his latest film about faith, forgiveness and the healing power of God.

Though there had been some initial concern over Perry’s casting choice (due largely to Kardashian’s limited acting experience) the outrage over her role grew to epic proportions when it was announced that Kardashian was divorcing husband of 72-days, NBA player Kris Humphries, after a highly publicized and rumored to be profitable wedding. (Kim Kardashian’s mother Kris Jenner recently denied the reality star made a multi-million dollar profit off of the televised nuptials.)

Within days of the divorce news, thousands had signed a petition pleading to have the Kardashian shows removed from the E! Network and disheartened fans of the Madea creator left angry comments expressing their disgust and disappointment over his inclusion of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians star in the film. Currently, more than 100,000 people have signed the petition.

One Perry fan chided, “You now partner yourself with a woman who makes sex videos and takes the holy institution of marriage as a mere “performance” to acquire money and increased publicity. Truly, shame on your sir.” Another questioned Perry’s intentions for using Kim Kardashian, saying, “If you are looking for publicity, [and] using this as a stunt to promote your movie, by using this witch. I have lost what respect I have of you.”

Imploring fans to “hear him out,” Perry is now suggesting that fans consider the value of casting Kardashian. Reflecting on the moment he made the decision, he wrote on his website:

I thought, what better person! She literally has millions of young people following her. I thought and still do think, that it would be very responsible of her to be a part of this film. To have the young people that look up to her, see her in a film that is about, what happens in life when you make the wrong choices. Whether you’re aware of it or not, to be honest with you I wasn’t, millions of young people adore her and are following her every move.

And if not for the children’s sake, Kim Kardashian’s involvement in the The Marriage Counselor might simply be a transformative experience for her own life. Some commenters on Perry’s site are viewing things in an almost evangelistic light, taking a more optimistic defense of the filmmaker’s decision by pointing out that Kardashian’s role in the film could be the initial steps of spiritual healing in her life. “Good for you, Tyler for standing by your decision and not trying to play God,” one fan praised. “Kim has a road to walk with God and I am so thankful that you are not trying to stand in the middle of that. Being in your film will be planting seeds in her life and you will be doing His work!”

I’m not sure if her off-screen antics should now disqualify Kardashian from appearing in the film, but I sure wish Perry had made a stronger choice to begin with. Despite her popularity, perhaps he should have used this role to pump up a hardworking young actress who could use the limelight — maybe Joy Bryant or Tatyana Ali — instead of turning the spotlight on a woman who has more shine than she can sell.

What do you think? Is the questionable morality and limited acting experience of Kim Kardashian grounds for Perry to cut her from the film? Or do you agree that this could be the rich starlet’s chance at redemption?

The Marriage Counselor stars the young powerhouse actress Jurnee Smollet, as well as Vanessa Williams and Brandy Norwood.

Gay Marriage Paranoia

Gay Marriage Paranoia

GAY UNION: Reginald Stanley and Rocky Galloway became the first homosexual couple to legally wed in Washington, D.C. in March 2010. (Newscom Photo)

“Lord, we’re definitely living in the end times.”

“It’s about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

I heard these complaints from callers to a Christian radio talk show in Virginia alarmed by New York’s June 24 vote legalizing gay marriage. Similar cries are being voiced across the country among Christians who apparently believe homosexuality is THE unpardonable sin and biggest threat to marriage. America is headed for hell, they say.

But government legalization of gay marriage may be a blessing in disguise that the church in America needs today. Gay marriage isn’t what Christians should worry about. Conformity is the bigger threat.

Romans 12:2 warns:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Separation of church and state is not just a philosophy concerning the relationships between governments and organized religious institutions. It’s ultimately about the church (people) being the moral conscience that influences the nation (society), as the Founders intended. When people of faith become too close and comfy with society’s secular standards, we get negatively influenced. This is evident in the case of marriage and divorce rates.

The accuracy of divorce rates has been questioned because of difficulties obtaining clear data, but according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national divorce rate is about 34 percent.  According to a study by the Barna Group, the Christian divorce rate is 32 percent. A U.S. Census study released in August indicates that southeastern states have the highest divorce levels. Explanations are that people there tend to marry younger, have less education and lower incomes compared to, for example, their northeastern counterparts whose average divorce rates are the lowest. With the Bible Belt leading the way in divorce, and the national Christian rate mirroring the nation, we’re certainly not the “salt of the Earth” God intended when it comes to marriage.

Not only lay people, but many of Christianity’s most well-known figures are divorcees, even multiple divorcees. Their scandals read like the pop culture celebrity breakups blogsites. How can Christians claim to believe that marriage represents Jesus Christ’s love and eternal bond with the church and is between a man and woman only, yet have equally high divorce rates? How is it that the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) community that many Christians say is headed for the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah is a stronger advocate for committed marriages?

Could it be that Christians have “conformed” as the Scripture warns?

America’s Founding Fathers wisely established the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution because they understood the disastrous results the church/state union had in Europe. The bond has been a bad dealfor the church for centuries since Emperor Constantine I wedded the Roman Empire to the Catholic Church in A.D. 313 for strategic benefit. Christianity grew and spread, but at the cost of much horrific state-motivated sins, such as the Crusades, colonialism, and slavery, that were sanctioned by the church. Christianity’s moral stature suffered.

Secular and spiritual motives on marriage have often clashed. The marriage debate was at the heart of Protestants splintering from Catholics as King Henry VIII established the Church of England because the Pope refused to annul his marriage. The king wanted to wed a different woman who could bare him an heir to the throne.

If we believe marriage is under God’s higher authority, why would we need the government to change the Constitution to define marriage to our liking? Our greater concern should be that the government never infringe on church freedoms, including whom individual churches choose to marry. Instead of petitioning the government to adopt a definition that not even all Christian agree on (there are also LGBT Christians), show by example why marriage between a man and woman works best. Be the conscience of society by significantly reducing the Christian divorce rate. Otherwise, we’re just hypocrites who have conformed to the world.

I’ve been married once, for nearly 20 years to the same woman. We’ve successfully reared three children into adulthood. It has been wonderful and challenging; my shortcomings and stubbornness over the years haven’t helped. Marriage is not easy and there are situations where couples are better off parting ways. I realized this at age 12, watching inside the courtroom as my parents split.

Still, as Christians our best witness to society on marriage is to put our energy into making our marriages work, not speculating about the end times, or pressing to block two consenting adult citizens from pursuing their equal rights to privacy and happiness under the government’s laws as guaranteed by our Constitution.

In the end, only God’s judgment of all of us — straight or gay — matters.

The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to the writer and are not necessarily the views of UrbanFaith.com or Urban Ministries, Inc.