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.

Single Moms Are Not Fathers

Single Moms Are Not Fathers

I have an idea for a good Father’s Day present: a Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Inside is the definition for father:

  1. A man who has begotten a child.
  2. A male PARENT.
  3. A father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.

I would give the dictionary to deadbeat dads, but I’d also give it to those being duped into honoring single mom’s on Father’s Day.

The gift idea came while I was in Wal-Mart to buy a card for my dad. My wife, as she shook her head sadly, pointed to the category “Happy Father’s Day, Mom” in the Mahogany section. Mahogany is Hallmark’s brand for African Americans. I looked through the general Father’s Day card section, but couldn’t find the “mom” category.

Hmmm. Why?

Some people insist on making a buck by selling the idea that Father’s Day is also for single moms. Hallmark has been offering the mom cards for a few years, and a Web search also revealed a few entrepreneurs selling T-shirts, mugs and the like. Being a dedicated black father of three grown children who looks forward to this one day that celebrates what I willingly do every day, I find this offensive and even dangerous, particularly for the black community.

Nationally, 1 out of 3 American children live in homes where fathers are absent, according to the Center for Disease Control. The black rate is 2 out of 3. The message to the black community is that single motherhood is acceptable, so celebrate with a Mahogany card.

Bull.

By marketing “some love” to single moms on Father’s Day, the role of dads is devalued, especially in a community that badly needs fathers to step up and be real parents. It’s also capitalizing on a self-inflicted wound. Society should be lifting men who are honoring their role. That’s what the National Fatherhood Initiative is doing. The organization, which promotes fatherhood among all racial groups, is targeting the deadbeat crisis with a Call to Action that aims to mobilize black churches. Urban Ministries, the parent company of UrbanFaith.com, is involved. I recently spoke with Roland Warren, the president of NFI, who agreed that celebrating single moms on Father’s Day doesn’t help. Warren, who like me is a product of divorced parents and was successfully reared by a loving single mom, is a married father of two. (Hear the entire interview on The Wil LaVeist Show on June 22 at Noon EST at www.whov.org.)

I called Hallmark to ask why they’re capitalizing on this crisis, but hadn’t heard back from them. (Update: Three days after this article was published, a representative from Hallmark did contact the author. See Editor’s Note below.)

There are many legit and even painful reasons beyond control for why moms end up rearing children alone: Abusive relationships that wives flee; rapes, where the woman (or girl) heroically presses through the pregnancy; fiancés and husbands who die suddenly. However, there are adult reasons that happen within our control. Since the 1960s, increased divorces and out-of-wedlock births have dramatically spiked the number of households headed by single moms. And, unlike my father who stayed involved with his children, many dads cut and run. It’s also true that many moms force fathers to stay away, reducing them to monthly paychecks.

I also understand that school children, whose dads aren’t around, are often led to make Father’s Day gifts for their single moms to make them feel better. Children don’t need pity. They’re resilient and can handle reality. Having them show appreciation for their next closest positive male role model—an uncle, coach, pastor, or neighbor—is a better option that could help replenish the value of men in the black community among future generations.

I respect dedicated single moms, but understand the definition. A woman can never be a father and a man can never be a mother. Both parenting roles are equally unique and invaluable. Even among same-sex parents, you’ve got two moms or two dads. The idea of Father’s Day was actually inspired by a single dad who reared his six children after his wife died. Mother’s Day is in May. You also have the lesser-known Single Parents’ Day on March 21.

A mother being celebrated on Father’s Day makes as much nonsense as telling a single dad Happy Mother’s Day.

I doubt you’d find a Mahogany card for that.

Why?

It wouldn’t sell.

*******

Editor’s Note: Following publication of this article, columnist Wil LaVeist did receive a response from a Hallmark representative. That email is reprinted below in its entirety.

Mr. LaVeist,

First, let me apologize for our delayed response to the question you left for us last week. We were unable to confirm facts with the Mahogany and Father’s Day card teams prior to the deadline you noted in your message, so we missed the opportunity to provide context. But I thought it might be helpful to share our point of view.

Hallmark’s goal is to offer cards for the wide range of our consumers’ relationships so that everyone who wants to connect with others in positive ways can find a card to meet their need. For years, consumers have expressed a desire for cards addressing this relationship, and we’ve offered them for the past several seasons. The Mahogany Father’s Day collection included 66 cards to help people honor dad and other special men in their lives, and that selection included two cards recognizing mom. Please note that our general Hallmark Father’s Day line also included a “To Mother on Father’s Day” card and several “Like a Father” cards to acknowledge those who play a father-like role in someone’s life.

We’ve shared your post and the discussion in the blogosphere with the Mahogany team. It’s always helpful to have insight from varying perspectives as we plan selections to meet people’s card-sending needs.

Thank you,
Kristi E.
Public Relations | Hallmark Cards, Inc.