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.
It’s time to raise our fists and build our momentum to fight against the stereotypical, dead-beat dad. Not the selfish, under-loving, narcissistic, self-proclaimed kings that are fathers at tax season and ghost during the year. The fathers who actually want to be ever-present in their children’s lives, but many women keep them at bay and force them to identify as dead-beats.
Oftentimes we hear about the vindictive SSM (Salty Single Mom) who feeds into an unfortunate, cultural stigma with the law at her advantage to satisfy the vengeance of her heart. And as a result of this, there are men who want to be dedicated fathers but are labeled as dead-beats by the SSM. And the worst part is the children suffer the most.
Now let’s be clear, this is not bashing the PSM (Powerful Single Mother) who is often forced to be both parents due to the absentee father. However, in this era of heavy women empowerment many members of our community often forget our men and seemingly render them unnecessary, which teaches our sons to fall back and not be the men we want them to be.
As women, we cannot continuously shame the willing fathers of our children, and then punish them for becoming what they were forced to become, worthless. Despite any conflict between these men and the SSM, we have to take a closer look at the dedicated fathers that have become who they can be in their child’s life.
What Has Daddy Become?
The Redeemed Father: After a bitter end to a relationship, this father will leave to seemingly never return, thus birthing a PSM. However, upon clarity, he returns to reestablish a healthy relationship with his child/children and cooperative relationship with the mother. This is usually met with apprehension because the PSM believes he does not want to pay child support, which is highly likely. Nevertheless, the father will make multiple attempts to repair the relationship so that he can be in his child’s life.
The Fight or Flight Father: When the relationship between the parents is toxic, this father leaves and is baited back into the relationship for access to the child/children. The household is usually shared and the SSM uses the needs of the children to draw the father back into the home. Unfortunately, with any argument, the father leaves and the mother begins a tirade of whining and threatening legal action such as child support or sole custody. Fortunately, when the father is home he is 100% dedicated to his children’s needs, but when he is gone his devotion is sporadic due to the nature of the relationship with the SSM.
The Gatsby Father: This theory is based off the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the main character Jay Gatsby throws elaborate parties to hopefully catch the attention of the love of his life. A Gatsby father is painted as allusive and inattentive by the SSM so that the children do not miss him. However, the father creates big situations such as social gatherings, theme park trips, gift giving and more that are tangible ‘peacock’ methods to show their devotion and love. Although this father is aware that gifts and spoiling are not the only way to show affection, these situations allow them a chance to have brief intimate moments with their child/children.
The Solo Soldier: According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 31.4 % of fathers have custody of their children, especially if they cannot prove the mother is unfit to be a full-time parent. In this circumstance, the SSM creates dramatic and spiteful situations that keep the child/children away from the father. Yet, through relentless communication, court battles, and meet-ups, this father will fight to have his child/children in order to protect them from any backlash from the SSM. The best example of this type of father is the character Monty James, played by Idris Elba, in Daddy’s Little Girls.
Elle is a Gatsby Father who has five children and is settling his divorce. The mother has requested assistance, to which he adhered to willingly. However he is, unfortunately, met with public raging fits when the mother does not get what she wants. This forces Elle to schedule outings and activities to provide a reason to see his children and prove that he is a provider and loves them.
“It seems like when Dad isn’t doing what mom wants him to do for her, then the children in turn are shifted to think Dad isn’t doing right by them either,” Elle explains somberly.
“I’ve even been told by my daughter, who lives in an apartment that I pay 75% of the rent for, ‘You can’t tell me what to do because you don’t pay any bills around here!’ These various interactions have helped me to understand that my children suffer at the hands of their mother who cannot put aside her gripes to build a peaceful and amicable pact on behalf of our children who depend on our guidance. My prayer is that most of [our] conflicts can be discussed openly with them in a way that doesn’t criminalize either Mom or Dad.”
The Law of Paternity
One of the many gripes that fathers who are no longer with their child’s mother have is the misuse of child support, in addition to limited access to children. Adrienne Holland, founder and CEO of the non-profit family law firm Holland Family Services, gave some insight on how child support works and what fathers may be unaware of when it comes to their paternal rights.
“Child support is meant for the benefit of the child,” Adrienne explains. “But, part of that are intangibles such as car insurance, electricity, cell phones etc., that the mother needs to function fully as a parent and person. It is the duty of the father to pay child support whether or not the father sees his child. That’s not to say that I don’t see mothers that withhold time-sharing out of spite. Usually, when this happens it is less about revenge and more of an unrealistic fear that a father cannot care for the child.”
What Matters Most
Despite the legal and emotional battle that comes with custody, parents seem to forget that what matters most is the child. In today’s culture, a broken home does not always mean Mom and Dad aren’t together, it means Mom and Dad lack a healthy, co-parenting relationship and the child(ren) pays for it.
Ending the cycle of fatherless children or toxic childhoods starts with the decision to be different. Mekesha Young, PSM of 15-year-old daughter, left a toxic relationship for the safety of her child and had this to say about the unrelenting SSM:
“You cannot control the situation, but you can change your perspective and attitude,” Mekesha says passionately. “It’s all about perspective. Once you realize that your child(ren) are the seeds of the future and you (the [custodial] parent) are the example, it should empower you to plant seeds of life and not destruction.”
It should be a cultural standard to teach our children how to deal with disappointment and heartbreak, but not get stuck in a bitter mentality that fuels the dead-beat cycle.
THE CHARGE TO WOMEN
Among all that a woman carries, should they have to shoulder the angst of an absent father’s irresponsibility? The answer is NO! However, it is the charge of the woman to eliminate the dead-beat mentality from their child’s psyche so that they do not repeat the same mistakes.
That starts with women forgiving the men that broke their hearts, enough to show their child that life does go on and a broken home is only one that is unloving and uncooperative.
While there are men who are careless as fathers, their error cannot be used as a blanket statement for all fathers who no longer desire a romantic relationship with the mother. Sometimes relationships don’t work out, but it never justifies removing the necessary love of a father from a child’s life.
By allowing a father to be in his child’s life, that does not take the ‘power’ away from the PSM; in fact, it shows the most important lesson a child could learn, respect.
Here are some ways (unmarried/uncoupled) fathers can protect their parental rights:
- Establish paternity by signing an affidavit of paternity from their state’s office of vital statistics.
- Make an agreement with the mother for time-sharing and monetary support and get it in writing before the child is born; if they don’t have a written support and time arrangement, they should keep a written log with receipts and dates that details the time and money spent.
- Go to the collection entity or the court and put yourself on child support at any time.
- Go to mediation or a parenting coordinator without a lawyer to help resolve disputes about parenting without involving the court.
- Ask attorneys to use collaborative methods to settle the case even if the couple was never married.
- Get an official DNA test (Note: Over-the-counter DNA tests are not admissible in court).
- If the father is unhappy with the mother’s performance as a parent, they can file a Petition to Modify/Establish Time Sharing Plan and Other Related Relief, which results in him having most of the time with his children. This can only be done after legally establishing paternity.