In my younger days, I remember laughing with a friend at how so many Black people become so insulted if someone said “your mama!” to them. I reckon the reason why some may have, and maybe still do, perceived that as such a big insult is because many people realize that mothers are essential to our survival and are often the ones who make many sacrifices so that everyone can be taken care of. Most people respect their mothers and they do not want anyone to disrespect them.
While it is true that we must respect our mothers, this does not mean that they become immune to being “called out” when they make choices that are detrimental to themselves and/or their children. For as long as I can remember, anytime I or anyone has said or written anything that addresses the issue of single parenthood and directed their communication towards Black women, there is sure to be a nasty backlash. The backlash is often full of accusations about being judgmental, arrogant or not understanding the Black woman’s predicament. Some outraged women (and men) will often try to deflect the conversation and turn the attention to “dead-beat” fathers.
So called “dead-beat” fathers should also be “called out” but their behavior or undesirable conduct should not give us women an excuse to take attention off of ourselves and what we need to do to improve our choices and decisions. Single parenthood is an epidemic that can no longer be ignored, excused, rationalized or justified.
If a woman made the decision that she wanted to undertake the long and often challenging journey of parenthood on her own and then went to a “bank” and was inseminated and had her child or children and then went on to adequately take care of them and provide for them, I can respect that. I don’t agree with her choice because there is a lot of research that shows that children are better off in two parent homes than they are in single parent homes, but I respect her right to live her life the way she chooses. Of course there are other scenarios where a woman can choose to become a single parent by making an agreement with a man and documenting their agreement so that he does not have a child support case on his hands years later. There are also women who become widows and a few who are backed into corners in which the only way out was divorce and then single parenthood. The point I am making is that I respect a woman’s right to choose single parenthood, if, in fact that is what she wants and is capable of managing and I also understand that a small minority of single mothers did actually make responsible decisions.
The issue that I an running into, over and over again is that of a woman who has made a series of very irresponsible decisions, such as random “hook ups”, often without taking the necessary precautions to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, and has become a single parent as a result of those decisions. It is even more horrifying when this behavior is done over and over and actually becomes a pattern. Do we all make mistakes? Of course we do! The issue is not whether or not everyone is entitled to make mistakes and not be shamed, blamed and criticized in a cruel manner; it is whether we are willing to admit our mistakes or not. The issue is whether or not we can call a spade a spade and then do what needs to be done to make sure we do not make the same mistake again, or in the case of many Black women, over and over again.
One of the things that I have done in the last five years is serve as a personal accountability coach to women ranging in age from 17 to 35, and sometimes even beyond 35. What I know for sure is that you can not change what you do not acknowledge. Even at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, you must stand up and say “I am an alcoholic” before you can proceed to make positive changes to overcome, manage or teat your alcoholism.
The complex part of irresponsible single parenthood is that most of us grow up hearing “children are a gift” and so it makes it challenging to say that a mother made a mistake when she fell pregnant unexpectedly and without planning to. I agree, children are a gift to their mothers but the bigger question is, is a mother who staggers irresponsibly into motherhood and does so repeatedly, while fully aware that she has neither the maturity, nor the financial resources to adequately care for her child, really as much of a gift to that child as he or she is to her? Does a woman have the right to point fingers at the man who co-created a child with her and call him a dead-beat if she does not point that same finger at herself? He may be a dead-beat for running away from the responsibility of raising a child but isn’t the mother as much of a “dead-beat” for allowing him to plant a seed in her womb before she got clear about who he was and what his intentions were?
When many of us stand up and say, “My people, we have a problem. Let’s talk about it and try to solve it” we are accused of saying something along the lines of “you people are a problem”. And that “you people” often means Black women because we have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies.
I think the problem is that women like Tanya Fields, (a single mother with five children, with three different fathers) as well as many other single mothers is that they take anything that is said personally. It’s not about her, or them; it is about a behavior pattern that is destructive. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge and as long as people are being defensive and are explaining, justifying and rationalizing behavior that needs improvement and change, change and improvement become almost impossible. Just as you can’t step out in public with your zipper open and then get mad when people point it out to you, you; we can’t afford to get mad when the issue of single mothers is brought up. Walking out with an open zipper was a mistake and continuing to pretend that you meant to have your zipper open, rather than admit the mistake does not fool anyone anymore than a woman with a series of unplanned pregnancies fools anyone by pretending that “everything is okay”.
I know first hand that Black women can be strong, resilient and independent but coping, surviving or managing to “make ends meet” is not the same as living a purposeful, thriving and rich life that includes making the best decisions for yourself and the people you love.
We can not, on one hand, say that poverty and destruction in the Black community need to be resolved while we refuse to have meaningful dialogue about how and where we went wrong, where we still go wrong and how we continue to contribute to our own destruction and devastation. Every person who refuses to take a step towards self improvement loses the right to indulge in angry rants about what President Obama or anyone else has not done or will not do for them.
Whoever takes it upon themselves to do the right thing and lift the Black community out of poverty, mass incarceration, and many other social ills needs us to meet them half way and the only way to do that is by first taking responsibility for our choices and decisions, reflecting on where we went wrong and demonstrating a willingness to make some positive changes.
Nomalanga helps Black women thrive in their lives and careers. She is a Social Commentator, an Editor at Your Black World , a former College Professor and Mrs. Botswana. Visit Nomalanga’s Facebook page or Follow her on Twitter