Monday, September 21, 2009

Black Men and Boys Week Continues: Can a woman raise a man?

Today is day one of Black Men and Boys week, and the question we will be exploring today is whether or not women can effectively raise men.

I wrote a piece a while back entitled “Spoiling Our Daughters and Raising Our Sons” in which I discussed my propensity to come down hard on my sons while acquiescing to my daughters’ every whim in an effort to raise strong, productive men and without realizing the effect this might be having on my daughters.

I knew when I composed the piece that my experience might be unique to me. In working with young people from the inner-city, most often the case is reversed. I find myself working with young men in need of guidance who are being raised by single mothers. And most often these mothers are simply spoiling these young men rotten much to their detriment.

So, I did anticipate the possibility that a number of readers would speak out of an experience very dissimilar to my own; however, I did not anticipate the sheer number of readers who would do so. As I watched a conversation around the post develop on twitter, some suggested that my experience was not representative of the African American experience at all. Someone even suggested that I had created an alternate reality with me at the center.

But the reality is that the majority of households in the African American community are headed by African American women. In fact, the last reliable statistic I could find approximated that about fifty-four percent of African American households are headed solely by African American women. And implicit in that statement is that within those households there are surely to be young African American men, and there is perhaps no way to determine how many of these young men being raised in woman headed households have little or no contact with their fathers.

I mentioned this fact to a friend, someone who has been my professional mentor for many years, who then launched into a diatribe citing this fact as the major factor in the number of young African American men caught up in the legal system and/or who are poorly equipped to contribute to the community or the culture in a positive way.

Of course I disagreed with him. And in doing so I cited the scores of African American men I knew or had encountered who had been raised solely by women but had managed to become successful, who had managed to break the cycle of poverty. Additionally, I reminded him that in many of these homes, though there was no father present, no man present, surely there were “other fathers.” There were grandfathers and uncles, teachers and coaches, even mentors like myself who could serve as role models for these young men.

I still remember his retort:

“But the home is where the rubber meets the road. What happens within the home is what counts. Max, you could teach these children to walk on water, you could teach them the knowledge of alchemy required to turn water into wine, but keep in mind that you are with them only a few hours a day a couple of days a week. If what you teach them, model for them, try to instill in them is not reinforced in the home, then it goes for naught.”

Then he finished his speech, “You are too naïve, Max. You are too idealistic, Max. Only a woman can raise a woman; only a man can raise a man.”

I respect his point of view, and I value his life experience and wisdom, but I cannot wholly agree with him. Certainly, while I agree that a number of young African American have been spoiled and cuddled to their detriment, I believe this is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, I believe that perhaps socio-economic factors have a greater impact that anything single mothers may or may not be doing.

When a mother must devote a significant portion of her time to keeping food on the table and a roof over her family’s head, when a mother must devote a significant portion of her time meeting the basic necessities of life, then that is time taken away from time that could be spent going over homework or teaching life lessons or providing the attention and oversight requisite to the rearing of children.

And to my friend and mentor, thank you for everything you have done for me. You have been an invaluable force in my life. You have been wonderful as a mentor, an “other father.” But with me your job was easy. I was already raised when our paths crossed; you just needed to answer the questions to which I had no answer or could not be found in books. Perhaps if you will come with me only a few hours a day, a couple of days a week, then we could really affect change.

Help me with this one. Can a woman effectively raise a man?

And come back later today for other exhibits and artifacts I have in store.


jjbrock said...

Max great question... Sure there has been many cases in our community where the woman has raised a boy who grew up to be a pretty decent man...But in all fairness A boy need his father.

"It takes a man and a woman both to properly raise a child"...Max I believe that from the depths of my soul.... This is a major problem with us as a people today... There's no balance, a child (boy or girl) need both the masculine and feminine attention/love to properly develop as a person.

If nurturing only comes from one side then that's an imbalance which is the present state we are in as a people.

Marvalus said...

Wow...way to go all in on a Monday, Max...

As the mother to a 14-year-old young man, I will say this: my son gets most of his parenting from me. I am the disciplinarian, the nurturer, the cheerleader, the motivator, the coddler, the shoulder, and the spoiler, among other things. I think I've done a fairly good job of teaching him love, respect, manners, pursuit of truth and believing in himself, but there is one thing I will never be able to teach him.

I can never teach him to be a man. That is his father's job...and one that his father is is proud to handle. I agree with JJBrock; I think the absence of a father is one of the biggest issues that we face in the Black community. Young people are beginning to think that it is okay to have a child without a male presence in the home; it is not okay, and will never be.

A. Spence said...

So what of those women whose men are off to sea? The ones who are raising men because the man can’t be there. Because his job calls him away?

Even in many dual income households, a lot of times both parents are spending so much time trying to provide the basic needs of the child.

I believe a woman can effectively raise a man. But, that child (male or female) needs an effective male role model in their life. Whether it’s dad/uncle/grandpa/cousin/step-dad.

Kim said...

No definitely not. Now this is not to say that a single mother can't raise a decent young man, but for the most part, when you see young black men gone wayward,they do majorly come from single parent homes.

I went to visit my brother in prison on yesterday, and he and every young man in that prison is a prime example of having been raised by only a Mother and not having a father balance all of that mommying and there has to be that otherside to balance.

I remember when I was learning my left from my right, I had to be about 5 or 6 and I remember my Dad getting me dressed one morning and he brought me my shoes and sat me down on the bed and he was like okay when I come back in here I want to see those shoes on the right feet and he left out of the room and I was terrified just sat on the bed looking down at my shoes trying to figure which shoe went on what foot and feeling sad and scared and here comes my Mom sneaking in to tell me which is which, and to this day I still say that is the reason I have trouble with left and right
he was trying to teach me and he was in the ways that Dad are stern, and here come my Mommy comes to save me from it.. and that's what Mommy's do.. that's why I will always advocate a two parent home environment.

We go visit my brother about every 3 or so months and each time you see ONLY the MOM and the sisters and you never see a DAD and that makes me sad. My sister and I don't have the same Father as my brother. My parents were married and my brother's father was not married to my Mom when my brother was born. My brother's Father is Father to my brother and another son, named Derrick and it's funny, but My brother is incarcerated and so was the other son Derrick, who was murdered soon after he was released from prison some years ago.

Kim said...

@ Aspence

"So what of those women whose men are off to sea? The ones who are raising men because the man can’t be there. Because his job calls him away?"
A lot of those women are saying my Son needs his Father, I know because I know one...

MacDaddy said...

Wow! I get to read this a few more times!

A. Spence said...

Kim - that's where the other male role models have to come into play. Sometimes, you have no choice but to raise your child alone.

Max Reddick said...

@ jjbrock

I am in agreement. Yes, a woman can successfully raise a son alone, and sometimes it would be better to raise the child alone if the father presence is detrimental to the family, but ideally both parents would provide a balance, a necessary equilibrium, and both parents could contribute without the one having to shoulder the complete burden.

@ Marvalus

And I agree. The absence of a male figure in many households contributes to many of the problems in our community. But sometimes for reasons out of our control, women have to go at it alone.

@ A. Spence

I think it is different when the father has absented himself involuntarily because of obligations such as a deployment; however, when the father absences himself voluntarily because he does not want to face responsibility or because he is incarcerated, it breeds resentment in the child and could lead to other problems down the road.

md20737 said...

I do not think a woman can raise a man. A woman can provide for a man. My father has always told me that a woman cant teach a man how to be a man. I never understood until I had my son.

I am very grateful to have a man my boyfriend who is as excellent as my father is help me raise my son.

I found that as a woman my inclinations were to love and nuture and make everything ok for my son immediately!!!

His father natuarally leaned towards taking a step back and letting our son figure out what was going on around him and learn lessons which were often hard but lessons that needed to be learned.

My boyfriend can identify when my child is fake crying or acting to get my attention. If I think he is in pain or trouble the least little bit I take off running like I am a sprinter or something. It has taken me 3 years to realize that somethings my baby boy has to deal with and learn without my hand. If I did not have a wonderful father like my boyfriend I probably would have raised a soft, spoiled, rotten man. But I thank god for a man who is so family oriented, and who is able to compliement me in all the right places. Our family would not be complete without him.

Sylvia said...

I mentioned this on Twitter but I'll repeat it here: I think that a single mother is capable of raising a man well, and the same with a single father raising a woman. (And all the gender identities in between male and female.) But objectively, I think it is harder because there is one parent. In two-parent households and blended families, people are sharing roles of caregiver and provider.

Single parent households without external family or community networks are doing everything. Quality parenting can fall by the wayside because of priorities on keeping the family afloat; but all single parent households aren't doomed by virtue of single parentage.

But is it important to have good role models that are the same gender as the child? Yes, but I don't think it's essential that person is a parent. Seeing a bad interpersonal relationship (or multiple bad relationships) between parents in search of a two-parent arrangement is more damaging to a child than growing up with a strong and loving opposite gender parent, IMO.

Reggie said...

Like you, I have a son and a daughter; and I must admit that I've always been just a little harder on him, than I've been on my daughter.

Now, as far as a woman raising a man is concerned......can it be done, yes I believe it can. Is it done well more times than it's not.

I've always thought the children need balance; and the balance of a mother and father is such that it makes for a well rounded individual. Young men can be difficult at best. When I was a boy, we were afraid of God and our fathers. These young hoppers aren't afraid of much.....and unfortunately all too many of them don't fear their mothers, the way they would a strong father.

When you're a kid and you're growing up, you don't really put a lot of thought into your own rearing. It's not until we become adults that we really sit back and reflect on it; and at this point in my life I have a healthy appreciation for my upbringing. My parents were determined that I would survive and flourish. They wouldn't have had it any other way; and I wouldn't have it any other way with mine either.

I have more than a few friends whose fathers weren't there....and it shows.

Anonymous said...

Max thanks for this dialogue. My opinion is I think God created women as very adaptable creatures. We always do what's needed. But, as a single parent I do think that it is difficult for a woman to raise a man.

There are a lot of great men who came from single mothers but they almost always have that yearning for a man to give them guidance into manhood.

It is such a tragedy that this question has to even be asked because of fathers who aren't there for there families whether physically or emotionally pigeon holing the woman into this role.

Denisha said...

I see and hear this question all the time but no one asks the "Can a Single Father do it alone?" question enough. I think some single moms have made some mistakes raising their sons just like I'm sure single dads have made some mistakes but, imo, single dads may have more positive female role models than a single mom who has to do everything to keep food on the table. Again, this is just from what I have seen in my small can very well be different elsewhere.

I was raised with both parents during my childhood but he was MIA during my teen yrs. My dad was the stern one who raised me to be a tomboy. It wasn't till high school that I got in touch with being soft and feminine. Had my mom been MIA, being raised a hard tough girl would have been much better than being raised a spoiled can't-do-anything-wrong boy.

I have full custody of my boys (divorce) but their dad is there. When he can't be because of work, finances, etc I remember to raise & teach them to emulate my own male model. It's not as difficult as it may seem esp when you have no choice but to do it alone.

Lyn Marie said...

I believe the family unit and young Black men are suffering more from the breakdown in extended family, and a loss of the neighbor that acted as secondary parents. (The days when your neighbors had your parents back.) Single parents are also more prone to the effects of poverty and an overall change in the focus of our country. There have been single parents in the Black community throughout history. We have lost a communal spirit that helped single parents raise those fatherless children.

I hear what people are saying, it is difficult to raise children on your own but I have plenty of students that have both parents in the household that still fail school, have parole officers and the like.

So we have 54% of Black families being headed by single women. Are we just writing these young men off because they are being raised without their fathers? How is telling women that they will never be successful raising a happy, healthy, productive man helping our community?

Let's try to raise decent, caring, thoughtful, intelligent people no matter their gender, perhaps that would be a start.

RiPPa said...

You know what? I've been down this road as far as this debate is concerned. I used to think just like the old patriarchy would and suggest that a woman cannot effectively raise a son. I used to think that was a man's job.

Well, I don't have a son, and I was blessed with 4 daughters. But the reason that I think we're often wrong about this, is because we lock ourselves into this argument with race as the mitigating factor.

How come this isn't a question discussed and debated by white folks? How come we never the very same assumptions about a single white mother raising her son(s)?

Are we saying that a black woman can't but yet a white woman can?

Just something to think about and add on to the convo with.

Let me know what you think.

Max Reddick said...

@ MD20737

It is certainly a blessing to have someone who acts as your help meet, who complements you, who is strong where you are weak. I know that my wife and I have different inclinations, and we have varied strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with our children, but together I think we balance each other out.

@ Sylvia

I think you made an important point in pointing out that a present father who because of drug or alcohol abuse and/or physical abuse or sexual perversion is better off out of the home. The family unit only works if everyone is on the same sheet of music, working toward a common goal.

@ Reggie

Again, it is better if a balance can be struck. Though I do believe the most ideal circumstance is for there to be two parents present, I don't necessarily think that this is a necessity. A woman can raise a man; it perhaps is a more difficult row to hoe, but it can be done.

@ Toya

It is very unfortunate that many women find themselves in this role. And I agree with you. Despite the efficacy of the woman as a parent, the young men always yearn for a father figure in their lives.

@ Denisha

Thank you for inserting the question "Can a Single father Do It Alone." At one time, I was a single father, and it was very difficult. I will discuss this experience later in the week. However, it was very difficult for me being a single parent. I often wonder what would have my son become absent the influence of my wife and if I had been left to my own devices.

@ Lyn Marie

I always enjoy when you stop by. You always add to the conversation. And I must admit, my rearing was not accomplished by my parents alone. There was a host of "other parents," both related and not, who kept me straight. And we are sorely missing this element. But at the time, we were also taught to respect other adults. Now, I don't see young people exhibiting that level of respect. Could "other parents" still be efficacious in this environment?

Max Reddick said...

@ RiPPa

Where did you come from? You just showed up out of nowhere. But I never thought of it from that aspect. And you are exactly right. This is never discussed from that point of view. However, I would imagine that a white mother going at it alone would face the same issues as the black mother, however, without the added onus of race.

But perhaps one reason this is not mentioned in regards to whiteness is that white men and boys are not seen to be in crisis.

Kim said...

@@ RiPPa

It bothers me when black are always sooo concern with what white folks are doing as if they are the bar for how life is to be lived or people should behave. I wish we as blacks would stop doing that.

Denisha said...

I like Lyn Marie's and RiPPa's comments. The "village" used to be a great support system so we never paid much attention to what those fatherless children were missing out on because they had it in someone else. I wonder if anyone told Mama Obama she was incapable of raising Barack because she was white (they said similar comments about Madonna & Angelina) but Barack had his grandfather around so some things work out for the best under the worst circumstances.

RiPPa said...

@Kim: But see, that's just it. There are differences between both races, but somehow "we" magnify our issues with the help of white folks. My response wasn't about "what white folks are doing." It was just another way of viewing the question.

So lemme ask you: Do you think a white woman can effectively as a single mother raise a son as opposed to a Black woman?

Kim said...

I think a father in the home is better no matter what your race is, but my point is every time black people do something wrong black folks are quick to point out what white folks are doing. that irks me

Anonymous said...

I don't see Rippa's comments as worrying about what white folks are doing. I see his frustration in folks acting like black people are some weird anthropological study of a species never seen before.

Everyone seems to agree that a woman can raise a decent human being and that is different than raising a good man.

But are we all clear that the "crisis" black boys and men are facing is because of a lack of decency and humanity and not manhood?

Many of the problems (legal systems and crimes) are because they are not good people, not because they are not good men.

I am a single mother. What exactly is it that I can't teach my son and what will be the repercussions?

curlykidz said...

@symphony... I don't think there's anything you can't teach your son, but there may be things you can't show him. Piggybacking on Max's comments on your blog, he was taught lessons by the women in his family that were reinforced by the examples the men in his family provided. The longer I am a mom, the more obvious it is to me that my example speaks so much more loudly to my children than my words do. Some of their traits that I take the most pride in are things I never spoke to them about specifically, but eventually saw that they were mimicking my actions (or lack thereof).

And I don't know if this will make any sense whatsoever, but I think white women have the same concerns about being able to raise a good man (not just a decent human being, but a specifically a man who will be a good husband and father)... we just have the (white)priviledge of not having to worry about whether race is a factor.

Lovebabz said...

I am raising children I did not birth. I am raising children no one wanted...not a mother or a father.

Children need people who love them. Children need caring adults who show up and provide for them.

As a mother of (4) adoptive children (2 boys, 2 girls) I find this outdated thinking that children need ( narrowly defined father, mother, grandparents, dogs, cats) is ridiculous. Children need caring adults who will take care of them, feed them, raise them, cheer for them, protect them and guide them.

There are women who are amazing at raising children, there are men who are glorious at it too. There are two parent homes that do a grand job. But we have to stop framing this discussion as either or.

Do you have any idea how many children are in the foster care system? And do you think they would care if they are adopted by a mother or father? They want someone to care about them permanently.

Children deserved to be raised by people who love them and want them. When we stay stuck on the idea that one is better than the other in raising children, keeps us from sustaining healthy communities that don't currently exist.

Of course women can raise sons. Of course Men can raise daughters. We know this. Now what can we do to support single mothers and single dads and grandparents raising children alone.

The question now has to be how can we support the changing landscape of family.

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