I have a friend, a very good friend; her beauty and spirit never cease to amaze me, to intrigue me. And my friend also happens to be a single mother.
We communicate fairly often though not as often as we once did. However, in the middle of the night while I am up thinking, writing, enjoying the solitude, I sometimes get forlorn, frantic messages from her: “Did you read what she said today? Can you believe that? I think she is singling me out.”
Evidently, somewhere out there in cyberspace an African American woman runs a site for women that seems to disparage single motherhood. The site seems to find fault with those who just happen to find themselves raising their children on their own. But I don’t think the blog author means to be disparaging. I really don’t. However, I do see how her commentary might be misinterpreted that way.
And for a young single mother already questioning the choices she’s made, already trying to piece together a life out of the emotional fragments of a failed loved affair, already trying to find her way in a world that seems dead set in preventing her from moving onward and upward, already struggling with the many exigencies of raising a child or children alone, I see how the blog author’s remarks might seem disheartening and sometimes insulting even.
So I try to calm my friend. I try to offer whatever salve I have for wounds—a poem, a short story, a song, a bawdy joke—but nevertheless I don’t think it is ever enough. So, I try to simply let her know I understand, that about eighteen years or so ago for a timeframe of about a year and a half, I too found myself in the situation of being a single parent.
Mostly what I remember about that time frame is the constant fatigue that dogged me. And I remember having to set aside my dreams, my aspirations for the sake of someone else. I remember being lonely, very lonely for the company and affection of another adult.
I had to work to keep a roof over our head and so that we could continue eating. I did get child support, but even with that support, it seems like I was always short of cash, always behind playing catch-up, always struggling. So , I had to take extra hours at work, but when I did so, I always felt so guilty about being away from my child for such long periods of time. Not only that, I had to make time for karate and football practice and the many other extracurricular activities children participate in.
And when he came to stay with me, I was in school pursuing my degree, but school became the first casualty. I found that school and work and parenting seemed so unmanageable, so I limped through that semester, and it would be almost a year before I could resume my studies.
Also, in seeking out companionship of the opposite sex, I was always tried to remain cognizant of the fact that I had a young one at home; I did not want to give my son the wrong idea about relationships between men and women by parading a string of women in front of him. And perhaps I was not always as cognizant as I should have been, but I did my best.
But the greatest effect I believe this period to have had on my son was the absence of an alternate worldview. In other words, because I am male, the way in which I attempted to raise my son, and the values I attempted to inculcate in my son, were informed by my positioning as a black male. And at that time I had that whole manly man thing going, so I didn’t see the need to hug him or to teach him that it was okay to feel and show emotion; I thought it would make him a soft man. However, looking back now I realize that perhaps had I sometimes placed my arms around him and hugged him and told him I loved him that perhaps he may have been an even better person because of it, especially during this period of adjustment following the split between his mother and me.
But I was blessed to have found someone who would eventually become my spouse who joined with me in assisting me in raising my son. Not only that, his mother always remained in the picture and partnered with me in assuring that my son had those things he needed both emotionally as well as materially.
In addition, I don’t think I ever felt the stigma often associated with single parenthood as I understand many women to feel. Many people judge single mothers without ever taking the time to consider how they came to be single mothers in the first place or judging the father by the same standards.
Recently a colleague informed me that she used her married name for fifteen years following her divorce simply because she didn’t want to be judged by outsiders, and she didn’t want her children to be stigmatized in school as being the children of a single mother. But because I was a single father, which perhaps was fairly rare at the time, people bent over backwards to help me, to praise me. And that sentiment perhaps still exists.
However, I do know that with time things will get better. But for the time being, keep in mind those things you want for you and your child or children. For the time being, decide what you want for yourself. Then seek out every opportunity that will move you closer to these goals, every opportunity that will make the lives of you and your child or children better.
And surround yourself with a network of people who will not judge you and offer you the emotional support you need and go about the business of raising your child or children. And if it means anything at all, you have my undying understanding, admiration, and support. I know firsthand that it ain’t easy, but you are doing it. You are doing it.