Single Mothers

In August 2017, Oyunga Pala wrote the following:

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It struck a chord within me when I read this paragraph. Nobody really chooses to be a single mother, save for the few who truly aim for this goal. For them, this generalization of nobody chooses to be a single parent does not apply. Baby Mama. I don’t like the term ‘baby mama’ because it distills a full person down to this preconceived notion of a ratchet, loud, anti-man, argumentative, foul-mouthed human being holding a child hostage to get specific reparations from the child’s father. The term ‘single mother’ is also one I do not like. Though, I have used it in certain situations to describe myself. However, I prefer to say that I am a mother who is single. And when I am coupled up…I have just ventured into my first relationship post-parenthood so I am still navigating that space and trying to define myself in this new lens.

Anyway, back to this paragraph.

Best parent: this is every mother’s desire, I would hope, regardless of marital status. For mothers who are single, especially when the fathers are absent, the aim is to be the best parent possible, specifically because there is no support. When you are this single parent, there is no break time, no down time and no vacation from your parenting situation. You have to be on 100% of the time. You can’t tap out for a few minutes. You feel the pressure to be both Mom and Dad, and you wonder if you are enough. The question has been dissected in so many ways on so many channels: can single mothers raise boys to be men?

The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr. of the Salem Bible Church in Atlanta eulogized Aretha Franklin and he said, “Seventy percent of our households are led by our precious, proud, fine black women. But as proud, beautiful and fine as our black women are, one thing a black woman cannot do. A black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man. She can’t do that. She can’t do that.” 

I am a black woman. I am a mother to a young black boy. I get it from the American side and the Kenyan side. It does require a backbone of steel to be this mother to a young black boy. For me, as a Kenyan who never realized I was Black until I moved to the US, I feel it from the American side, the pressure to raise a black man right. Right means so many things to many people. From my perspective, right means respectful, God-fearing, polite, courteous, ambitious, strong, open, gentle, kind, honest, fair, loving and independent. He has to be chivalrous, respect women and men, and love his mother fiercely. And protect me, his mother. Ha. For now, though, my main focus is getting through the threenager years, and getting my boy used to using the potty. He is quite polite and will say please and can say thank you in three different languages. At daycare, he has learned that Respect is Listening. And they say he is super helpful at daycare with the staff. 

Our social safety net is currently full of holes, held together by the love from a select few friends and their parents who have wrapped their arms around us and are keeping us afloat. Oyunga says it so well. This is not for the faint hearted. When the baby is sick, feverish at night – because this is when these children choose to give mothers a heart attack – and you have nobody to tell you it will be okay, or let me take him for a minute, or let me call the doctor for you. It is all on you so there is no time to be faint of heart. I mean, steel backbones cannot co-exist peacefully with a faint heart or spirit.

All this to say, I do try my best. I may fail in some areas but my biggest goals are to have my son smile at me every day, and to see the love in his face when we engage, and to hear his laugh ring out unencumbered by fear. I sometimes feel that my steel backbone has been rusted through and through, pushed to the edge by my circumstances and sometimes, by people. And I feel my spirit waning, my smile fading and my fire to succeed as a mother to a young boy begin to fade. In those times, I lean on my village of people. And I remember who is watching me, I see myself in the eyes of this little boy who gazes up at me with such fierce love. I cannot let him down. And so I rise.


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