Fear of a(n Evil) Stepfather

by Carolyn Edgar

My teenage daughter often stops by my office for brief visits. During one of her recent visits, I found myself telling her about one of the couples I follow on Twitter, who are planning their wedding. 

“Ugh, I guess, whatever,” she said, or words to that effect. “I mean, I just don’t see the point in getting married.” 

This isn’t the first time she’s expressed those feelings. I understand why. During the time her father and I were together, we didn’t exactly model marital bliss. What she said next, though, shocked me. 

“I hope you and ____________ [my current boyfriend] never get married.” 

My kids get along great with my boyfriend. He likes them, and they like him. He does “guy stuff” with my son, like wrestling and playing basketball, that I can’t do or have no interest in doing. My boyfriend talks to my son about all those “guy” things my son no longer wants to share with Mom (although my son uses me as a sounding board for the advice he has gotten from my boyfriend). My daughter says he’s “cool,” and he gets extra cool points for treating me well. 

But I have only been seeing my current boyfriend for less than a year. We’ve talked about marriage – as a concept, as an institution – plenty of times, but we’ve never discussed the idea of getting married to each other. So the fact that my daughter brought up the subject of us getting married seems a little odd to me. I guess it’s the influence of movies – in the movies, two people who get along and care for each other in a romantic relationship, are by definition head over heels in love and destined for the altar. 

My daughter’s comments were even more pointed than, “I hope you don’t get married.” When I asked why she hoped ___________ and I never get married, she said,

“I don’t want a stepfather.” 

The kids are 100% in agreement on this “no stepfather” thing. A few months earlier, my son told my boyfriend that his Mom didn’t need another husband. “It didn’t work out so well the first time,” my son said. 

My boyfriend and I concluded “don’t marry my Mom” was my son’s way of warning, “Don’t hurt my Mom.”  Later, I asked, and my son confirmed “don’t hurt my Mom” was what he meant. Judging from my daughter’s remarks on the subject, it sounds like she and her brother have talked and agreed that one father – even if they don’t see him very much – is enough.

In the abstract, it’s easy to understand why a stepfather would be undesirable. In literature and movies, and especially on TV news, stepfathers are violent, cruel, and abusive. The evil stepfather is almost as common a trope as the wicked stepmother.

But it is still hard for me to comprehend why the thought of my marrying this particular man – someone who is not violent, not cruel, not abusive – is so scary to them. 

“It would change things,” my daughter said. “My attitude towards him would change.”

I could see from her facial expression that the very idea of it was upsetting her. There was no point in continuing the conversation, especially since it’s not even a possibility at this point.

“No need to worry about that, since it’s not something we’re considering,” I told her. “If we ever need to, we’ll talk about it again.”

 “Ugh,” was all she said in response, making sure she got the last word – or noise – in.

Original to CocoaMamas

Single Mommy Blues

It seems we mothers spend a lot of time – and ink – talking about how hard it is to be a mother.

Numerous books, parenting blogs and websites are devoted to the topic. On playgrounds and playdates, mothers huddle together and talk about how incredibly difficult this motherhood game really is.

And yet the voices of some of us mothers mostly remain unheard.

The point of this post is not to compare notes to see which moms have it worst. Mothering is hard. It’s hard whether you’re single or married, whether you’re successfully co-parenting with a cooperative ex, or doing it all by yourself, whether you have the help of a village or only the help you are able to pay for.

But I want to talk about the special hardships faced by single mothers who are doing it alone. Really alone. Without the help of a reliable spouse, co-parent, or a network of friends or family members who pitch in whenever possible.

For several years after my divorce, I sacrificed having a personal life for the sake of my kids. Weekends were consumed by soccer, gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, ice skating – you name an activity, we probably tried it. Dating? Hah! I wasn’t ready. Focusing on the kids was a great way to avoid thinking about how badly I’d flubbed the whole “picking the right partner” thing.

I didn’t become SuperMom because I wanted to. I did it because I lacked an alternative. I live in New York City. My family is in Michigan. My ex-husband was – and is -absent and uninvolved.

I had the help I was willing to pay for. I paid full-time rates for part-time babysitters to ensure I had someone to pick the kids up from school and care for them on half-days and school holidays. The extra expense killed my budget, but my work schedule was too demanding to enable me to rely on afterschool programs.

Recently, I tried co-parenting with my ex-husband, an experiment that now seems short-lived. His last overnight visit with the kids was New Year’s weekend. He is too unreliable to keep a regular visiting schedule, and I don’t have the energy to deal with the litany of excuses.

Although single parenting would be tough even if I worked at home, my demanding executive job makes the juggling even more difficult. Plus, in addition to my day job, I do speaking enagements and lectures. I write, for this blog and others, on my own time.

I even finally started dating again.

The writing, the dating, the lecturing, and some occasional exercise are things I do for myself. But they take away from the time I spend with my kids. I can no longer devote every weekend to their activities. And I feel incredibly guilty about it.

For example: my son is a natural baseball talent. Yet I don’t have time to take him to a baseball coach to work on his skills. I don’t have time – or a good enough pitching/throwing arm – to take him to the park and help him work on his catching, fielding and hitting. I haven’t found time to have him try out for a travel team – and even if he did, I’m not sure I would be able to haul him around from game to game.

His father, who played baseball in high school, takes no interest in his son’s baseball development. I get angry about this sometimes, and then I realize being angry is futile.

Well-meaning friends tell me to stop beating up on myself. They tell me to focus on the fact that, all by myself, I have raised smart, independent thinkers who are thriving in some of New York City’s most competitive schools.

I do acknowledge my blessings. But still, I’m tired. So please forgive me for indulging in a bit of whining.

Mothering is hard for all mothers. It is especially hard for us single women who are parenting completely by ourselves. And because we’re so used to doing everything all by ourselves, we don’t ask for help easily. Or always know how to accept it graciously, without constantly thanking the person who agreed to step in for us. Or apologizing for being burdensome.

So if you know a single mom who parents by herself, maybe you can offer her a little help. If your kids are friends, maybe you can offer to pick her kid up from school and host a playdate at your house. Or you can invite her kid to a weekend playdate or sleepover. Let her be the last parent to pick up her child from the birthday party. Because whether she says it or not, she values every single moment she gets to spend by herself. But she may not feel she has the right to ask for that time.

And try not to get too annoyed when she keeps saying “thank you.”

Cheaters as Relationship Gurus

Popular gossip/entertainment site The YBF made a splash yesterday when it posted a YouTube video from Mary Harvey, Steve Harvey’s ex-wife, in which she talked of Harvey’s infidelity during their marriage, including his affair during their marriage with his current wife, Marjorie. The ex-Mrs. Harvey also posted a salacious letter from one of Steve Harvey’s jump-offs.

Not surprisingly, this revelation spawned comments ranging from “I knew he was a low down dirty dog! How dare he try to be some kind of relationship guru!” to “Yawn, old news, old girl needs to move on.”

It is old news, in a way. Steve has admitted his cheating ways. It was already known that his current wife was his side piece. He’s not the first nor the last man to cheat, to marry his side chick, or to say he can tell women how to avoid low down dirty dogs because he was once one himself.

Although Harvey’s relationship books are best-sellers, there are those who resent his emergence as the media’s African-American relationship expert.

Can a person with multiple divorces under his belt seriously be considered a relationship counselor? Or, as Harvey argues, should we listen because of those past failures?

In my opinion, the fact that Harvey is a (reformed) cheater neither qualifies nor disqualifies him as a relationship expert. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship has ideas and opinions about relationships, based on their own experiences. And all of those people are capable of giving both good and bad advice.

I write about being divorced, so I am often asked to write about marriage – particularly, about lessons learned. I managed to partner with and marry the one person on this planet who was incompatible with me in every single way imaginable. Apparently, this is because I am an overachiever.

The biggest lesson I learned about marriage? Don’t marry the wrong person. Or, as I said to a friend shortly after I filed for divorce, “Choose better.”

I can’t tell people how to know he’s Mr. Right, because I’m still trying to figure that out. I have some ideas on how to know you’re dating Mr. Wrong.  But I don’t claim to be the Mr. Wrong expert. One person’s Mr. Wrong is another person’s Mr. Right or Mr. Cool For Right Now.

All I know is this: you are the expert of you. No one can tell you what’s best or worst for you, except you. The only thing another person can do is provide some guidance that might help you make the right choices for yourself.

Which leads me back to Steve Harvey. The fact that he cheated on his wives and has been divorced a bunch of times doesn’t mean much to me. The advice he dispenses should be judged on its own merits.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of his relationship advice, and not because of his own relationship history. I read his book “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.” While I do think he makes some good points – such as the importance of establishing standards for how you expect to be treated early in a relationship – I don’t care for his “men are simple” brand of relationship advice.

I don’t think men are simple. I think men are wonderfully complex human beings. Harvey says men need loyalty, support and sex. Don’t women need the same things, too?

For the record, I also think the aphorism, “why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” is deeply flawed. It assumes sex has no value for women except as currency in trade with men.

Men and women alike should be smarter about and embracing of sex and their own sexuality, which doesn’t translate to strict “wait till the third date” rules. Other people can give you guidelines, but you have to establish your own rules about sex and intimacy.

As for Mary Harvey, the ex-Mrs. Harvey? I feel badly for her. You don’t save letters, emails, and other evidence of your ex-husband’s infidelity this many years after the divorce, if you have truly moved on. She appears to still be in a lot of pain over her husband’s betrayal of their wedding vows.

If telling her story helps her process that pain and helps other women in the process, then her revelations are a good thing. If she’s still coming from a place of bitterness and vengefulness, she will need to heal for her own sake, no matter what she writes or posts on YouTube. Only she knows what her motives are. I wish her well.


The other day my father-in-law (never-before-used term) and I shared a little secret regarding how private my husband is. We were neither menacing or overly critical at the moment we were just candid as we casually arrived at the same conclusion about my husband’s inability to open up with us. I have to admit, I am frustrated by the reality that I do not have a truly intimate relationship with Jaron, my partner. At the same time that I relish the ability we have to unite around common interests, the ease at which we “flow” around our household, and how we manage both a new co-professional and familial relationship, I wish that there were ways in which we could communicate better, more deeply and more often.

It’s quite crazy to me how with children this bond is generally taken for granted. I do not have to massage, manufacture or labor over my relationship with my children. They are “natural” fits. Or at the very least, a mother and child are socialized (in many cases) into a bond that is predicated upon the former nurturing the latter. In return, we get an unconditional love that is (in many cases) “easy,” and genuinely fulfilling.

Unlike with my children, I feel like there are times in which my husband and I are not “family,” a word that was lovingly thrown around at my in-laws as a way of making me feel welcome and at home, in a space where of course we only infrequently visit, or else they would not have to remind me that we’re “family.”

All I mean by this is that I have to work much harder to create a sense of intimacy with Jaron than I do with most others.

I am a teacher and I truly believe that there is a solution to every problem. I also subscribe to the good-old-fashion-inner-city-public-school teacher ethos of “rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty” with a problem. What do all the Cocoa Mamas out there do to get “close” to a partner, particularly black male partners who are arguably the most “guarded” men there are?

The Rising Popularity of Single Motherhood?

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but people (read: Hollywood) seem to be embracing single motherhood these days. I know, I know… it seems impossible, right?

Well, it is only possible if you are White, or at least non-Black.

In recent years, there have been a number of movies about White women having babies in unconventional ways. Knocked Up, Baby Mama, The Back-Up Plan, and The Switch are all movies about White (or racially ambiguous, in the case of JLo’s movie) women become pregnant or seek to have babies in ways other than being married or in committed relationships. These are romantic comedies that usually involve the female falling in love during pregnancy or after having the child, so they all pretty much end up happily. Seems cool, right?

I have to ask then, as a Black single mother, where is MY positive, funny, romantic representation?

In 2009, CNN featured an article about out-of-wedlock births being at an all-time high.

Nearly 40 percent of babies born in the United States in 2007 were delivered by unwed mothers, according to data released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics. The 1.7 million out-of-wedlock births, of 4.3 million total births, marked a more than 25 percent jump from five years before.

There are so many negative statitistics related to the likelihood of how these lives of these children will turn out. Oftentimes, these statistics are associated with people of color (Black, Non-White Latino). According to the article 72% of Black children are born out-of-wedlock, compared to 65% American Indian, 51% Latino, 28% White, and 17% Asian. White women have the second-lowest rate, yet Hollywood seeks to glamourize their plights and paint the picture that when White women have children outside of traditional marriages, it is because the women choose it, they are older, they just want to be happy with babies and don’t want to wait for men to come around. “Knocked Up” is the only movie that made it “accidental”, but the main character had a great career and a high paying job, so it was assumed that she would do just fine because she could handle it.  She briefly considered abortion, but opted to keep the baby and prepared herself to raise it alone because the father was a less-than-responsible stranger. In the end, however, they fell in love through bonding over the pregnancy and it all worked out for the best.

This idea of choice is important. According to the article 50,000 of women delivering babies annually are single mothers by choice. It cites women getting older and dealing with biological clocks ticking as motivation and sperm banks as the answer. However, these methods are costly, so chances are that these women are financially capable of handling the expenses of raising a child alone.

What about Black women? Are we making the same choice? This article  talks about the rise of single  Black women adopting children, suggesting Black women too often encounter men who show little interest in being married, so they take it upon themselves to become mothers as their child-bearing window begins to close. According to this article, Black single women made up 55% of public adoptions in 2001.  There are 330k+ Black women aged 35-44 who have never been married or had children, which the article suggests is the motivation for Black women seeking alternative means to become mothers.

Can we afford it?  From the articles referenced above, we spend an average of $15,000 to adopt or go through in vitro fetilization or the use of sperm from sperm banks.    But then, this article says that 38% of Black single mothers live at or below the poverty line. Economics is definitely a factor for women of any race, but it seems as though Black women are more likely to face economic challenges. But, many of us highly educated, career women are still spending money to become mothers. 

So where is our movie?

I could comment on the lack of positive representation of Black women, Black love, and Black families in Hollywood in general, but that’s another idea. I’m wondering how something that was once a negative stereotype most commonly associated with Black women is now suddenly becoming the “in” thing among White women… and why is Hollywood now romanticizing it?

Where is the non-Tyler Perry written/directed/produced/acted/scored/distributed/animated movie about a successful single Black woman who CHOOSES to become a single mother, does so successfully, and falls in love in the process? Or maybe she doesn’t have to fall in love, but find some support. One of the earlier articles said that 80% of children born out-of-wedlock are born to romantically involved parents, so being unmarried doesn’t mean not being happily in love or in a good relationship.

So where is our movie?

Where is our TV show?

I’m pondering all of this as I find myself a divorcing single mom co-parenting a small child and finding myself ready to date again. I’m pondering this because of my concern that my being a single mom is a negative in terms of being found appealing as a mate. I’m pondering this because of the negative stigma still attached to Black single moms that I hope to debunk or at least avoid. I’m pondering this because I’m wondering about the likelihood of finding a mate who takes us as a package deal if so many single non-mothers are struggling to find mates. I’m just doing a lot of pondering and I’m wondering how you readers feel about this Hollywood trend and the lack of positive representation of Black single mothers in media.

Why Is “Not Settling” So Difficult?

I have been asking myself this question a lot lately.

I find myself wondering if I ask too much of people, if I set my standards too high. I always come back to the “No, your standards are right where they should be” response.

But then, I recognize how easy it is to settle. How it can be stress-free if you don’t put any real thought or emotion into it. Anyone can settle for less and in truth, most people do.  I did that once, though, and it did not work. I simply could not endure it any longer. My self-esteem and self-worth are too high to settle the next time around.

Yet, by not settling, I find myself more often than not by myself. That is not so much a bad thing at this particular point in my life. I’m going through a transition, on the tail end of full recovery from an emotionally brutal marriage. So, I don’t exactly need someone right now, this very instant.

But… I always think about the future. I am a planner. I am organized. I have a son to think about so my future is his future. I have to be sure that if I do end up with someone, the person is someone I trust completely around my son and with his childrearing and upbringing.  I’m not 100% calculated in my actions, but I do like to have a handle or understanding of what is to come. So maybe I’d like to begin laying the groundwork for something. It’s been a year since “we” ended. I have done a lot of introspective processing and I’ve come to know what I want, what I need, and what I expect from a partner.

Honesty, loyalty, respect, honor, love, dedication, companionship, these are standard things I think anyone seeks when they want a partner. That’s not asking too much, is it? Or maybe it is…

Particulars like age, race, height, socioeconomic status, education are somewhat negotiable, but not really lol But I think we’re entitled to preferences because those are what we want and so long as they are not too extreme, we should be able to have what we want.

I don’t think I’m too particular. I just think I’m anti-settling and what I view as settling, others might not agree.

Having “been there, done that”, I know it is impossible for me to ever be truly happy by settling for less. I just wish it were not so difficult, because I would love to have someone take me to the movies and buy me ice cream every now and then.

And truth be told… I don’t think I can do this mommy thing alone.

Dating While Divorcing


I am a reasonably attractive woman. I walk with confidence, dress well, try to smile when I make eye contact with people, and I even add a sway to my hips.

I am a plus-sized woman, 6’0 tall, and I have natural hair. And, believe it or not, I get hit on a lot. Pretty much daily. Always have, even when I was married.

I was with the same man for 4.5 years and I’ve finally reached the point where I am ready to date again.

Here’s my question: What now?

When you’ve thought you’ve found “The One”… the person you pledged your life to, the person you had children with, the person who promised you forever, you think “Hey, life is pretty nicely wrapped up. Now I can focus on other things.”  But then, when it ends, you are forced to re-evaluate, re-prioritize, and really figure out the next step.

I’m 30. I should say, I’m ONLY 30. By no means an “old maid”, by no means too old to think about the next one. Too young to resign myself to never finding love again. Yet, I have doubts, fears, concerns.

Will I be able to trust another person again? Will I be able to let my guard down enough to let someone new in? Do I even have the desire/interest to try this all over again? How will I proceed now, being a mom?

The latter is the biggest issue for me. I’ve seen some people bring all kinds of people around their children all willy nilly. I’ve also seen some people all but bar people from ever encountering their children. There has to be a happy medium. I’m trying to figure that out. I think I decided that I dont want to bring anyone around my kids until we’ve been “serious” for at least a year. Part of me wants to say until we’re talking moving in or marriage, but part of determining that is how the person interacts with my kids. Thats a key factor that wasnt an issue beforehand.

So, Ive been on dates. Met some interesting people. Trying to figure out who stands out. I see potential in one person, but again, there are some fears. I don’t ever want to end up in a situation remotely like what I experienced in my marriage. At the same time, I know I want companionship again. I want to have someone take care of my heart and soul. I want someone to come home to.

I’m being patient. Things are still new for me. The best part is the feeling that I’ve finally released myself from my marriage and the feelings therein, and I’m finally ready to move forward.

Wish me luck 🙂