Father’s Day is for Fathers. Period.

Father’s Day just passed, June 20, 2010. It was a beautiful day, for the most part, and it was so wonderful to see so many fathers out with their children. Their proud smiles beaming, happy children laughing… it was just amazing.

However, it wasn’t so positive for a number of people, mainly a lot of single mothers. Every year, I see more and more single mothers being wished “Happy Father’s Day” and every year, it really grates my nerves. Women are not and can never be fathers. It’s against every possible biological, emotional, mental, spiritual law known to us. It is an impossibility! Similarly, men cannot be mothers.

Father’s Day is already a diminished holiday as it is. The top day when greeting cards are exchanged? Mother’s Day, followed by Christmas. Father’s Day was created after Mother’s Day. Much of this dates back to the time when mothers stayed at home and took care of the children while men worked and remain somewhat disconnected from their children. Mothers have since been looked at as the primary parent, so giving special attention to fathers has not been something we’ve done as a society. The tide is changing, however, and more fathers are taking active, hands-on, equally nurturing roles in their children’s lives. More and more men are staying at home and more men are acting as single fathers. Fathers deserve their day and I don’t think we should do anything to take that day from them.

Yet, there are those women who are rather bitter about being abandoned and believe they deserve to be celebrated on Father’s Day in addition to Mother’s Day, because they believe they play both roles.

No, they don’t.

Single parents more often than not have to work harder, spend more money, time, and energy raising their children. Single parents probably experience more stress on a day-to-day basis. Some single parents may find that they don’t have a lot of support when raising their children. However, this does not mean they somehow have absorbed the role of the missing parent. They are just doing what they are supposed to do and what the other parent is not doing. Do single parents deserve kudos for not giving up in the face of adversity, when it is easy to do so? Sure. Should they receive special treatment for being the parent that didn’t leave? I don’t think so. Leaving is not the default; staying is. Therefore you get no extra props.

What is up with us congratulating parents on doing what they are supposed to do? Like, why do we give special props to Black men who are active in their children’s lives, when that is what they should be doing?

I read so many Facebook posts and tweets from some really bitter women! I kept saying, why are we focusing so much on the ones that don’t when we should be focusing on the ones that do? I asked a number of women to explain how they “play both roles” and I have yet to read a coherent answer that justifies those assertions. Nothing they described was any different than any mother who has an active partner co-parenting with deals with.

I understand being hurt. I understand wishing your child had a father around to provide that fatherly attention and support. I understand wanting to give up. I understand that the struggle is harder for most single parents. I’m sympathetic to that, really and truly. But there is no way a woman can fill the role of the father. Fathers bring something different to a child’s life, something that cannot be mimicked or reproduced by a woman. As strong as single moms might have to be, that strength doesn’t translate into some weird morphing into fathers.

I think wishing single mothers “Happy Father’s Day” undermines the spirit of the day for fathers. I think it steals something from them and I don’t think it is fair. I really hope that we move past this and we stop saluting mothers on Father’s Day. It’s just sad all around.

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Raising A Boy To Become A Man

I’ve been a mother for about 3 1/2 years now, but before I even conceived, I’ve engaged in the conversation about whether or not women can teach their sons how to be men. On the surface, the answers may seem really simple: Yes, of course or No, of course not. Having engaged in this debate and heard many sides, I wanted to perhaps begin a discussion here on Cocoa Mamas about this idea.

This debate usually comes about when discussing single motherhood. The statistics state that 3.1 million Black mothers are single (unmarried or divorced) which means that at least 3.1 million Black children are being raised without a father figure in their home. This is not to say there is no paternal presence at all, it just is not in the home. In all fairness, that 3.1 million figure does not break down whether or not these women share custody equally, are simply unmarried/divorced (meaning they could have a significant other, male or female), or if they are even custodial parents. If you’ve read my blogs, you know that I’m not the primary custodian of my son, but I do consider myself a single mother.  For argument’s sake, let us assume they mean 3.1 million Black women are raising children on their own, as primary custodians.

So if we assume about 40-50% of those homes contain male children, we’re dealing with about 1.5 million women who have to figure out the best ways to raise their sons  to be intelligent, sensitive, caring, respectful, hardworking, strong Black men.  These will be men who will venture out into the world bearing with them the perspective and world views instilled in them by their mothers. Roughly 80% will carry these views into their interactions with women.  These mothers have to take into account all of the demands society places on men in general, as well as all of the negative statistics about Black men and the lowered expectations by that same society, and try to do their best to produce the most well-rounded, adjusted, positive men possible. 

As one might expect, this is a daunting task. 

Obstacle #1: Women are NOT men. We are physiologically, mentally, and emotionally different. Some things are purely biologically based while others are due to socialization. This creates a disconnect.

Can women overcome this in some ways? Yes, absolutely. We can teach our boys how to pee standing up. Can we relate to the external sensation of having to pee? No.  Can we talk to our sons about wet dreams? Yes. We can even explain how semen is formed, how is travels, and how it shoots out. Can we relate to the embarassment of spontaneous erections 15 times a day? No. The question is then: Are we inevitably disconnected from fully engaging in intimate discussions with our sons about things we have never experienced and cannot relate to? What say you?

Obstacle #2: Boys learn differently than girls. Women tend to teach their children things the way they process them themselves, which does boys a disservice.  Their brains are wired differently and if we cannot teach them along those lines, we risk alienating them.

Most of us do not realize this and we get frustrated when it seems our sons are knuckleheads when they begin to drift off in school. Or we are bothered when our toddler and pre-school sons are running on 150 tons of energy and seem to absorb more of what we say when they are in that state than when they are sitting still quietly, as we have asked them to do 1473 times in an hour. We want them to process what we are teaching as far as manners, respect, and social behavioral norms, but we are teaching them the way we see it and the way we learned it, which is not registering the same with them.  Does this mean there will inevitably be a disconnected between what we teach and what they learn from us? What say you?

Obstacle #3: Women cannot effectively lead by example. Boys and girls generally model their behavior after their parents and those closest to them.  A woman cannot role model being a man.

This is probably the biggest issue that comes up and pretty much encompasses the majority of the debates/discussions. We assume, of course, that there are set codes and standards of masculinity and manhood. (I reject that because I reject heteronormative thinking ,but that’s another blog). We assume that women cannot emulate those standards and therefor, they cannot effectively set the appropriate example of masculinity and manhood. (Again, this does not allow for varying gender identities that female-sexed individuals self-identify with).

Can a woman teach her son how to play basketball? Yes. Can she teach him how to change the oil in the car? Yes. Can she teach him to say “Please” and “Thank you” when interacting with others? Of course.  What she cannot do, as a single mother, is model how a man should treat a woman.  She can speak, write, teach, tell him on the telephone until she is blue in the face, but if that boy does not bear witness to his mother being treated in a positive way by an authoritative male figure, I posit that there IS a disconnect in his understanding of how to treat women (even with his own father or another father figure present).  That’s jsut one idea. What say you?

I did not dig as deep as I could have on this subject because I would love for people to weigh in and offer their own sides to the debate. I know where I stand and will respond in time.

Discussion questions:

Can women, single mothers specifically, effectively raise their sons to be “men”?

Does society’s notions of masculinity and manhood play a role in how women should be raising their sons?

If you are raising a son, what are you doing to ensure he is being raised with a strong sense of his masculinity (however you might define that for your family)?

Why do you think some women are successful at single-parenting sons and others are not as successful? What other factors do you think contribute to their successes or failures?


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Billy Bad Ass

*Deeeeeep Sigh*

I am having serious issues. My precious, darling, cutest baby boy in the world has morphed into a Creature of Badness. No, we’re not supposed to talk about our kids like that, but hey, I’m amongst family, right?

Right. So let the venting begin.

Maybe I need to back up a minute and state, for the record, that I truly believe behavior is learned, either by mimicking the behavior of those in one’s immediate society, by direct behavior modifcation efforts from authority figures, or by indirectly picking up things along the way from more external sources, like media, for example. I believe that children absorb everything around them and it influences how they think, the choices the make, and, consequently, their behavior.

With that said, there are certain ages where children just begin to lose their ever-loving minds!!! This is one of those times I’m guessing.  My son went from being sweet-faced, obedient, always wanting to please to being angry, rude, disrespectful, disobedient, and just all around bad.

And it is driving me up the wall!

I spend weekends with him and he is with his father during the week. Its only about 3 days (from Friday evening to Monday morning) but it comes out to being more hours than his father spends with him during the week. It’s usually just he and I, one-on-one, mano a mano. I’d say maybe 15-20% of that time is pleasantly spent laughing, playing, reading, doing fun things.  The rest of the time is spent fussing, fighting, yelling, disciplining, dragging, popping, and all other types of foolish defiance-induced struggling.

I had to step back the past couple of weeks and think of what might be contributing to this behavior. I thought about his being 3 year old and how every article I’ve read says that its the 3s that are the real trouble, not the 2s. Ok, I’ll give him that. I thought about how rapidly he is developing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how difficult it must be to try and navigate all of these internal changes being only 3 years old. Poor guy, right? I thought about the separation, and how it might be causing issues for him as he tries to adjust to his family being separated and his going back and forth between two homes. That’s a lot to deal with at 3. I thought about how, in his new child care setting, he is allowed a lot more freedom and provided with a lot less discipline than he once was. His father’s step-mother is his primary caregiver, and let’s be honest, she spoils him rotten (like she did her own sons).

My son has become a demanding little beast who does not take “No” for an answer. Everything is a negotiation. He  went from always saying, “Mommy can I have some juice please?” to “Mommy. Juice.” I spent an entire weekend retraining him to ask politely for the things he wants. And then, when he does ask and I say “No”, his response is “But Mommmmmmmy, you can’t say ‘No’!” or he comes and hits me, scowls his face, and follows up with “You don’t tell me ‘No’!” or somehing to that effect. Or, he comes back 5 seconds later, “How about now?”

Wait… what? Where did he learn that mess?? Who is jumping at every demand that he puts forth that he ever got it into his mind that 1. it’s ok to make demands 2.  it’s ok to hit me and 3. it’s ok to yell at me and tell me what to do??

As the young folks say, “Where they do that at?”

I feel like I spend the majority of our time in disciplinary mode and it is wearing me out! It is making it very difficult for me to enjoy my time with my son and thus making it hard for me to connect with him the way I want to. Since connecting with him has been an issue since he was born, for other reasons, this concerns me a great deal. I feel like I’m playing Good Cop, Bad Cop, and guess which one I am?

Occasionally, I feel a sense of dread when I have to pick him up, especially if I know he hasn’t taken a nap that day (which happens often because his caregivers aren’t making him nap). I prepare for the inevitable evening meltdown that will ruin any plans I had for that time and I prepare myself for battle. When I drop him off on Mondays, sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, I feel sad for ever feeling this way.

I’m doing my best to remain consistent in my disciplinary tactics, but little is working short of popping him with the “Bad Boy Stick” which is a wooden spoon. Even then, he stares at me like “So? That’s all you got?” and I feel horrible for having spanked him (I’m already against spanking). When I see how ineffective it is, it makes me feel like it’s not worth it. Someone recently said, “Hit him harder”, but is that the answer? Really?

He has always had an indepedent streak. I try to support it. He wants to do things on his own, so I allow him the space to do that. But with that comes often bad behavior that I have to correct, when I feel no one else is. The other day, I had reached a breaking point and I was in near tears asking him, “Why are you so mean to Mommy? Why do you behave like a bad boy so much? Why can’t we have fun and smile and laugh and play?”

He started crying and said “I’m so sorry Mommy!!” and threw his arms around me wimpering. He then said, “Because I want Daddy here”. I don’t want to believe that he understood what I was asking well enough to answer that way, but at the end of the day, I think I have my answer.

She Works Hard For The Money

I am a working mom. I LOVE working. I LOVE being a mom. I have found a way to be successful at both in ways that allign with my own personal definitions of success.

There are many forums in which mothers from all over have the great Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) versus Work Out of Home Mom (WOHM) debate. SAHMs argue that WOHMs should not have had kids if they did not want to be around them and raise them full-time. WOHMs argue that they should not have to sacrifice having careers to be mothers or vice versa.  Some SAHMs can afford to stay home, as their partners earn enough income to cover all of their expense and luxuries. Some SAHMs are struggling to make ends meet, some even relying on government assistance. Some WOHMs work because they can’t afford not to, while others do it for the love of having a career and doing something stimulating and engaging. Then there are the minority WAHMs (Work at Home Moms), women who have managed to have both careers/jobs and be able to stay at home with their children full-time. They chime in, but those numbers are so much smaller than the other two groups.

I realized when my son was 5 months old that I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mother, at least not in the capacity I was one.  His father and I discussed the idea of me staying home for the first year of his life and I said I’d try it. I don’t know if the Post Partum Depression had anything to do with it, our financial struggles going from two paychecks to one, or something else, but after about 3 months, I’d reached the “This shit is for the birds” point. By 5 months, I was so eager to get out of the house that when he came home, I’d be dressed and ready to rush out to do something, ANYTHING. I craved adult interaction, time away from my infant, and something else to do that made me feel like I was important and not just a waste of good air.

Because being a mom wasn’t important enough, right?

I loved my son, but I felt like my life was being wasted just sitting at home feeding, burping, and changing him. I didn’t go to school just to stay home and be someone’s mama, right? God, that sounds so horrible. What’s wrong with me?  My mother even, as she was sick and frail, said to me, “Are you going to waste all of that education sitting at home? If I had known you were going to end up like this, I would have saved my money”  (You see where I get it from lol)

It made me feel like I had more to do with my intelligence, skills, and capabilities. So I went back to work, finished my Master’s Degree, and have since been strongly building upon the career foundation I set pre-motherhood. I couldn’t be happier with that decision because: 1)I love what I do; 2) I love feeling useful; 3) I love feeling like I’m contributing to the overall improvement of society; 4) I love feeling influential and managerial; 5) I love the adult interaction; 6)I love having the time and space to be “Benee”, not simply “Mommy”.

How is it that some of us are perfectly content staying home with kids, taking care of the home, relying on our significant others for material resources, and some of us prefer to work hard at our educations, careers, networking, climbing ladders, etc?  What about the women who get the education, have great careers, and just walk away from it all to become SAHMs? How does a woman come to prefer one or the other? It is reliant upon how she was socialized and/or nurtured? Is it the influence of the examples set by the females in her life? Is it racial/ethnic/cultural? Socioeconomically-based? What is it?  I’d love for people to weigh in on this.

For me, every woman who has ever had any influence on my life and the decisions therein has been a working woman. Not necessarily a highly educated working woman, but a worker nonetheless. Also, I did not grow up with many positive examples of loving, enduring couples or have much exposure to families headed by a man.  Most families I knew were headed by women, with men in and out of the picture sparsely. The only long-married people I knew were in my grandparents’ generation and their happiness is always debatable. That’s another blog though…

So, here I am and I work. I’m not independently wealthy. I’m not interested in being dependent upon government assistance. I want to be a positive role model for my son and in my opinion, a strong work ethic is one of the most admirable qualities a person can have.  So, I go to work, earn my living, and strive to grow and climb higher in my field. I rely on myself financially, make my own financial decisions, and feel empowered by the ability to do so.

This is not to say that under the right circumstances, I would not redirect my focus towards caring for my home, my partner, and my children. I was willing to do it once, so I know I would be willing to do it again. I do feel, deep inside, the desire, need, and even obligation to take care of my family and home. What a paradox lol  But there is something in me that fears being 100% financially dependent upon a significant other. I’ve borne witness to TOO many horrible outcomes from these situations where the women are left destitute, alone, suffering/struggling with the children with barely the clothes on their backs because one day, their husbands decided they were done. I’d have too many stipulations and the man would probably be like “Nevermind. Go work!”

Some argue that means I do not trust my partner 100% and I would disagree; it is not so much about how I feel about my partner so much as how great my desire to always be able to care for and protect myself and my kids overshadows any emotions for or attachments to someone else. Then there is the need to have something just for me. I will not apologize for wanting something of my own.

So, I continue to work.

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I’m Doing What’s Best, Right?

I am a newly single mom, trying to navigate through all of the “stuff” that comes with going through a divorce and establishing a workable co-parenting agreement. It can be difficult at times, and I was recently made aware by someone outside of my situation that my emotional connection to the situation is still strong. I find myself upset about things on higher levels than I should be, I have been irritable, listless, melancholic, and a myriad of other things.

I’m supposed to be happy. Yet, there are days when I just want to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. There are so many positive things going on for me, and I swear I try my best to focus on those things. But every now and then, the darkness grips me and negativity takes over.

I’m a woman in a non-traditional role. I don’t see my son every day. I see him about 3 weekends a month.  With my new job and the responsibilities that come with that, as well as my overwhelming need for “space” and time to get myself together physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually post-divorce, I gave over primary care of my son to his father and his extended family.  I’ve grappled with this since agreeing to it because, as one can imagine, the feelings of being a “bad mom”, feelings of selfishness, questioning if I will be forgotten all come up from time to time.

Why do we, as women, feel like we have to take on the primary responsibility of raising our children? And why do we, as society, look down more upon women who take the secondary role than men? It’s like we accept, or in some cases expect, men to not be equal parents, so when they leave or take the secondary role, it doesn’t seem to phase us.  But when a woman does it, there is little sympathy or understanding.

I’m doing what’s best, in my opinion, for my son, and most importantly, for myself.  If I’m not well… I can’t be a good mother. I just need some time, alone, for me to get it all together.

And I have to forgive myself for feeling negative or selfish about it.

The Talk

Last Friday, my soon-to-be ex had “The Talk” with my 7 year old step-daughter. “The Talk” meaning the “Benee and I are not married anymore” talk.

Without me.

We had previously agreed that we would sit her down and tell her together, so that we could both express our love for her and for our family, and reassure her that it was nothing that she did. He’d picked her up from home (I’m usually the one who does that since I have the car) and met me in Manhattan. Our plan was to pick up the boy and spend a nice family evening together.  When I called him to see where they were, he said, “I need you to get out of the car and give J a big hug because I had “the talk” with her.”  Immediately, I was angry. How could he do that without me? He explained that she was asking questions and he felt he had to answer them. He said that she was crying and asking what happened, why was this happening. My heart was breaking as he spoke, but I got out of the car and as they approached, I grabbed her and gave her a big hug.

In those moments, I held her close and I felt broken. All of the pain of everything that led to this point of having “the talk” came rushing back and I was hurt, sad, angry, bitter, and depressed all at once. But, I knew that I had to put on a strong front, a happy face, and be supportive of her needs at the time. I admit I was hurt and disappointed that he talked to her without me, but then I understood that he felt the need to ease his daughter’s confusion and I allowed him that.

We had a good family evening. She’d been asking why sometimes she stayed with her daddy at grandpa’s house and why sometimes she stayed with me and her brother, without daddy. It was time to explain and I think we put it off for so long because we had not yet tied up our loose ends. We didn’t want to confuse her until we were absolutely positive things we done with us.

And they are.

So now, the next task is handling the more sensitive task of ensuring that the 3 year old boy comes to some understanding of the situation. At least, whatever his 3 year old mind can handle.  He seems to have a confused sense of “home” and that troubles me. This past weekend, he called me “Abuela” at least 5 times. “Abuela! Ummmm Mommy…” was how he started several sentences. That troubles me because I already have issues with the choice we made to have him stay with his father and grandparents during the week and me on weekends. I don’t want to disturb his amazing development as a little intelligent, funny, precocious boy. I’ve read the statistics about the effects of “broken homes” on young people and we’re doing what we can to counter the negative effects by wrapping him up with the love of extended family.

But I’m still his mommy. And I’m still her “other” mother, as she has always known me to be. I over think the future, especially since her father is already focused on the woman he wants to be his next wife. I overthink how maybe, eventually, I will become obsolete to her. Will she still think of me as her second mommy? Or will his new wife replace me and that precious position I’ve held for the last 4.5 years? Will she even remember these early years and all of the love and attention I gave her? Will she remember who taught her how to shop and coordinate her outfits, who did her hair on the weekends, who took her to get her nails done? Will I just be her brother’s mother after this new woman has replaced my position as her father’s wife?

It hurts, at times, when I think of the effect this has and will have on our children. They are so young, so innocent. This is such a huge period of adjustment and I feel we have a lot of careful work to do to make sure they don’t lose their sense of safety and stability. I admit, I’m nervous… I don’t know what to do, how to be….

And that scares the crap out of me.

Dating While Divorcing

Ok.

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 🙂