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When my son's father and I split up, the thought of
being a single black mom at once scared and infuriated me. I was afraid of
being overwhelmed by the demands of parenting and infuriated that I was
following in the footsteps of most of the women in my family. The stigma of the
single black mother penetrated deep in my cultural experience, and I never
wanted to be the woman capable of doing all things for all people while
sacrificing her own needs and dreams. What I'd seen as "single black
mom" always seemed like a very lonely existence.
I was determined to keep my son's father in his
life and went to great extremes to do so. I often bit my tongue in order to
keep the peace. I made concessions on child support and tried to do things as a
family as often as possible. I thought keeping my ex close by made me a good
Things went relatively well for a few years, but then my ex started
making sexual advances toward me. While being co-parents wasn't ideal, being in
a romantic relationship with my son's dad was a path I'd already traveled, and
I had no desire to retrace those steps. After a year of rejecting his advances,
he finally got the message and retreated.
In the tone of their question was the assumption that black dads are not in the home and are not parenting their children.
In my imagination, I saw us all as a big family
with new spouses—maybe even more children—a united community around our son and
his needs. Making decisions alone for my son was not a part of the dream. But
this was very much a fantasy. I am a single black mom. My son's father
plays a significant role in his life, but I don't feel like I have a partner in
parenting. While I have lots of friends and a solid support system, I feel like
I’m on my own.
Over the years, I've finally learned that I can't
control their relationship. I've also figured out that being a good mother
doesn't mean putting myself in compromising situations for my son's sake.
Lastly, I see that my son sees me. My son is more greatly impacted by my
failure to take good care of myself than he is by my less-than-intimate
relationship with his father.
People have often asked me, particularly early on
in our breakup, “Where’s the father?” In the tone of their question was the
assumption that black dads are not in the home and are not parenting their
children. I tied that question to my experience as a child and a fear that was
very real for me, so it always struck me deeply. But that assumption was not my
truth, nor was it my son’s experience. His father is in his life. And like me,
he is not a perfect parent, but he is a present one. So, like it or not, I have
to accept being the occasionally lonely single black mom.