My daughter and I disagree on many things: how she should dress, how she should spend her time, the way she wears her hair. But one thing we agree on is simply this:
She won’t be having a baby.
Now if you’re thinking that means that I think she’s also too young to have sex, you’re right. I do feel that way. But I’m also realistic. Sex may happen. Pregnancy won’t.
That’s because we have already discussed what will happen when she meets her first serious boyfriend: she and I will go to the doctor together and get what we have to get and do what we have to do.
I’m not sure some of her friends will make the same choice. Three of her very best black girlfriends live with their single, never-married mothers. One of their mother’s lives with a “boyfriend.” She works… and he doesn’t do anything from what I’ve seen unfortunately. This girl’s baby brother is a child of that union: her own father is not in the picture. The other girls are sisters: their mother has three other children from different relationships that never ended in marriage. Their father isn’t in their lives either.
These are not urban, low income families. These are suburban, middle class folks.
All three of these girls visit our house so frequently Kevin often says we’re running a “Home for Girls.” They call me “Mom” and watch how I interact with Kevin with fascination. Okay, that’s partly because we’re a black and white family, but I think there’s more to the interest than just that. One of them asks all the time if we can “adopt” her. We can’t: but the vibe that I got from her mother’s boyfriend made me tell her she was welcome and safe at our house—and that she could come anytime, night or day.
While I believe their mother’s are doing the best they can for these girls, their choices puzzle me. For some reason, there is an attitude in the black community that makes it perfectly acceptable to have a baby without a husband, or without the support of even a committed partner. I once had a conversation with a young lady who accepted this as “the way it is” without question. “I didn’t have any problem with it,” she said about being pregnant by a man who she acknowledge wasn’t interested in marriage and in fact had relationships with several other women. She even spoke of her child as “my daughter” –absolving the child’s father of any ownership, possession or role in the child’s life. Another went on and on about the coming day when she would have “her baby”— with same tone that once upon a time, girls spoke about meeting their “Prince Charming.”
As the mother of daughters, I’m worried about the role model set for our girls. I’m worried about the perception of child-rearing as the sole responsibility of the woman—and our acceptance of that notion. I’m worried about the perception of black men as sperm donors—not fathers, looked to for love, guidance and support. I’m worried about the erosion of marriage as an institution in the black community, when marriage is linked to everything from family income, educational success of children, the likelihood those children will use drugs and commit crimes. Even when the parents divorce the kids do better than children whose parents were never married. There’s something about the commitment of marriage—legally, emotionally, psychologically—that provides kids with a stronger connection to both their parents, even when they no longer live together.
I’m worried about the idea that some young black men and women have espoused that “Marriage is for White People.”
If it is, then we are in serious trouble as a community.
Of course, a single woman is completely capable of raising a child—and raising a child well. That isn’t the point. After Sisi’s Dad and I divorced, I was a single parent for five years. It was often very difficult, and on occasion I had to make tough choices about how my time would be spent. I think she’s turned out well in spite of—or perhaps sometimes because of—those choices. And I don’t regret my divorce.
The point is not against single mothers. The point is single motherhood shouldn’t be the default position. It shouldn’t be what we expect to become or accept as the norm. The point is, from the child’s point of view, there is and always will be something missing.
With 70% of black children born out of wedlock, I’d say that not only are there a lot of young people walking around with something missing—with a hole in their foundation—but that it’s a crisis. And it’s a crisis that is solved not by government interaction, or reparations or a rebuke to white racism. It’s solved by individual choices.
Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a few hours of the Congressional Black Caucus here in Washington, DC. Somehow, I ended up in a discussion with a gentleman—a state legislator from Texas—on the black family. He trotted out the tired old chestnut about how welfare separated black men from families.
“You couldn’t have a man in the house and get the money!” he said, working himself up about how white racism is responsible for our current dilemma.
“And that’s because of the expectation of manhood,” I replied. “To hustle and provide for the family. As I understand the policy beneath that, the idea is that if you have a two-parent household, you have two potential wage-earners. The expectation is still that men will make money—more money than women.”
He blinked at me like he hadn’t thought manhood had any expectations.
“But there aren’t opportunities for black men. Racism keeps black men from jobs.”
“You seem to be doing pretty well.”
He blinked at me again. I could see in his face, he wanted to argue that he was the exception to some “rule” but we both knew he wasn’t. The room was full of men like him. In fact the nation is full of men like him. Yes, poverty disproportionately affects black Americans, and yes, black men do face racism in employment contexts. But so do black women—as well as gender discrimination--and we’re not absolved of any responsibilities for the next generation. And while an alarmingly high 25% of African Americans live below the poverty, line 75% do not. To say that the spike in out of wedlock births is an issue of poverty or welfare is inaccurate. The numbers just don’t add up.
“It’s a choice,” I said simply. “It’s still a choice. Maybe I’m too bourgie to get it, but I wouldn’t break up my family for any amount of government money. Just wouldn’t do it. And neither would you.”
I reminded him of our grandparents, who lived in oppressive segregation—but got married and raised their families as a unit. They were poor because of laws that kept them that way much of the time. But they both worked, and worked together for their families’ sakes.
“If they did it under Jim Crow, what’s our excuse?”
Excuses. That’s exactly what they usually are. By choosing not to be proactive, we let “accidents happen.” By choosing not to model two-parent homes for our children, we send a message that further destabilizes our communities—and ultimately the nation. By choosing to accept the role as sole parent, black women undermine their children’s success and their own viability in the dating world. It’s a vicious cycle with far ranging repercussions.
Not for my daughters…and if our example provides anything they can use, maybe not their friends, either. I want my daughters—by birth and by “adoption”—to choose long-term, committed relationships. I want them to choose marriage before having children and, of course, to throw wide open the doors of possibility to include men of any ethnicity. I want them to be proactive about their own sexual behaviors… and if Kevin and I have to help them make good choices for themselves, I know we will use what resources we have to do so—whether they are daughters by birth or by virtue of circumstance. A ride to the clinic? Done. Some help with paying for prophylactics? Done. Talking, talking and talking about men, expectations, and responsibilities? Already done, done, done.
We owe it to our daughters to model a family unit that provides the optimal support for them and their children. Through individual choices, we can reverse the attitude of “I don’t see anything wrong with having a Baby’s father relationship.” to “Not for me. No wedding, no womb.”