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Archive for the ‘single parenthood’ Category

I wrote this column in response to my editor asking me if parents like me, who write, worry about what my children’s future therapist will think about my parenting and articles:

One does not like to dwell on permanent damage inflicted by self on children while one is tending to the work and family juggle. But guilt, like a fear of the dark, is something I have discovered you can’t really afford as a single parent. Anything that must be dealt with alone in the middle of the night should really be rationalised away as a priority. I have stopped fearing parenting mistakes the way I once did.

Possibly that means I make them at double the speed, though I doubt it. My parenting has generally been considered and kind-hearted and it has probably finally acquired something resembling competence. Though notably, I am also not seeking perfectionism in my relationships these days, least of all with my children.

I have begun to see the pursuit of perfectionism as stifling, distancing, a removing of oneself from the messiness of connection. So, it’s not that I don’t make mistakes. I am certain I make many while attempting to avoid others, but it is that I have faith in myself and my children to deal with those mistakes as they become clear. Well, I very nearly have that kind of faith, anyway.

And I interviewed Courtney Adamo, the mother who was banned from Instagram for posting ‘semi-nude’ photos of her toddler in this column.

 

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I won’t lie; I miss you. Well, since we only met seven or eight times, I miss the fantasies of you I used to create. You were a career Air Force officer, so I used to make up all kinds of missions for you. When asked, I’d say you were over in some devastated pocket of global real estate, fighting bad guys. I mean, why else wouldn’t you be around? I’m smart, funny… I am a good son.

Once the fantasies stopped, the pain and the hurt crept in.

Hell, it didn’t just creep in, it moved in—it took up residence in my heart. During certain moments it was nearly impossible to breathe because of the amount of hatred I felt for you. There were times I scared myself because of the sheer awfulness of the things I wished upon you. I felt so cheated. You weren’t around physically and Mom was ill equipped to be a parent; not to mention that every dude she dated knocked us around.

I didn’t really begin to date until college, because I was afraid I’d become one of the monsters Mom decided to invite into our home. Whether it was Brooklyn or Minneapolis, she seemed to have a nose for hooking up with pugilist man-children.

And I blamed you for this.

If you were there, she would have felt worthy of being loved, and we both would have been safe. I write these things not to pile on you, but to get them out and keep them out. I no longer want to hold onto my negative feelings and memories of you. I’ve come to understand that my holding onto all these adverse emotions has severely limited my ability to parent like I want. That is changing.

From Shawn Taylor in Ebony.

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My column this week for Daily Life is out:

For weeks this year, before that night, I dreamed about snakes. On and off I’ve had these dreams since childhood and they always look like Pierre Roy’s Danger on the Stairs (1927). Recently people tried to tell me that the dreams were a sign of healing but Google that old surrealist painting and tell me if you see any good omens there.

Before I tell you what happened that night I want to tell you what happened a little further back, which is that I suddenly became a single parent. My partner and I, after more than a decade and a half together, decided to end our relationship. Doesn’t matter how a relationship ends — whether you leave, are left or it happens mutually — there’s still a moment where you take a breath and jump. It’s a moment of acceptance that this is your new reality.

 

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I was interviewed recently for a television program that intends to look at various styles of parenting and the kinds of children these create. I know they’re trying to be nuanced about the topic but I can imagine the stereotypes their audience will have in mind. Namely, the idea that my generation of parents are coddling our children, are too intense about our parenting, that we’re a little too attentive.. that we want our kids to get trophies just for showing up and we’re creating feckless brats in the process. Yes, so about that..

I really, really like this piece, “How the ‘trophy for just showing up’ was earned” by Sonya Huber in The New York Times.

My son’s eight soccer trophies are lined up above his bed. One is a fake-metal bobblehead, and one has a little soccer ball that spins. He received each one for merely being on the roster.

These pieces of plastic and metal handed out by park-district coaches have emerged as a symbol of the unearned praise that is said to have weakened our children’s characters.

But I love them, those memorials to grit and mud.

Motherhood writing could do with a lot more of this… a lot more perspective, a lot less stereotyping.

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This essay is written by Cristina Nehring. Do you remember the controversy around her essay about her love for her disabled child last year? Anyway, here she is writing about being a single parent and entering a new love affair – it’s not a brilliant essay, it’s just interesting. She specialises in big sweeping statements that can piss readers off but I do like the way Nehring explores her life with a bigger picture in mind. And I’m always interested in the topic of parents having sex lives, as you know.

Here’s Nehring in The New York Times with “Are parents better lovers?”.

But now I was there — even if I was on the other side. And all my fears were true: I did make Dice my priority. I’d find myself pushing her baby carriage through the park and thinking “I never spent near this much time with any man in a park.” Nor has anyone ever listened to me so rapt, nor smiled at me so winsomely, tenderly, heartbreakingly.

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Much conservative ink has been spilled boiling the problems of black America down to its absent daddies, but no one in the black community needs pundits to lecture him on family values. Deadbeat dads rank about one step below the Klan in popularity among African Americans. Hiphop may be grossly misogynistic, but you will be hard pressed to find a cultural movement that more reveres mothers and reviles fathers. (Indeed, rap’s only mother-hater of note is a white guy, Eminem.) The anti-paternal sentiment in rap expresses a larger fatigue among African Americans for “tired-ass” black men who doom kids to fatherless lives. So when Jay-Z says “Momma loves me, Pop I miss you/God help me forgive ‘em, I got some issues,” he isn’t simply having a cathartic moment, he is speaking for 70 percent of African-American children. He is also speaking for my partner and me.

From Ta-Nehisi Coates with “Confessions of a Black Mr Mom” in The Washington Monthly.

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It’s nearly impossible to think of any other situation in which we, as viewers, including parents and pastors and progressives and feminists, are asked to watch young women and their children go through hell, and tell ourselves the proper response is inaction or even mockery. It’s hard to imagine any other situation in which we as a culture root for real young women and their real children to fail, all in the name of metaphorically saving a much larger group of young women who will never become pregnant.

Absolutely this! As I’ve said before, if you want to see patriarchal attitudes towards motherhood then look at how teenage mothers get treated and a lot of feminist sites have really dropped the ball on this one, too. Great article from Amy Benfer in Dame Magazine with “Why does everyone – from pastors to progressives – doom teen mothers to failure”.

Thanks to Kate Harding for the link.

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I really, really think we have a problem with neo-liberalism and therapeutic approaches to social justice at the moment, which is at the expense of collective solutions. This is a very good statement about why ‘personal responsibility’ is extremely limited as a solution to problems of the scale of racism.

An appeal to authority—even the authority of our dead—doesn’t make Barack Obama any more right. On the contrary, it shows how wrong he is. I can’t think of a single credible historian of our 500-year tenure here who has concluded that our problem was a lack of “personal responsibility.” The analysis is as old as it is flawed, and that is because it isn’t analysis at all but something altogether different. No black people boo when the president talks about personal responsibility. On the contrary, it’s often the highlight of his speeches on race. If you’ve ever lived in a black community, you might understand why. I can assemble all kinds of stats, graphs, and histories to explain black America’s ills to you. But none of that can salve the wound of leaving for work at 7 a.m., seeing young men on the stoop blowing trees, and coming home and seeing the same niggers—because this is what we say to ourselves—sitting in the same place. It is frustrating to feel yourself at war with these white folks—because that too is what we say—and see people standing on your corner who you believe to have given up the fight.

“I am not raising ‘nothing niggers,’” my mother used to tell me. “I am not raising niggers to stand on the corner.” My mother did not know her father. In my life, I’ve loved four women. One of them did not know her father and two, very often, wished they didn’t. It’s not very hard to look at that, and seethe. It’s not very hard to look at that and see a surrender, while you are out here at war, and seethe. It’s not hard to look around at your community and feel that you are afflicted by quitters, that your family—in particular—is afflicted by a weakness. And so great is this weakness that the experience of black fatherlessness can connect Barack Obama in Hawaii to young black boys on the South Side, and that fact—whatever the charts, graphs, and histories may show—is bracing. When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever.

My mother’s admonishings had their place. God forbid I ever embarrass her. God forbid I be like my grandfather, like the fathers of my friends and girlfriends and wife. God forbid I ever stand in front of these white folks and embarrass my ancestors, my people, my dead. And God forbid I ever confuse that creed, which I took from my mother, which I pass on to my son, with a wise and intelligent analysis of my community. My religion can never be science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it…

.. Catharsis is not policy. Catharsis is not leadership. And shame is not wisdom.

From Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic with “The champion Barack Obama”.

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Kelly Briggs of @TheKooriWoman is spot on in this article of hers in The Guardian. This piece is about her experiences negotiating poverty as an Aboriginal single mother, while also managing the fear that her children might be forcibly removed from her by the state. Briggs is not worrying about whether she cares for her kids enough, she knows she does, she is worrying about what happens if she is perceived to have failed to care for them. In light of a history of racist government policies in welfare and child protection, Briggs knows her routine parenting experiences will be viewed through a very different lens to that applied to a single mother like me. (I’m white, middle-class and employed full-time in a profession). And when shit happens as it inevitably does from time to time, she knows she has much less slack to play with.

I see the advantage I hold in this area all the time. For instance, to borrow from Briggs’ example, my children get to school late quite frequently and they had a number of unexplained absences from school last year, too. Did I fret about what might happen to us because of those oversights? Nope. As part of state government policy the school requires all parents to eventually account for unexplained absences; was I treated with anything but dignity and courtesy in that process, was I treated with suspicion? Nope.

Here is Briggs in her article:

What happens if the small amount of work I have gained dries up and I am back in the position of money being so incredibly tight that the lack of it is suffocating? What if money again becomes so tight that shoes, uniforms, excursions, lunches or transport – issues that I don’t have to worry about when I’m working – become issues that keep my kids from turning up at school on occasion? What exactly is the scope of these truancy officers? Do they give my kids lunch? Buy them uniforms? Will my name be added to some department of community services list somewhere? Will there be a mark upon my name that gives rise to visits from people who can remove my children from my care?

I spoke honestly and frankly with my mother about my worries. She was amazed that this is still happening, after all the trials Aboriginal women have been put through for generations. We spoke of her own mother’s obsession with cleanliness, which sprang from her fear of the dreaded “welfare man”, a government employee who could come to your house and demand to be let inside to ensure your house was clean, that there was adequate food available, that the children were going to school.

She then went on to tell me about her own fears when she was raising me and my siblings: the absolute terror she felt when she had to collect food vouchers of some nameless person swooping in to take us kids off her because she was facing hardship after my father passed away. The tremble in her voice as she recounted this broke my heart.

Aboriginal women have been told for the better part of two centuries that they are neglectful and not fit to raise children. Policy after policy, we have borne the brunt of racist and cruel initiatives enacted purely out of ignorance and the unwillingness of decision makers to listen to what Aboriginal women think is best for their very own children.

For more of Kelly Briggs’ writing you can read her blog.

UPDATE: Just came across this on the same topic.

A decade ago, I sat talking to a young mother on welfare about her experiences with technology. When our conversation turned to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT), Dorothy* said, “They’re great. Except [Social Services] uses them as a tracking device.” I must have looked shocked, because she explained that her caseworker routinely looked at her EBT purchase records. Poor women are the test subjects for surveillance technology, Dorothy told me ruefully, and you should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next.

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Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed falls into that category of book where you start reading it because you think it is an important book to read and you should therefore read it, and you finish reading it because it is so engrossing and affecting that you can’t put it down.

If you never got a chance to read Ehrenreich’s book or you’d like a reminder then this is a great sample of her writing on poverty. From her recent article in The Atlantic, “It is expensive to be poor”. And here is why maternal feminism is such a critical arm in feminism today..

Picking up on this theory, pundits and politicians have bemoaned the character failings and bad habits of the poor for at least the past 50 years. In their view, the poor are shiftless, irresponsible, and prone to addiction. They have too many children and fail to get married. So if they suffer from grievous material deprivation, if they run out of money between paychecks, if they do not always have food on their tables—then they have no one to blame but themselves.

In the 1990s, with a bipartisan attack on welfare, this kind of prejudice against the poor took a drastically misogynistic turn. Poor single mothers were identified as a key link in what was called “the cycle of poverty.” By staying at home and collecting welfare, they set a toxic example for their children, who—important policymakers came to believe—would be better off being cared for by paid child care workers or even, as Newt Gingrich proposed, in orphanages.

Welfare “reform” was the answer, and it was intended not only to end financial support for imperiled families, but also to cure the self-induced “culture of poverty” that was supposedly at the root of their misery. The original welfare reform bill—a bill, it should be recalled, which was signed by President Bill Clinton—included an allocation of $100 million for “chastity training” for low-income women.

Woah! Chastity training.

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