4 Essential Practices For Single Moms

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No matter where dad has gone, or what dad has done, mother, mom, mama, makes the difference. Mama must forge ahead with her children on her back and dreams in her gut. This is encouragement and empowerment for single moms.

The reason the situation looks grim for single mother households is that everyone focuses on the absent parent, the father, who is no longer around to make a difference in the child’s life. If there’s a solution for single mother households, it lies within the parent who’s still involved in the child’s life, the mother. We can’t afford to spend another minute pontificating about the effects that absent fathers have on society because it takes attention away from the most urgent issue of equipping mothers with what they need to carry on.

My own mother’s example inspires most of what I write, but I’m also inspired and educated by stories of mothers around the world. (This is not just an American women’s problem.) I’ve chosen two stories as examples of what can be done to carry on when dad is gone.

Victoria Young

Victoria Young is an 11 year old piano prodigy. She’s one of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artists featured on NPR radio where she shares her gift and her story, a story spoken in a humble, innocent, articulate voice. On the radio program, Victoria talks about her love for modern art, and world class museums, and blesses the crowd with a stunning piano performance. But Victoria’s feature on NPR strikes more than just a piano chord. Even while on a world stage playing Johan Sebastian Bach and discussing infamous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Victoria identifies the struggles in her life. She recounts her father selling her piano without her knowing. She remembers her home on the brink of foreclosure. She explains how she managed to continue practicing the piano even though she and her mom had to take refuge in a domestic violence shelter far away from her school. Yet, despite the tough times, this 11 year old girl hasn’t given up on excellence.

So much about Victoria’s story evokes admiration, but one daily ritual shines as a testament of what it takes to thrive. Every afternoon, Victoria and her mother commune over a cup of tea. In Victoria’s own words:

“It’s really exciting. We go and we talk, and we eat at the same time. . . . We have a lot of fun.”

Of course we don’t hear Victoria’s entire story on the radio. We only get fragments. But they are significant fragments because in them is shimmering hope for all mother-daughter duos. The bits of Victoria’s story that we dohave show us at least two essential parenting practices:

Spend quality time with your children, and have conversations with your children.

Victoria’s mom understands the need to consistently offer her time and her ear to her daughter. Notice that their quality time is very simple. They don’t even have to leave their house. They spend nothing more than what they would normally spend  on groceries, which is important for single mothers who often need to save every dollar they can. What makes their time together effective is that it’s consistent, genuine, and it’s about Victoria, the daughter. It’s not about the occasion or the event, like a concert or party. Victoria is the center of her mothers attention, and she can count on that attention every day.

What’s your version of afterschool tea time? Consider the everyday tasks you do with your children. How can you turn those moments into quality moments, if they aren’t already? As single mothers, already short on time, you try to maximize every second, but you may be losing quality time with our kids. When you’re around your kids, minimize the time that you’re on the phone talking to adults who don’t need your attention the way your kids do. Quickly cover housekeeping issues, such as what time practice ends or reminding them to submit an important letter, so that you have time for quality conversation about their interests, their fears, and their opinions. Our days are filled with these kinds of mundane tasks that could be turned into quality moments with children. Determine what works best for your family.

Victoria gives parting advice to young people:

“I would tell them not to give up, and just keep going because there’s still hope, and try as hard as they can because they still have their future ahead of them.”

This advice to young people is just as true for their mothers.

Esperanza Spalding

Perhaps a more recognizable name, Esperanza Spalding is a famous jazz musician launched into the national spotlight when she won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2010. Spalding began her performance career at the age of five, released her first CD in 2005, and just released her latest album, Radio Music Society, in March 2012.

I recently read a profile about Ms. Spalding, “A Day in the Life of the Jazz Star,” by Abigail Pesta on the Daily Beast. Pesta emphasizes Spalding’s committed work ethic as the primary reason for the jazz musician’s success. Unlike some, Spalding was not born into a musical dynasty. As stated on her official website, Spalding grew up in Portland Oregon “in a single-parent home amid economically adverse circumstances,” even dealing with a childhood illness that required her to be homeschooled. So what did Spalding’s mother do that might have contributed to a prosperous life today?

According to Pesta, Esperanza Spalding

“credits her mother, a single parent, with her early interest in the arts, recalling childhood evenings together spent reading books like The Little Prince, and later the biography of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She listened to the ‘oldies’—Motown and British rock bands from the ’60s and ’70s—because her mother didn’t think the modern stuff was good for her.”

This example reveals another essential practice:

Provide a deliberate education.

I don’t mean you have to become a certified, public school teacher and stand at a chalkboard while your child buries their head a thick textbook. I do mean this: Decide the values and life lessons you want to instill in your children. Then determine several positive methods for modeling these values and lessons. For example, reading with your children can show them the value of reading, but selecting certain material can make the experience about more than just the act of reading itself. Depending on the content, reading time can also teach children about various themes presented in the text, such as compassion, hard work, generosity, and perseverance. The same is true with music, movies, and television. Even shopping trips can be utilized for modeling financial responsibility.

Just like Esperanza is able to point to her mother’s reasoning, children should not have to guess what values are important to you. Parents may think values and lessons are obvious, but that’s like asking, “Can’t you tell I love you by my actions? Why do I have to say it?” You don’t have to say it every time you speak, but be direct and open about your values and priorities.

The fourth essential practice I glean from Esperanza’s story:

Don’t dwell on what’s missing. Allow your family to enjoy life.

In Esperanza’s own words:

“I’m sure my whole life we were under the poverty line, you know, but I still felt rich. I had a rich upbringing, rich in the sense of a lot of love, a lot of education, nature, music and art, and laughing. . . . It’s not just about the income you make.”

Esperanza Spalding’s mother provided her with rich experiences that countered, even outweighed, the negative side of her reality. I think this is the single mother’s first order of business, as it was with my mother. Don’t allow yourself or your children to languish over the absence of a man, or the absence of financial resources.

Whether or not your child is a musical prodigy, they still deserve the best of you. I hope you’ve found some inspiration in these stories that will keep you hopeful in your parenting journey.

With Love, from Sarah L. Webb

Stop Hating

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Awhile back I read a tweet from a woman that said it’s hard not to become just a little jealous or insecure around a beautiful and successful woman. With the ubiquitous images of catty women on television and in movies it’s easy to think this is true of all women, especially black women. Yes, this is a result of capitalism, racism, misogyny, and patriarchy. Because of capitalism, film and TV producers will compromise other people’s dignity to make money. Because of racism, there aren’t enough positive and nuanced portrayals of blacks in mainstream media. Because of misogyny and patriarchy, women get the worst of capitalism and racism. AND it’s all about getting a man, right? Many people seem to think the bulk of female envy stems from the need to find and keep MR. GOOD ENOUGH. (Again, the media exaggerates this phenomena in portrayals of black women.)

Structures are in place that provoke and support hatred among women, structures that we can’t readily change, structures that have become self-sustaining. But I believe we can empower ourselves as women to love or at least appreciate each other.

So how do we remove the jealousy, insecurity, or hatred from our hearts? Reading a blog post won’t get it done, but I suppose it’s a start.

Don’t compare. 

Even if you’re not a hater, per se, simply comparing yourself to other women can make you feel insecure, which makes you miserable and produces bad vibes. Bad vibes often cause conflict. On the road of life, someone’s always farther along or farther behind, so you might as well focus on your own journey. Use what’s in your own hand.

Be inspired. 

This was my personal epiphany. I was about to be jealous of someone, then I thought, Why be jealous? If she can do it, I can do it too! Now when I see women who have something I want or who do something I want to do, their accomplishments validate my dreams. In fact, my dreams seem more and more plausible with each new successful woman I see.

Learn something. 

Instead of smoldering in envy, ask the other woman how she does it? If you listen to her story, you might realize she’s overcome tremendous obstacles. When you see a successful woman, instead of whispering and staring, try networking. You might get the hook up with a new job, a new stylist, or a deal on a new car!

It sounds simple for such a deep and complex issue, but these attitudes have actually worked for me.

I’m curious to know what your experiences have been. How do you handle this issue? I really want to know.

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

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For Single Moms: The Elephant in the Room

I don’t know where the cliché originated, but it’s especially fitting for my topic today. Around the web, there’s mention of an insightful documentary about adolescent male elephants going on wild rampages, demolishing anything in their paths. What cures these elephants of their adolescent rebellion? Why, the only thing that can keep any male adolescent in line—older males.

I haven’t seen such a film, and none of the sites which use it to support their beliefs about the absence of fathers mention the name of the film or where to find more information on it. Therefore, I won’t make arguments about the film or their interpretation of it. I will, however, pose a few questions.

  1. Was the purpose of the documentary to teach about the influence of mature male elephants, or was it merely a segment of a film that discussed something broader or something else all together?
  2. Does the film explain where they got the older male elephants? Were they specially selected, or rounded up at random?
  3. Does the film explain the absence of males as the cause of the deviant behavior, or was the presence of males merely an anecdote to a problem caused by other factors?
  4. Does the film mention that it’s typical of adolescent male elephants to break out of reserves and go on rampages when they’re in musth (heat)? [Rampaging bulls controlled by female love calls.]
  5. Does the film mention anything about the role of adult and/or adolescent female elephants?

Hmmmm. . . What other questions could be asked before accepting reports about this film as outright proof that men are the solution to all social ills?

Regardless of potential or actual answers to my questions, I will make one general statement that’s as hard to ignore as an elephant in the room:

We are not elephants.

We have levels of agency only seen in humans. Elephants cannot logon to a computer and conduct a search for parenting support groups, or a children’s therapist. Elephants do not publish helpful hints in magazines, books, or blogs. They do not apply to teaching programs in foreign countries. They do not stay up all night studying for exams so they can graduate from college and provide a better life for themselves and their offspring. So . . . even if adolescent elephants can’t behave without adult male elephants, that doesn’t mean humans are bound to the same sociology.

I’m not trying to deny research done on elephants by credentialed professionals. [Teens need male parents] The issue is much deeper and much more urgent. As one of the bloggers who blogged about the elephant story says:

“There are many ways fathers leave their sons. They are poached by a ruthless work-ethic that insists on winning at all costs and making money as the highest forms of success.  They leave through alcohol, drug abuse and television. They leave through marital strife and divorce.  They exit through doors maintained by an educational-corporate-socio-economic system which declares that men should not feel.” [Elephant rampage helps explain teen violence]

This quote reflects the basic idea behind my use of the catchphrase, “It’s not quantity. It’s quality.”

Most individuals trumpet the overly simplistic belief that women, children, and teens just need men in their lives. That’s it. We just need a man. Any man will do, as long as it’s a man. They do not bother to differentiate between types of men. They do not bother to differentiate between positive male influence and negative male influence. They do not differentiate between abusers and nurturers. They do not acknowledge that just as some children in single-parent homes will grow up to be hugely “successful,” some children in two-parent homes will grow up to be tragic “failures.” Men are not master keys to success. Sometimes they open doors, sometimes they don’t. Let me say it plainly:

A single-parent home is not guaranteed a bad outcome, and a two-parent home is not guaranteed a good outcome. More than the quantity of parents, the quality of parenting has more to do with success or failure. 

Let me also say that many individuals succeed despite poor parenting, and many fail despite decent parenting.

We should stop comparing ourselves to elephants and realize that we are responsible for our own lives. Let’s stop wasting energy blaming absent fathers or settling for male replacements that do more damage than good. Let’s take the focus off of what’s missing and focus on what still remains. In the end, we cannot do anything with what we don’t have, and while we waste time mourning the absence of fathers, we miss out on the opportunities we DO have. Those who feel the greatest impact of a missing husband or father are those who spend so much time complaining about the lack of a male presence that they don’t invest in themselves, don’t harness available resources, and don’t cultivate their own strengths so they can make it in spite of. A lot of times it’s not the absence of a husband or father that leads to failure; it’s the attitude or belief that you can’t make it without a husband or father that leads to failure.

Use what’s in your hand.

With Love, from Sarah L. Webb

For Single Moms: Tips Janice

Success Story

That S word—sacrifice. I believe I was a successful single parent because I realized that in order for my children to succeed, I would have to make sacrifices. I would not be able to have my cake and eat it to, and that was alright with me. My children didn’t ask to come into the world, didn’t ask to be in that situation, so I had to make sure their chances for success were as good as any. Why do I consider myself a successful single parent? It’s mainly because my children have grown up to be humble, kind, generous, hardworking, and God fearing children. Yes they have had to deal with negative situations in their lives, but they never used coming from a single parent home as an excuse. Instead, being in that situation made them try harder. They were determined to be positive examples of individuals raised by a single mom.

Alternative Views

Merely being present doesn’t make you a good parent. It’s not how many parents; it’s who the parents are. I believe that a single parent can raise children that are as successful as children from a two parent home. I also believe that a single mom can raise a boy to be a strong man. In order to do this, a single mother must be an example of hard work, kindness, love, honesty, humbleness, and obedience to God. We underestimate God’s power in being able to make him the man God wants him to be.

Timely Tips For Single Moms

  • Don’t try to be your children’s friend. Be their parent. If you are their parent when they need you to be, they will be your friend in the end.
  • You and children decide how you’re going to run your household, not society. Do what makes life simple for you and helps you to survive.
  • Talk to your children every day. Be honest about your situation. Children look at your reaction to situations and determine how they should react.
  • Mothers, don’t be consumed with finding a man. In my opinion, this is a major factor in the success of female headed households. That energy spent searching for a mate can be used to nurture your children. It also sends a message to children that they are not #1.
  • Participate in as many of your children’s activities as possible. Celebrate all victories, big and small.
  • Use your human resources (uncles, aunts, grandparents, and friends) as mentors, counselors, etc.
  • Have family meetings. Sit at the Table of Life. My children and I rarely sat at the kitchen or dining room table. We had a meeting of the minds, not the physical body. Have an agenda, take notes, etc..

Peace and Love, Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?