The baby imperative – Part 2 Breed or bust

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Welcome

This is part two of my baby themed trilogy. Last week I looked at the importance of a loving father and mother in raising a healthy, balanced child. Today, I’d like to discuss why society still pressurises women into becoming ‘mommy dearest’. Why is what a woman chooses to do or not to do with her womb an open forum for discussion?

Although the roles of women have changed dramatically in the last thirty years, women are still expected to produce the tiny pitter patter of tiny feet. It is widely understood the more educated the woman the more likely that she will delay marriage and child rearing. Goals and careers become the new rites of passage into adulthood. Interests and aspirations become the basis of our identity and determine the choices we make in life. Irrespective of a woman’s accomplishments or outward contentment, it’s assumed that without a child something must obviously be missing from her life. A generation ago, the main options for women were to become a wife and mother. Today, women have a plethora of opportunities on offer yet they are still constantly asked for wedding and due dates.

Black women are weighed down by high expectations. In my own experience we are constantly being pulled by the expectations of our community against our own needs. Although society at large is very patriarchal, the Black community is matriarchal in its set up. Black women are encouraged to become superwomen, able to take care of families, church groups and the wider community all in one single bound. We are the caretakers and the nurturers. Black women’s femininity is linked with their role as the constant care giver. The question is who takes care of superwoman?

But the times they are a changing. Black women are swapping the title of superwoman for businesswoman. In the US, women account for 75% of all Black enterprises. (Source Young Business Owner.com) Does this new found financial freedom have far reaching implication? I would say yes. The rate of Black teen pregnancies has decreased by 48% between 1990 and 2008. This is more than the general level of teen pregnancies at 42% (Source Guttmacher Institute). Why would economic emancipation possibly have an effect on teen pregnancies? Two words, self esteem. Apparently the chances of teen pregnancy are raised by 50% for those with low self esteem. (Source Health Development Agency 2004) Motherhood can easily be seen as rites of passage to adulthood especially if you believe that your prospects are limited. If a young woman believes that she will never marry, gain a degree or set up her own business why should she wait till she starts a family? Greater opportunities bring a wider set of choices for all women. Black women should not feel guilty for putting their own needs first.

I will always champion the right for Black women to widen their horizons but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. I believe that motherhood is ultimately a wonderful and rewarding experience. I would like a child of my own. I am certain that being a mother will be the most important title I will ever hold but it will not define my whole life. I imagine that having a good sense of who I am will be a useful attribute to pass on to a little Sudelicious. Plus if a woman does decide to become a parent she shouldn’t be expected to shoulder all of the responsibility, it’s a two person job. Matriarchies or patriarchies are not ideal power structures. We need to enter a period of cooperation between the sexes. Both men and women have a role in raising children. It can no longer be simply dismissed as ‘woman’s work’. Women should not have to choose between motherhood or the big career to validate their lives. This new found freedom cannot become a new pressure where women still feel obliged to explain their life choices. I am more than my womb and I am more than my job.

Surely, it’s a good thing that women are taking greater control of their lives. Taking the time to decide whether to have a child or not. I am bemused by the largely negative backlash in the media. Why is motherhood considered a forgone conclusion for all women, with those who don’t jump on the merry bandwagon viewed with suspicion? I suppose that women who choose to focus on their careers provide men with greater competition in the workplace. These same economically independent women are also likely to expect more from their relationships. Financial freedom gives a woman the space to be emotionally fussy. This undermines patriarchal power structures and explains why there is a rallying cry for all women to return to the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Mothers and the child free should celebrate that we have greater choices than the previous generation. Not all women want the same things. Everyone has the right to do whatever makes them happy and for some that might include children for others it won’t. We are entering an age where women get to determine their lives and fertility. Motherhood is an exhausting role; it benefits us all when only those best qualified apply for the job.

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious

The baby imperative – Part 1

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Welcome

It suddenly dawned on me that not a week goes by when I am being advised by someone to consider having a baby, if I hear the phrase “Well, you’re not getting any younger” I won’t scream but the questioner might face a sudden outburst of violence!

For the record, I am not anti-baby. There are just certain things that have to be in place for me to be happy to bring a little Sudelicious in to the world; namely being in a loving and stable marriage. I know my strengths and weaknesses; I am just not made of the stuff to be both mother and father to a child. I salute those who are but it’s just not for me.

There is a general presumption that I am desperate for a child as though I am slave to oestrogen and will only feel complete once I have a ‘bun in the oven’. It would also suggest that my desire to have a child trumps the needs of the baby. Instead of informing women that their biological clocks are about to explode, why are people not questioned over their readiness for parenthood? Surely the second question is by far the most important. Over the next three weeks I will be looking into the effects of single parenting in the black community, why motherhood is so intrinsic to a black woman’s worth, and to find out why hands on dads are in such short supply.

Children are seen as a right, as a commodity. It seems that the onus of responsibility is placed on the infant, what can a child offer me or make me feel? As opposed to what can I offer this child? On approaching 30, I was consumed by a sense of failure; I was not married and thought that I would never become a mother. I did even consider the possibility of becoming a single parent. Well if marriage was not on the cards why should I forsake motherhood? Fear is a strange emotion, it can make ridiculous notions seems like a good idea. If motherhood is all about sacrifice, it wasn’t a good sign that I was making a potential pregnancy all about me and not about the child.

All children deserve to have two loving parents. I had grown up with a loving father and it wouldn’t be right to deprive a child of an active father in her/his life. In America, black women have the highest rates of children out of wedlock at a staggering 79% and in the UK it is 49% (Office of National Statistics). Why is it that black women are more likely to become mothers instead of wives? What is the father’s role in his child’s life and how does this disappearing act impact said child?

This is not another piece bashing single mothers. Many do a tireless exhausting job raising upstanding members of the community. They do this without complaint and often without a lot of help. However, the statistics show that children of unwed mothers of any race are likely to underperform at school, end up in prison, use drugs, be at the lower end of the economic scale and have their own children out of wedlock. The supermums who raise happy, functioning adults are clearly the exception and not the norm. A mother’s love although essential for a child’s development does not negate the need for a loving relationship with their father. The maternal bond no matter how strong can’t take away the hurt felt by a child when ignored or neglected by their father.

There is also an emotional and economic cost to being a single parent. The Office of National Statistics paper ‘Moving Towards Inclusion’ (2003) states that single women from the black community are the least likely to accept benefits and feel a cultural pressure to raise their families with little support (Sounds like the curse of the strong black woman rearing its ugly head again). For all of this endeavour lone parents have overtaken pensioners as the poorest group in society. They are 60% poorer than two parent families. Unless you are a woman of means or have a well to-do baby daddy, signing up to be a single parent will leave you broke and stressed!

Raising a happy child into a functional, balanced adult is possibly the hardest thing to do. I salute the millions of lone parents who do. I believe that it requires at least TWO committed adults to raise a child. The family unit is the backbone of any community. It is the source of our wealth and our health. The vast majority of single parents on both sides of the Atlantic will struggle financially. It is virtually mission impossible to socially advance when you are a poor family surviving on one income. It takes a very special individual or set of circumstances to overcome these types of barriers, and they are a rarity. For most people poverty is a never ending cycle which passes from generation to generation. Women would benefit from training and securing a profession before they even consider having children. If you don’t, what do you have to pass on to your kids?

I believe that children are best served in a married relationship. I am a straight no chaser kinda girl. I want everybody under the same roof to have the same surname. No confusion, no explanations. If a man cannot commit to me how can I expect him to be there for the child? I know that the best made plans can fall by the way side. A couple can be in love today and hate each other tomorrow. I would still like to think that if they were in a committed relationship for some time, that they would be more likely to co-raise any children from that union, even if they are no longer together. Surely there is a higher level of probability of support from a committed relationship than having sex with a random or casual fling, fast forwarding 9 months and expecting him to help you change nappies. There are no guarantees in life and we can only base our decisions on what we know at the time. A man needs to prove that he is worthy of fatherhood before a woman considers having a child for him. It’s like wearing a seatbelt. You might still crash but at least you won’t go flying through the windscreen.

So readers what does this have to do with marriage? Well, if large numbers of men are being excluded and excluding themselves from the family unit can we be surprised that marriage levels are the lowest in our community? Fathers play a vital role in the development of our youth. Black women should expect for a man to support them and their children. If he is unable to do so, he should never procreate. We need to raise our levels of expectation. The strong black woman curse tells us we can do everything on our own and that we don’t need men. This is hogwash and undermines the point of a committed relationship between two adults. A lot of women irrespective of race believe that they can find someone to impregnate them but not to spend their life with them. We need to squash this defeatist way of thinking. If women learn to expect more, they shall receive more. Thinking the worst of men allows them the scope to behave badly as no one expects any more from them. It is time to hold them to a higher set of standards. As for me, until I know that I can offer a child all that he/she (not me) needs, that old clock will just have to keep on ticking.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Sudelicious

The curse of the strong black woman

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Welcome

I have always wondered where the phrase ‘a strong black woman’ has come from. Women of all races have had to assert themselves in a male dominated world. Do black women have more to contend with than women of other races? That is debatable but there seems to be a lot expected of women of colour. In mainstream media black women are the nannies, the sassy friend, the confident man eater, the mouthy neighbour and my personal favourite the wise old sage who sole purpose in life is to take care of everyone. All of these characters are variations of the same theme; black women are tough as old boots and can take anything that life throws at them in their stride.

Frustratingly, the notion that black women are a bunch of she-warriors comes from the black community itself. I remember receiving a pep talk from my parents just before I started secondary school. I was reminded that I had to ensure that I studied hard as I could not expect or rely on anyone else to take care of me but ME! I know that my parent’s concerns came from a place of love and I thank them for instilling in me a sense of self reliance. For many black young women, the message is clear: If you want something out of life the expectation is that you go and get it.

I suppose this tough love approach is paying dividends with black female graduates on the increase but it does come at a cost. Black women are encouraged to be self reliant because they cannot rely on black men to support them. Single parent families are reaching 70% in the US and over 50% in the UK. If black women are strong it is usually because they are the ones left holding the baby. The strong black woman myth allows absent fathers off the hook as they can leave these able women to do a job which is meant for two people.

The perceived strength of black women also comes at a cost. Levels of depression are 50% higher in black women than white women. Women from other races typically have to put on a ‘hard’ persona in their working life only. Black women have to carry this persona into all areas of their lives as they are held responsible for everything and everyone. We are expected to be the glue that holds households together yet who is there to be the glue that holds us together?

The over reliance of the black community on its women also diminishes the role of the black man. Families need strong male members. Women need loving husbands and children need loving fathers. It is the lack of them which has caused the current malaise in our communities.
Young black men find themselves without a father figure. Some will grow to do the same as their fathers; others will struggle to orientate themselves in life, as they lacked a male figure to model themselves upon. In turn, women will grow up learning not to need or trust men. Those who raise families on their own have the burden for two placed on their shoulders. We have created an atmosphere where we tell women they can do everything on their own, setting them up to endure stress related diseases on a scale that no other woman of any other race has to face. Black women are in need of love and support just like any other. This notion of the strong independent woman allows many black women to give up on the very idea of finding love and expecting to be cared for. The truth is that men and women need each other. It is time that black women drop the ‘strong’ tag and take a well earned rest.

Please let me know your thoughts

Sudelicious