Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I watched a documentary last night about Single Mothers. It was very moving and very thought provoking. The documentary talked of the shame of being a single mother. It followed the story of this shame through time, beginning in the Victorian era right through to the present day and illustrated how single mothers have been outcast and scorned by society. The documentary maker Jamilia, herself a single mother, reflected on the pain that society has inflicted on single mothers, the ridicule, the blame and the stigma. She talked of how hard it is to be a single mum, how she feels she has to compensate her daughters for the absence of their fathers. And she talks of her fear that this will still never be enough.

As I said it was a moving documentary, but it also made me very angry. In fact, the air was blue as the program ended and I was screaming at the telly: 'Where are the fathers in all of this?!'.

The women in this documentary, the women I know who are single mothers, are doing it all. They strive and strive to do their best, to provide emotionally, physically, spiritually for their kids. Yet they always seem to be asking 'What more can I do?'. They feel they have to fight society for more recognition, for more equality, for a break and more understanding and empathy. Yet again I ask 'Where are the fathers in all of this?'
No where that's where, they are just not present, and in my book that is not on!

In our culture fatherhood seems to be optional. It may take two to tango, but it seems like tango-ing is as far as it goes.

When I had only Rebe, before my boys were born, I was chatting with a friend one day who had only boys. She said to me that she was glad she had boys 'because they can't come home pregnant'. Now here my friends, for me, is where the problem lies. We teach our children from a very young age that parenting is the role of the women. My friend's statement is so telling of our society's attitude to fatherhood. It is, quite simply, optional.

For a girl/woman who gets pregnant there is no choice, she is a mother and she has to be the best mother of all, or she will be faced with a barrage of criticism and scorn. The guy who provides 50% of the pregnancy can walk away...and we allow this to happen. Yes we do!

We, as a society, need to change our attitude to fathering, to parenting. I do feel that children need to be taught that when a baby is made it is made of both parents and it is therefore both parent's responsibility. I do think that men and boys should be encouraged to take a role as father, an active role providing financially and emotionally for the people they are responsible for bringing into the world. I know that if one of my boys came home and told me that they had gotten a girl pregnant I won't be taking the attitude of 'oh well that's her problem', it will most definitely also be the problem of my boys!

But this has the potential to go wrong unless we take a holistic view of fathering. Fathers should have and do have responsibilities, but they should also have rights. They have a right to be a daddy. They have the right to see their babies being born, to hold their babies, to bond and connect with them, to feed and bathe and care for them. To run and laugh and cry together. To be there for the first steps, the first day at school, the first date,the whole lot . They have the right to be respected as loving, caring parents. This needs to be recognised in law, social policy and in society in general.

It is something that people are working on, there are pressure groups and fathers groups who are working hard at the policy level. But really it is up to us. We are the people raising the next generation, we are teaching what is normal and what is not to our boys and girls. As we raise our boys and girls we are creating/inventing what the next generation thinks about parenthood and fatherhood. So, lets change it!

'Fathers are parents and they are men; unfortunately, they get much more training in being a man than in being a parent. Some of that masculinity training actually gets in the way of fatherhood, especially with connecting playfully or on a deep emotional level.' Cohen, L ~ Playful Parenting.

We need to allow our boys and girls to learn parenting equally as children. They need to be able to act out the parenting and fathering that they see. All boys need dolls! All girls need to share their dolls with boys. By dolls I am talking of baby dolls, not action figures. I've seen so many boys display such tenderness and care towards dolls. It is as natural in them as it is in a girl. It needs to be celebrated and encouraged and if someone questions it, I think the kids need to hear you defend them! They are right to be caring and loving, this is the training for adulthood.

What else? We can talk to our partners, tell them how important their fathering is. We can help them to be proud of their role, be proud of their love for their kids. We can encourage them to show it not just by providing money but by providing the everyday care that children need, bathing, feeding, cuddling, stories and games. I think that baby wearing is a wonderful way for fathers to connect with their children. They feel the closeness so often reserved for the mother and they gain one of the most satisfying aspects of parenthood; comforting your baby, holding them and letting them know with every beat of the heart that they are loved and will be forever more.

It is up to us.

What else can we do to guide our boys to be good dads? To teach our girls that when they have a baby it doesn't 'belong' solely to them but also to the man who fathered that baby.

Do you agree? If so please share this post, share your thoughts, lets change fatherhood for our children


  1. Oh yes I agree, should Rye get a girl pregnant when he's older, he will be taking responsibility for his actions.

    and yes I agree men need to have their nuturing sides encouraged instead of it being considered "sissy".

    As you know I'm a single parent, I've never felt shame, in fact, in my circumstances I do believe Rye is better off with a part time dad, as his father holds views that I find abhorrent and do not want my son to grow up with. I am however conscious of the preception society has of single parents and if Rye misbehaves, it's not that he's a 4yr old and all kids misbehave sometimes... rather it's because I'm a single parent and do not know how to control me child. (never mind, that I don't believe my job is to control him!)

    My ex decided he wanted to be a part time dad, because he said he couldnt' cope and other stuff going on too... and yeah, you're right, he's quite happy to do that and leave everything up to me, including the financial "burden" because, well he's afeckless wonder, but also we do live in a culture that doesn't expect fathers to live up to their responsibility. And conversely those fathers that are responsible are often let down by the legal system. Crazy, utterly crazy.

  2. It is up to us and I am trying my best with my son. We were talking about sex the other day and he was saying if a girl got pregnant it wouldn't be a problem for him as he is a boy (he is only 11 at the moment but I am quite open about things hence the chat). I then pointed out to him that if he made a baby with a girl that baby would be as much his as hers so that is not really the right way to think about it. Not even sure how he got that idea - I suppose they look at things simply at that age so in their eyes if a lady carries a baby she looks after it - they need to be taught otherwise.

  3. Laura my dear, this post hits the nail head on. Awesome. Your words echo all that I feel, I don't believe I have anything else to add!
    It does appall me, that attitude- I've heard it before- where mothers of sons think they've got it made because they can't come home pregnant. That idea, that message is so horrible, especially coming from a WOMAN when you think about it! A woman who can't seem to imagine how hard that would be for her, as a single mother. . . ?
    We are trying our hardest to raise our boys equally to our girl- they have dolls- they nurture babies, they learn to knit, sew, etc. etc.
    It is wonderful that you offer "boy" dolls, because it can be difficult to find them. If you are a family who does not buy/make handmade dolls and rely on the store for a doll, there really is nothing out there easily available for a little boy. Everything is so frilly and so obviously girlie. Not that I'd stop there and avoid pink for my son, but it is the message being sent that is sad to me.And my boys, while they love their dolls, they also love to dress them in their favorite colors so pink wouldn't cut it for them.
    Now I'm rambling, but I do so appreciate this post. On the days Andy is gone away all day, I think of how it would be single mothering, and how difficult it would be. All mothers should be recognized for their hard work and dedication. No one should be scorned.

  4. Well said. While I do admire women that can (or better have to) do it on their own, I am happy I can share the responsibility of parenting with my husband. . .

  5. I just yesterday read a passage in a book stating "We blame mothers because it is easier to do then comprehend how our whole system has failed them". Even fathers that are there, often times aren't THERE. Most mothers now work outside of the home and are still expected to do everything that they used to do in the home as well. High quality, affordable child care is almost non-existent in the United States. The whole system is not working, and the children are the losers in all of this.

  6. Hi, thanks for all the wondeful comment!
    Joxy, I think that is the key, if our society expects onlyu a certian level/standard of parenting from our men, then can we really be suprised when that is what they choose to do?
    Mel, yes I totally agree all dolls in the high street are aimed at girls, all in pink boxes and called girly names and in the (heavens above) 'girls' section of the shop. It needs to change and be neutral, there are of course people who sell boy/ neutral dolls but sadly we have to seek these out (or make our own).
    sweetpeas, that's so cool that you talk to your son about this. Again I suppose we should think about how pregnancy and birth are MARKETED I'd say there is a lot to this in modern culture and something that should be addressed.
    Carrie, You are right mothers can be easily scapegoated, but again it is also mothers who do 50% of the scapgoating if you see what I mean, it is up to all of us to change it if not for ourselves but for our sons and daughters and their kids.
    Ziezo, I too feel so glad that I have such a wonderful partner (waving at you over in Africa, I lived in Mombassa for a time and also in Tz, nice to hear from you) x x