Unwed mothers and “real” families
I wasn’t compelled to write anything about the No Wedding, No Womb shenanigans but I’ve seen two posts today about marriage, children and Black folks that made me want to share my own point of view. One piece from Clutch Mag focuses on the “single mother syndrome” in the Black community. You can read the piece for yourself but a few assertions therein stuck out for me: (1) More black children are born to unwed mothers because of poverty and lack of access to competitive job market; (2) If women would quit being so “loose” men would marry them; and (3) young black women remain unwed because they believe they need a man in their lives.
If some of those sound contradictory or don’t appear to be based in common sense or logic, you must be thinking just like me. While I can see where the author was trying to go with the piece, I can’t reconcile her logic to her conclusion. To begin, while I agree that socioeconomic issues play a major part in whether men and women* decide to partner and marry, I don’t think it follows that because “blacks are not predetermined to have the same progressive opportunities as their racial counterparts,” we do not view marriage as a valuable or viable option (sidenote: predetermined may have been a poor word choice because it reads to me as though it’s not in our destinies to have opportunity). To the contrary, recent studies have indicated that more and more, successful and ambitious career-minded individuals are putting off marriage in order to achieve their goals, travel, and establish themselves professionally.
This is not limited to blacks or even black women, either. “Census Bureau figures for 2003 show one-third of men and nearly one-quarter of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have never been married, nearly four times the rates in 1970” (AP). The recession, affecting us all, has had an impact on marriage across the board, with data suggesting that “more young couples are delaying marriage or [forgoing] matrimony altogether, likely as an adaptive response to the economic downturn and decline in the housing market” (PRB). The Clutch piece doesn’t make room for the fact that since the 70s, more people are “shacking up” or cohabitating longer before marriage or in place of marriage. While these types of relationships are adequate and even preferable for many couples, it clearly doesn’t fit into the neat, heterosexual, marriage box.
I could write an entire dissertation about number two above because I have little patience for people pushing their own morality onto the sexuality of others. For years we have heard the cautionary tale of the cow who gives away her milk and a lot of women have bought that line one hundred percent. You can feel that way if you like – if it purports with your own ideas of sex, sexuality and morality – but don’t talk about the patriarchal system that is holding us back while upholding it by perpetuating its language! It may be a sign of the times, but I don’t know that men really value women that wait to have sex all that much more than they do women who are honest and forward about their sexual desires. I would hope that there are more things to be valued in a relationship than how many weeks or months you waited before “giving it up” that would put you in the consideration for future marriage.
Finally, where the author talks about black women’s daddy issues as a reason for being unwed, I found it hard to wrap my mind around her reasoning. One would think that a desire to have a man in your life would make you more receptive to marriage, not less. I am no therapist, nor have I seen one, but I don’t doubt that the absence or desertion of one’s parent could lead to relationship issues among other things. I just don’t necessarily agree that “this psychological need to substitute and create surrogates for love often encapsulates black women into the trap of single motherhood” as the author writes. How does that follow?
Personally, I can see a future with marriage but I don’t see a future that requires marriage. This isn’t because I grew up without my father in the home (I had a strong father figure in my granddad, BTW) or because I don’t have a mandatory 3-month waiting period before sex. Mostly it’s because marriage wasn’t modeled for me growing up. I remember one married adult couple out of my friends’ parents. Men were around in some homes, but I don’t think they were husbands. Just like religion wasn’t modeled for me and I don’t subscribe to any particular faith, marriage isn’t burned into my psyche as a natural part of life. That, I would propose, is the reason why many black men and women are unwed. The generation before us, for whatever reason, was not married and a lot of us grew up in households or neighborhoods where marriage was uncommon and therefore not really expected of us. As a result, we grow up preparing to take care of ourselves and when the prospect of marriage arises it’s an option, not a mandate.
The second blog I read today focused on whether one could have a family without being married with children. Over at Single Black Male, the author of this piece views marriage and at least one child as the true family and questions one woman’s decision to parent if marriage never comes to pass. Again, let me speak about myself – I want to be a mother but I do not want to forego parenting because I do not get married. If I were financially, mentally, and physically prepared to be a mother but had not met Mr. Right or been accidentally impregnated by that time, then I would consider insemination or adoption. I sometimes wonder if we parent for ourselves – to give ourselves the joy and experience of raising children; or do we parent for the children and society – to populate the world and provide labor, minds, ideas, and experiences that live beyond ourselves. Either way, I don’t see why not marrying would preclude me from parenting or for calling the unit of myself and my child a “family.”
In the end it’s clear that we have different concepts of family and responsibility that are shaped by our culture at large and the families or communities in which we grew up. My problem is with those who seek to impose their reality and their truth upon others with no backup. I’m not saying that it’s preferable to parent alone but it’s not as black and white as some people make it out to be.