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Catch Me Elsewhere
I had the opportunity to interview a woman who wears many hats and one of those just happens to be that of single mom. CJ describes herself as “half woman, half amazing” and I would have to agree. Here is the story of her journey as a single mom and the lessons that she has learned along the way…
Meet CJ – half woman, half amazing!
I’m a single mother of a 13 year-old son with a full-time career, recently completed my master’s degree and happen to be living in one of the toughest places for raising a child and especially for dating – Los Angeles, California.
There are a few things that I’m pretty passionate about including my mission to arm my son with all that he needs and more to make it as a young black male in America, but it doesn’t end there. Public speaking is something that I feel like I was born to do and have been involved with an organization called Toastmasters International for over 10 years. Whether I’m competing in a speech contest on impromptu speaking or teaching people how to deliver evaluations/feedback effectively, I seem to be missing my calling in using my mouthpiece to get to bigger and better places.
My other activities and hobbies include a zeal for traveling, jewelry making, photography, attending live music events and blogging about my dating experiences.
I told myself at an early age that I wasn’t interested in having children and if I did, would never have any out of wedlock and become a “baby mama”. I saw how much of a challenge it was to have both parents in the home and active and was terrified when hearing the stories of my friends who had children and were going at it alone. For the longest time, I did all that I could to prevent myself from being in the single parent category and unfortunately, a few trips to the abortion clinic supported my efforts. Once I became a college graduate, had a decent job and seemingly “had it together” the thought of parenting didn’t seem too frightening but still wasn’t so wasn’t an immediate goal at 26 years of age.
But alas, during a single stint and me dipping back with an ex-boyfriend from college I ended up pregnant by him (again) but this time out of fear that all of the scarring from abortions, decided to keep it. Long story short – I was up front and truly a single woman but he wasn’t so truthful and had been involved in a long-term relationship. Needless to say, that was a lonely pregnancy while my son’s father tried to convince me not to keep the baby and he kept the news from his family until a few months after our child had been born. I preach this over and over and over again – lies that people tell don’t just affect them, but has a ripple affect into the lives of many others.
There’s a plethora of challenges when it comes to rearing a son alone which include financial, emotional drain and strain, time management struggles and societal stigmas.
Money isn’t everything but it always help to have more than less to ease some of problems created when you just don’t have enough, but to me it has never been my biggest issue. What I wouldn’t do to have had the other parent there to take the night shift during a late night wailing from those ear infections, him able to miss work for the school recital or even better – sit at that table trying to work on that science project. The emotional tug when a single mother has to be the only one handling everything from putting dinner on the table to planning the birthday party has left me feeling pretty despondent at times. With everything that is going on, how in the world does a person learn balance to incorporate a little fun in their life or even find the time to date?
Then of course, there’s the social stigma of being single because as much as I try to say the opinion of others doesn’t matter – it does. People who learn of me being a single parent unknowingly make me feel as if I’ve somehow failed in life when asking “How do you do it” or saying “That must be really hard” and even “Why couldn’t it work with the father”. Adding to all of these thoughts and feelings about being yet another black woman raising a son, there have been plenty of times where I’ve gone to social settings/functions or even to an amusement park with my son and added a little bling to my ring finger to avoid being the stereotype. It’s an ongoing struggle for sure.
Well… which talk? The talk about why his father and I are no longer together or “the” talk about sex? If the latter, here’s my response:
I was actually a little surprised at first that we had to broach that topic so soon, because my son was only about 8 or 9 years old at the time but in hindsight, there’s not much that should be shocking this day in age. One thing many single moms can say is that because they are typically the only parent on a day-to-day basis, we tend to be really close with our kids. As a result, they’re a lot more open and comfortable telling us things or having the types of discussions traditional family structures would probably choke at hearing.
The sex talk came up with him asking me to explain why he would wake up with erections which led to him asking if he came out of my vagina and by the time he hit the sixth grade, we were talking about condoms. When he hit me with that last question I was like “Good lord, you’re at a private Christian school; shouldn’t he be asking me about Moses or something?!?!?” Again, I felt like it was a little early but recognized long ago that kids of today are far more advanced than those of us born in the 70’s and earlier. I’m a realist and have raised my son to understand that so hey – let’s knock down these questions like a champ so he gets the word (and a bit of advice/direction) from mom and not Facebook or You Tube.
Okay, I would have to say that I’m teaching my son that happiness with himself, dedication and drive are some of the most important characteristics a person should have. Some may not even consider the first one but if you take a moment and really think about the misdirection in a person’s life really starts from within. I believe the sole reason there are so many irresponsible men chucking their parenting duties is because they’re damaged goods from within. Who else could ignore or be so blind to the need for a child (son or daughter) to have two functioning parents to have the best chances at being well-rounded and successful in life?
I’ve been single for going on 3 years and have been actively dating for just as long with period of time in between where I say “to hell with it all”. Dating is tough whether you’re a parent or not and when are really an only parent (as opposed to being a single parent with some involvement), it sometimes may seem like mission impossible.
Deciding when to bring a man a woman is dating around their child depends on where the two are in the relationship scheme of things. I know of far too many women who make the introductions early on out of either necessity or ignorance.
The talk about where Dad was really came up in different fragments, not necessarily a direct conversation all at once about why it was just the two of us. When my son was much younger, I would sugar coat things (yes, deviated from my realist approach mentioned earlier) and simply say something like “We were young and I didn’t want to be with him anymore”. But as he became older and the father started increasing his presence around him, that explanation got real and I know some of what I said was wrong, but I didn’t care. It was definitely frustration and anger that one day yelled out “If he would be a real dad and spend more time with you and give me a break, I wouldn’t be too tired to take you there…”
There were even times when I mentioned the thousands and thousands of dollars owed in child support and again – knowing it was wrong, but somehow I felt like an absent parent should not be allowed to be put on a pedestal by a child who was likely being told that I was the reason the family wasn’t together.
When thinking about the day-to-day absence affecting my son, I would say yes and no. It is a fact that every child should have a father in their life to not only provide a second force in creating a stable environment, but a woman really can’t raise a man. No matter what things I share from my experiences with my own father, advice from my mother or books read, me being a woman simply cannot replace that second person. My son really hates the fact that it is just the two of us but I can honestly say he isn’t longing for his own father necessarily; any man would probably do for him just to have an extra person around. I know this because of the comments my son makes about my single status and realize that he’s really looking for me to meet someone and settle down again. Join the club, so am I.
I had to pause for a moment on this one because the answer seems obvious yet at the same time, I realize there are still some people who are really blind to the fact of just how different the upbringings of black and white boys can be. How about the historical stigma that is with our young boys from the moment they’re inside of the womb? Will this be another fatherless child, is he going to be another casualty of the welfare system or worse – the prison system. I’ll take it a step further – you can have two little boys from the same socioeconomic background, living side by side in the same suburban neighborhood, same family structure and all but the black child will still be at a disadvantage. This question reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a coworker while discussing a television show on tracing roots. He (white male) commented how his Italian family members simply dropped a few letters off of their name when coming into this country and then, they were able to blend in with the “natives” and prosper from there. Unfortunately, our black men will never have the opportunity to just blend in – unless you’re into some serious skin bleaching we just can’t change our outward appearance (color) to blend in.
A woman can do her best to raise a man and if she happens to have strong familial bonds with males in her family, her changes are even better. I can break my back trying to teach my teenage son right from wrong and explain what me should and are expected to do, but I am still a woman. The fact that there are things I couldn’t possibly relate to being someone of the opposite sex, there’s still a piece that my son would always be missing if his father was 100% absent. Yet there are discussions we can where I can tell him what is expected and wanted of a man from a woman’s point of view which is the flip side of things that a man can not teach him. The biggest thing I want to impress upon my son? Do as much as you can to learn about having values and integrity; look at the way our family structure is and what you desire in a family that we are missing and vow to take always take care of your responsibilities, especially when children are involved.
If a woman has young children and lacks a family or girlfriend support system, she’s more apt to go for the “home dates” and has the man meet the children by default – she can’t leave the house so he comes to her. Then there are those who assume the earlier the children meet the new man or prospect, the better.
Personally, a man will end up doubting if I even have a child because he won’t hear much about him and sure as hell won’t meet him until I’m sure about him. The two of us need to have had a discussion to ensure we’re on the same page about where the relationship is and where it may be going, then mutually agree that the time for a meeting is needed, along with the best setting to make it happen. It’s pretty serious to get my child involved so again, I need to make sure the man I’m dating is someone with the potential of having staying power.
Dating is definitely much more difficult for the single mom. We have to work in the time to get out and meet someone, hopefully have the energy to want to date and then screen out those who could be detrimental to the fragile setting of a single parent situation. Beyond that, we have so much more to consider when it comes to dating men because the screening process (if you’re a good parent) is that much more intense. Is he a criminal, is he used to being around children, does he like children, can I trust him with my children…. That’s just the beginning.
For any woman who finds herself in the position of being (or potentially becoming) a single mother, I would tell her to find strength in something and most importantly – look for resources everywhere. Unfortunately, it is the poor single mom who has it the hardest but instead is the one who would fall into the lower to upper middle class. The former has a host of different support programs from food stamps to free child care (Crystal Stairs) to housing (Section 8), but for others such as myself? If we have a moderate to above-average income, there are limited to zero resources for us and if you’re stuck with the type of father my child has who avoids work to avoid child support, you may truly be the sole source of support.
I would encourage the new single mom to get involved in different activities and this doesn’t mean relying on her mother or even church as the catch all. Youth sports programs offered by local parts are free and are great opportunities to meet up with other moms who are likely in the same or similar situation such as yourself. I was able to build up my “Mommy Network” this way which made date night a breeze because we could help with child care.
Great question and the words that resonated and will never be forgotten came from my mother: “You are stronger than you think and have the drive to get the job done. No matter what, I will always be here to help you to raise your child and my grandchild…”
Loyal, passionate and straight-forward.
Consistent, structured and goal-oriented.
This is such a cliché’ saying and sometimes I get a little annoyed at hearing it until I actually stop and think – it is a lot. Almost always, my response is “I don’t know how I’ve been able to do it but thank God for my family upbringing and values, but especially for my mother and other members of my support team…”
Yes, I think some people do look down on single mothers and figure we must have done something terribly wrong for the father to have left. I also feel that as a black single parent, the stigma is much worse and it seems as if the world feels we are destined to raise pant sagging, no good thugs.
One of my biggest fears is that my desire to give my child the best life possible will cause me to be overly cautious with every man that I meet out of fear that he may not offer the best of circumstances or may bring harm to him. Secondly, I’m afraid that my inability to have met any man in recent years worthy of dating and leading to anything serious will keep me single for many years to come or at least, until my child has left the home.
Long ago, I began classifying myself as an only parent vs. being a single parent since my son’s father is more like a day trip to Disneyland than being part of a co-parenting situation.
Advice I would give to a mom struggling with the co-parenting situation is to truly get beyond the fact that the relationship is over with the father and focus on the needs of the child. Most of the time any “drama” between two parents is because they are creating a messy situation by going back and forth with each other, dealing with disappointments and let downs. Someone has a different idea or expectation either by their own fault or one person just isn’t being truthful which leads to frustration, arguments and resentment.
A poorly constructed co-parenting relationship is a lose-lose-lose situation. The child is missing out dealing with the arguing and negative or spiteful behavior, the parent trying to move on will struggle finding someone willing to be a part of all of this and the other parent will be wallowing in his/her own misery.
Get over it, move on and communicate.
Hmm, this is a good one and while I don’t think my thought process on not introducing my son to several of the men I had been involved with, there may have been one situation where I wonder if my motives backfired. In one of my relationships from about 7 years ago, my used to tell me I treated him like he was short-term only and felt that because he didn’t have more interaction with my son, that meant I wasn’t as serious about him as I professed to be. The logic in my mind was to cherish the child-free weekends I would have so that the two of us could bond and build our relationship, then incorporate more time in a family setting. That’s all water under the bridge because that man had emotional issues deeper than the Pacific Ocean, so spending a hundred days straight with my child wouldn’t have reassured him of his place in my life.
That many of us would exchange all of the money in the world for a functional, two-parent relationship. I’m amazed at the number of women who chose to put themselves in the position of being a single parent, thinking that their education and financial situation is the cure all but it is not. Being a single parent is quite often, a daunting task and there are plenty of times when I feel like raising children requires the involvement of about three people acting as parents.