We Are the Ones We’ve Been Taught Not to Wait For: On Shanesha Taylor and Caring Communities.

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Last week, a black single mother dominated the national news cycle. In her mug shot, plastered above many a think-piece headline, Shanesha Taylor’s tear-soaked cheeks and emptied eyes were offered to the world as a kind of apology, a kind of explanation, a kind of platform. The reading and viewing public was all too happy to fill in the blanks. At first, she spoke to us only through the police who arrested her for leaving her sons, ages 2 and 6 months, in a hot car with the windows cracked in Scottsdale, Arizona. She left them for approximately 45 minutes, while she interviewed for a job. According to Sgt. Mark Clark of the Scottsdale Police: “She said she was homeless, she needed the job. Obviously, not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation.”

This got the wheels of the commentariat grinding. Black single mothers are popular grist for the editorial mill; our circumstances spun in whichever ways suit the writer’s (and the public’s) politics. Shanesha Taylor, then, became the face of America’s public daycare problem, the soul of its limited housing and employment options for unpartnered parents. Her name seemed an instant folk ballad, invoked to woefully decry the ripple effects of poverty.

Outrage was leveled at lawmakers and at the criminal justice system, while Taylor’s case was used to educate readers about the brick walls single mothers face on their labyrinthine quest to improve their families’ quality of life.

We are used to the news cycle ending here, with most readers’ mournful tsk-tsking at circumstances they’ve either not had to face or have left far enough in their rearview to provide an insular distance. How sad for her, we’d say as newer and equally complicated stories crowded Taylor’s out of reportage. Society is cold and hard, we’d muse while reading about some other injustice.

But this case was different.

By now we all know about the YouCaring campaign, with an original funding goal of $9,000, that has raised over $85,000 to date, for Shanesha’s bail, pending legal battle to have her charges dropped, and housing and child care needs. While the initial local news coverage of Taylor’s case can be credited for alerting us to Taylor’s plight, it wasn’t the columnists who saved her. It was other single mothers and their advocates.

Before the first wave of think-pieces was even in full-swing, 24-year-old Amanda Bishop* took matters into her own hands and set up the YouCaring page. She’d never met Taylor before reading the news report, but she heard in Taylor’s story something she recognized. And she wasn’t alone. Comment after comment on the fundraising page reifies the cliff’s edge over which single parents so often find themselves peering. The most resonant sentiment there is: This could’ve been me.

Taylor is not the first mother to make risky parenting choices, particularly not those related to leaving her children unsupervised. In 1999, the national number of children left to “self-care” (defined by one research brief as unattended or in the care of an underage sibling) was 3,325,000. Of that number, 866,000 are between the ages of 6 and 9. Taylor’s children were significantly younger. At 2 and 6 months old, the idea of “self-care” simply isn’t applicable. In this way, Taylor’s decision was less calculated risk than unmitigated desperation, a desperation capable of impairing logic.

It is absolutely true that she shouldn’t have ever been criminalized for this act. But I’m late to weigh in here at Beyond Baby Mamas regarding her case because I suspect it’s more complex and individual than I know, more complex and individual than the public is engaging it.

I hesitate to develop a hard and fast “take” on Shanesha Taylor’s actions and how they fit into our larger discourse on poverty, public childcare options, and homelessness. In as much as I’m able to take any real stance here, I can say with certainty I don’t believe “child abuse” is an appropriate allegation. But I do believe “child endangerment” is. Were her children older– even as old as six and two (as I’d originally misread when this story was first reported), I’d be less likely to call it even that. A six-year-old left unsupervised for 45 minutes could at least be taught to feed and soothe a younger sibling and to crack open a door if the car got too hot. A two-year-old in a similar situation is helpless. He is not being actively abused, per se, but his life and that of his infant brother have been endangered.

Something very significant has broken down in a parent’s ability to reason when a job interview takes precedence over shade and air for her toddler and an infant. I think we should be more closely examining that breaking (and our society’s complicity in it).

The police who responded to a report of Shanesha Taylor’s children crying and sweating in her car would have better served her by ordering a medical/psychological evaluation for her. And rather than felony charges for “abuse,” she should have been offered pro-bono family counseling and/or parenting courses. These are things I still believe would benefit Taylor and her family.

In the meantime, here are the single mothers, rising to support her. Here are the advocates for low-income parents, doing their independent investigation of the facts in her case and in her post-jail progress. Here is the help single mothers in peril have been waiting for.

It turns out that help wasn’t found in editorial-writing or policy-passing. Many single parents learn early to keep their heads down, their challenges quiet, their desperate moments secret. We are taught that work must take precedence over everything else, that self-reliance may have to come at the expense of a sound mind or safety for our children. We are taught not to look up for help, once we’ve been denied it by people who attached accusations to their “No”s. Our government responds to our needs either by ignoring them, by reducing the limited aid it once offered to help us address them, or by allowing political candidates to make us the scapegoats in debates about the national deficit.

And so we get busy. Very busy. Busy enough to believe that we cannot be helped; we are our only recourse. We haven’t had time to wait to be proven wrong. As it turns out, we needn’t have looked any further than each other. Perhaps this is the start of a larger community care movement — and if it is, we have Shanesha Taylor and her generous supporters to thank for that.

 

* An earlier version of this piece erroneously identified Amanda Bishop as a single mother. She is not. 

‘The Single Moms Club?’ Thanks, But No Thanks.

Nicole Aghaaliandastjerdi, one of Beyond Baby Mamas’ most encouraging, inspiring and all-around awesome community members, saw The Single Moms Club — in an actual movie theater! — so you don’t have to. We asked her to review it for us and she graciously obliged. If you saw the film, too, we’d love your thoughts. Leave a comment below!

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BBM community member Nicole Aghaaliandastjerdi’s shorter review: Want to inspire and empower single moms, Tyler Perry? Stop making movies about us.

As a teenager, I watched Tyler Perry plays after church on Sundays with my best friend’s family and when he transitioned to movies, I was an early supporter– flocking to see Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion on opening weekend. I was happy to see him “make it” and I wanted to be a part of his success. I was Perry’s intended audience until I could no longer reconcile the underlying messages with the grotesque misrepresentations, stereotypical characters, and themes.

So when my friend asked me to see The Single Moms Club, I rolled my eyes and cringed. I jokingly expressed my disappointment and how I’d expected more from her. Were it not for social media, namely Twitter, I wouldn’t have even known about The Single Moms Club, but I reluctantly agreed, figuring I could, at the very least, get a few good laughs and potentially save others in the process.

What I didn’t expect was the sheer anger and outrage that would follow my viewing of the film. I purposely stayed away from reviews because I didn’t want anything to color my own, so this is my untainted review of The Single Moms Club. There are a few spoilers, but nothing major.

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Why ‘Doing Everything Right’ Doesn’t Insulate Women From Single Motherhood.

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Professor Jen Jamison, with her gorgeous three-year-old twins.

Where I began my story as a single mother was at a time in my life when I felt like I had done everything the right way and in the correct order. I graduated from high school at the age of 18, followed by a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the age of 22 and a Ph.D. in chemistry at the age of 28. During my postdoctoral training, I met someone who I felt loved me, supported my dreams, and wanted me to support his dreams.

He was everything I thought I wanted. He did a lot to impress me and I did my best to reciprocate all of his efforts. We had a great time together.

This whirlwind romance was followed quickly by engagement, marriage, and pregnancy. That’s when the wheels came off the proverbial cart. All of sudden, instead of being loving and supportive, he became emotionally abusive and threatened and actually performed physical violence on numerous occasions. Instead of him showing me off to his friends, he would tell me I was nothing.

I thought about leaving the marriage, but I was also pregnant…with twins! I figured things would calm down after we graduated from the newlywed stage. I made a marital vow and I intended to keep it. I eventually became a shell of my former self; I was broken, humiliated, and mistreated frequently.

In October of 2010, my son and daughter were born at 33 weeks and stayed in the NICU for nearly a month. I also had a one-week hospital stay, which gave me time to decide to leave the marriage and formulate an exit strategy. I was laid off from my postdoctoral position around the time the babies were born. I had dreams of becoming a college professor and submitted applications to several schools around that same time. Since most universities do not hire until around August, I knew I would be unemployed for many months.

Here I was with no job, a new mother to twins, and a plan to fix my life. I was still married and living with my husband, and everything was manageable until the babies were released from the NICU to come home. Because they were preemies, I had to stick to a strict schedule of feeding them, which was every 2-3 hours, 24 hours per day. It was very difficult manage this with absolutely no help from anyone else.

I went to stay with my parents for a while so I could get help with the babies. While there, I got job interviews and continued to apply to other universities. My parents helped me by taking care of the babies while I was flying to other states for job interviews. I eventually narrowed my job offers down to two universities: one in the same city as my husband and the other in another state. Long after I signed the contract with the university in the other state, I informed my husband that I was leaving.

He kept most of my belongings, which were acquired long before I met him. I basically moved to another state with 9 month old twins and a few possessions in July of 2011. We moved into a duplex on the not-so-great side of town. I didn’t even have a television or cable. Despite living simply, being in my new place was great because I was able to begin to recover from all of the abuse.

When August of 2011 rolled around, I was so excited to begin working as a college professor. I loved my university, my colleagues, and my students. I was also nervous because I had no family nearby to help with my kids. I was so nervous about them getting sick and having to miss work that I expressed my concern to my boss. His response: “If you need to miss work, your colleagues will help cover your classes. Worst case scenario, if you can’t be there, cancel class! You are the professor, after all!” I was able to breathe again, to smile, to laugh, and to make friends. For the first time since 2010, I had a positive plan to move my little family forward, including home ownership.

I finally saved up enough money in 2012 to get a divorce. The whole process was pretty straightforward and I became a free woman on July 6th of 2012. I didn’t have time to cry or have any emotions because I knew that there was nothing to cry over. Also, I was too busy packing and getting ready to move into my brand-new home that was built from the ground up; I moved into my home on August 1, 2012. There was new furniture to buy and other first-world problems to solve such as finding a reputable lawn maintenance company.

These days, I am happy with myself and my accomplishments as a mother and career woman. I appreciate the fact that I have overcome some huge difficulties, yet I am still standing. I have raised my twins by myself since their release from the hospital; they are almost 3 ½ years old and my love for them continues to grow. I love that I have a job that seems custom made for me. Most importantly, I have learned to lean on God and trust His ability to make all things work together for my good. I assumed that since I did everything “right,” bad things weren’t supposed to happen to me.

While I do not wish single motherhood on anyone, I recognize that it can happen to anyone, regardless of race, education, or socioeconomic factors, for any reason. It doesn’t matter how one becomes a single mom; if it happens to you, you will have much greater concerns than who is judging you. Yes, the stereotypes are alive and well, and some people are not as graceful in keeping their opinions to themselves. I can’t control them any more than I could stop my ex-husband’s mistreatment of me. I just make sure I remind myself that being a single mom does not remove or diminish my desire to give my children the best upbringing that I can give them, which is the same desire held by other types of mothers for their children. Finally, I remind myself that I love my children and always will, which keeps me going when I become exhausted from taking on too much at work. Their hugs infuse me with energy and their smiles and giggles confirm that every ounce of labor, stress, and discomfort is completely worth it.

Jen Jamison is a mother of 3-year-old twins and a chemistry professor at a university in Arkansas. She is also a writer, a speaker, and an enthusiast for science education at the K-12 level.

Beating Shame, Staying Trill.

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The author with her two gorgeous children

The last time I thought I had it all figured out was one year ago today, February 21, 2013. That was the day the man I loved told me he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me anymore. I was eight months pregnant with our son.

It’s not been my intention to keep the anniversary in my head, but there are noteworthy dates in close proximity that built up to it. It was thirteen days after I’d written him a letter detailing my fears and concerns and my needs and wants. Eight days after a hurtful text argument sprung from said email that culminated with me telling him we were done and he was free. Seven days after Valentine’s Day, when I asked if he wanted to see me to talk about it in person and he declined. Five days after he barely spoke to me at my pre-birthday dinner. Two days after the loneliest birthday I’ve ever had. That week between the break up and the actual in-person talk was agonizing, really. There were indeed incidents in the relationship that had taken a major toll on me and I knew he felt the same way. Still, I was certain we could get past it. After all, I was about to have a baby. I’d canceled a move to Pittsburgh to build with him. We were going to get an apartment in Brooklyn together–me, him, my seven-year-old daughter, and the upcoming babycake. He’d called me the game changer and said that he was excited about our future. We were in love and made a commitment to each other. He assured me that he wasn’t going anywhere. We’d even talked about the timing of the next baby after this one. Expecting a baby is a lot of pressure, though, particularly when it’s unexpected, so bumps in the road are par for the course, right? When I told my Mom we broke up she actually laughed. “Break up? You’re about to have a baby. Work it out.”

He had another perspective, however. On 2/21 he said that he wasn’t interested in working it out. He listed a lot of reasons but the one that hit me the hardest was that he didn’t believe God wanted us together. It knocked the wind out of me. I cried a lot. It felt abrupt and ridiculous and sickening. I’d be walking (kind of waddling at that point, actually) down the street and wondering what that sound was…that whimpering. “Oh, that’s me.” That’s when the first beads of shame started their trickling. Being miserable while pregnant? Uh uh, honey. Pregnant women are supposed to be glowy and adorable. Our backs and feet are expected to ache, sure, but we’re supposed to smile through that because worthy sacrifice. Not cry on the 3 train on the way home from work. That’s when the panic started, too. “Oh my God. I’m pregnant and…single.”

It was unfamiliar territory for me; I had a happy pregnancy with my daughter. Her father and I were very much in love and he was supportive and affectionate. We lived together and had combined our finances, so a few hurdles were already out of the way. That was my association with pregnancy–joy and security. So I was devastated that this time around was so different. I kept telling myself that this wasn’t supposed to happen to ME. I was embarrassed and afraid that if people found out they’d look at me negatively. They’d think I was so unbearable that he couldn’t even stay until the baby came. That I hadn’t done my womanly duties to “keep” him. Not special or worthy enough to be anything more than a babymama. And then I’d beat myself up incessantly for beating myself up in such a manner. I’d never been one to believe that a woman’s worth is tied to her relationship status, or that it’s up to the woman to keep the man from leaving. I would certainly never let any of my girlfriends talk that way. I knew that the concerns I had raised in that letter were legit and I wasn’t wrong for broaching them. Nevertheless, I became obsessed with chastising myself. His critiques of me echoed inside my head and became louder than my self-affirmations. Much of my pregnancy had been about him. He wasn’t as far along as I was in his career, education, mental health journey, emotional maturity or parenting, so I knew there would be some major growing pains. But his adjustments, his process, his state of readiness became more paramount than my feeling safe or being tender with myself. And it seemed that expressing my wants = getting dumped. That was the equation. So jumping to shame wasn’t much of a stretch.

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Stranger in Her Eyes: A Single Mother’s Poem.

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Gloria Malone is the mother of one beautiful daughter and the founder of TeenMomNYC.

 

Single mother doing an amazing job but I can’t and won’t do your job.

“Saying ‘daddy’ feels funny to me
because he doesn’t call and I don’t see him, Mommy.” 
Bedtime conversations where she wonders why she even calls you dad. 
 
While her expressing her point of view affects me,
really, it should affect you. 
But it doesn’t and it won’t because you’re not around. 
Random phone calls you think are great aren’t
doing anything for her to reaffirm your place in her life. 
The presents, cards, “just thinking of you text” never come,
so really you’re just someone else to her it seems. 
 
See it’s not my responsibility to do your job and
I’m no longer lying for you
and saying you can’t come because you’re working. 
I won’t lie for you. 
I certainly won’t lie to her for you. 
Don’t get me wrong; the random once a year flight
you pay for is nice but that’s not enough in her eyes
to keep you on her mind. 
 
The word ‘dad’ feels strange to her because
you have turned yourself into a stranger in her eyes. 
 
 
Gloria Malone is a freelance writer, pregnancy and parenting teen advocate, and creator of TeenMomNYC.com. You can follow her on twitter at @GloriaMalone.