What Mali Music’s Gospel Album Gets Right About Unmarried Parenting.

It isn’t often that we get hopeful, even-tempered, nonjudgmental songs about unmarried parenting from gospel artists, but Mali Music’s latest album, Mali Is…, released this past Tuesday, gives us just that. The second to last track on the album, “Johnny & Donna,” tells the tale of a young unmarried couple who naively embark on the journey of parenthood and promptly realize how unprepared they are – not just for parenting but also for salvaging their flagging relationship.

In his short New York Times review of the album, Jon Caramanica calls “Johnny & Donna” “a classic morality tale for the Teen Mom era” and finds the song’s final lines: “Whether you’re Johnny or Donna or neither of the two/Just try to make the best of what’s given to you,” to be too morally noncommittal. Caramanica assesses the lines as “an answer that tries to please everyone, and may satisfy no one.”

But as someone who grew up in church, who met the father of my daughter at church, and who still attends church as an unmarried parent, it’s hard for me to be as dismissive of “Johnny & Donna.” On more than one occasion, we’ve written here at Beyond Baby Mamas about condemnation of single motherhood at church and how Christian mothers are practically forced to internalize that condemnation.

Few sermons or gospel songs allow for the ideas in Mali Music’s song about a young couple forming a permanent relationship while acknowledging the impermanence of their romance:

Johnny and Donna slowly recognized
That for the baby’s future they planned 2 different lives
Donna wanted a family; she wanted to do it right
Make Johnny’s house a home
She wanted to be a wife

But Johnny was a dreamer
And he had to move around
Yeah, he’d be there for his child
But wouldn’t settle down
How, how, how, how
Do I win and where?
Are questions they often both asked God

He doesn’t mock either party’s idealism, naivety, or needs. He doesn’t make light of either’s desires, opting instead to attribute the dissolution of their partnership to a difference in priorities and personalities. In truth, that’s often what it is. Break-ups aren’t a punishment for sin; they’re often a miscalculation of compatibility. Single parenthood isn’t indicative of defunct morality; it’s the result of breaking up with someone with whom you’d once intended a shared future.

The ambiguity of the last line isn’t an attempt to “please everyone.” It’s a call to all of us: listen to people’s stories, honor their individual circumstances, acknowledge their humanity. The reason “Johnny & Donna” isn’t a satisfying “cautionary tale” is because unmarried parenting isn’t a “cautionary tale.” It’s like artist asserts in the end:

Life is full of twists, twists
Life is full of twirls, twirls, twirls ,twirls
It’s the way of the world;
It’s whirlwinds and girlfriends
Toys and boyfriends, friends, friends
and Frenchmen (war) Peace, impeachment
gentlemen, ladies, Hyundais, Mercedes
Mistakes and Peach Rings,
Blacks and bleach stains
(Don’t forget wasps and bee stings.)

It isn’t arbitrary, exactly, but it comes at your in clouds and dust storms. It hits you hard and fast. Some things are avoidable. And some things are result of running toward the wind instead of shielding ourselves from it. But we’ve got to make the best of whatever comes (and whatever we’ve chased). It’s refreshing to have a new song celebrating that process instead of shaming those who are navigating it.

Mali Is… is currently $7.99 at iTunes. Buy it. It’s brilliant.

I Am Recovering From Fatherless Daughter Syndrome.

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The picture above is from 5th grade. It’s an important picture because my dad did my hair that day.
My dad…
…was tall and slender.
…could throw down in the kitchen.
…was artistic and musical, and was the person who taught me how to sign my name.
…did drugs.
…hit my mom.
…made empty promises.
…was not around much.
…should’ve never procreated.

I used to say to myself “I don’t have daddy issues.” That was a boldface lie, I just didn’t know it. My life manifested itself into a clusterfuck that I sometimes don’t recognize, but through continual self-awareness, development and honesty I now know why – because I have fatherless daughter syndrome.

Fatherless Daughter Syndrome is a disorder of the emotional system that leads to repeated dysfunctional relationship
decisions, especially in the areas of trust, and self-worth. It is caused by the lack of a father/daughter bond, which leads
to the daughter not having a clear understanding of what a healthy, loving male/female relationship looks like. It can be
a lifelong syndrome if the symptoms go unrecognized and unacknowledged. The first relationship a little girl has with a man is the one she has with her father. This relationship gives life to what that little girl, who will eventually become a woman, will believe she deserves in her relationships with men. It is poignant, life-shaping, and oh so necessary. What happens to the little girl who doesn’t have the chance to experience this relationship?

Well, you are looking at her.

Without that relationship I had a hard time deciphering what I deserved or who I was worthy of having in my life. There
was no blueprint, no outline, or guide to help me understand the right way to be loved, and because I didn’t truly know,
I settled. I wholeheartedly could feel when something didn’t feel right in my relationships, but elected to stay in those
relationships because my sense of self was not fully developed. My decisions came from a place of scarcity rather than
love. There were so many things my dad could’ve showed me and saved me the trouble of letting my mistakes show me,
but he was selfish and put his needs before that of my brother and I.

I haven’t seen my father in close to ten years, which is by choice. I know where to find him but I haven’t decided if it is
necessary.

Since I have taken the time to be away from the world and reevaluate my life and my decisions, I have had the
opportunity to understand my pattern. This is why I say I am recovering from Fatherless Daughter Syndrome because I
have taken the time to really look inside myself and understand what I want. It has not been easy, but it has been
necessary because the life I want and work hard towards everyday will not allow for it to be any other way.

 

Toi is a single mother to 4 wonderful boys and the creator of the single mom blog, Baby Mama Lessons. The piece above is crossposted from her site. 

Enter Beyond Baby Mamas’ 2nd Mother’s Day Dinner Contest!

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We want to help send you and yours to Mother’s Day dinner.

It’s that time of year again! Mother’s Day 2014 is on its way, and we want to show you how much we appreciate you. Beyond Baby Mamas is once again offering families led by single mothers of color the opportunity to win a gift certificate to a family-style restaurant.

Here’s our annual appeal:

For restaurants, Mother’s Day is big business. For single-parent families, it’s just a big expense. If your children are old enough to contribute, it can be fun, provided they have jobs or a few siblings to split the costs. They may also opt to cook for you, which can also be pretty cool… if they know how to cook. But for moms of younger children or moms who tend to spend Mother’s Day cooking for or dining out with (and paying for) their own mothers, it may be a cost-prohibitive affair.

To help, Beyond Baby Mamas would like to treat one special single-parent family to dinner this Mother’s Day (or at least split the tab). We’re offering a $60 gift certificate to one of the following restaurants:

The winning family chooses the restaurant, and the electronic gift card will be delivered to the email address provided on your contest entry form. To enter, you MUST:

  • Follow, like, or subscribe to us on at least one social media site (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or this blog).
  • Submit a complete Contest Entry Form.

Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 11. Our contest ends at 12PM (noon) EST on Monday, May 5. The winning family will be notified and their gift certificate emailed no later than Wednesday, May 7. Good luck!

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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