This week’s CSMC webcast was the first of many which will feature a single father (or sons of single fathers or men with particular insight into minority single fatherhood). One of our Beyond Baby Mamas goals is to facilitate healthy productive communication with men. Too often, conversations about single parenthood — particularly within communities of color — devolve into accusations and generalizations, many of which relate to gender roles. We want to push back against the notion that the number of fathers who are “deadbeats” (or completely absent from their children’s lives) or the number of mothers who are bitter, uncooperative, or system-cheaters is greater than the number of single parents just trying to find workable financial and social solutions for themselves and their children. Last night’s Coed Conversation featured the insights of Donyea Lambert, a father of five (including his two biological children and his significant other’s three), and teen parenting activist and blogger Gloria Malone, creator of Teen Mom NYC. During our discussion, we hit on a number of issues, including father absence, significant differences in perception between co-parents, and reasons why child support can be such a point of contention between single parents of color. Here are a few highlights: 1. Absence Though we didn’t touch on many studied root causes of father absence and disengagement, panelist Gloria Malone spoke of her own experience, wherein her ex disappeared after struggling to separate his relationship with her and his relationship with their daughter. This is a situation to which many single parents can relate, particularly in the time immediately following their separation. If the break-up itself and the communication that follows is acrimonious, the noncustodial parent may be reluctant to visit or contact the household. As a remedy, Malone advises the shifting the focus of interaction to the child. Call the child directly. Send texts or cards addressed to the child alone. Make sure that the child feels loved and wanted, even when interaction with the ex is strained. Our Tumblr and Facebook pages have also covered other potential root causes of father absence. 2. Perception/Perspective Donte Lambert pointed out that, at times, the noncustodial parent is left to make assumptions about how his/her financial contributions are being allocated. Often, he asserted, a father may think that his monthly payments are more than sufficient to cover his child’s expenses, while a mother may feel that those contributions cover very little. Likewise, a father may believe his child support payments are being used to pay for things that are entirely unrelated to the child, whenever he notices that his ex has purchased something new. A way to remedy this, said Lambert, is to commit to honest communication with a co-parent. Single fathers, don’t be afraid to ask how much child care and other child-related expenses cost per month. Single mothers, don’t hesitate to offer that information. Steer clear of accusational tones. It’s likely that you’ll walk away with a better understanding of how money is being allocated. 3. Child Support
Child support has been and will continue to be a big topic for Beyond Baby Mamas. In last night’s webcast, both panelists agreed that involving the court in the regulation of a noncustodial parent’s financial contributions is certainly an understandable course of action. It can act as a wake-up call for the parent, and any financial contribution it yields is preferable to no contribution at all. But within the black community, child support enforcement can be a process greeted with particular wariness, if not outright contempt. For the father, it can be seen as one more of society’s many means for criminalizing black men. As the Brentin Mock article featured in on our Tumblr page suggests, there are a number of reasons why a noncustodial parent may not be able to make regular financial contributions toward his or her child’s rearing. These reasons include incarceration, extended unemployment, disabled, or earning a wage that is at or below the poverty level themselves. Though penalties for child support nonpayment vary from state to state, they can include the revocation of driver’s licenses, wage garnishment, or incarceration–and if there is any margin for postponement of payment at all, it is limited. In cases like these, the tension that results can negatively affect the entire family unit. Resentments may grow, along with emotional distance. In short: for never-married parents, child support may indeed be a necessary evil. But if your relationship with a co-parent is trusting enough and consistent enough, try negotiation financial support without the intervention of the court. 4. Down with ‘Deadbeat’ Gloria Malone resists the use of the term ‘deadbeat’ for its negative connotations. There are parents, she says, and ‘absent parents.’ Donte Lambert agrees, citing that the term is tossed around loosely and its meaning is subjective, often contingent on one parent’s unmet expectations of the other, not on absolute absence. What did you think of this week’s first Coed Conversation? Leave a comment and let us know!