Momma’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe
I remember being 22 and pregnant with my first daughter. The bold question from my uncle, “Are you prepared to take care of this child by yourself?” continues to resonate until this very day. I assumed he was just being yet another pessimistic, overprotective male family member; yet I had no clue this thought-provoking question would become my reality…Society trains us to believe that there is a “right” way to go about having a child: Get your education, secure a career, get married, and then create a family. While this all sounds good and does increase the opportunity for a stable foundation, what everyone failed to teach us was to be prepared for the possibility of becoming a single parent even in the case of such prior planning. My uncle was probably the only person I’ve encountered to keep it real and suggest that the priority be to plan for the worst-case scenario.
As young, ambitious partners, we don’t always fully think about long-term parenting responsibilities such as the financial demands of clothing, food, healthcare, childcare, etc. We also don’t take into consideration the possibility of becoming the child’s primary parent, or in worse circumstances, the only parent. As mothers, we don’t imagine ourselves one day possibly being the head of household who not only has to maintain our child’s survival via making sure there’s food in the refrigerator, electricity in the home, and a roof over their head—but in addition, we are primarily responsible for all things relative to this human being, and with little or no help from the father.
If I could have done it all over again, I would still have my children, just with someone different, preferably someone who was already a father. When people are boosting the societal norm to do things the “right way,” seldom do they take into consideration two people who are new to parenting and what type of parent they will turn out to be.
Most women are natural caretakers, so for them, parenting becomes something we dive into and master on our own or with guidance from other women in our lives. Fathers, on the other hand, don’t naturally carry the same parenting/caretaker traits that women do. While there are some very hands-on and active fathers, many leave the majority of the parenting to the mothers.
Many of these fathers adapt to the role of the financial caretaker, and to them, that is parenting enough. The fathers described here possibly come from a background of learned behavior in which their fathers mainly provided financial support or were absent from the home, or the women in their lives trained them to believe that the bare minimum is all there is to fatherhood and the rest is the mother’s responsibility.
It is then that the child’s mother, whether married or not, is left with the bulk of the responsibility. The mother is the primary contact for school or daycare, she is first to leave work when receiving the emergency illness calls, she’s responsible for the morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up, she’s responsible for the doctor’s appointments, she’s responsible for night and morning routines, and she is the point person for almost everything relative to the child’s well-being. Meanwhile, the father is totally disconnected from much of the above, and in some cases, his parents are more connected to these matters than he is himself.
Again, this does not apply to all fathers, but unfortunately, in my case and largely in the Black community, there is a norm that the majority of parenting is a mother’s job. The proof is also evidenced by the mother’s inability to partake in certain lifestyle events because she first has to secure reliable childcare. Many fathers are able to come and go as they please without a worry in the world as to who will be responsible for the child they created, as long as the mother is involved and fit as a parent.
I’ve watched the elders in any given father’s life take over his parenting responsibilities, training him to believe his role is separate from that of a mother’s, and I’ve also listened to these women say that certain responsibilities are a “mother’s job.” Besides bonding with a newborn the first few days and breastfeeding, I do not believe any other part of parenting to solely be a “mother’s job.” Not only was I raised by a man (my father)—I grew up watching the men in my family be very active in their children’s lives and met male friends who carried out just as much responsibility as the mother. Those elders who trained men to believe the majority of parenting is a “mother’s job” are just further exacerbating the issue.
My hope is that society moves away from the idealized way of preparing us for parenthood. Truth is, it’s very unfortunate that no matter how much you prepare for a child or get married and make a plan, you simply cannot predict what type of father a man will be unless he already has a child. And even then, you still can’t guarantee the ideal situation.
As a 34-year-old single parent of two, this is why I now prefer to date a single father. Meeting a single father allows me to learn more about his parenting style and helps me avoid getting into another failed attempt at establishing a 50/50 parenting foundation. Being involved with a single father means I can learn more about his beliefs around the balance of parental responsibility, regardless of whether he’s married or co-parenting.
For ladies that wish to start their family from scratch as two individuals new to parenting, I suggest you take into consideration your partner’s upbringing and make sure he wasn’t raised to believe that a child is momma’s baby and daddy’s maybe.