Single Mothers: Ghastly Lepers?

Imagine a couple of guys sitting at a bar on a boys’ night out. They are crouched around the table mulling over what seems to be a serious issue. Never mind the diski action on the screen. “You’re brave, man!” they say, “Uzoba strong” they mock pitifully. Jabu has met a woman…and she comes with “baggage”, an infant boy. His pals give him a big pat on the back while he anxiously gulps down his beer…

Nobody knows how tricky relationships can get post baby more than the single mother.  While even those in relationships where both are the parents of a child hit some sort of slump once babies come into the picture, the common bond created by the child can provide a safety net. Admittedly, I navigated the whole relationship terrain with some difficulty during my late teens and early twenties; however, it wasn’t all that bad. That age provided room for some carefree living. Well, that’s how you be ending up with babies, ain’t it?

Getting back on the dating scene came about after some serious contemplation on my part; naturally after assuming the serious role of being Supergirl’s mother, my options of a man were narrowed down to “focused, family oriented, ambitious, generous man”. That is exactly what I wanted. Self-help books (that I don’t read) advocated that one must be clear from the onset what she seeks from a relationship, you know? I obliged. It made tons of sense. Who needs endless buggers hanging around, meeting your family while they have no intention of making a “good” woman out of you!

oh mother...!
oh mother…!

A frank conversation with a male friend brought home the realisation that when it comes to single parenting, the odds are stacked against single moms. He did not mince words when he said, “men are discouraged from getting into relationships with women who have children”. The situation is completely different for men, who enjoy the unequivocal adoration of women whether they have children or not. An aunt told of her nephew who at middle age, with ten plus children (all from different women), married a young lass from neighbouring Botswana. She had no kids of her own prior to that. We love them, warts and all!

Well, my friend was right. It is not easy to love a child that is not your own and perhaps it is better not to have people who will not make that effort. So, why does the single mother evoke such anxiety from men? When my motherly instincts kicked in, the first thing that also came to mind was my desire and need for stability. As I began dating again, I soon became faced with the subtle tug of war between my role as a mom and as a woman; a lover. I guess the problem that men have is that with single moms, there is no spontaneity unless of course granny will do the sitting forever.

What kind of mother relishes in relinquishing her duty to her kids to someone else? What kind of a man expects this huge sacrifice when he knows what he has signed up for? Another thing that I struggled with was (is) the fact that men (even those who have never married, in their 30s onwards) on my dating radar still wanted to get their groove on and play the field or “have fun”…whatever that means! Of course when that happened, I would direct my energies elsewhere.

Mybrotha.com sums it nicely, “Most single mothers are not looking for a casual or open ended relationships.” It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out where the mention of commitment can drive a man to. Hence single moms are also encouraged not to become exclusive too soon.

 Single motherhood, although increasing in numbers in our era, is by no means a new thing. A lot of children have been raised by men that did not father them. There are many who can say, “I turned out well”. There are those who are permanently scarred from being raised by individuals who dished out doses of conditional love, unfortunately. “It takes a certain kind of man to mentor and care for another man’s children”-Mybrotha.com

While some of us still feel a sting of sensitivity when confronted with the reality that it is a patriarchal world we live in. Love in the time of single motherhood is not entirely elusive. A lot of my hopes were dashed because of expectations. Perhaps when these are totally removed and the focus put more on living then, then life (and love) will be more blissful.

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From Braamfontein, With Love…

‘Ever walked into a room and felt that something was amiss; that your feet had a nagging desire to do a 360 degree turn and help you flee that sinking feeling in your stomach? Perhaps you’ve gone into a nightclub and simply felt uncomfortable from watching (at age 35) all those 18 year old sweaty weaves on the dance floor?

Maybe I should shy away from generalisation on this matter, because I suspect not all of us feel that way. There are some who still marvel at this sight. God knows, they’ll still marvel at it in their eighties even! Bless their souls.

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I experienced this discomfort when I stayed over in Braamfontein for a few days in March. Being in a town that had been home during my student days, I suddenly felt like regurgitated food: Tossed aside while the world moved on. The sight of lively and obnoxious young things (through my condescending spectacles) left me feeling rather deflated. In all honesty, I felt quite old. Now just imagine how country bumpkins feel when they come to the big ole city! LOL!

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All romanticized memories fell away with the realisation that my beloved Braamfontein had moved on and grown without me. That growth is a wonderful thing, trust me. When I came to Johannesburg as a student in 2005, the place was a far cry from what it is today. Back then, one had to contemplate a shopping trip to a reputable store past Park Station.

statement pieces
statement pieces

That the town has got more buzz than ever before is evident in the rapid business development that is designed to cater for the student and on-the-move young professional (that would be me, right? ;-)). From up-market Manhattans style apartments, apparel stores; art galleries and lifestyle joints for the chic.

I discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that the company South Point has moved beyond just student accommodation and lofts to the hospitality industry. Hotel Lamunu (Orange) provided a rich cultural experience of Jozi; celebrated literary and academic giants with innovative and unique yet simplistic pieces of art adorning the walls.

sho't left
sho’t left

There is a lot more to this place; it’s a lot more than fancy arty buildings and the people. Stay a couple of years, you’ll discover why. I may have felt out of place because of the generally naive human perception that the world waits around while your life goes on. It does not.

Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship...
Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship…

I’m glad that the young professional has a place in this society but for now, I’m more than happy with my nostalgic hangover.

Quarter Life Musings and All

Miss Leefolt, she’d narrow her eyes at me like I done something wrong, unhitch that crying baby off my foot. I reckon that’s the risk you run, letting somebody raise you chilluns.

Aibileen: The Help by Katherine Sockett

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Where I come from, it takes a village to raise a child. This isn’t some made up fallacy belonging in African folklore. It’s an ethos that has prevailed for centuries. One could tell just by the liberty with which grownups in our era reprimanded the young.

A childhood friend’s mother gave us both a whipping after we went trotting around her street asking for vetkoek money in her name. What little crooks we thought we were; children never realise how transparent they are. My mother never went marching to ask why we were given a hiding…and I’m glad. We thoroughly deserved it.

Of course things have changed and parenting becoming a little complex in the face of advanced technology, social media and a range of not-so-newly acquired social freedoms. Just getting your own child to sit while having supper in this day and age is one hell of a task, never mind other people’s kids!

My generation has been branded a lot of names- from Gen D, hugely punted by Dion Chang, and more recently, Gen Y. I’m not certain whether the “Y” refers to “Youth” or otherwise. Perhaps Gen “W” would have been more appropriate since they reckon we are more prone to worrying a lot; about money, personal relationships, job security, and employment. Hell, we even worry about what the neighbours are having for supper! You want something or someone to worry about, come on over here; we sure can lend a hand!

Seriously though, this is not without basis. For some reason, there is a universal conspiracy that this particular generation ought to experience the kind of challenges it faces. Perhaps it boils down to crappy and near sighted leadership, I don’t know. Where does parenting come in?

About a week ago I came home from work to find-to my absolute horror- (LOL!) my daughter’s head being shaved. At boiling point, I enquired why I had not been consulted about this since I had plans for that hair. Frankly, through our common understanding the little one had really made peace with being combed. Naturally, I felt I had been stripped of my authority (over the child) and my motherhood status merely reduced to that of hapless spectator: A deaf and mute one. Before you go on and call me petty, this is just one of many power struggles.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine, who is a nurse, also expressed her frustration at having next to no say in the upbringing of her seven year old. She bemoaned the fact that she has been reduced to a sister figure, with little say. She, like me, is twenty-six years old and still living under her parents’ roof.

I reckon Aibileen from Kathryn Sockett’s book would probably say, “That’s what you be getting for living under somebody else’s roof when you be so darn old!” Well, the truth is, just because you have now become someone’s mother doesn’t mean you can mother everyone else.

The world has turned on its head, and this paradigm shift forcing the current generation to raise children in family structures that possibly belong in the sixties. President Zuma proposed a Green Paper on Families late last year, a topic that got us talking for some time before it waned. Perhaps the question ought to be, what happens beyond the systematic analysis of family structures? What then? What about the issues shaping the family structure in this age?

Gen Y has reason to worry because unemployment (or lack of stable work opportunities) has far reaching consequences. Yes, your personal relationships are affected because you are a (single) parent trying to balance your role as a child vis á vis your full-fledged adult mentality. Yes, power struggles and issues of control will come to the fore. Of course one will feel as if they are being kept in virtual captivity because job losses have forced many people to sell their houses to go and squat at their folks abodes. Talk about a quarter of a life crisis, phew!

Unfortunately I am not patenting any solutions to the dilemma for now. I am certain that my cohorts have approached the thought of having someone mothering them at this age, -and having to raise their own children- with much reluctance. Saying “no” is probably the hardest thing to do; however, it’s probably the most liberating. Perhaps we also need to be grateful that the “village” still exists to cushion the blow of the economic environment and for its love and support. So, aluta continua; tolerance and firm boundaries will have to do. After all motho o kgonwa ke sa gagwe.

Politics of Beauty & Brains

I normally take things with a pinch of salt. Although I’m one of those overly analytical people who go through things over and over in their minds, I’m very forgiving. Sorry, I sense a contradiction of sorts. So I have come across a lot of characters in my life who have either enhanced it or not. The good part is that the latter do not get to stick around for long. There are people who will always try and be honest, with the best of intentions. Then there are those who will wait until there is an exit point nearby to cowardly say their truth.

So I was recently faced with having to pick my jaw up from the floor in shock as one lady made the insinuation that I owe my professional strides to my looks. She reckoned that her brains and intellect catalysed her achievements. How does one respond to such absurdity, really? In theory, these assertions don’t deserve a second thought. However, I was really pissed! Sure, I was!

I reckon if it were true and I had the intellect of a chicken, then I wouldn’t even be bothered. However, personal insults do come veiled in a range of ways. As an individual who closely guards her intellect, I take offense.  I certainly have no appreciation for assertions that I am more beautiful than I am intelligent, what utter rubbish!

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I thought maybe this isn’t an isolated incident; that it could be the common perception out there. Research shows that appearance is right at the top with other forms of workplace discrimination like gender, race, disability and age. These are of course unacceptable in the South African context and legislation exists to curb such discrimination in the workplace.

In an article titled “Workplace discrimination: Beauty Can be a Beast at Work”, Lisa Johnson Mandell muses that, “It’s hard to feel sorry for pretty girls, since numerous workplace discrimination studies have been done that show they have an edge when it comes to getting hired, promoted, elected and evaluated”. I say the only edge I have, is the one I got at Wits!

Other research suggests that all of this is relative. For example, sales companies could possibly opt for more attractive staff while mechanical ones may perceive attractive individuals as “soft”.

My frustration is echoed in John Feldmann’s article titled, “Keeping up Appearances in Interviews”. He writes, “For those who have enjoyed the advantages of having the tables turned in their favour due to their appearance [are] faced with the frustration of being rewarded for something superficial rather than their ability, qualifications and hard work”.

I’m now convinced that any attempt to defend myself in this regard will prove to be futile. I resolve to let my work do the talking.