Home African Caribbean Single Parenthood Part I

Single Parenthood Part I

by Scherin Barlow
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Anthropologist contributor, Scherin Barlow Massay

This article first started off as a poem that I wrote while at university. The poem came through observation of what was happening in our communities, in terms of family relationships. I also had conversations with people who were willing to discuss the state of those relationships in the Afrikan-Caribbean community. On more than one occasion, I raised the subject in academic circles with a view to having it discussed in a seminar.

But I was shut down. Sabotaged, by Afrikan male academics, too busy trying to raise head knowledge from an Afrikan perspective and who perhaps thought it was beneath them to want to look at things from a community level. I was trying to highlight and understand our contribution to the behaviours that contributed to keeping us in poverty, and which is a cause of much disunity and fragmentation within the communities affected by the Euro-American slave trade. I wanted to focus on the fundamental things, that most basic of units, the family. Family life affects the core of our interactions with others. And because I recognised that the model we have is fragmented, I wanted to look at some of those issues. 

The problem that plagues our communities is female single-headed families. I am going to use the term “problem” because if we continue to think that this is the normal context in which to raise children, then there is nothing to fix. However, if we recognise it as something that has hindered our progress and needs fixing, then we will perhaps change our behaviours.  Mothers placed in that situation do a great job because they step up and become care-givers and financial providers; however, if the mother is overstretched in providing the basics for the child (food, clothing shelter), then it becomes very difficult to find the time to nurture the emotional well-being of that child. 

Just as proper nutrition is important for physical development, so too is creating the right environment for the development of things such as self-esteem, and a sense of love and belonging; pillars that often not even thought about, and often neglected when the mother is struggling to provide the former things.  An absent father creates an imbalance in the family structure. How then are children expected to thrive, if they have not been provided with the tools to enable them to develop into secure and confident adults? 

Children often learn to suppress their feelings of abandonment to the outside world, while internalising that hurt. This sense of abandonment firstly becomes a rejection of self and resentment towards the absent parent. There is no denying that the environment in which we were raised, influences our minds and personal choices later on in life.  If our first relationships were based on any kind of deprivation, then we carry those negative patterns into our adult relationships, with the real danger of repeating that cycle. Too often, I have heard the saying that the cycle of poverty, bad family relationships etc., are due to “generational curses”.  That saying implies that the present family situation is due to things that we cannot control, and that people have no role to play in the outcomes of their lives. And while I do not negate the effects of slavery that laid the foundations for teenage pregnancies, out of wedlock births, single household families, and poverty, it is very easy to accept the status quo, without questioning the validity of the values that have shaped and continue to shape our communities.

How long do we bury our heads in the sand, by refusing to acknowledge unpleasant facts?  When do we start to make choices that go against what has been handed to us as “the norm?” And when do we start to take responsibility for own behaviours?  On the one hand, we are quick to cry about the ills of slavery, yet we embrace and engage in the very patterns of family life that made slavery so lucrative, and which degrades the concept of the Afrikan family. Quite clearly, the model that we are perpetuating, is clearly not working in our communities! 

The role that was determined for the man on the plantation was to have numerous children with multiple women and thus increase the slave master’s wealth. That model degraded the humanity of the man, thus nullifying his rightful role as a husband and provider, to that of a sperm donor. But although many men themselves were raised by single women who struggled to provide the necessities; along their journey to adulthood, they too developed a kind of cognitive dissonance to the realities and struggles of raising children single-handedly. Ultimately, it means that such a man has distanced himself from the role of fatherhood. Such scenario’s mean that it is inevitable that a lot of children will grow up without the influence of a father in their lives. How then are children to reach their full potential, if they do not know how to; if they do not have the support of both parents?

Poverty is another pillar of the problem; a man with multiple children with different women does not have either the financial means, or the time to invest emotionally in helping their children to thrive. Then there are the problems associated with sibling rivalry within the context of half- siblings.  Many such children grow up resentful of the other family (usually the children who the father has decided to live with) because they think that their half-siblings are treated better economically and emotionally. There are also problems with children not knowing or having familial relationships with members of their father’s side. Father’s occupy an important role in the development of children and such absences have a lasting impact on the social and emotional well-being of the child. 

Such absenteeism often causes physiological harm throughout the course of life. Children often learn to suppress their feelings of abandonment by internalising their hurt and pain. That pain often becomes a cycle of rejection; of self, and of the absent parent.  And because there is a lack of male guidance and positive male role models in their lives, some children, particularly adolescent boys, gravitate into behaviours of offending.  On the other hand, fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives can be a wholesome influence. The father-child relationship enables the child to have a more rounded and balanced outlook on life.  Children, who have had the influence and support of both parents, thrive better in social situations and do not carry the proverbial chip (of rejection) on their shoulders.

Scherin Barlow

Scherin Barlow

Guyanese born, Scherin Barlow Massay, is a writer, educator, poet and artist. She studied applied human science at university and later Caribbean studies at Goldsmiths’ University of London. She has lectured on various subjects and ran courses in socio-linguistics. She recently conducted research for a London museum that is now part of the KS3 programme throughout the British Isles. She was an editor for a quarterly university journal, and has edited books for other writers. Her approach to writing is to keep it simple, keep it factual and keep it relevant to the audience. She is a keen photographer and her photographs have been used on the front cover and within books.


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1 comment

E.Ameke October 2, 2022 - 10:40 am

A well thought through analysis of a perennial issue


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