Let me tell a story. There’s a woman I know who has a young daughter. Let’s call this woman Ajara. The fellow who would be known as the child’s biological father skipped town at the news of the pregnancy. He had no interest in the birth of his own child, much less in co-parenting with the mother.

No doubt, he did not have a strong enough extended family unit to pressure him to doing the right thing and being responsible. So he did what irresponsible men (and sometimes women) do. He aborted the situation and moved to live elsewhere. He decided he didn’t want a child, at least for now, and blocked them out of his memory.

As expected, Ajara took umbrage at his irresponsibility. His I-don’t-care-ism left her newborn baby without a father present and gave her the sometimes embarrassing, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes soul-strengthening single mother label. His departure made her a default member of a growing club of women for whom television shows and rhythm and blues songs are written. It made her a beneficiary of policies that are meant to hoist women out of tough times, so that children, who are by nature bundles of joy, do not become societal burdens.

There is a certain immeasurable might and resolve that any woman or man must have if shouldering the responsibility of being the sole adult in a household and concurrently the sole caretaker of one or more children, with little or no help outside of that household. To prevail under such a predicament is tough, as the situation is simultaneously incredibly tough, mentally taxing, and physically testing.

These individuals, I do understand to embody the true role of a single parent and should be commended for doing so. Their children should be forever grateful at the sacrifices that their parents made to rear them into adulthood. And even those parents who are the only source of economic, psychological, social, and moral support for their children face challenges that most could hardly fathom.

But these individuals, the ones who truly go it alone, are rarely the subjects of single parenthood tales. Correct me if I am wrong. It is my guess that Ajara’s story is more common.

During her child’s upbringing, Ajara told everyone within earshot of her single mother label. Usually the story extended a layer of sympathy with the listener, especially when she recalled the biological father’s detachment.

What Ajara left out of that story, however, is the village that supported her as a single mother. For most of her child’s life, Ajara never had a home herself. She lived with mothers and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles. And when she did not live with them, she might as well have been, because her child was always at their house.

With a strong support network of able-bodied adults, Ajara never paid a nickel for childcare. She rarely cooked a meal for her daughter, as there were so many hands in the kitchen to help. When her daughter needed a walk home from school or someone to watch her for a week when Ajara ventured into the world beyond her town, there was never a shortage of willing hands.

Nonetheless, Ajara made her situation out to be a tragedy. She bore the single mother label as if it had exacted some undue hardship on herself and on her child. She spoke of a father who was never around but conveniently omitted from the narrative all the people who were around.

Ajara’s child had more support and more family surrounding her than I can imagine existed in any two-parent household. She benefited from the many adults in her life, though societal narratives would have you believe that single parents and the children who come out of such households should be psychologically broken.

Ajara’s story is the experience of a single mother, but not in the tragic way I have told the lifestyle of a single mother unfolds. I usually hear the myths of the single mother and was appalled when I learned how many parents her child actually had. Ajara’s child was blessed to have an extended network of love and support. If this is the case, why make the child’s existence into a problem rather than a normal part of life? Why turn the story of love and support into a story of victimhood? Who does this benefit?

Certainly I wonder why the labels of single motherhood, fatherhood, or parenthood are always met with a sigh, a frown, or a soothing pat on the shoulder. I wonder if the label and the pity that accompanies it is teaching our children to frame their upbringing in a way that leads with misfortune rather than with cheer, as if they were birthed into a glass half empty existence.

Why not smile at single motherhood? It is motherhood after all.

As societies become more competitive and undergo strain, the realization will hit that the two-parent household model was a failed experimentation and that the multi-parent village model practiced by our Ancestors and many other traditional cultures worldwide is the ideal arrangement for childrearing. When we start calling out and respecting the efforts of the village in raising our children, we will all be better for it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thoroughgoing and provocative! More often than not, the precarious nature of the life of a single mother are highlighted to monstrous proportions. Amara, without a conviction to stifle, sheds some light on an unappreciated part of the single mother’s life. Amara points to the world around the child, which is often lost in most translations. Perhaps this is where the strength of the single mother can be found—enough to overcome the narrative that a single mother and her child are victims of misfortune. That world is the village. Although that village is in fast decline in a “progressively” urbanized world of nuclear families, Amara reminds the lucky “victims” of single motherhood to appreciate a disappearing tradition.

    Some single-mothered children are raised by a tiny village of grandparents, grand-uncles and aunties, cousins, etc. Such children have had more parents than children who have supposedly grown up in two-parent nuclear families, who are without the stigma of single-parenthood. Such mothers have also had more help in raising children than the women who now face mounting expectations in the home as a result of the two parent nuclear family. As cliché as it may sound, it does take a village to raise a child. But the more a write, I spoil Amara’s profound iteration on the way forward for the African family.

    Enjoy.

  2. Space-shifting analysis of the village around many single women (if not all). There’s an equally terrifying dimension to all of this narrative of the single mother. That is the so-called teenage pregnancy. Teenagers should not be embarrassed for having kids, especially when they have a grandfather like me around to make sure the right thing is done for the child. That said, there are many single mothers who have more village support than some nuclear families living in large urban centers. Childcare in New York City for example is not a joke.

    A nuclear family making over six figures in NYC can’t sit on some high horse and look down on a single mother who makes 25,000 a year in Mobile, Alabama. That single mother may never pay for childcare, that single mother may never buy Simillac (she breast feeds), that single mother doesn’t stress about what her child wears or what type of car seat or stroller she must buy. Such things reduce the pressure greatly on a Mobile single mother. All that to say, instead of concentrating on building villages, we are rather concerned about building nuclear families, with no ties to anything else, lest their own communities. It’s an unnecessary problem that the AHI and the Metha have created, especially in Ghana. The move to independent nuclear families is putting undue pressures on parents and parenting in general. Soon, we’ll figure it out, although Amara Jali has already done so.

  3. The problem has never been whether one grows up in a single mother home or not. The problem has always been how many parents are in the home. If the child grows up in the village, as Amara brilliantly illustrates, the child has many parents – the mother, the grandmother, the great-grandmother (if the mother starts early enough), the cousins, the uncles, aunties, and so on. This used to be called the home! Before Christianity and Mission School came to Africa and looked down on everything.

    In fact, some western social scientists are now learning the wisdom of Africa. They are proposing that nuclear families live in compound communities. But this is absurd, isn’t it. Because there’s nothing the western social scientist proposes that does not involve pushing money from the victims to the capitalists. Where I come from, the idea of a child growing up with only a mother (and a father) was absurd. Now it’s fast becoming the norm. So of course, we are going to have issues with single-motherhood, teenage pregnancy, absentee fathers, etc. Alas, there are no communities.

    But the way capitalism works is simply this: create social problems and proceed to solve them (but do not solve them) with capital (economic plans). Through this the capitalists amasses wealth(primitive accumulation), the economy grows, and the nation is “better.” Welcome to the twenty-first century. This is the cause of our collective future. The Mission school educated will never again live in an extended family setting on a compound home plot. No! They can’t. The pressure and the responsibility to community and kin are terrifying. But the western social scientists will bring the Metha research that shows that they must live in compound communities, which you must pay HOA for (hundreds of dollars a month) as a solution to “the problem.” Even though our ancestors did that for free! Only he forgets that he escapes the perceived flood into real quicksand, from which swimming (the solution hitherto) can now only worsen!

  4. It’s not always the case when the single parent isnt staying with family or family is far away or has some beliefs and disbeliefs she wouldnt want to compromise

  5. It is certainly not always the case. Which makes it exceedingly daunting for a single mother to raise a child, let alone children, all by her lonesome. It’s a task I refuse to even think about since it puts pressure on my mind. But you raise an important issue Mabena Kunkpe Ansah. And this is about “beliefs”. I hope you will be able to expatiate more for my enlightenment. From my experiences, it seems that extended families that are “Christian” have placed more expectations on my daughters than those who refuse to tell you what it is they worship. All that again is born out of a religious intolerance which, unfortunately has become a hallmark of those who claim they follow the ever-tolerant Christ. The fact that the extended family has also been marred by that intolerance has created a compounding problem which as Dade Afre Akufu has said, requires the “economic plan” to solve. But do tell what this conflict of “belief” you speak of.

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