After last Friday’s taping of “Oprah Lifeclass” on OWN, Oprah Winfrey comforted a distraught mother of two who said, “I feel like I have failed [my children] because their father left.”
Winfrey thoughtfully responded, “You are enough… you are doing what so many women have done… You are going to be just fine, raising your children.”
As soon as I heard this exchange, I knew there would be controversy. Despite being revered as pillars of strength and loved for the sacrifices they make to hold down their families, single mothers are also blamed for every current ill facing Black people at-large. The thinking goes, if only these women had stayed (or been) married, we, as in all Black people, wouldn’t be in “this” state.
Marriage has become this cure-all for what ails us, but it’s not. All marriages aren’t healthy, happy and Cosby-esque. If they were, the divorce rate wouldn’t continue to hover at fifty percent. The truth is, some couples/pairs really are better off apart, and their kids are better for it, too.
I get that a happy marriage and a father in the house is the ideal and the goal. I don’t find fault in upholding that, as when a marriage is functioning well for both parties, the kids tend to be better off, according to all the statistics.
But what would the critics of single mothers have them do? The kids are here and you can’t send them back. Filling women with shame about their past choices, their circumstance and/or the things that happened to them doesn’t make their families function any better. It only tears down the person who’s in charge of running the show. How good do you think that is for the precious children?
Would the woman crying in Winfrey’s audience really have been better served if Winfrey had said, “you know what, you’re right! You failed?”
I will never pretend the institution of marriage is all-bad, fathers aren’t necessary, or that even a determined woman can fill his role in her child’s life. But I see the harm in making single moms feel like they aren’t enough, like they have to have someone, a man, in order to make their family whole. Anyone who knows anything about interpersonal relationships will tell you that looking for someone to complete you is like driving in the fast lane on the freeway toward disaster. (And let’s not even get into the additional shame heaped on mothers who go man-hunting when they “should be at home” doting on and sacrificing for their children.)
We’ve shamed single moms for years and yet they continue (gasp!) to exist, and their numbers are even growing. What if instead of tearing them down, we, like Winfrey, lifted their spirits and got off their backs? Most are doing their best at motherhood, a job that’s always been called the hardest in the world, made even more so when they get a whole heap of headache from too many of us for daring to do it alone.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk