“A woman can’t raise a boy to be a man.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, perhaps I could bribe a few deadbeat daddies into coming back to their children. While I understand much of the rhetoric about women raising boys well is intended to encourage (or perhaps shame) men into owning their parental responsibilities, it often reads more like a heavy-handed critique of single mothers. Because we should come down harder on the parent who remains, as opposed to the parent who fled, right?

There are many women in our community raising children with limited to non-existent support from the other parent. There are many reasons for this, and we do have serious work to do when it comes to encouraging our people to be responsible about when and where they conceive a child and with whom, however, we do little to support single moms and their children by continuing to spread rhetoric about how these women “can’t” raise sons that they already have.

Much of this chatter comes from a place of judgment that is not matched by a willingness to act. How many of the men who say a woman “can’t” raise a young man actually volunteer with the boys in their community? How many of us have taken the time to try and connect fatherless children with upstanding brothers who can serve as mentors and play uncles? Furthermore, it’s silly to act as though father-lack only hurts little boys; girls are also in need of male figures in their lives. If the first man with whom they have a serious relationship is someone they deal with romantically, they may encounter some very real challenges in managing their interactions with the opposite sex.

Kids of both genders need both love from and positive interactions with both genders, but the Cliff and Claire model isn’t the only way to achieve that. The single mother of two should make sure that her son and daughter spend time with her brother. The father who couldn’t make it work with the mother of his kids should be held accountable if he chooses to let his disdain for mom become distance from his seeds. The lesbian couple should have a few trusted “uncles” around to allow their kids experience the love of a male.

Women can, in fact, raise sons to be good men. We know this because we have seen it time and time again, especially in the past two generations that have come up in this country. Is this the ideal situation? No and neither is a two-parent home with a contentious relationship between the mother and father or a partner who is physically present, yet emotionally absent. There is no single, guaranteed formula for a household that will produce a happy, healthy child. This is not to say that we should not continue to try to encourage more couples to raise children as a unit, but simply to offer that we can’t tell women that they are incapable of doing something that they are already doing or that has been done successfully time and time again.

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