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THE QUESTION of whether single mothers can raise their sons to be successful men without a positive male presence is one that has been debated for many years. But what most will agree on is that there is a lack of an adult male presence within black households.
Research undertaken last year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicates that there are 1.767 million mothers in Britain raising children by themselves, and at least 142,000 of them are black. Close to three million dependent children live in families headed by a single mother.
Further research indicates that children from broken homes are almost five times more likely to develop emotional problems than those living with both parents, and three times more likely to become aggressive or badly behaved.
ONS has also discovered that 48 percent of black Caribbean families have one parent, as do 36 percent of black African households.
These statistics suggest that mothers raising black children alone in Britain face an uphill struggle.
In an ideal world, the mother nurtures while the father disciplines. But if they are separated, who teaches a male child how to behave like a man should?
Melissa, who is a single mother with a son, believes that women can be both the mother and the father to young males – and raise them without having any kind of father figure in their lives.
“We can do precisely what men do as well, and mothers can teach boys morals and ethics just the same,” Melissa told The Voice. “And to care, which is often missing most times from the male side. You can’t have a community where men and women don’t care for each other.”
Many young black boys are raised without a father figure, and several, such as former Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell, say it has not done them any harm. In fact, Campbell recently told The Voice that growing up in a single-parent family helped inspire him to succeed.
Campbell, 37, who grew up on a council estate in Moss Side, Manchester, said his mother became his father too.
“I was fortunate that I had a strong mother, who became my mother and my father, and for this reason growing up in a single parent family inspired me,” Campbell said.
“My mum was always aware of our talents. I was always good at athletics and my sister was very exceptional academically, so she [his mother, Marva] worked three jobs to send my sister to private school, because she knew that if she went to the school on the estate her ability and talents would be wasted.”
However, BabyFather author Patrick Augustus, who is a supporter of children’s charity Barnardos’ BabyFather Initiative to promote positive black fatherhood, feels that a single mother is unable to raise her son successfully to manhood without the presence of a regular father figure.
“Based on my observation, a lot of women are doing a very good job in bringing up their sons, but if you speak to the child, they hunger for their father and say ‘Mum did the best she could but it wasn’t good enough’,” said Augustus.
“Young boys mimic their father, and it’s important to have their fathers around to create a balance. For a lot of men who haven’t grown up with their fathers, they take that bitterness to their graves.
“I’ve also seen a few cases where young boys without a father figure in their lives have become very effeminate.”
Research shows that children of single parents are more likely to do badly at school, suffer poor health, get into trouble and be unemployed as they grow up.
Everton Augustus, manager of Lewisham Way Black Fathers Support Group, said:
“I think mothers can raise children to successful manhood without a father figure, even if there isn’t other male role models in her life which may make it harder for that son to recognise his masculinity and to ask questions about many things that happen to them as a young men.
“This doesn’t mean that she can’t successfully raise her son to be a well balanced individual who goes through life without having disputes with the criminal justice system or peers. However, it’s important that black single mothers try to encourage as much as possible a decent relationship with their ex-partner, whereby the focus is on the child and not one another.”
Everton added: “It’s often said that the rise of gun, knife and gang culture in the black community in Britain is due to absent fathers.
“These findings suggest that if fathers were more involved in the lives of their children we would see less negative behaviour.
“We are psychologically, mentally, and emotionally different. Some things are purely biologically based, while others are due to socialisation. This creates a disconnect. With great difficulty, a woman can do it single-handedly.”
But 36-year old south Londoner Greg Morris, who attends the Father’s Group, said: “It can be done, however the role a father plays in a relationship is a template for that boy to be a great man.
“As children we tend to either mimic our parents or reject what they teach us because we don’t agree with it, so having a man there helps and teaches the child how a man should behave.”
Campaign group Single Mother’s Self-Defence (SMSD), which provides help for women caring for children on their own, says many women simply don’t have a father figure around – and so need more government help, particularly financially.
SMSD spokesperson Kim Sparrows said recent welfare reforms by the Government have made raising children even more difficult.
“In order to have time to raise our kids, boys and girls, a lot of mums, and especially single mums, want flexible working. It’s very hard to find jobs like that,” said Sparrows, who is the mother of two teenage daughters.
“They are notoriously the lowest paid. Black women and women of colour are definitely the lowest paid of all women workers, so there’s a lot that has to be changed.
“We want jobs that we haven’t got to be working two or three jobs at a time so that we don’t get home till midnight.”
The cuts mentioned by Sparrow, which were implemented by the Government in October, mean that single parents with a youngest child aged seven to nine will be switched from income support to jobseeker’s allowance, and must actively seek employment or see their benefits cut.
“The fact that they’ve cut income support and, therefore, are basically saying that they’re going to cut that money and push us out to work – that’s very brutal," added Sparrow.
Melissa agreed with Sparrow, adding: “With raising a child in this country the only difficulty is financial. That’s it. And of course you want to encourage your child from an early age to choose their friends wisely. But fundamentally the biggest issue is finance.”