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The Imaginary Problem Of Single Black Mothers And Their Sons

“There are plenty of women throughout history who have raised strong, balanced, respectable [and] happy boys. Women are the nurturers usually anyway.”

Ann*, a mother participating in my PhD research on single mothering, asserted this.

We were discussing the belief that the single mother family is harmful to boys, based on the notion that the parent/child gender difference limits boys’ development. From such perspectives, boys raised without their fathers in the home are more likely to become emotionally unstable at best and juvenile at worst. Views like this are expressed by a wide range of voices, from rappers to politicians. Last year Jay-Z suggested that violent confrontations with the police are often the result of an anti-authority attitude of young people raised by single parent women. 

Cultural representations rarely offer enlightenment on the topic. Recall The Karate Kid original movie and remake, in which older men coach the bullied sons of single mothers; in the Creed films, Sylvester Stallone mentors Michael B. Jordan, a young man struggling to overcome the loss of the father he never knew; Black British novel Mama Can’t Raise No Man continues in a similar vein, and British movie The Last Tree depicts a single parent woman whose relationship with her son is so broken he turns to roadmen for a sense of family. Limited understandings of the single mother and son relationship are misleading, informing misguided social initiatives, disempowering mothers and encouraging victimhood in young men raised without resident fathers.