|FOREST OF THE RAIN PRODUCTIONS An Educational Affairs Organization||
By: Dr. Yolanda Abel
Children are one of our most precious gifts. As parents it is our responsibility to rear them well and prepare them to go out into the world and fulfill their destiny. Kahlil Gibran said it well, “Your children are not children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not for you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” With this in mind, all parents should be mindful of how they treat one another and how the parental relationship impacts the child.
So often when we think or discuss parenting of Black children in general it seems as if the focus of the conversation often becomes the plight of the single mother and bemoaning the absence of fathers. While the Black community is varied in its composition, the issue of female headed households and noncustodial dads is a real one.
The percentage of children residing in a single parent household in the U.S. was 34% in 2009. In the state of Maryland it was 34% as well. However, when you disaggregate by race, there are 67% of Black children, in the U.S., residing in single family homes. In the state of Maryland 59% of Black children are living in a single family home (Kids Count, 2011). National data informs us that almost 50% of Black children living in single family households reside with their mother, while less than 4% of Black children reside with their fathers. There are a variety of variables that impact who a child lives with and how the parents and other adults help to support the child’s overall development.
This article is focusing on mothers and fathers who are no longer in a relationship with each other, but share a child. How do people continue to work together in the best interest of the child they created? How do you navigate blended families? How do you set aside personal disappointments and keep the child at the focus of the relationship? These may not be easy questions to answer based on our personal circumstances. However, our vision must be what is best for the child we created together. How can we put our son or daughter first and provide the best possible upbringing?
It is not easy and I am not suggesting otherwise, but it is something we have to do. It is important that we promote father involve with schools and in children’s school-based lives. Children are less likely to repeat a grade, be suspended, or expelled if their nonresident fathers are involved in schools. Children are also more likely to earn A’s, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities,
Father involvement with schools can make a difference for the better (Nord, 1998).
How do we do that? The mother’s relationship with the father influences his involvement with the child’s school based life. Fathers who are romantically involved with the mother of their child are more likely to be involved in their child’s school-based lives. So, what happens when parents are no longer together? The noncustodial fathers’ involvement in school-related activities is influenced by the child’s grade level, the household income, mother’s level of education, and the child support payment history (Nord, Brimhall, & West, 1997). In this instance, school-based involvement is defined as attending (a) a general school meeting, (b) attending a parent-teacher conference, (c) attending a school or class event, or (d) serving as a volunteer. So, if mom is the primary caregiver, how does dad find out about these events so he can attend, if possible?
Communication geared toward the child’s welfare needs to be a focus. Schools tend to communicate with the parent who registers the child for school and to send information to the contact address or phone number that is provided. So, if there are no legal reasons to prevent it, the contact information of the noncustodial parent should be provided as well. As the custodial parent we should also communicate ourselves with the noncustodial parent around issues that support the child we have together. Remember, children tend to have better outcomes when their noncustodial fathers are involved.
Be realistic as each of you works to support your child. While money is important in being able to provide for a child it is not everything.
A child needs parents who are physically present and active in his or her life. Encourage the noncustodial parent to attend school functions, spend quality time reading, go to community events, or any other activity that expands a child’s horizon’s and opportunities for learning.
Be together apart. Remember that each of you is responsible for the upbringing of a well adjusted and healthy child who feels capable and confident to step out into the world and give his or her best. Ideally, we need two loving parents for this to happen. Each parent contributes something unique to the child’s
life and developing perspective.
Be cautiously honestabout what you say about the other parent and why the two of you are no longer
together. Remember that the child is a blend of both of you. It is hurtful to attack the other person or to tell a child that she or he is just like their “no good father”. Words have power. When talking with your friends and /or family members make sure the child cannot hear you and whatever your comments are, especially if you are angry at something the father did or did not do.
Be optimistic; parenting is one of the most challenging things a person can do. There are moments of doubt, confusion, worry, etc. throughout the parenting process whether we are single parents or cohabiting parents. By keeping our focus on the long-term goal of rearing a child who is well-adjusted and able to become a productive member of society we can make it through the hard times. How can we focus on the good as it relates to our child and his or her father? “What is the impact on
the child?” should always be the guiding question as we consider what to do or not to do.
Be consistent in your actions. Most children do well when there are consistent routines in their life. Mean what you say and say what you mean as you talk with your child and his or her father. If something happens and the routine needs to be changed, share that information with the child. Do not allow a child to wonder what she or he did wrong or why daddy doesn’t love me. Something seemingly inconsequential can have long-term negative consequences for a child.
Strive for accountability. Things do happen in life, but for the most part we need to commit to being involved in our child’s life and show up when we say we are and be on time and engage with our child. Reflect back on your own childhood, what are the fondest memories you have of your own father? If he was not a part of your life, how did that make you feel? How does it still make you feel? Did you promise yourself that you would always be there for your child? Are you keeping that promise?
Remember, it is all about the child. Fathers and mothers each have a critical role to play in the lives of their children. This is a reminder to do your part. We need to facilitate all fathers’ being a connected and integral part of their children’s lives.