Sat | Feb 17, 2018

As a man: Fewer single mothers than we think

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke

There are far fewer single mothers in this country than it appears.

Of course, a single mother is itself a contradiction. There is still a requirement that sperm and egg meet - inside a woman - for a new human life to be created. So every child has a father somewhere. Whether or not that father is a constant, supportive, or present in the child's life is another matter, which leads to how I define a single mother.

A singe mother is a woman who raises a child entirely on her own from birth to adulthood with no input, financial or otherwise, from a man to whom she is not a blood relative.

By my definition (admittedly strict) there are very few single mothers in this country, despite claims and anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Yes, there are many women who, at a given time, are currently not in a sexual relationship with the man or men with whom they have come together (hopefully, even once) to create an offspring. But, in my experience, it is extremely rare that the man is not ever involved in his child's life.

It may not be consistent, or in the way and at the level at which the woman wants or is in the child's best interest, but that does not a single mother make. That makes a woman who has a child who needs more of his or her father's involvement in their life.

Or, to be more accurate in the Jamaican context, an increase in a father's involvement. For there is a character named the stepfather, who is a staple of the Jamaican society. The relationship is rarely formalised, with the child or children taking on the man's last name (they may call him 'Uncle'), but when a woman who already has a child or children gets involved with another man, it is automatic that he contributes to the young ones' upbringing.

A woman may have one or a series of these relationships while her children are growing up, so there are multiple 'Uncles', but from what I have observed, it is a very rare woman who will 'lock shop' when the relationship between herself and her children's biological father part company.

Then there are those women who are single mothers by my definition. I am sure I have met one - I just can't remember her.

However, the myth of the Jamaican solitary mother, soldiering on with her little ones all alone, is consistent, supported by a slew of popular songs praising Mama for carrying on with no father around. I believe it is a continuation of the marginalisation of the Jamaican male, diminishing his role in that most basic of human functions - parenting.

It also helps the women who like to present an image of having gone it all alone and come out successful. I instinctively distrust women who do this. Mother, yes. Single? Very, very rare.