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ManDay! Chris Rock to Single Moms: Stop Driving A Car With Your Feet

I admit, Chris Rock is one of my favorite comedians. In one of his ROFL performances he talks candidly (how else would he do?) about parenting and women who think it is just fine to raise their children without the father. Here is the cleaned up version of his comments, to the best of my ability: “A bunch of girls think that you don’t need a man to raise no child. Shut up! (expletive expletive) …Yeah, you can do it without a man, but it don’t mean it’s to be done. You can drive a car with your feet if you want to, it don’t mean it’s a good (expletive) idea!”

I couldn’t agree more. Not everything that can be done, should be done. Here’s a better idea: For us to end the cycle of poor health, poverty,  under achievement in schools and irreparable emotional scars on our young boys and girls,  we need to end the dangerous narrative in our community that we don’t need our men and that our children will be just fine without their fathers. This is a lie.

Men are critically important to infant health and childhood development.  Women need the support of their male partner to give their babies the optimal nutrition from birth–breast milk. Children need their fathers from infancy, point blank.

But let’s face it from the baby showers to so-called family supportive posters with no dad to be found, men often get pushed out of the picture.  Add to this an “I got this” mentality among black women and a dangerous thinking in our community that glorifies the single moms that do it all without a father and you’ve got the makings of a serious problem–one that can impact the health outcomes for black infants.

A while ago, I (jokingly) wrote that I feared Essence magazine might cancel my subscription or ban me from the office building (I’m a former senior editor) for saying something that may sound harsh on black women but needed to be said. It was this (no joking): Black women may be unknowingly contributing to the breakdown of the black family by continuing a cultural legacy of acting like we don’t need our men.  Saying, “forget him” or that we will be just fine. This is dangerous thinking on our part (read my full post here). Yes there was a time during slavery when we couldn’t count on our men as caregivers and providers because they could be taken away from the family at any given time.  Later many of our men went North for work and women had to run the family on their own. But those days are over. But ideas that our men are unreliable and unnecessary linger like a painful scar–and our children pay the price.

Last week I was in San Antonio at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation‘s First Food Forum, an annual gathering of breastfeeding-related grantees. I had the pleasure of moderating a dynamic panel discussion on the role of male caregivers with some amazing men involved with male engagement in various ways. Here’s what I learned:

We have to stop assuming absent or distant dad’s just don’t care and allow that feelings of inadequacy (men are told to provide and protect.  If he can’t do that he may feel be has nothing to offer and just stay away), his own fears or perhaps the mothers attitude may also play a part.

A few weeks ago, I attended the screening of a documentary called Spit’in Anger, produced by the non-profit, Father’s Incorporated. The powerful film chronicles the impact of absent or distant fathers on the lives of several men of different ages. The story included the journey of Kenneth Braswell himself, the founder and executive director of Fathers Incorporated, who has spent over 23 years advocating for fathers and creating father support programs but never dealt with the impact of his own absent father .  Too many black men have grown up without present fathers and have never had a safe space to express that pain –many men at the screening opened up that night (read Kenneth’s recent letter to LeBron James). It was a powerful evening. But it became very clear to me that when it comes to fatherhood, men can be what they didn’t see.  And, more to the point, “Hurt people hurt people.”

So we need to create space for understanding black men beyond “he ain’t isht” judgments and valuing their contribution only in dollar amounts.

We have to stop saying our men “don’t care” when that is our assessment not their actual words. When I work with young moms and they say the father “doesn’t care” I always ask ‘what makes you feel that way?’  A  young mother of a two-month old in Milwaukee told me, the father showed up at the birth and that was it.  I shared that showing up at the birth sounds like someone who cares to me. After we talked she realized that after he showed up at the hospital nobody in her family spoke to him. Some members were very rude and that he might have felt pushed away.

And my good friend Kuroji Patrick, a devoted father of five and a powerful advocate for male caregivers particularly as it relates to breastfeeding support, always talks about being ignored or not addressed by doctors and nurses while actually standing next to his wife. By and large negative stereotypes about our black men affect doctors, nurses, lactation consultants and other healthcare professionals.  This has to stop.

As women we have to stop confusing our relationship with the father with the child’s relationship with the father.  Those are two separate things.  As a divorced mother, I learned this lesson myself. One has nothing to do with the other.  Neither does child support.  Whether or not my ex-husband had given me a dime has never come in between my children spending time with their father.  My children being with their dad is priceless to them (and me) and I could never equate that to money or material things.

We need a new way of being and a new mantra for the sake of our babies. It goes like this: We need our men. We need our men.  Our children need their fathers.  Breastfeeding mothers need their men.

And until we have tried everything, put aside our baggage, asked ourselves the tough questions, let go of our judgment, and opened up every opportunity for our child’s father to be in that child’s life–that we are not driving cars with our feet anymore.

In motherhood,

Kimberly Seals Allers

 

Kimberly is a Food and Community Fellow with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation increasing awareness of the first food–breast milk.  
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What Black Churches Can Learn from the Pope

I hope I don’t get banned from the next TD Jakes movie for saying this but I think black churches can learn a thing or two from the Pope. Not in a theological ideology kind of way, but a few weeks ago Pope Francis did something extremely powerful for the health of all infants in […]

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Dear White Women: Top 5 Reasons Why We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week

The news had not been posted for two hours before the brouhaha began on Facebook. Yesterday, myself and two of my comrades in the movement to shift breastfeeding culture in the black community, officially announced August 25-31st—the last week of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month—as Black Breastfeeding Week. About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece […]

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Nationally Recognized Advocates Launch First Annual Black Breastfeeding Week, August 25-31, 2013

  Nationally Recognized Advocates Launch First Annual Black Breastfeeding Week, August 25-31, 2013  NEW YORK— August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and a group of nationally recognized breastfeeding advocates have declared August 25- 31, 2013 as Black Breastfeeding Week, marking the inaugural celebration of black life with a community forum in Detroit, a live interactive webinar via […]

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Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes

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Why Trayvon Martin Has Everything To Do With Black Women’s Birth Outcomes

 

By Kimberly Seals Allers 

For years I’ve been talking about all the research that shows that stress is a key cause of the ongoing poor birth outcomes of black women. Often, I get pushback and confusion. But the truth is, black women, regardless of socio-economic status, are still twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby, three times more likely to die during childbirth, and twice as likely to have a pre-term baby.

 

The fact that more African American babies are born too small, too sick or too soon is a key factor in our three times higher infant mortality rate–and my key motivation for getting in to breastfeeding advocacy work. These infants are the ones who need the nutritive and immunological benefits only found in breast milk the most–for them, it can literally mean their survival.

 

I have also received more than my fair share of *side eye* glances from people who ask me why black mothers need their own parenting destination, like the Mocha Manual I am often questioned as to how black mothers’ parenting experience is any different than a white mothers’ experience. 

 

To respond to Side eye point A regarding birth outcomes, I usually point to groundbreaking research, like that of Dr. Michael Lu on the life course perspective on birth outcomes. Watch the video above on how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes or Dr. Fleda Jackson’s many pieces of research at Emory University and for the Joint Center for Poltiical and Economic Studies

 

I share how Scientists know that stress on the mother causes her to produce stress hormones, which can adversely effect the development of a fetus’ hippocampus and amygdale, two areas of the brain associated both with the fight-or-flight response, memory formation and anxiety. And that prolonged stress in the mother decreases the sensitivity of those two areas of the brain to mediate its own stress response, which has been linked to, among other things, ADHD. Still, so many people don’t really get it. 

 

So I often share my personal story of how when I was first pregnant, I prayed to God for a girl–literally–because I was afraid that I was not capable of successfully raising a black male child in this society. I feared raising a black male child in this society. And that fear was a constant source of stress. That stress was probably rooted in growing up watching my own mother fear for the safety of my younger brother. I remember her constantly warning him to not wear baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts because police (especially in New York City) stereotype young black men with that type of clothing and often shoot first and ask questions later. 

 

I remember her sitting by the window or pacing the living room on nights when my brother was not home by curfew. 

I remember both my parents giving my brother the “talk”–not the sex talk–but the life-saving one on how to respond when you are inevitably stopped by the police for no reason but for DWB (driving while black).

And let me just say, that I grew up in a middle class section of Queens, in a private home, with two cars, and a mother who was at home until I was in middle school. 

Even still, these were her fears. And she knew that neither money nor education–my brother attended Hofstra University–would not protect him nor assuage her. 

 So somehow my mother’s fears became my fears. God answered my prayers and gave me a girl as my first child, but my son came four years later. 

 

And so like many mothers, and likely every Black mother, especially those with a young black male in their care, I shed tears last week over the verdict in the case over Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary death. 

 

 I cried because I know the world is full of George Zimmerman’s–people who assume our young men are “assholes” and up to no good even when they themselves have no good reason to think that. And that in a jury of so-called peers, my innocent yet dead child would be referred to as “that boy”–unworthy of being called by his name. The real possibility that a George Zimmerman could come in contact with my son, and possibly brutally end his life, continues to stress me. And haunt me. 

 

And so I hope that in the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, there lies proof of exactly the kind of unique stressors black mothers contend with. I hope the people who have questioned how stress could be connected with pre-term labor or low birth weight babies or challenged me as to why black mothers face issues so unique that they are deserving of their own online community, can see exactly what researchers mean.  These are not the worries you can Calgon-bath or Yankee-candle away. 

 

And I sincerely pray that both of these issues, questions and challenges can be silenced, once and for all, and forever laid to rest in peace right alongside Trayvon Martin’s 17-year old, bullet-shattered body.

 

In motherhood,

Kimberly  

 

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Life-saving Questions Most Doctors Fail to Ask Black Mothers:

#FirstFoodFridays Physicians Matter: The life-saving question most doctors fail to ask black mothers. By Tangela Boyd, MA, IBCLC When black women go to the doctor’s office for prenatal checkups during pregnancy, are they being asked about breastfeeding? When discussing this with many moms, I sadly must say I discovered that the majority are not. I […]

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PLANNED PARENTHOOD URGES WOMEN UNDER 40 TO TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR BREAST HEALTH

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading women’s health care provider and advocate, is encouraging women under 40 to take control of their breast health during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “Early detection saves lives,” said Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Women under 40 too often aren’t aware of […]

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FIVE TIPS TO PREVENT BACKPACK PAIN

Parents should watch for warning signs that your child’s backpack is too heavy…

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PLEASE DO NOT CALL ME ABOUT 3 CENT ERASERS…

Before we can even get them out of school in June, the TV becomes full of ads featuring cheery kids in bright plaid outfits and cutesy hats who are singing and dancing around to upbeat music as they board a yellow school bus.

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Safely Share the Road with School Buses

In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation states that children are safer riding the bus to and from school than being driven in a car by an adult.

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