Forensic Scholars Today
It is often a misinterpretation that fathers abandon their children, instead, it may be more accurate to state that the fathers abandon the relationship with the mothers —most fathers still love, support, and want what’s best for their children. Over the past twenty years, there has been an increase in resources and programs focusing on fathers’ engagement and involvement (Jessee & Adamsons, 2018; Palkovitz, 2019). Although this is a positive step, nonetheless, many dads are still not in their children’s homes. This reality leaves mothers emotionally drained with raising sons, causing them to occupy the unique role of being a nurturing caretaker for their children. Single female-headed households are nothing new many mothers succeed in raising healthy, productive young men (Ebbert, Infurna, & Luthar, 2019).
Mothers’ parenting efforts include tasks such as proactively reminding their sons to combat the daily mental challenges of stigmatization, low expectations, alienation, and societal discrimination. For many single mothers, their daily affirmation before sending their boys or young men to school is to remind them, “you’re just as good as anyone else”, “be smart”, and “I love you.” But what happens when that is not enough, and school seems to be more of an obstacle than an ally? This can alienate the student, preventing them from “feeling normal,” which causes further symptoms of stress, anger, anxiety, and depression. When such a situation as this occurs, how can a mother act as both an advocate and staunch supporter of a son who is not thriving in their academic environment? The following strategies are suggested by a mother of four African American sons.
As a graduate social work student, and mother of four sons, trying to balance school, work, and motherhood, life can be very challenging at times— even more so for mothers of African American children. Raising African American sons is, in itself, mentally strenuous and grueling. At a very early age- they need to be prepared for a society that will judge and potentially criminalize them based on their gender, skin tone, physical traits, appearance, and address. So, as a parent myself, I had to train my boys at an early age to be mindful of their actions when interacting with the police, attending school, and while out in public. Every morning, I would prep my sons on how to behave and interact outside of our home to prevent them from becoming targets. Unfortunately, one of my sons was assaulted at his school by a group of peers and was, therefore, arrested. He was sent to a Juvenile Detention Center, placed on house arrest monitoring, and simultaneously expelled from school, even though there was video footage that showed him getting assaulted by multiple students. Before this incident happened, my son had never had any behavioral infractions at this school. He was a straight-A student, receiving awards every year for his academic achievements. Still, they labeled him as a gang member for being associated with this one particular incident. As a parent, I felt both shock and disappointment that my son was being treated like a criminal while being the victim.
In my opinion, no faculty member within my son’s school or even our local police department considered any of the following: 1) my son’s behavioral history, 2) his academic accomplishments, or 3) the video evidence that showed him trying to defuse the situation, and getaway. I am hoping to become a future social worker one day, but I am a mother before anything else. As a mother, I had to vehemently advocate for my son’s behalf to ensure that he would not become just another statistic lost to the justice system. Through my diligent efforts, I was able to get all charges dropped and my son’s expulsion overturned. To other mothers of African American children, I would suggest that when approaching your child’s school to do the following: 1) know the school’s policy, 2) build a rapport with your child’s teachers and school administrators, 3) become transparent with the school, 4) attend school board meetings and get involved, 5) utilize available resources within your community for support, and 6) never be afraid to advocate for your child. No matter how many denials, disappointments, or setbacks you receive, never stop fighting for your child.
2020, Vol. 5, Issue 4
Dr. Joshua Kirven is an associate professor in the Department of Social Work at Winthrop University and a part-time instructor at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC. He has over twenty years of experience as both a research and an educator-practitioner. Joshua’s research areas are fatherhood engagement and impact, neighborhood adversity and safety, prosocial youth development, and the influence of sports culture on behavioral health and academic achievement. He has an array of practice experience with solution-oriented, evidence-based interventions, and macro programming across communities and public-private sectors in the area of socially conscious capitalism. He is a Fulbright Scholar and a graduate of Hampton University, University of South Carolina, and The Ohio State University, respectively.
Ms. Shawanda L. Erby is a Winthrop University MSW graduate student, community advocate, and mother of 4 sons. She has a passion for community engagement activism, capacity-building, and working with youth. She is the Founder/President of the Sisters United As One initiative. An empowerment enrichment mentoring program, delivering leadership development, self-esteem building, academic support, community service learning, career development, healthy relationships, and Sisterhood for young girls ages 10-18 in York County, SC.
Ebbert, A. M., Infurna, F. J., & Luthar, S. S. (2019). Mapping developmental changes in perceived parent–adolescent relationship quality throughout middle school and high school. Development and psychopathology, 31(4), 1541-1556.
Jessee, V., & Adamsons, K. (2018). Father involvement and father–child relationship quality: An intergenerational perspective. Parenting, 18(1), 28-44.
Palkovitz, R. (2019). Expanding Our Focus from Father Involvement to Father–Child Relationship Quality. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 11(4), 576-591.
2020, Vol. 5, Issue 4