I am taking part in a phenomenal campaign today, No Wedding No Womb (NWNW) where over 100 Bloggers are collectively, and in tandem, writing posts addressing the pandemic of out-of-wedlock births in the African American Community. The purpose is not to chastise those who have had children out-of -wedlock, but to acknowledge the problem and focus on breaking the cycle. In 2010, approximately 70% percent of black children are born out of wedlock. That statistic is startling. Below is my contribution to this effort started by author Christelyn Karazin’s pro-marriage initiative.
This post will be made available on my other Blog homes: Bellyitchblog.com and Politics of Raising Children and RightofBlack.com so that the readers of each of those blog communities can hear the message and share it with others in hopes that the cycle is eventually broken and these sad statistics are reversed.
This past weekend, my husband and I were chauffeuring my children and niece about to weekend activities and the kids were in the back seats chatting. At some point, my 6- year old niece announced that she was going to be a mommy when she grew up. Just then my 8-year old spoke up and said, “no, you’re going to get married first and then you and your husband are going to have a baby.” My husband and I looked at each other, shocked, but still pleasantly surprised and proud of the maturity of our son’s statement.
But then, that is his reality and that is all he knows.
For others, who have grown up in fatherless households, that is not necessary the reality of their home and of their friends and others in their community.
My son’s response is juxtaposed with another encounter I had with a young girl years earlier when I was in college. I was waiting for a bus to collect me and take me to campus one afternoon. Waiting in the same bus terminal was a couple of young black teenage girls. I vividly recall hearing one girl say to the other, “yeah, so he wants me to have his baby” and the other girl replying, “really, wow! That’s great!”
Wow. I was stunned. Speechless. Disappointed. Saddened. Troubled. Dismayed. Distraught. — that she was honestly considering purposefully getting pregnant in her teenage years for a boy or man who I assumed she was not married to at the time.
I wish I was brave enough back then to butt in and say something. It would have been a risk, of course, because even back then, interjecting yourself unsolicited into another person’s private conversation was the type of thing that could get you cursed out. Still, though I was not a mother back then, I was an older sister to my younger siblings and I knew that someone needed to tell that girl that she deserved so much better.
I think it was that moment back in the mid-1990s that I realized what one of the primary causes was for planned teenage pregnancy: young girls’ lack of self esteem. I can understand unplanned pregnancies, but planned ones at such an early age just blew away my mind. I was so taken aback at the idea that a child- and that is what you are when you are an impressionable immature teenager-would consider 1. putting her body through 40 weeks of stressful changes; 2. sacrificing her youth; and 3. doing something so life altering.
If she valued her body, her future, her life, she wouldn’t even entertain the idea. It was beyond my comprehension.
It was certainly not a concept that would even float across my psyche at any time at such a young age.
I grew up with African immigrant parents who used to tell me and my younger sisters “your books are your boyfriend” and would warn us if we get pregnant for certain we could expect the father of our baby to abandon us for the next pretty girl who is thin and not with child. We would be the one left to care for the child alone. We took their words seriously But we grew up in a two-parent household and did not have to suffer the effects of father abandonment as is the case with many low income single family African American households.
Somewhere along the way, girls stopped believing that they could be bigger than the circumstances they came from and there was another way to live.
Self-esteem is one of those things that takes a lot of time to build. Women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond suffer through minimal self esteem and its effects. I believe, however, that young teenagers who are so impressionable and moldable by society, peers, the media, movies, songs and pop culture, are even more vulnerable. Indeed, there is concern and criticism today over all of the teenage pregnancy shows out there like MTVs “Teen Mom” and ABC Family’s drama, “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” that they glorify teenage pregnancy.
Is there a solution? I know that most people can relate to music. It is universal and as I racked my brain for an analogy, theme or story to help me encapsulate what the solution could be, I thought of John Mayer’s song, “Daughters.”
For all the heat and criticism that John Mayer endured after he made racial and sexist comments in a Playboy article, it is still hard to deny the genius of his songwriting skills. “Daugthers” is one of my all time favorite songs. The chorus to this song is so powerful: “Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters would live like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so Mothers be good to your daughters soon.” Such simple but prolific lyrics, don’t you think?
To me, that song relays that the solution to the lack of self-esteem among girls is for fathers to show them how to expect a man to treat them. The only way for the fathers to do that is to treat the women in their lives with the utmost respect. Their daughters are watching and learning. If her dad makes the mistake of abusing his relationships with the women in his life, his daughter learns that is how she can expect to be treated by the men in her life as she grows. In another verse, Mayer, who realizes in the song that the “issues” with his girl has nothing to do with him, warns:
“ Oh, you see that skin?
It’s the same she’s been standing in.
Since the day she saw him walking away.
Now she’s left, cleaning up the mess he mad.”
This song speaks to all of the daddy issues that so many women seem to have. But those that are caused by abandonment don’t have to be that way and indeed this is a call to all fathers out there to step up and help raise their girls properly because girls look up to their dads from very early in their lives. Mayer represents the good guys who want to treat the daughters well if they would let them. Unfortunately, so many girls these days prefer the bad guy who will damage them to a point where they would not know how to have or get into a healthy relationship. But there is a way to avoid it. Mayer sings,
“On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the God and the Weight of her world
So, the sooner fathers realize their presence would do wonders to erase the possibility that their daughter would wind up in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy situation in her teens, the better.
Similarly, mothers who put up with so much crap from the men their lives teach their daughters the boundaries of what to accept from men when they grow older as well.
The key to breaking the cycle of out-of-wedlock birth among black families start with every single mother and father who has a daughter. Also because it DOES take a village, the grandmothers, aunts, Godmothers, Godfathers, cousins, uncles and other adults helping to raise our children must do their part from today onwards to instill in the daughters that their bodies are temples and that no boy or man is worth destroying their lives and their futures.
Our daughters are so worth it. All of our daughters (irrespective of skin color) deserve better. Don’t you think?
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt can be heard nightly at 8pm on DCRadio/WHUR 96.3HD4 on "Coming to America with Wayna and Friends. She is an editor at Techyaya.com, founder of the Digital Publiching Academy and JayJayGhatt.com where she teaches online creators how to navigate digital entrepreneurship and offers Do-It-For-You Blogging Service. She manages her lifestyle sites BellyitchBlog, Jenebaspeaks and JJBraids.com and is the founder of BlackWomenTech.com 200 Black Women in Tech On Twitter. Her biz podcast 10 Minute Podcast is available on iTunes and Player.fm. Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks. Buy her templates over at her legal and business templates on Etsy shop!