A friend once described the single parent as the one who chose to stay when the other walked way. Well, that is one way to look at it. But the lenses through which single motherhood in this country is viewed are often thick with judgement. Morals often come into question.
Sample the Facebook post below, uploaded a few months ago. It brought to the surface what we have known all along: that single motherhood is seen as synonymous with immorality, at least, according to most Kenyans.
“It is interesting how society and self-entitled people condemn single mothers without understanding their circumstances. Very interesting because majority of the 'girls' you praise from time to time, the ones busy swinging around like Halle Berry or Naomi Campbell on the red carpet, those ones who fear pregnancy more than HIV, the ones who pop P2 like groundnuts chewed as a miraa mixer. They are the same ones visiting reproductive health institutions day in, day out, whether legit or not to terminate pregnancies (just so they can remain girls) of men they barely know. Men they had one night stands with or who they met at the club (and who lied to them that they own half of Nairobi). It takes a strong woman to bear children, it takes a bold and stronger woman to raise them singlehandedly and you are all throwing shade yet you do not have the slightest clue of circumstances that led to them being a single mother…"
What followed was a frenzy. Fireworks. Moralists came in droves, guns blazing. Men blamed women for being single and with children. Women, on the other hand, wore those punching gloves. Arguments and counter-arguments tore apart what was supposed to be a logical discussion.
But from the comments, one constant thing stood out. The society and the church shun single motherhood as the mark of sexual immorality in the society. What is perplexing is that these women bear children with some of the men that the society and the church so much adores, yet the woman remains a victim of stigmatisation in pulpits and in families. Reason, according to the society, her child acts as proof of her ‘immoral ways’, while the man walks away scot-free. This raises many ethical questions to whoever sets the moral yardstick in the society.
DOES NOT HELP THE SITUATION
Arguing that single mothers should have known better and used birth control does not help the situation either. The society knows that the ease of access to birth control for teenagers and young women may prevent them from becoming single mothers. But does this not water down the same moral values that the society purports to promote when they shun single mothers? To the contrary, ease of access to contraception for uninformed young people has fueled immorality and further, the spread of HIV.
It is time the society and the church recognised the noble job that single mothers — whether out of choice or not — play in raising children and supporting them. It is high time the society and the church understood where single mothers are coming from. In many churches today, single mothers are shunned, vilified and ‘put’ somewhere in a corner. The stigma is so high that even seeking to have their children baptised becomes more of a struggle in some churches.
Many churches today still view children born of single mothers as illegitimate. Such women are usually reprimanded by the clergy when they seek to have their children baptised. In some churches, single mothers are often referred to when the issue of morality arises during summons. Such uninformed judgements tend to scare away young single mothers from participating in the church. More damage is done when young single mothers are put together in ministries with mature women, old enough to be their mothers and grandmothers; yet they have differing needs and perspectives on life.
People sin in different ways. Yet, the society places a measure of morality on young women as not having a child out of wedlock. This pressure pushes most of them to over-the-counter contraceptives, and back-street abortions so that they can remain morally correct in the eyes of the church and the society.
Recently, social scientists, including psychologists, have jumped into the debate on single motherhood. They are raising fingers against what they term as a ‘dysfunctional family’ as without a father, so they say, children are having negative emotional and mental effects that make them not turn out well in life. We know that a majority of single mothers are struggling to parent by themselves, to put ugali on the table; but again, some of their homes are running far much better than the ordinary man and wife-led households.
It is time the society shed such labels as “children born in dysfunctional families”. It is such labels that harm children. There are other modern ways of parenting and co-parenting that the society should embrace. A man and woman may not necessarily live together, but they can actively parent together. It is all about the child.
It is time we changed the yardstick. It is time we embraced and supported the warriors that are single mothers. It is time the church and the society went slow on this discrimination towards single mothers as it is pushing most teenage girls and young women into more sin. Not unless we get there, our girls will not be safe from risky abortions, and they will continue to fear pregnancy more than HIV.
Whoever sets the moral yardstick, let us rethink it on single motherhood. Over to you moralists…
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