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Single Afro-American Mothers’ Experience: Theories

Theories Commonly Applied in this Study

Single African American mothers’ experience of relationships with sons is always unique. In this qualitative investigation, the focus is to investigate the experience of these single African American females of being mothers to their adolescent sons. According to Williams and Smalls (2015), single women find it challenging to mother their adolescent sons because of different reasons. Some of them have an inherent fear that their sons may turn to drug abuse or other criminal acts that may send them to prison.

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Snyder (2016) says that parenting adolescent sons poses serious challenges to single mothers because it reaches a stage when a son needs a father figure to know how they need to behave like young men. Both son and mother go through a different set of challenging experiences in such an environment. The study will narrow down to the experiences of African American mothers. To enhance an understanding of the experiences and challenges that they go through, the researcher has identified three theories that will be used extensively in the study.

Bowen’s family systems theory will help in explaining the relationship between African American mothers and their sons, the satisfactions they get, the decisions they always make, and how they try to cope with stress. The Black psychology theory will be instrumental in highlighting the specific challenges unique to African American mothers because of the historical injustices related to their race. Bernard Weiner’s attribution theory will be useful in explaining the actions of single mothers as they struggle to raise their sons.

Research Problem

A recent study by Leech (2016) demonstrates that the rate of divorce in the United States is increasing at an alarming rate. The study shows that about 45% of marriages in the country end up in divorce. On average, it takes about eight years before the dissolution of a marriage, about which time a couple may have two or three children (Maynard, Salas-Wright, & Vaughn, 2015). In most cases, the minors would stay with their mothers, although cases, where custody of children is given to a father, are common.

The number of single mothers is increased by cases where young girls have their children before marriage with men who are unwilling or financially incapable of settling down with them. In an ideal situation, both parents will always play critical roles in the lives of their children even after separation. However, that is not always the case. Some men disappear and never play any significant role in the lives of their children. Others may be physically available but unwilling to help in the parenting of their sons and daughters.

African American women face unique when they have to take care of their adolescent sons without the direct support of a male partner. Williams, Ryan, Davis-Kean, McLoyd, and Schulenberg (2017) observe that most of them have to work to earn a living for their families. They spend most of their time away from home, making it difficult to develop a strong bond that would enable them to understand the unique challenges that their adolescent sons could be going through at different stages of development.

Although they have the inherent fear of a possibility of their sons getting into the wrong companies or engaging in unlawful acts such as drug use, Snyder (2016) argues that most of them do not know how to face the problem. They hope that teachers will be proper guides to their children, especially teenagers who face numerous psychological challenges. Slonim (2014) notes that many mothers avoid topics such as sexuality with their teenage sons because of the socio-cultural upbringing where such topics would only be discussed between a father and a son.

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Juvenile delinquency in the United States has dropped by about 50% over the last decade, according to a report by Weinrath, Donatelli, and Murchison (2016). However, it is worrying that African American juveniles are more likely to be arrested because of actions such as drug handling, vandalism, trespassing, theft, burglary, and shoplifting, among other crimes. Cohn (2016) shows that single-parented African American adolescents are more likely to be involved in illegal activities than their peers raised by both parents.

Single mothers often feel frustrated when they have to be the breadwinners of their family while at the same time struggle with monitoring the habits of their children. Most of them succeed in providing for their families but underperform in their parenting duties. The paper will discuss the experience that these mothers go through and what can be done to address their challenges.

Theories Commonly Applied to Research in General Psychology

It is important to look at theories relevant to the topic under investigation. The following theories will be critical in understanding the experience of African American single mothers struggling with parenting their adolescent sons.

Black Psychology Theory

Black psychology is a theory that focuses on various elements of human nature, and more specifically, on the experiences and behavioral patterns of African Americans (Groh, Fearon, Jzendoorn, Bakermans‐Kranenburg, & Roisman, 2017). The theory is grounded on the perceptions, principles, and traditions of the Blacks, especially those living in the United States. According to Peleg, Vilchinsky, Fisher, Khaskia, and Mosseri (2017), some traditional western psychologists argued that Africans and inferior to whites, and traditionally they had been treated as such in the United States and various parts of the world.

However, black psychology theory challenges the western dualism that legitimizes the societal perception that all whites as civilized hence deserve the best. The theory analyzes the behavior, beliefs, interactions, attitudes, and feelings of African Americans. It stemmed from works of early black psychologists such as Herman Canady, Mamie Phipps Clark, and Kenneth Clark (Cooper & Norcross, 2016). These scholars argued that African Americans were not in any way mentally inferior to any other race in the United States. However, the systems and structures in the country made it impossible for them to achieve socio-economic and political success. Society had developed a perception that the inferiority associated with their skin color also reflected their mental capacity.

Black psychology theory contends that African Americans have socio-cultural practices unique and distinct from that of whites of Hispanics. Their worldview includes communal centeredness. Slonim (2014) says that this is one unique practice that is common among African Americans and Africans living in Africa. They attach a lot of significance to the community and the need to act as a unit. An individual is viewed as a member of a larger community, and his actions are influenced by and affect other members of the community. It means that they cannot make an arbitrary decision before considering the possible reaction of the entire community.

The culture also emphasizes the role of men and women in society. Wu, Appleman, Salazar, and Ong (2015) argue that the long period of interaction between African Americans and whites has led to a weakening of some of these cultural practices and beliefs. However, some roles are still viewed distinctively based on one’s gender. For instance, mothers are expected to talk to their daughters about sexuality, and so are fathers to their sons. Issues such as menstrual cycle, relationship with boys, and other psychosocial problems that affect girls should always be addressed by mothers. On the other hand, fathers are expected to help their sons overcome the challenges they face in their adolescent lives to grow up to become responsible men.

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Reversing the roles of parents becomes a serious challenge in most African American families. Johnsen and Friborg (2015) note that African Americans are liberated, and many have embraced significant aspects of western culture. Unlike in the past, when women were not expected to be the breadwinners, modern African American mothers are in gainful employment. That is a major milestone that has been achieved.

It is also common to find single African American mothers raising their children without any support from their family members. However, Williams and Smalls (2015) observe that single mothers’ biggest challenges are parenting their adolescent sons. People tend to be very experimental, rebellious, and quick to act on impulses at this stage of development. A mother can easily talk to her daughter about her own experiences on sexuality, relationships, career, and other relevant factors. However, that may not be the same case when parenting a son.

Many mothers still find it awkward talking to their sons about sex because their culture forbids it, as explained in the black psychology theory. Moreover, their experiences cannot fit into the challenges that their sons are going through. They cannot have a perfect understanding of their sons’ needs, aspirations, fears in life, and other physiological desires (Ehde, Dillworth, & Turner, 2014).

Given that these children grow-up in the same society, they also learn that there are topics that they cannot discuss with their mothers. It means that even if the mother may be willing to overcome the cultural barriers to help their sons, these teenagers may not be ready to engage in such topics with their mother. It can be a very frustrating experience for these parents who may know what is good for their son but lack the avenue to convey the message to them in the best way possible.

Family Systems Theory

Bowen’s family systems theory focuses on analyzing the emotional interconnectedness of family members, roles played by each member, and the boundaries that must be observed to enhance a positive relationship (Hirsch, Dierkhising, & Herz, 2018). The theory holds that there is emotional interconnectedness among family members that makes it necessary for them to maintain a relationship that makes it easy for them to cooperate.

The emotional instability of one member of the family can easily affect other members of the family if it is not properly managed. When a parent comes home frustrated with the day’s work, the attitude, actions, and reactions to issues within the family will have a direct bearing on other family members. As such, Bowen argues that there is always the tendency of family members to help one another to overcome these psychological challenges to have a healthy family environment. By helping a family member to restore emotional stability, other members of the family will also be helping themselves in creating a happy atmosphere at home.

Single African American mothers face a unique challenge in parenting their sons. Given that in such a family unit, they are the only adults, they will have to know how to understand and manage the emotional problems of their sons. Snyder (2016) argues that it may not be easy for a single mother to understand the emotional needs of their adolescent sons because they have never experienced what these teenagers are going through.

Most of them often hope that they can get the support they need at school or from close male family members and friends. However, that is not always the case because there are some issues that can only be shared with and addressed by parents.

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The family system theory also considers a family unit as a system where each person has a distinct role that has to be played to have a normal stable environment. In many families, both parents have to work to enhance financial stability. The two have to help each other in critical decision-making processes. On the other hand, children are expected to obey their parents and follow the instructions and traditions of the family. Whenever any family member fails in undertaking the assigned responsibility, tension may build up, and cracks may start to emerge. If it is one of the parents failing to be responsible, the other parent may be forced to take extra duties to eliminate distress in the family.

If it is a child failing on its duties, the parents may need to come together to find a way of addressing the problem. The primary goal, as explained in this theory, is to have every family member playing the right role to ensure that the system functions properly. A single African American mother often strains to maintain a functional family unit that is self-sufficient financially (Cokley, Awosogba, & Taylor, 2014). Most of them are forced to take two jobs to make ends meet. Elliott, Powell, and Brenton (2015) observe that many of these women have painful experiences as they struggle to provide for the increasing needs of their sons.

Bowen’s theory also emphasizes the need to have boundaries in a family system. The first boundary is that between a parent and a child (Doody & Noonan, 2013). Children are required to respect their parents and follow their instructions dutifully. On the other hand, parents are expected to provide for the family and offer their children the emotional support they need. Williams and Smalls (2015) also observe that there is a boundary on what can be discussed between parents and children.

It is always an unwritten and untouched rule that limits what parents can talk about with the teenagers. The boundary is always destructive, especially if it limits a parent’s ability to discuss issues relevant to their well-being. Snyder (2016) notes that African American mothers shy away from topics such as drug use, sexuality, and the nature of relationships their children get themselves into because of these boundaries.

Attribution Theory

The attribution theory is popularly used to explain the decisions and behavior of people by attributing them to specific causes. According to Williams and Smalls (2015), attribution is based on three fundamental stages. The behavior must be observed, determined to be intentional, and then attributed to specific external or internal causes (Johnsen and Friborg (2015). Attribution theory holds that there are two loci of control that are broadly classified into internal versus external causes.

People tend to attribute their personal success to internal causes. They view such success as their deliberate and consistent effort and unique skills that made them achieve the desired goals. Rarely will people consider external causes such as luck as having played a major role in their success? On the other hand, they distantiate their internal capacities from their failures. They consider such failures as having been caused by situational factors such as bad luck, unfair competition, or wrong timing. Others even blame others for their failures. When others are successful, one is often quick to attribute their success to external causes such as luck and favoritism. When they fail, one attributes it to their limited capacity to achieve success.

The theory holds that one can achieve success, effort, personal ability, the level of complexity of the task, and external forces such as luck (Irvine, Drew, & Sainsbury, 2013). Single African American mothers face the complex task of raising their adolescent sons, especially when they do not have other male adults who can offer financial and emotional support. However, it is not a guarantee that they will eventually fail in that task (Johnsen & Friborg, 2015).

Others have been successful in such endeavors. Some single mothers would hope that external causes such as luck would make it possible for their sons to be successful adults. However, it is not the best approach that one should take when parenting a son. Effort and personal parenting ability of the mother are crucial in realizing the desired success. Williams and Smalls (2015) advise parents to be consistent in their effort to help their children to be successful both academically and socially. It may be possible that socio-cultural practices limit a mother’s ability to discuss the topic of sexuality with their adolescent sons.

However, that does not stop them from inviting a close family member or friend who can do the same on their behalf. The financial burden may be overwhelming, but that does not bar them from making the little effort they can to make ends meet.

Comparing and Contrasting the Identified Theories

These theories will play a critical role in explaining the experiences that single African American mothers have when raising their sons in the country. As evident from the above analysis, each theory takes a unique approach in explaining the interrelationships among people, causes of actions that people take, and consequences to people around them. The experience of single African American mothers when parenting their adolescent sons can be explained using different theories. It is important to compare and contrast the similarities and differences that exist in the above theories.

Family System Theory and Black Psychology Theory

The two theories have a common approach to looking at a family unit. They are both in agreement that a family unit is composed of individuals (parents and children) who have distinct roles to play. The success of such a system depends on the ability of all family members to undertake their responsibilities as expected. When one member of the family fails in undertaking an assigned duty, the failure may affect every other member of the family.

It is also evident that both theories agree on the issue of the impact of one’s feelings on others’ emotional stability. When a family member is sad, the feeling can easily be transferred to family members because of the closeness of the relationship (Ebert et al., 2015). It explains why each member of the family will try to keep others happy to enjoy the positive environment that is created out of such a process.

It is evident that the two theories have significant differences in their fundamental beliefs. The black psychology theory holds that African American families have unique experiences that make them different from the rest of the American population. The communal attachment that they have is not common among the whites. The historical injustices that they have gone through over the years also make their position as citizens of the country unique.

However, that does not make them physically or mentally inferior to whites. These concepts held by the black psychology theory are not common in family system theory. Ebert et al. (2015) observe that family system theory only emphasizes the roles, responsibilities, and interconnectedness of family members without distinguishing different groups based on racial background. The theory centralizes its concepts within a family setting and does not emphasize the impact that race as an external factor may have on the family unit.

Black Psychology Theory and Attribution Theory

The black psychology theory and attribution theory are interconnected in a way, especially when looking at the challenges that single African American women go through in the upbringing of their adolescent children. Both theories agree that every action that is taken by a family member has a cause and a consequence. A single African American mother may be so strained financially that she may be forced to take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Attribution theory will explain such a phenomenon as being caused by (attributed to) the need of the parent to meet the increasing demands of the family. Black psychology theory will attribute the phenomenon to a system within the United States that limits the level of career development of African Americans, including the salaries they get, as the reason why such a parent may be forced to stretch out to meet the needs. Although they take different approaches to explain the phenomenon, they are in agreement that for each action, there is a cause.

According to Benner, Boyle, and Sadler (2016), attribution theory limits the success of an individual to effort, personal ability, the level of complexity of a given task, and luck. However, black psychology theory holds that success can also be determined by the actions of family members. A child may not be sharp in class. However, the consistency of the support that it receives from the mother may increase its interest in a given field of study.

Without having any unique academic capabilities and luck playing a limited role, the commitment of the mother and the child cay yield impressive results. As such, black psychology theory disagrees with the argument that one’s success is purely based on their personal effort and luck.

Attribution Theory and Family System Theory

The attribution theory and family system theory has various common principles when explaining human relationships and actions. They both share the principle that for every action, there is always a reaction. Family system theory argues that the emotional stability of one family member can easily affect other family members. When a son is concerned about bullying at school because of his skin color, the mother will be equally affected.

The fact that such a parent may do little to address such a problem can be frustrating. It may cause a strain in the relationship between a mother and son if proper measures are not taken to address the problem. The attribution theory reaffirms this argument by holding that a series of actions and environmental factors may have a significant impact on the emotional stability of an individual (Pachankis, Hatzenbuehler, Rendina, Safren, & Parsons, 2015).

Such a child who has to face constant bullying will blame poor academic performance on external influencers. If the issue is not addressed in a timely manner, the poor performance may further cause a strain in the relationship between the parent and the child. The fundamental difference between the two theories is that the family system theory limits its analysis of the interpersonal relationships to the family unit, while attribution theory is broad-based.

The Best Theory Suited to the Proposed Dissertation Topic

The three theories discussed above will be fundamental in examining the experience of single African American females as they struggle to parent their adolescent sons. Each of these theories takes a unique approach in explaining the challenges that these parents face, the relationship that exists between a parent and a child, and what can be done to improve the experience. However, the theory that is best suited for this topic is the black psychology theory.

African American single mothers face two major challenges as they struggle to raise their children in society. First, the American corporate world is still dominated by men. Slonim (2014) explains that although women have made significant steps in penetrating the corporate sector, men still enjoy systems and structures which are favorable to them in the workplace. Men are more likely to earn higher salaries and get quick promotions than women (Ebert et al., 2015).

It means that from an economic angle, women are more disadvantaged than men to be single parents. They will have to struggle more than their male counterparts to earn a living for their families. This challenge needs to be captured in clear terms when discussing the experiences of single African American females who are parenting their adolescent sons in this society.

The second factor when analyzing the experience of these parents is the historical injustices and the perception that society has towards African Americans. Society has made impressive steps in fighting racial discrimination, and the election of President Barrack Obama was viewed as a demonstration of a society that is integrated and cohesive despite racial diversity (Varner & Mandara, 2013). However, African Americans still find it difficult to achieve socio-economic success in the country compared to the whites.

They form the majority of those who live in dangerous neighborhoods where children can easily turn into drugs and other antisocial behavior, especially at the adolescent stage. Black psychology theory provides a perfect analysis of these unique challenges that single mother has to go through living in such neighborhoods. Using this theory, it will be possible to draw a distinction between the challenges that single white mothers go through from the experiences of single African American female parents.


Black psychology theory, family system theory, and attribution theory are important concepts that will play a critical in the study of single African American females’ experience of being mothers to their adolescent sons, including their experiences of interacting with them. Parents are always keen on maintaining a close relationship with their children as they struggle to provide them with the best platform to succeed in life.

However, sometimes the experience may be challenging, especially when one is a single parent. Being a single African American female parent in the United States may present numerous challenges, especially when dealing with an adolescent son. The three theories will help in explaining the nature of the relationship between mother and son, the unique challenges that female parents face, and what can be done to improve the experience. The black psychology theory was considered the most appropriate theory in the research because of its focus on the challenges that African Americans face in society. It is important to note that other than the three theories, there are other important theories relevant to this topic.


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