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Single African American Parents: Literature Review

Parenting among single African American women poses serious challenges. Scholars have developed an interest in investigating the challenges to find ways of helping these parents and reducing juvenile delinquency in the country. A study by Elliott, Powell, and Brenton (2015) shows that almost 50% of all marriages in the United States end up in divorce or separation. The personality that a child develops as an adult depends on the kind of parenting it received.

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Single African American mothers should not also feel like they are imprisoned by the circumstances of life. They deserve happiness and a feeling of being content even if they have to raise their sons on their own. In this section of the paper, the focus is to review existing literature to understand what other scholars have found out in this field of study. Stinson (2013) advises that one should conduct a review of relevant literature to identify knowledge gaps that should be addressed to avoid duplication of existing knowledge. That is why this section of the study is significant in determining the relevance of this report.

Single parenting is one of the emerging trends in the United States that is caused by numerous socio-economic and cultural forces beyond the control of the affected individuals. Emmen et al. (2013) observe that it is rare for a parent to get into a relationship with the primary goal of leading a single parent’s life. The ability to have a companion who can provide economic and emotional support in child upbringing is the desire of most Americans.

However, the desire has not reduced cases of divorce in the country. According to Barnett and Scaramella (2013), divorce is one of the leading causes of single parenting in the country. Having children out of wedlock is another major concern in the country. A report by Jeynes (2015) indicates that children born out of wedlock in unstable relationships are more likely to become single parented than those born by married couples. Unfortunate events such as death also contribute to the increasing cases of single parenthood.

Causes of Increasing Cases of Single Parenting

Single parenting is becoming increasingly common in the United States. According to the study by Wang and Kenny (2014), one in every three children is single-parented in the country. The burden of taking care of children after divorce, separation, or dissertation by one of the parents often falls on mothers, as Stinson (2013) estimates that 83% of single-parent families are headed by a mother.

They find themselves in challenging situations where they have to provide material and emotional support to all their children. One of the leading causes of single parenting is infidelity. Farley and Kim-Spoon (2014) observe that infidelity among men is not an emerging problem in American society. In fact, it was more prevalent in the past than it is in the current society. However, the problem is that the modern society, women are less forgiving and less tolerant compared to the women in the olden days.

In the past, women were expected to be subordinate to their husbands. Their work was to stay at home and take care of the children as their husbands worked to provide for the family. It was not easy for women to lead a single life because of a culture that expected them not to work (Ford & Moore, 2013). However, that is changing rapidly in modern society. Women are increasingly getting empowered and less tolerant to cases of infidelity. When they realize that their partners are cheating on them, they would be quick to quit such relationships, leading to increased cases of single parenthood.

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According to Nobles (2013), the increasing number of women in the corporate world is another reason for the increased single parenting in modern American society. Most of the hurdles that hindered women from achieving career success in the corporate world have been eliminated. It means that women, just like men, are doing their best to achieve success in their workplaces. They spend a lot of time at work and have little time for the family, just as has been the case with men for a long time.

Situations where a husband and a wife rarely have time together may sometimes cause strains in the family. Varner and Mandara (2013) argue that it may require a high degree of tolerance between the two partners to make things work. They also need to have a delicate balancing of time so that they can spare some time with family. The inability to plan the limited time properly and to understand the pressures that a partner is going through can easily create cracks in the family. It can easily lead to a separation or even a divorce among partners who may feel that the marriage has lost its true sense of purpose.

Premarital affairs, as Stinson (2013) observes, is another issue that has led to increased cases of single parenting in American society. American adolescents have never enjoyed the kind of freedom they have today. The law has barred parents from mating corporal punishment whenever these children commit a mistake. The emergence of social media has also given teenagers a unique opportunity to explore the world and to socialize with ease (Williams, Priest, & Anderson, 2016).

They end up experimenting a lot with their lives, and young girls end up being pregnant. Life of single parenting may begin at that tender age for such an unlucky girl. When the parent or guardian is not considerate enough to embrace the new member of the family, such a young mother may be thrown out of the house to start her own life and care for her child. In case the father to the child is another teenager who is still dependent on his family, it may force the mother to take care of the child on her own. Barnett and Scaramella (2013) argue that most teenage fathers often disappear from the lives of their children, never to be seen again.

Once they start leading such a frustrating lifestyle, these young single mothers rarely get into stable relationships. They are more likely to hop from one unstable relationship to another than their colleagues who got married at the right age and started stable families. In the process of hopping from one relationship to another, they end up getting more children with men who are not keen on being responsible fathers.

Death is another possible cause of single parenting, though it is not as common as it was in the past. Atzaba-Poria, Deater-Deckard, and Bell (2014) observe that improved technology and expertise in the field of medicine have helped in fighting some of the major diseases such as smallpox and coronary diseases. Life expectancy in the United States has been consistently going up. Despite these improvements, death often creeps into young families, forcing one of the parents to care for the children alone.

Many American soldiers in the service who have been sent to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo and various other nations in the Middle East and North Africa regions lost their lives there (Nobles, 2013). Cancer, reckless driving, and other opportunistic diseases have claimed the lives of a significant proportion of Americans. Some end up dying in the hands of robbers, a few trigger-happy police officers who do not hesitate to shot at the slightest provocation, or random mass shooters. The Black Lives Matter campaign was started because of the increasing cases where police officers shoot unarmed African American men, sometimes without provocation (Gonzalez, Jones, & Parent, 2014). Such painful incidences would lead to a situation where the mother has to take care of their children in the absence of the father.

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Experiences of Single African American Mothers

Single parenting is one of the biggest challenges that any woman can face in her life. According to Dunbar, Perry, Cavanaugh, and Leerkes (2015), being a single parent is as challenging to fathers as it is to mothers. When a person was used to having a constant helper loses support, the work at hand may be overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges that such a parent would face is providing for the economic needs of the family.

The problem affects single mothers more severely than it does single fathers (Wilson, Henriksen, Bustamante, & Irby, 2016). It is worse for single African American women. Paying the mortgage or rent in time, ensuring that children are clothed, providing them with proper meals, and paying their school fees in time without having an increase in salary after the divorce, separation, or death of a partner may be an overpowering task for a single mother. She also has to ensure that the family enjoys access to social amenities and regular holidays, just like they were used to when both parents were available.

Palombi (2016) observes that in most cases, such a parent may be forced to change the lifestyle of the family, only focusing on the basics. It is emotional torture to the parent, who has to deny their children the fun they use to enjoy, not because she wants to do so, but because the challenging economic situation makes it necessary. Nobles (2013) notes that many such parents are forced to take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Life suddenly becomes so burdensome that they forget to have fun. They immerse themselves into work, hoping that they will have some rest after seeing their children through their education and into adulthood. Haefner (2014) explains that such situations often turn the affected individuals into machines. Their main focus in life becomes nothing but work. They end up suppressing their social lives because of the desire to help their children achieve success in their lives.

According to Cokley, Awosogba, and Taylor (2014), single parenting has an enormous psychological impact on parents. In a family where both parents are present, some issues do not even pass as a challenge. For instance, when these children reach the adolescent stage, sons will have their fathers to guide them through the issues they face in life so that they can grow into successful, responsible men.

On the other hand, adolescent girls will have their mothers to give them the guidance they need to face life at this challenging stage of development. As Stinson (2013) notes, it does not mean mothers are not capable of providing guidance to their sons. However, some realities and cultural beliefs make the father a perfect parent to guide the son in such a stage in life. In many cultural settings, especially among African Americans, issues relating to sexuality are very sensitive and must be addressed by specific people.

A father is best placed to discuss such issues with their son, while the mother is best positioned to talk with the daughter. Robinson and Werblow (2013) argue that the kind of culture that these children grow up in makes them uncomfortable discussing such issues with their mothers. To them, it feels odd, and they cannot fully open up to their mothers on specific issues that affect them.

The ability of a parent to help a child overcome specific challenges related to their developmental stages in life depends on their level of knowledge and experience. Developmental challenges that an adolescent son may be going through cannot be fully understood by the mother. She never went through such stages and may only rely on what is learned at school to understand the son. In most of the cases, Atzaba-Poria et al. (2014) observe that many parents tend to assume the existence of the problem for the pleasure of their sons. The truth is that the problem exists, but both the mother and the son are unwilling to discuss it.

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Such a situation may have devastating consequences on both of them. The son will not have the issue addressed if there is no adult male to discuss it with. He may turn to friends at school to help them through with their problems. Zimmerman et al. (2013) warn that these children may provide misleading counsel to the son partly because they are having the same problems but lack proper guidance at home as well. The mother may be frustrated by the turn of events, especially when their sons turn out to be the person they did not expect. Cases, where these teenagers join the wrong groups may be unavoidable.

According to Carneiro, Meghir, and Parey (2013), many single African American mothers often turn to church as their last resort in ensuring that their children develop into responsible sons. They share their frustrations and pain with their pastors, hoping that they can help them counsel their adolescent sons and mold them into successful young men. Some of these single parents end up getting the needs help from the church, while others are not always successful. Palombi (2016) notes that the willingness of an adolescent son to go to church as demanded by the parent does not mean they will follow everything that they are told by the leaders there.

Others go to church just to please their single parents. Haefner (2014) also notes that there are specific issues that affect adolescents that they cannot share with any other adult other than their father or a close adult male family member. Their problem can only be solved if they are willing to open up and share it with the people willing to help. If they keep it to themselves, it becomes impossible to help them.

Palombi (2016) explains that being a single African American mother is the least of the experiences that any woman may desire in American society. It comes with immense prejudice because of the negativities that one has to encounter. First, African Americans still find it challenging to access equal opportunities as whites, as explained by the black psychology theory. The perception that blacks are inferior to whites is still common in this society, and its impact is very strong in the corporate world.

Secondly, being a woman is still a major hurdle in the American corporate world. As Atzaba-Poria et al. (2014) state, it is true that the country has made impressive steps to create a leveled platform for both men and women to excel in the socio-economic and political arena. However, the truth is that men still enjoy a unique advantage over women. The United States has never had a female president. The majority of those holding powerful political positions are men. The same trend is witnessed in the corporate world, where the majority of the chief executive officers in top companies are men.

Forbes’s list of American billionaires is dominated by men (Jeynes, 2015). These trends still show that the American systems favor men over women. The third challenge that these women have to deal with is being a single mother. Nobles (2013) argues that it is less likely for a young single mother to have a successful romantic life than a woman who yet to have a child. In many cases, men prefer having a young woman without a child so that they can start a family together.

They view women with children as a burden. They avoid taking the responsibility that belongs to another man. It means that settling down into a stable relationship for these women can be very challenging (Brannon, Markus, & Taylor, 2015). Others opt to move in with men twice their age, not because of love but the desire to have a stable family for the adolescent sons. They forgo the love life and settle for just any man that is willing and able to help them parent their children. The lifestyle may be frustrating because one is forced to sacrifice happiness and a feeling of contentment to have the support one need.

Coping with Challenges of Single Parenting

According to Hines and HolcombMcCoy (2013), being a single African American mother poses serious challenges in life, as discussed above. It may be difficult to avoid anxiety and constant stress among the single African American mothers taking care of their adolescent sons. One of the common strategies that these parents often employ is to lean on social support from the church. After a stressful week struggling to earn a living for the family and mentoring the church, some of these mothers find solace in the church. Brown (2016) argues that the belief that there is joyful life after death has a unique therapeutic effect on individuals who are overburdened with challenges in life.

It gives them a reason to press on, a justification not to give up. Although different people in the society tend to have a varying religious beliefs, a study by Jeynes (2015) found that those who believe in God and a better world afterlife tend to be more positive when facing their challenges than those who do not believe in God. They tend to have extra energy knowing that they are fighting for a reason. Milkie, Nomaguchi, and Denny (2015) argue that sometimes success needs just a little effort and positivity. Overcoming the challenges associated with the upbringing of an adolescent son may require a little effort and belief that all is possible.

According to Nobles (2013), the church and other religious institutions also offer an effective ground for single mothers to expose their adolescent sons to male adults with personality and lifestyle that the society considers appropriate. Although it may not be easy for an adolescent to be free and to open up to a non-family member on sensitive issues, constant engagement may help inculcate the closeness needed to develop a rapport between a son and an adult male church member. The man can become a mentor to the adolescent son. They can develop a close relationship that makes it possible for the adolescent to share with him issues that are of concern (Pauker, Apfelbaum, & Spitzer, 2015).

The adolescent also gets a unique opportunity to have somebody he can look up to in society. Such a child will not be easily swayed by peer pressure. He will likely consult with the mentor before making an irrational decision based on what the friends at school say.

The social burden of bringing up a son in the socially correct manner is shifted from the mother to the male mentor. Atzaba-Poria et al. (2014) observe that such initiatives also help in improving the relationship between the mother and the son. The mentor will explain to the son the unique challenge the mother is going through as a single parent and what the son can do to improve her experience. A feeling of satisfaction is likely to develop among these single parents as they see their effort towards having responsible sons yielding fruits.

It is important to note that not all single mothers opt to look for social support from societal institutions such as churches. Brown (2016) explains that some single African American mothers opt for drugs and as a way of coping with their stressful conditions. The approach is common among parents who have tried their best but feel that they are failing against their wishes. As the parenting failure becomes apparent based on their sons’ activities, such as drug abuse, they try to find ways of escaping from reality (Harris, Sutherland, & Hutchinson, 2013). The imagination that they have failed as parents push them to alcohol and drug abuse.

The neighborhoods where these single African American mothers live make it easy to access these intoxicants. Such an approach of coping with their challenge is counterproductive not only to the mothers but also to the adolescent sons. Getting the basics become a problem because most of the time, the mother is high on drugs and alcohol. The little money she gets goes to the purchase of the drugs. The art of parenting collapses completely as the mother becomes incapable of providing both material and emotional support for the son.

Ethical Research Issues

When conducting research in this field, Brown (2016) observes that it is advisable to observe ethics at all times. One of the issues that one must consider is the emotional impact that the situation has on the affected parents. According to Benner, Boyle, and Sadler (2016), some parents have gone through painful experiences, struggling to ensure that their sons achieve success only for them to turn out to be alcoholics, drug addicts, burglars, robbers, or various other types of criminals.

The thought that they sacrificed their happiness, youthfulness, and many other opportunities that came their way just to take care of their sons, only for them to become criminals, can be so hurtful. According to Nobles (2013), many parents go through much, especially when they lose their sons because of the pressures they had as single mothers. Others associate such losses to their inadequate parenting.

Bringing back such memories can be very painful at times, especially when one is struggling to forget the past. As a researcher, Haefner (2014) advises that one should be highly considerate. One needs to avoid issues that may bring painful memories to the participants. The researcher will be keen on observing this ethical requirement when conducting the research. When selecting the respondents for the study, of interest will be to identify participants who are willing and ready to talk about their experiences.

Some of these parents have had challenging experiences, but they ended up successful by having responsible sons. Such parents may not have a problem talking about their past. Others may have had painful experiences and feel that the only way of feeling better is to talk about the issues they faced. If they are willing and ready, they will be involved in the study.

Research Topics to Move the Scholarly Dialogue Further

The focus of this paper was to conduct a qualitative investigation of single African American mothers’ experience of relationships with sons. Effective research will help in identifying the problems that single mothers of African descent go through as they struggle to raise their adolescent sons. The investigation will provide a detailed analysis of different challenges these parents face, various strategies they use to cope with their situations, the impact of the strategies that they use, and the best way they can face these problems within the American society (Duffy, Blustein, Diemer, & Autin, 2016). The topic is meant to address a specific issue of concern in American society today, which is juvenile delinquency. Cases, where adolescent boys are used to traffic or sell drugs, have been common.

Some of them start using these drugs and soon join criminal gangs. Studies have suggested that single-parented boys, especially those who are raised by their mothers, are more likely to join these criminal gangs than those raised through heterogeneous parenting. The study, therefore, tries to look at the root cause of the problem by investigating the experiences of these parents to identify parenting mistakes common among those whose sons end up joining criminal gangs. The strategy may help in reducing juvenile delinquency in the country (Brody et al., 2014). It is important to note that the topic is specific and does not address many other issues relating to single parenting and fighting juvenile delinquency in the country. The researcher proposes the following topics that can help move the scholarly dialogue further:

  1. Investigating the experience of single African American men of being fathers to their adolescent daughters.
  2. Investigating causes and consequences of single parenting in the modern American society.

Contribution to the Current Literature

According to Haefner (2014), the field of parenting and challenges that single mothers face has attracted the attention of many scholars over the recent past. This study narrows down its research to the experiences of single African American mothers when raising their adolescent sons. African Americans still find it difficult to enjoy the socio-economic benefits in the country, as Hines and HolcombMcCoy (2013) observe.

The research will provide a detailed analysis of these challenges and the strategies that they use when trying to cope. The paper will incorporate theoretical and conceptual frameworks to explain the experience of these single African American mothers when parenting their sons. The research gap that exists in this area of study will be addressed effectively by the end of the research. As Ford and Moore (2013) suggest, it is critical to identify and address the existing knowledge gaps to ensure a given study is meaningful to the existing body of knowledge.

This paper will offer an insight into the unique challenges of these parents and propose ways in which they can be addressed. The report also identifies important knowledge gaps that future scholars should explore. The proposed topics that need further studies are areas of concern that were considered important but not fully addressed in this study.


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