Some cringe at the term baby mama. It connotes a low class, almost shameful position in Black communities where family structure has transitioned over the past few decades. Black folk in this country have always had remixed configurations of extended family systems. The baby mama age was born from a decrease in marriage, increase in divorce, and no change in sex frequency. Although it literally means the exact same thing, saying “mother of my child” sounds more respectable. Beyond the semantics, and considering a wide variety of circumstances, I think we need to have more open conversations about healthy co-parenting, rooted in more sincere ways to celebrate mamas.
Let’s start with definitions:
a divinely appointed assignment to engage in a long term relationship with another adult equally responsible for providing comprehensive care for one or more child.
Men invented “baby mama drama”. It’s a magician’s sleight of hand trick. We say ooh look over there ---> women are crazy, and hope you don’t see the mischief we tucked behind our ear. Baby mama drama becomes an asylum for male confusion, irresponsibility, miscommunication and selfishness. Replace that guy that with a man who presents his intentions with clarity, has the skills discipline and motivation to sustain himself and others, and is mature enough to make decisions like don’t not sleep with her because you’re lonely and she’s familiar – and voilá! Baby mama drama disappears.
Marriage is old school. I’d probably be married by now if I wasn’t afraid of forever. To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. That vow makes so much more sense for our children. Why don’t we make vows to our children? Write them out. Have public ceremonies and ask the community to hold us accountable for maintaining them? One of the dangers of patriarchy is superficially (or not at all) valuing children and women. Societies that prioritize men function from a level of imbalance that will always diminish the potential of human achievement. Maybe it all stems from men’s envy of the power of women – and that resentment turns into control. I digress.
When I’ve asked myself why I’m not married (yet) I know it’s certainly not for lack of marriageable women in my life. It’s also not because I don’t think marriage is important. The only reason left seems quite simple – I’m not married because I don’t want to be. Our wants are informed by lots of things: community expectations, family pressure, fears, internal values, cost benefit analysis, but at the end of the day it’s a decision to make. Choosing to get and stay married is the base. Sure, you gotta add all the other ingredients to it: patience, wisdom, shared values, communication, community support, etc. but none of that matters without two adults choosing to do it. Which isn’t true for co-parenting. The choice is made (assuming the sex was consensual) the moment that child is conceived – no, actually, the moment the mother decides to give birth to it.
Who are these guys that think parenting is an option? More importantly, how do they get away with it? I can’t imagine my friends not asking how long it’s been since I’ve seen my children. I can’t image my family just letting me come by watch TV and eat snacks and not demand to see their nephews. Who’s dating these guys? Yes these are grown adults who do what they want, but again, wants are shaped. Men also want to be respected, to not feel embarrassed and to be connected to some type of community.
I’m going hard on men. I think we can take it. There’s already been plenty of writing blaming the dysfunction of Black communities on mothers. I also recognize there are very old systems, policies and institutions in place to limit the opportunities for Black men’s success and well-being. I think we can take those too.
If you’re still struggling with the title consider its inverse. If I were married it would be relatively easy to get out of that commitment. Few would flinch if I got a divorce. But I will never divorce my children. And since children’s well-being is intimately connected to their source, my commitment to my children extends to their mothers. It’s easier because they both dope, which is part luck and part being careful where I lay. I never want any kudos for being a good father or trying my best to be a good co-parent. It’s not going above and beyond, it’s just regular. It’s a duty that brings me great joy, most times. And even in those times when it doesn’t I still gladly oblige. Mothers have always understood that. Father’s get more leeway, at the expense of the children. There must be a cultural shift that includes fundamental definitions of manhood that clearly outlines our responsibilities. In the meantime, let this be my public vow to strengthen my commitment to my sons, and their mothers, till death do us part.
~Dr. Cartman is the author a new book about family, manhood, relationships and culture. You can purchase it here.