Archive for April, 2010

Can Women Really Have it All…Can Men?

        After practising for more than a decade, I decided to give up chasing one of my dreams of being this hot-shot attorney, settling for being one amongst many in the Big Apple.  Although I always had plans on having a family of my own, the concept alone was not enough.  I had to actually put my plan into action and that meant giving up my very demanding career or at least downsizing my dream.  I did not lament about it at all, no, on the contrary I am anxious and excited about realizing one of the most important dreams of my existence.  You see, I am one of the few professional women I know that believes that there is no way I can be an excellent mother, superb attorney and great wife.  As I recently mentioned to my SO, when I am on my death-bed I doubt strongly that any of my last words will  have anything to do with how my professional life turned out, but I am sure that my role as a mother will be one of my major concerns. 

     I have been representing women, men and children in family law related matters for a good portion of my career and I must say I have learned quite a bit about what it takes to be even a good parent, let alone an exceptional one.  And one consistent theme is that the best mothers are not the CEO’s, CFO’s nor partner,  hell they are not even the top-level manager, they are the ones that get to see their child take their first step, ride their first bicycle and have their first role in the school play.  It does not matter if the parents are professional, working class or middle class, spending more time at work than nurturing family usually results some sort of dysfunction.  As progressive as we would all like to think we have become, there are still some ideals that remain intact, we are the nurturers responsible for providing the love, support and comfort in the home.   And there is no way to do that when spending 10-14 hour days at work takes precedence.

     For men, the same is true to some extent.  We know that fathers who are not involved, or have minimal interaction, in their children’s lives, more often than not have delinquent sons and premature sexually active daughters.  Although men have historically been responsible for providing for their family, spending more time at work than at home nurturing family has deleterious effects.  Even as far as the relationship, men cannot contribute to a healthy and loving relationship if he  cannot balance career with her personal aspirations. 

     So we can have it all if family is not at interest.  Don’t get me wrong I do understand that some things work for some families that would not work for others, but then one needs to examine the sustainability or the substantive strength of that family.  The joy and freedom in having a spouse or SO that spends most of his or her time at work is not equated with the joy of nurturing a strong bond and tight-knit family. 

     Let me know what you think?

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To ABC’s “Nightline”:We Don’t Wanna Hear It Anymore…But You All Raise A Good Point

          If I hear, read or see another special report on the state of Black women and their plight about not being able to find a mate, husband or father for their youngens, I am going to…well….actually do NOTHING!   Here’s the thing, this topic sells, it sells magazines, books, ads, and so on and so on.  I had a discussion with a friend of mine recently about how she and several of her other friends, for years, have been trying to sell so-called “success stories” about Black women finding love to the major Black magazines, to no avail.  Yeah, I could not believe it.  You mean someone is actually getting off on my sistahs trying to keep themselves warm at night, I was mortified.  Here I was basking in the glow of having finally found my lifelong partner, four of our mutual friends followed suit, and no one wants to hear about it.  This is insane, after the gazillion frogs we all had to kiss before we found our princes! 

      But then, not more than a month has passed before ABC is doing yet another special on the topic, if I was not convinced before I was then.  I must admit, I was reading the ubiquitous remarks from men and women alike who were fed up with the media perpetuating this concept.  So by the time I finally watched the program, I was somewhat tainted by the insight I had from them.  But you know what, although there were very few nascent concepts divulged, I had what Oprah called an “aha” moment.  I think to some degree, even Black women get their jollies ruminating over the miniscule pool of available, good Black men.  That’s right I said it, I think Black women just love the attention they get from the “woe is me” thing many of them have going on.  I mean I listened to Jacque Reid and Sherri Shepherd and nothing they said remotely sounded as if  they even wanted to try to open their mind.  Now don’t get me wrong, I know they don’t speak for all Black women, but to be honest they sound like a lot of my single girl friends.  They can sound so pathetic, desperate, negative and just downright hopeless that they sap my energy just to be in their company.  I mean what happened to the light at the end of the tunnel, the rainbow after the storm, the fragrant spring flowers after the brutal winter-well you get my point.   If you think about it, you will see the validity to my observation.  The ridiculous “list” many single Black women concoct, the superficial things they focus their attention on, the inability to articulate who they are and what their beliefs are-believe it or not all of things only serve as a diversion to the real issue.   And no matter what, unless and until the women understand what it is she really wants, in her life, in this journey and then in love, then she will remain in the limelight for being  that poor single Black woman.

     Believe it or not, I am a true believer,  I am the friend that is constantly telling my friends to keep an open mind, to see the good in each and every experience, to understand their purpose, to speak it into existence, etc.  And for many of them, they actually start to see things differently when they regularly affirm these to themselves, especially when they start to appreciate that they have nothing to lose.  I am very spiritual and believe that the way we see life is the way it will be for us. So if we habitually pay homage to this notion that there are no, nor will there be, any good Black men left then guess what that is exactly what our reality will be.  If you see yourself at the low-end of the totem pole, then that is exactly where you will be, it works like that in every aspect of our lives.  And no, I have not had a lot of success with love. On the contrary, I had more failures than I would like to remember but ask any of my friends, I always remained optimistic.  So if you want your fate to change, really you have to do something, I mean really do something not just talk the talk.

What is Family to You?

     I have friends from all stages of my life, those I grew up with, those I went to high school with, those I met in college and then law school, those I met at the myriad of jobs I had, those I met through other friends, the list goes on and on!  The thing is I absolutely love meeting people and exploring their experiences, not that my own life is boring, trust me I keep them intrigued, but it feeds my soul!  So I am hardly put off when someone tells me that their immediate family consisted of a woman she met while working at some random job who decided to take on the role of “Mom”.   I mean to the extent that the only way you knew this woman was not her biological mother was when I would be attending a gathering and her biological family would show up with a different mother.  I have friends who have adopted the family of an ex, even maintaining a sibling type relationship with that ex when it was all said and done.   The thing is these folks filled a void that we all want filled, with love, nurturing and support, despite the absence of biological connections.

     Well today family is what you make it!  Same-sex couples, intergenerational, adoptive, etc.  all constitute family if those key elements are there (although a family devoid of those key elements is no less a family).  I approach this topic today because I recently, and do on a recurrig basis, had a discussion with my significant other about the hybrid situation within his family.   We all remember the 80’s and the impact the crack epidemic had on the Black family.  Well, many of us were directly affected, including myself, to the point where our immediate family was extended by my mother adopting two of my sister’s children because of her crack addiction.  In my SO’s family though, his maternal aunt adopted her grand-nephew, but here’s the thing… they all still live in the same house.  So, maternal grandmother, mother, adoptive mother/great aunt and the boy all live under one roof and have been for the past fifteen years.  I remember when my mother decided to take on two more mouths to feed, I thought she was crazy considering she was not getting any younger and not in the best health.  But she, like many other family members who took on this difficult feat, was determined to keep our family together. 

     So to date, I rarely raise an eyebrow when I hear of an unconventional family situation, unless there is abuse of course.  On the contrary, I exude compassion and appreciation for that individual who, whether deliberately or not, put themselves in the position of mother, father, sister or brother or whatever, giving someone else a place to call home.   Especially when, but for that adopted family, that person would have to take this journey without the trials and tribulations of family ( we can all testify to what our families put us through-whew!).   I know for me when I was dating as soon as a man told me he either had no family or did not have a relationship with his family and was okay with that I bolted.  Family keeps us going, growing and grounded, whether it’s the ideal family, the incomplete family or the adopted family, it does all of our bodies (and minds and spirits) GOOD

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16 and Pregnant…..and Black

      I am addicted to this tv series on MTY, 16 and Pregnant, that is! I watch for several reasons:  1) it amazes me how these young people are disillusioned by the demands of parenthood at such a young age; 2) it actually enlightens me because young people tell it like it is, no sugarcoating anything and since I am anticipating motherhood and 3)  the teens profiled are typically rural or suburban, white teens whose whole outlook on their future is different from the teen moms I know!

     I remember when I was 16, I think 25% of my friends either had an abortion, miscarriage or actually delivered a baby.  That was back in the 80’s when teen pregnancy was on the rise, before the decline in the early 90’s only to increase somewhere around 2002.  I mean when I think about those friends, particularly the ones that had a baby by the time they were 19, they all have something in common.  The most significant commonalities are that they all came from single parent households, they all dropped out of school (and did not go back for a diploma or GED) and to date, are living below or at poverty.   Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part many of them, including the ones that the elders in the neighborhood believed had the most potential, just did not go far economically, geographically or professionally.  The statistics pretty much substantiate what I experienced myself, see http://www.familyfirstaid.org/teen-pregnancy.html.

     It was not until I started handling cases in Family Court in New York that I realized that what I always believed to be a myth is actually a truth, teenage pregnancy is typically generational.  That is, typically the mother (or father for that matter) of a teenage parent was a teenage parent his or herself.  Despite the fact that I have a large number of mid 30’s-early 40’s year old friends who are grandparents, I never actually realized that their child was pretty much destined to follow the same path.  See I have always been an optimist, thinking that cycles can be broken with effort and diligence and so some things like, preventing teenage pregnancy,was certainly one that required minimal effort on part of the teenager’s parent(s).  But even the most remarkable parents, and I have seen many parents who were teen moms do exceptional jobs with their children, have to acknowledge the proclivity of their child to make the same decisions and choices that result in parenthood at an early age.  Many of these parents fail to appreciate that admonitions and incessant lecturing is not enough.   In fact, many of the same warnings that are effective with teens whose moms were much older do not work with children of teen moms, a little more is definitely necessary. 

     One major deterrent is a teen who has a strong emotional bond with both parents whether they are in the same home or not, this teen is much more likely to engage in sex at a much later age, to be more knowledgeable about and have access to contraception and in many instances, when faced with a pregnancy will make decisions based on their future aspirations.  Many still think the notion of having a strong attachment to two parents who are no longer together is asinine.  On the contrary, mature, responsible and emotionally balance parents can do a superb job raising children despite the dissolution of their relationship. 

      What does teen pregnancy have to do with the Black family?  Well, depending on the source, Black teens still lead the overall population in teen births.  (See guttmacher.org and their recent studies)  Whether this is true or not, the problem is that the Black family is on a continual path of destruction if we continue to allow the rate to increase even slightly.  Regardless of all the financial ramifications, the societal burdens, yadda, yadda, yadda!on us all, Black families will become a heightened misnomer if we do not become proactive in prevention.  Parent.family involvement, sex education, conflict resolution are just are few places to start.

Raising Black Girls to Become a Wife/Mother:The Impact of Fatherlessness

     There is rarely a shortage on research data on how fatherlessness affects Black boy or adult Black men.  However, when it comes to the impact of absentee fathers on Black girls, well, let’s just say that I am still looking for solid data on the topic.  But let’s at what is out there (in addition to personal experiences) and discuss the correlation with the single Black woman.  In my group of female friends, about 75% of us grew up in fatherless homes and it was not until my early 30’s did I realize our differences.  I am at the point now where I can tell if a woman grew up in a two-parent household or if she was raised by her single mother.  When I say two-parent, I mean both biological or a step-parent who raised her from early on, as opposed to a cohabitating couple.  My friends that come from the two-parent homes were typically much more confident, they were much more expressive and they typically maintained steady relationships.  The women that, like me, came from a single-parent/mother raised home almost always had self-esteem, image and self-worth issues.  Most of us had problems dealing with conflict, understanding our roles and boundaries and choosing partners based on our intentions (in other words we were more likely to attract the men who wanted something completely different.)

     Research indicates that women who come from fatherless homes tend to become sexually active, and many promiscuity is common; mature physiologically a lot quicker; lag behind other women academically and fail to achieve their goals in many aspects of their lives.  Of course, all of these differences are in addition to the ones I myself have noted.  The one study that I found most interesting is the one where the finding was that teenage girls who grew up in a two-parent home actually started puberty later than girls that grew up in a single parent or step parent home.  According to the Institute for American Values, the emotional affect of the family environment is directly correlated to the girls’ biological functioning.  (The belief is that the production of the hormone, pheromone is delayed when the biological father is in the home.) 

     The reality is that many of these girls, now women, are still maladjusted in the love/relationship department.  Between the issues of trust, self-value, fear of abandonment, amongst the many other issues prolific in the Black community, the desire to be in a loving, committed and meaningful relationship is a major feat.  All the more reason for Black women to do some self exploring if they see having a family of their own a real dream of theirs.  The easy way out is to look at someone else and point the finger at them, blaming them for your current predicament.   I had to face my own demons and look in the mirror, no music, no television, no adornments, no NOTHING! just me!  I was a long, painful and arduous task (to some extent I am still going through it) but certainly necessary.  I cried, I laughed, I rejoiced but at my climax I accepted who I really was, without blaming anyone else.  I think this was the impetus for my new-found relationship not only with myself but with my significant other.