Kenyan men, as surveys have shown, prefer single mothers with girls. A mum and her daughter have a ‘girl thing’ and mentoring her into a woman and how to deal with men is somewhat easy. The same is not the case with raising boys in homes without a father figure. Women have it rough when sons reach puberty. They will be at sea on how to make men out of boys who have grown clutching their petticoats.
Should a single mother be too tough on boys or just play along like an elder sister? Getting a middle ground from which a boy raised by a single mum can face up to life’s challenges like a man, and still master the same confidence as boys raised in a nuclear family is the hard bit. Indeed, without proper mentoring, such boys are susceptible to an identity crisis, low self-esteem, and peer group pressure.
Khadijah Ali, a businesswoman, is a single mother of an eight-year-old son. She recalls that, “I didn’t want to raise a child without a ‘complete’ family. My plans were to get married and have kids but when I realized I was pregnant. I got scared, but my then-boyfriend assured me it things would be fine, only to back out when I gave birth. It was hard at first, but I have managed well so far.”
Khadija feared the absence of a father figure would affect her son and roped in his uncles to mentor him. “I don’t know if raising him alone is affecting him now or will affect him in future. That is the fear I constantly live with, but I spoke to his uncles to help me with matters which as a woman I cannot handle. We have established a good relationship and he is open to talking to them any time.”
She adds: “I want my son to be kind, ambitious, God-fearing, considerate and most importantly, I want him to be respectful of everyone, especially women. My biggest challenge is people judging you because you are a single parent and having to balance everything by yourself. Trying to be there physically and emotionally for your son even when you have a busy schedule is hard.”
Khadija decided to shelve dating “because I don’t have the time and energy, plus I have had some bad experiences in the past. I remember once I was dating a guy who didn’t even talk to my boy because he wasn’t his. I ended the relationship because I come as a package with my son.”
Brenda Ngeso, an actress and dancer, had her son while in high school, and due to lack of fee, she dropped out. “My dad is the main father figure in his life. I chose him because I trust him and he was the best option. I was so young when I had him,” she explained.
A dancing scholarship saw her come to Nairobi and she left her son in the care of her parents in Kisumu. “For the past nine years, I have raised him alone without the help of his father. The hardest thing has been spending time together. We live in different towns, so the little time I get I spend with him so that he knows I’m always there for him. Next term, I’m planning to move him to Nairobi,” she said.
Ngeso has come out of a five-year relationship and is not in a hurry to date. “It is harder to date when you have a son because he comes first. I left school in Form Three, but I am planning to go back and finish,” she added.
Lennah Akoth, an insurance agent and a humanitarian volunteer, has been raising her 11-year old son with the help of her parents. She got pregnant while still in primary school. Akoth took a year off after giving birth before returning to finish Class Eight but “I never told the father of my son and we lost contact so he doesn’t know.”
Her son was raised as one of her siblings and “he thought I was his sister, but two years ago, I told him I am his mother. He refused to believe it because he was so used to calling me by my name, though I wanted him to call me ‘mum.’ My elder sister had just given birth, so he did not understand how I could have a child his age yet my big sister had just had a child.”
Akoth sat him down to explain the situation and “the day he called me mum was the best feeling in the world, though he forgets and calls me by name sometimes.” The son is now in boarding school “because my job is not flexible. I miss bonding with him but he is now at home for the August holidays. I wish I could be there for him all the time like other parents, but I can’t. I have to provide for him.”
Akoth has also decided not to date: “I do not want to expose my child to situations I can’t control. I fear someone mistreating my child. In future, when my son is all grown up, maybe I will date. I pray for him and I know he is blessed. He is a bright kid and respectful. Being a single mother is not a choice, but a situation women find themselves in.”
Cynthia Akumu an IT expert, has a nine-year-old boy after her affair with her come-we-stay boyfriend failed. She lost her job and moved in with her parents. Her biggest fear is “my child ending up like his father. My dad has ensured he has someone whom he can relate to and teaches him to be responsible, as well as the importance of education.”
Cynthia though is dating and has introduced her son to the man. “I introduced him as my friend but in future, I might have to explain to him. I want single parents to know that once you have that child, the responsibility becomes yours and yours alone.”
Angelica Mecha, a lawyer, says she cut ties with her son’s dad, but they have a working relationship even though “my brother and uncles are his father figures because I had a feeling he is missing a father figure. He was becoming a softie and I want him to be a macho man who is confident, responsible and God-fearing.” She is now dating someone who loves kids and this has made things easier.