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If the latest (2010) population census statistics are anything to go by, single parenthood is skyrocketing in Kenya.
For a moment, forget about single fathers; most remarry almost immediately, while the others seem content in their singlehood; nobody says anything — positive or negative — about them.
Single mothers, on the other hand, have to contend with misconceptions and judgmental comments, especially from men, and society in general.
People hardly bother to know what exactly is the genesis of these kinds of households; they just form opinions. A lot of negative stuff has been said about single mothers; they are frisky, ‘loose’ party animals who got impregnated after ‘one night stands’, and that’s why the fathers of their children vanished; they are bitter women who seem to have something personal against all men; they are desperate for men and daddy figures for their children, among others!
However, nothing could be further from the truth, at least as far as one Magdalene Mungai, a single mother of two girls, is concerned. “It is unfortunate that single motherhood conjures unhappiness, desperation and all sorts of negative things. What many people may not know is that most of us are very happy being single. For some of us, our state was necessitated by circumstances, but we accepted and moved on,” she says, with a charming smile as she explains the death of her husband, revealing how, decades later, she has never found his replacement.
Unwanted and ‘unmarriageable’
“There are men out there who imagine we are single because we are ‘difficult’, undesirable and ‘unmarriageable’ so much that no man wants us. I was once heart broken when I heard a man casually and derogatorily refer to single mums as ‘leftover women’,” she says, adding that the moment people hear ‘single mum’, they should not be quick to conclude that she is in that state because she is a social misfit dumped by a man. “Some single mums are in that state as a result of death of their husbands, divorce courtesy of valid irreconcilable differences, or by choice. Some made babies courtesy of sperm banks,” she says.
Kids assumed to be ‘at risk’
“Contrary to popular belief, most of our kids turn out okay. I never understand why children of single mums are always considered to be ‘at risk’. People believe our kids are always socially maladjusted,” complains Alice Mwende, a single mum. “No matter how great a woman may be at parenting, society believes children, especially boys, must have a father figure, otherwise they will grow up skewed,” adds Mwende. Her sentiments are echoed by a certain Jerry, a Nairobi-based car dealer and only child brought up by a single mother.
Great mum vs two bogus parents
“Look, and this you can take to the bank, having one amazing parent is a hundred times better than having two who are bogus! Personally, I was raised by a single mum, but look at me. She gave me the best parenting I could ever ask for in this world. I can’t complain, I’m doing relatively well for myself. I also know many successful men in this town brought up by single mums,” concludes Jerry, citing a reknowned media personality and host of a top radio breakfast show, as an example. Single motherhood is still an issue that elicits a lot of negativity in our society today. Single mothers are scorned and looked at questionably and relegated to second or even third-class citizens. Times have changed, and there are many myths about single mothers that need to be dispelled.
Single mums judged harshly
“We live a society where earning respect as a single mother is like wrestling a fierce lion. People view you as a woman who slept around and got fatherless children,” says Juliet Gakii, a single mother of two. She also says society, and especially men, look at single mothers as a bunch of reckless women of easy virtue.
After separating from her husband, Gakii says, there were people who still thought she ended up as single mum after sleeping around with reckless abandon. “When you are a single mother after divorce or separation, society judges you as someone who cannot withstand pressure in marriage and doesn’t uphold family values. It needs a lot of patience, wisdom and motivation to survive in such a society,” explains Gakii, quick to add that one would expect a lot of tolerance towards single mothers from men, most of whom were raised by single mums.
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‘Illegitimate kids’ mocked, judged
On the other hand, if it is not the mothers being judged harshly by society, then it is their so-called ‘illegitimate’ children receiving a share of the unpalatable cake. Angela Cherono*, a single mother of one boy explains how she has restrained many people, some even close relatives, from referring to her son as an ‘illegitimate’ child, sometimes also referred to as a bastard. “My son, aged 7, has come back to the house crying many a times, after a playmate calling him ‘mwana haramu’ (illegitimate child). These other children have learnt from grown ups around them that a child born out of wedlock is ‘unwanted’. I always have to assure him that he is wanted and is no social misfit,” narrates Cherono*.
Mothers to brats
She says every child deserves a chance in life, to be treated well and lead a normal life, whether from a nuclear or single-parent family. Cherono* says that society has this tendency of thinking that children, and mostly boys, raised by single mothers are brats, or turn out to be crooks. “People get surprised when my son doesn’t act all bratty at gatherings, some commend him and mention it to me. It is in their mind that a single mother’s boy must display some high class level of ‘brattism’,” says Cherono* as she unsuccessfully holds back a chuckle.
Cherono* is quick to add that brats are brought about by how children are raised, not by whom. On matters dating, a single mother still stands little or no chance. For Cherono, she got dumped the moment she mentioned that she was a single mother of a boy. “I was seeing this really nice man I had met in my MBA class, we were out on our third date when all hell broke loose because I mentioned my son. The guy lost enthusiasm, and began avoiding me. He later explained that his community would not allow him to marry me because I had a son,” she narrates calmly.
Desperate for men to pay their bills
“I have friends who are single mothers, and from their experiences and mine it is clear that people think we can only get married to widowers, senior bachelors and low-lifes. If you choose to remain single then you are labelled a big-headed feminist, if you want marriage, then please go for those desperate widowers and senior bachelors,” claims a lady surnamed Ndanu, a marketing manager who is also a single mother of a boy and girl.
Ndanu says most men, both single and married, view her and her friends as women suitable only for having fun with. “We were once at this marketing gig, and the discourse detoured from marketing. The issues of the rising number of single mothers came up.
“I just walked out when one guy, a top marketing guru in East Africa asserted that single mothers are a bunch of sexually-starved and needy women who are always desperately looking for men to pay their bills and play father figure to their children,” Ndanu narrates, some disappointment still registered on her face.
Single mums to sons unwanted
Ndanu also points out that she has met a few eligible bachelors who are interested in her, but very hesitant to take her in with her two children. “I once dumped a guy at a very advanced stage of our relationship. I really loved him, but he kept insinuating that he could not take me in with my children. He was always blowing hot and cold especially when there was an issue touching on my children. “There is this notion in men that they cannot raise children of another man. This man despising your children is probably having his raised by another man. Totally absurd,” Ndanu concludes.
In some communities, marrying a single mother of a boy or boys is close to a taboo. In other places, parents to single mums get paid half the dowry; because they are considered ‘damaged goods’
Success attributed to ex hubbies
There are men out there who openly declare that they would rather marry a single mother of several girls than even date, leave alone settling down with, one with just one son. Philis Mukami, a city resident, says successful single mums need a break. They are never given credit. It is always assumed that their wealth is as result of hauling their exes to court. “Well-to-do single mums need to be cut some slack. However hard working they may be, it is always assumed they, for instance, fleeced a man through alimony or child upkeep or that they have several boyfriends who fund their lavish lifestyle,” she says.
She adds: “If anything, these women are busy and work so hard because they have no one to help them financially raise kids, where would they, for instance, get time to party and fool around with men?”
It must be noted that single mothers, just like any other mothers of course with exception of a few, are responsible and hardworking women who deserve happiness and want to see their children prosper and grow into respectable adults.