As a product of a single-parent household, I know firsthand some of the challenges such parents face. While my mother became a single parent through the death of my father, there are many situations where it is not death that places the burden on one parent, but uncertainty about paternity, migration, divorce, separation and more often the unwillingness of one parent, typically the father, to take responsibility for their children.
Single-parent households and especially those headed by single women are prevalent in our society. We have long seen many men philander and impregnate women and then refuse to take responsibility. Some of these men proudly declare that the child or children belong to them but still refuse to take part in their upbringing. In many cases, it is not that they are financially incapable but because of selfishness and ignorance about how their absence could affect the overall wellbeing of the child. Some may, however, be unfit to invest in the holistic welfare of their children, even if they were willing, because they themselves may have a need for healing. We live in a society where many of our people are uncomfortable or unsure of how to express love. Whether the root is the dysfunctional relationships between many parents and children—where many children are abused in the name of discipline—the affectionate faculties of many are severely damaged. And so our children continue to suffer.
I do believe that people should plan carefully before making the decision to bring children into this world. Many single-parent homes would not exist had people taken time to plan their lives.
There are also instances of societal pressure as when people reach a certain age, they will be questioned by relatives and friends about their time-table for having children. “You’re not getting younger” or “Your biological clock is ticking” or “You have to carry on the family name” are things that are said. Often, the financial status, emotional wellness or even maturity of the prospective parents are not considered. Additionally, whether the individual wants children is also not considered because there is that popular belief that having children is a blessing. While I do agree that children do add much to your life and it is a joy to have them, is it a blessing when those children must go hungry? Is it a blessing if one parent has divorced himself/herself from raising that child? Is it a blessing if that child is malnourished? Is it a blessing if their basic needs for going to school are not met and they cannot focus on academics or developing their talents?
While there is a minority of people who plan to raise their children alone, most do not plan to be single parents. Many mothers who find themselves in such situations have no choice but to do what is necessary to take care of their children. Many live in poverty and those of us on the outside of those situations would often judge their choices to have children they cannot afford to raise. Among the options for such parents is employment in the security sector.
Recently, it was suggested by Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection Keith Scott that single mothers who work at private security firms should not work night shifts. While in some cases single mothers working security at night does pose a risk to their children, single mothers who work night shifts are not only security guards. They are also people in the medical field, business and the disciplined forces. So why target security guards?
I do know of cases where single mothers had to leave their children to work at night and the children were abused, but is removing women from night shifts the overall solution? Why not think of other solutions that may help, like state-sponsored night care for those mothers who may not have a relative who can take care of the children while they work or cannot afford babysitters? Perhaps I am thinking too much outside the box or maybe with the promise of oil wealth and all sometime in Guyana’s future we may have such options.
Minister Scott’s suggestion may have been partially motivated by allegations that female security guards have been exploited by their superiors at night through sexual misconduct, but is the solution to disregard the depravity of those abusers? Why do we often ignore the errors of the offenders and punish or make changes that affect the victims’ lives?
Some mothers would be happy to stop working night shifts no doubt, but such a decision should not be made simply based on a person’s gender. It is a step backwards for equality and reinforces a patriarchal view of women as subservient.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon has since said that Cabinet has not approved any such policy, but that we are even having a conversation about women being banned from working the night shift in 2017 is regressive.
And what about single fathers? No doubt that the majority of single parents are mothers, but there are those men who make sacrifices to take care of their children by themselves. Some of the same circumstances women face also make them single fathers. Just recently, there was the dreadful story where one year old Ronasha Pilgrim was allegedly killed by her uncle while her father was out working the night shift, leaving her in the care of her older brothers, who are children themselves.
So, will there be a suggestion at any time that single fathers should not work night shifts? I doubt it.
Single parenthood will always exist but I believe that the numbers can be less and it starts with parents instilling values in their children, teaching them about responsible behaviour, equipping them with the tools to be able to assess their potential partners before deciding to have children; and advising them to engage in family planning and not leave it to chance. Fathers must speak to their sons and reinforce the idea that a man who walks out on or refuses to take responsibility for his child or children is nothing but a coward. It would help if those in power who are concerned about restoring the “moral fabric” of our society design more programmes to reach those young men and women who may exist in circumstances that put them at greater risk of becoming single parents. It would also help if structures are put in place to ensure that single parents are paid proper wages so that they can better take care of their children. In many instances, their focus is so much on turning coins into dollars to be able to provide the basic needs that the children lose out on affection and eventually seek it elsewhere and the cycle continues.