How Can We Support Single-Parent Mothers?

Open Society Institute grantees David Miller and Matt Stevens recently told me of a scenario that occurred in September: A 14-year-old boy returns home after 2 am on a school night. He and his mother get into a shouting match. The academic year isn't a month old, and he's already been kicked out of two schools and is dealing dope. The mother slaps him in fear she's lost control. He reels and strikes her back, harder. After she phones 9-1-1, the police come. So does social services. Her son is arrested. Her other kids are removed from the home. The next morning, the leader of her son's gang threatens to kill her if she ever phones the police on her son again.

This scenario is reminiscent of numerous phone calls and messages (as many as 40-50) that Miller and Stevens receive per day from single-parent mothers around the country in greater or lesser degrees of peril.

The two men co-founded the organization Raising Him Alone as a means of surrounding single-parent, African American mothers with support for raising their sons. It's a comprehensive resource network that includes one of the most innovative models in the country for incorporating the web and social media. (View an example of downloadable parenting strategies.)

I profiled Raising Him Alone as part of the Open Society Institute's Campaign for Black Male Achievement, which seeks to create better economic, social, educational, and political life outcomes for African American men and boys. But many of the challenges to which Raising Him Alone responds reflect broader dynamics between men and women.

The impact is higher in African American communities because of structural forces (racially based, I might add, but that could be fodder for many more entries) that have caused approximately two of every three households to be led by single-parent mothers. But single-parent motherhood, and its challenges, isn't isolated to African American communities.

In fact, Miller and Stevens said they've received nearly as strong of a response from white single-parent mothers, despite the program's focus on African Americans. The demand for help is so high that Miller and Stevens receive calls from as far away as Phoenix, Seattle, and even New Zealand.

What about society tends to force women to raise their sons alone? What are the most crucial causes? How can we change? Why aren't we doing so? Why must African American communities suffer the most from this?

Clearly, the answers are too complex to be answered in a blog entry.

But I'd like to hear more of a conversation about this in philanthropy. I believe somewhere at the root is the need to find the intersection of healthy masculinity and feminist theory.