“Only a man can raise a man” is a common phrase tossed around the Black community about women raising boys without men.
As a woman who raised a son solo, I interpret that statement as, “If a man is not in your life, your son will never be a real man. You as his mother are not enough—you aren’t even qualified to raise him.”
…The culture’s one-sided mentality about who can best raise Black boys can affect Black mothers’ and sons’ self-esteem.
People who say it often believe that raising boys without men is impossible. That there’s an unspoken system of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are only comprehensible to other men.
Maybe. But I don’t believe men are the only reliable pathway for our Black boys to understand their purpose in life and to make positive impacts in our communities.
What Happens When We Shame Moms Raising Boys Without Men
I agree that fathers are extremely valuable and necessary. Black fathers are incredible. Contrary to popular belief, many are in their homes and raising their children. But there are some Black men who aren’t raising their kids. And the culture’s one-sided mentality about who can best raise Black boys can affect Black mothers’ and sons’ self-esteem.
“Only a man can raise a man” rejects the hard work mothers put into raising their sons. (Regardless of whether or not they’re single or partnered with a man.)
So before you say a woman raising her son without a man is a disadvantage to the Black community, consider what this statement actually does:
1. Black mothers may think they’re not enough if they’re raising boys without men.
“Only Black men can raise Black men” statements wound Black moms. It affects how they think, feel, and carry out their duty to raise their sons into upright human beings. It also hurts their self-esteem; she may believe she’s incapable of raising her sons properly.
In my early custody court battle, I was made to feel inadequate and unqualified to raise my son because my son’s father got married; had a home, a new family, and money; and because he was a man. I felt completely stripped of my dignity, pride, and capability as our son’s mother, and often contemplated sending him to live with his father full time. I ultimately decided to stand my ground and fight for my son and my self-worth, but believing that statement almost destroyed my family.
2. Black sons may grow up to not respect women.
Some sons grow up to become men who don’t respect women because they’ve long looked at women as “less than” and “not enough,” starting with their mothers.
How could they not when they’ve been told that only men can give them what they need?
3. Black sons start to question their manhood and identity.
When Black boys hear “only men can raise other men,” they may begin to believe it, too. They may say to themselves, My mother can’t raise me. My father isn’t here. Who am I? What am I supposed to do? What makes me a man? Am I a man?
This line of questioning and self-doubt can lead our boys to fill this void in unhealthy ways. They often look for that male authority figure in the wrong places well into adulthood.
“The socialization of Black boys in today’s fractured family life is left too often to the peer groups and the streets,” wrote Dr. Nathan and Julia Hare in Bringing the Black Boy to Manhood. “Street education is often maladaptive, even antithetical [and] oppositional, to school performance and parental teaching.”
When a mother’s investment, endless love, and sacrifices into her son are disqualified and seen as never enough, how could she possibly fill the void of inadequacy?
4. Black mothers are blamed for fatherless households when raising boys without men.
I instilled in my son lessons of accountability and responsibility, as well as a conscience, so that he understood how important his future role as a father is in the survival of Black families. From my observation and from speaking to many men‘s groups, many men from single-mother homes yearn for their fathers and use their absence as a crutch or an excuse for their poor self-worth or behavior. They totally dismiss the nurturing, lessons, sacrifices, hard work, and suffering that their mothers or guardians provided.
Society has already painted Black women as loud, aggressive, and angry. I am none of those things and yet I often felt like I had to justify why I was a single mother because I was made to feel as though not having a man or father for my son was somehow wrong or my fault. A woman raising her children alone should never be made to feel as though it’s problematic or as if she’s defective.
5. Black men are excused from repeating the cycle and creating fatherless households.
In my experience, too many women excuse poor behavior from toxic men. We blame ourselves, defend, or give them passes when they don’t deserve it. It gives them permission to further devalue us, therefore decreasing our self-worth only to perpetuate the myth that without men, we are not enough.
At some point we have to stop the cycle of men who make “mistakes” and leave their children or bounce from one woman to the next. We can’t be afraid to tell our men the truth out of fear of them leaving; we must hold them accountable. There must be consequences for their actions, as this sends the message that Black mothers and sons are valuable. We can’t allow toxic men or society to make us feel we are not enough when statistics show time and time again that women are primarily the ones left to raise their sons.
Getting Support While Raising Boys Without Men
So you see, when Black moms hear “Only Black men can raise Black boys,” it does more than strips them of their role as mothers; it keeps them from being seen and respected as enough.
Mama, you can raise your son into a man. You’re already doing it.
Your son will grow into a man one day. The message you want to send him now is how to treat you with respect and appreciate your efforts. That way, when he grows up, he will know how to treat women and value himself. We must end the generational trauma of abuse and teach our sons how to be the men we wished we had.
I was intentional when raising my son.
I celebrated the highs and provided consequences for lows.
I cuddled, not coddled, and developed boundaries and set standards to ensure a clear understanding of our roles—me as his mother and a woman, and he as my son growing into a man.
Instead of saying “Only Black men can raise Black boys,” let’s create space for and normalize single moms getting support when she needs it. For single moms looking for support in raising their boys, you can join my Facebook support group, Single Moms Raising Sons 123. You can share your thoughts and experiences, and there are many professional counselors available to offer support. I also have a six-week workshop that provides training and support for single mothers and their sons.
There are grants for single moms who need financial assistance (see Single Mother Guide and Singlemoms.org). If you need emotional support and guidance, there’s Single Parent Center; Vibrant Emotional Health, which offers 24-hour counseling and peer support; and Good Therapy offers great information and therapists in your state. (You can also search Therapy for Black Girls to find a Black therapist.)
And there are a number of organizations that provide the additional connection and emotional support [from which] all boys can benefit [delete from]: Young Men’s Initiative, Ok Program, Concerned Black Men of America, and the National Mentoring Partnership.
We shouldn’t box in Black families with this statement anymore, but rather give credit where it’s due. Instead of devaluing the power, strength, and efforts of mothers, the Black community should put its resources together and combat the issues that break down Black culture and the family structure. Until then: Mama, you can raise your son into a man. You’re already doing it.