We often hear that parenting is not easy, but what happens if the burden of parenting is carried by one person?
Women who raise their children without a father often have to play both roles, and the experience can at times be daunting.
South Africa has the highest rate of absent fathers in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017 61.8% of children younger than 18 had no biological father at home.
Heartlines has launched a new project called MAPP – to encourage Men’s Active Positive Presence in the lives of children – to deal with the societal impact of absent fathers.
Whilst we often think about the impact on the child, it’s important to also hear from mothers and how they deal with the challenges single parenting presents.
Fana Ndhlovu ,22, says his father and mother parted ways when he was six years old.
His mother, who is a retired domestic worker, moved between jobs trying to make ends meet so that he and his five siblings could receive a good education, had food on the table and were raised to the best of her abilities.
“She tried to be a father. She talked to me about the changes that were taking place in my body and in my life, she spoke to me about being a man, and provided emotional support where I felt like it should be my father having those conversations with me.”
Despite this, there was a loneliness in Fana’s life, a gap that longed for a man to step in and share his journey.
“Other children would talk about their fathers, what they did for them. I had to keep quiet, I still do because I can’t relate.”
Men are bullies
Neliswa Magibile, 25, grew up distrusting men. Her father was abusive towards her mother and to make matters worse, Neliswa was sexually assaulted as a child.
“I was disillusioned about men and relationships between men and women, because I thought that men were bullies and were only there to take whatever they wanted from women.”
As a result she struggled to relate to her older brother and to develop healthy relationships with men.
“I wish my dad had been there to protect me when I was abused, and had played a positive role in my life to show me a different picture of how men are supposed to be.”
When 34 year old Motlatsi Mohube was pregnant, she knew that she was on her own. She had broken up with the father of her child before she found out she was pregnant.
When she did tell him, he made up excuses when it was time to attend doctor’s check-ups.
The decision to keep her child was a tough one, but, he insisted that she keep the child and got his father to intervene.
Motlatsi believes it was her decision to make and she chose to keep her baby, a decision that she doesn’t regret.
“Recently she’s been asking about him, especially on occasions like Father’s day,” she says.
“I tell her good things about her dad but I’m also honest that I don’t know why he decided to not have a relationship with her.”
Motlatsi is a proud mom of a lively, independent and assertive young lady.
“My daughter is highly academic and is one of the top performers in her school, she has a bit of an attitude and at times I wish that her father could be there to say ‘listen to your mom’.”
“I’ve instilled discipline in her from a young age because I know when it’s time for her to be independent, she’ll have a good head on her shoulders.”
A strong support system
Zathi Dlamini ,37, says it was her grandmother’s unwavering support that helped her through single motherhood, and taught her unconditional love.
She was a teenager when she fell pregnant and the experience was a great disappointment.
The father of her son was unemployed when she fell pregnant and that put a strain on their relationship.
“I remember when my son went for circumcision and I had to help him through the process, he was very uncomfortable that I had to dress his wounds and talk him through the process,” she says.
“He often locked me out of his room, and it was then that I realised the importance of having a man in his life.”
Zathi believes it’s imperative for children to have a male presence in their lives, be it a father, uncle or grandfather.
“It’s important for single mothers and their children to have male mentors who can give them guidance.”
Motlatsi shares the same sentiment. It is her father, 65 year old Russel Mthembu, who has been a positive male presence in her daughter’s life.
Russel says it was his duty to bring stability into Motlatsi’s life so that her child would have a balanced life.
“I am a good judge of character and I knew that my daughter’s partner was going to side-step on his duties, he was unreliable and I realised that it was my responsibility as her father to step in,” he says.
He says he raised his three daughters to be independent and gives them advice about men.
“I always tell them to get to know a guy through his family and friends to find out what kind of a person he is, and his intentions,” he says.
“A woman should know if she is entering a relationship with someone who is reliable. I teach my daughters not to depend on men financially because this could put them in a position of being victims of abuse.”
Despite the challenges, Motlatsi feels women carry the burden of single motherhood well.
“Single moms have to be celebrated because we wear many hats but men have to be educated to step up and take responsibility. It’s really hard, but it can be done.”