Today’s society screams at the poor in utter disdain but actually creates a resolve in the women affected by this poverty that society struggles to accept. It is one thing to have a family as a single mother, but to do it intentionally, and at a young age is not something the upper echelon wants to think about. However, in a book by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, an approach to motherhood goes beyond what some may call ‘normal.’ But why should it be seen as normal? Who is to say what normal is? In this essay I will show the reasons why the author’s believe that it is a feministic characteristic defined by the circumstances of these poor women which build a resolve for them to have and raise their children while they themselves can still be considered children.
There are a lot of factors at play in the lives of the poor women living below poverty level that were interviewed by the authors. For example, the lack of commitment by the young men who father these children is a strong motivator for the young women to not seek marriage. The reasoning is they are not ready for the aggravation they believe marriage brings. It is not that they don’t trust these young men as much as it is the fact that too many negative factors, such as drugs, alcohol and crime are ‘tagged’ onto the marriage commitment they have seen in their communities. The young women are confident in their ability to raise their family without the need of a mate when all it brings are negative factors that the children will be subjected to.
Some of these single mothers even attribute their mellowed life style to the birth of their children. They believe it is the children that keep them off the streets and focused on the things in life that will bring some sort of stability and happiness in spite of their poverty level. With divorce being frowned upon more than being a single mother, the women are choosing the most logical avenue to pursue their family life. They believe the children bring peace in the midst of what could be a very stressful life. The idea of having to deal with more personalities than is absolutely necessary is also a contributing factor. The women believe that it is feminism based upon their conditions of inequality that make them the more likely candidate for child-raising.
Inequality in the workforce, as well as home, gives the young feminists the courage to face what seems like insurmountable odds and come out a winner; at least in their view. They will work wherever someone is willing to hire them, but they will not rank the job as more important than their children. Also, it is not that they don’t believe in marriage, they do, but it is held in such high regard they do not want to take the chance of ruining an opportunity to become a respectable family in their community. In fact, they “have embraced a set of surprisingly mainstream norms about marriage and the circumstances in which it should occur” (Edin & Kafalas, pg 200). With these thoughts in mind they approach life in the only logical way left to them.
Does this make the single mothers less fit to raise children? They would argue “No” instead; it gives an opportunity to build their family to the level they desire without finding “Mr. Right,” and also allows them time to discover who “Mr. Right” is. Then, once he is found all involved come together under one roof and a family unit is born. They have a strong desire to live the American dream, but their circumstances dictate a lifestyle they must endure if they are determined to have a family of their own. However, this does not mean that their children have to look bad, i.e. dirty, messed up hair or ragged clothes. This factor actually leaves the impression of success in raising children in the poorest of circumstances. The single feminist keeps her children clean, well dressed, and works with them to make them polite, respectful of others, and an asset to the community. Another thing these women do is spend quality time with their children. They do not ‘pawn’ them off on someone else to watch them while they do other things. Some even consider having their children while still living with their parent(s). This way the grandparents of the children can have an active role in their up-bringing.
Finally, motherhood is seen as something that a mature individual pursues and brings with it the reaching of a significant mile-stone. Some of these mothers are nothing short of miracle workers as they endure hardships others will not be able to understand until they face them also. The time and energy it takes to be a single mother is time well spent, and encourages other single women in the community to do the same. Knowing the challenges that lay ahead of them, they are seen as courageous in the fight against the odds that are sadly stacked against them.