Bonus - (Part 1) On Challenging the Assumption that Single Mothers by Choice Hate Men w/ Clinton

Episode 21 June 14, 2023 00:30:48
Bonus - (Part 1) On Challenging the Assumption that Single Mothers by Choice Hate Men w/ Clinton
Start to Finish Motherhood with Aisha
Bonus - (Part 1) On Challenging the Assumption that Single Mothers by Choice Hate Men w/ Clinton

Jun 14 2023 | 00:30:48

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Hosted By

Aisha Jenkins

Show Notes

In anticipation of Father's Day, Aisha Jenkins challenges the assumption that Single Mothers by Choice harbor resentment towards men. Her lens is shaped by her own positive experiences with her step father and close relationships with brothers and friends who actively participate in her children's lives.

Aisha's guest, Clinton Johnson, joins the conversation as one of those trusted male friends. They discuss their collaborative work and exchange insights on navigating single parenthood. Clinton shares his experiences from two decades ago, allowing for a comparison with Aisha's current journey. The discussion delves into the stereotypes surrounding single parenthood and how these perceptions impact various aspects of life, from education to the workplace.

Together, Aisha and Clinton challenge societal norms and shed light on the diverse experiences of single parents.

Clinton Johnson along with Aisha and others are founders of NorthStar of GIS an organization focused on increasing representation and inclusion in geostem fields.

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Episode Transcript

As a Single, Mother by Choice, I think that there's sometimes an assumption that we don't like men. We don't have men in our spaces, or we don't have male friends, or you're single for a reason and you should date everybody that's in your orbit. I have a real. Loving place in my heart for the men that I consider, friends that I respect implicitly and would allow and trust them around my kids. When I was sitting down and reflecting and envisioning on the podcast and the episodes that I wanted to do, you actually came [00:01:00] to mind . So just for context, I'm open at work about being a Single Mother by Choice. For those who are closest to me, I explained to them what that means. And anyone who's had the pleasure of speaking to me after hours, they know that my kids are always around. The kids will pop in and say hi. Then I'll tell little parenting antidotes about my. and as I recount those stories I am always. reminded of what a cool ass dude you are and that you can just flex in and out right along with me because I will flex from, yes, I need to do these reports, project management, what we're doing with North Star. And then, oh, Camille, she just eat, she, she just went into the refrigerator, she got her own food , and then get back into, okay, what are we doing for Black History Month? And you have the uncanny ability to just laugh and flex with. and that is something that is so priceless and I truly appreciate. And so when I think about the value of [00:02:00] men to my own personal life, to the life of my girls, and to the life of, , women, I think of it in terms of abundance. I think of it in terms of, positivity. So I wanna welcome. My friend Clinton, to the podcast. And before I ask you to introduce yourself, I wanna say to our audience, it's always been important to me to establish that black men are important in the lives of all of our children. And so, Clinton, please introduce yourself. Hey, first of all I deeply appreciate that introduction. Introduction is like the simplest way I can describe it because that's fundamentally what it was. But likewise, I, I value our friendship and. . And I'm happy to know that you've valued. It as well. I'm Clinton Johnson. I use he, him pronouns. I work in the geospatial industry and I'm a co-founder with Aisha and some other folks of a nonprofit organization that focuses on black representation in [00:03:00] geography, GIS and, and STEM fields that are related to geography in particular. I happen to be a parent as well and an uncle. So and just a firm believer that parents do an invaluable service to society. Without parents, we would stop , you know, at the mm-hmm. society. I have a deep appreciation for for people who parent that's, you know, , you know, always do what you gotta do and, and work wraps around that, you know, our, activities wrap around that. Thank you. So, okay. Tell us a little about your parenting situation. I'm gonna segue into that because I did not know about your parenting situation. It unfolded with our friendship. And it unfolded in a rather interesting way. Like, if I could cover your face, you would be one of my girlfriends or one of my sisters just recounting the same stories and I'm just like[00:04:00] I became a parent when I. 20, and coming into being a parent, I had the influence of my grandmother, my mother, my aunt. As, as parents, as mothers in particular, and as people who cared about all the kids, everybody's kids, if they were in visual scope or range they were a concern of those people in my life. So when I'm around kids, I'm paying attention to the kids more than I'm paying attention to anything else that might be going on with adults. So when I became a parent my life adjusted to being a parent. And, that included, just embracing all the things that it means to be attentive and aware of what's going on with children yours or other people's. And trying to be respectful and mindful to model behaviors that if kids were paying attention, they might inspire them to be positive contributors to society. . And my work life balance when I was a parent earlier on, [00:05:00] maybe throughout the time that my son was growing up was horrendous, because I had this intense overemphasis on trying to make sure that I was doing everything I could to provide. Resources that would set him up for the greatest level of success that was from the gate. My thought process, I have to work harder, I've got to do more. I've gotta make sure that I grow as fast as I can so that, he has the best platform possible. And that was like a thought I had when I was 20-21. Internalizing for myself what it meant to be a parent. And some of that is like, oh, it's not an 18 year job. Right? Right. It's a lifetime experience. There's no cutoff point when you're no longer a parent. The relationship just constantly evolves. Cause I could see that with my mother. I could see that with her and her sister and siblings and I started to imagine what that would be like for myself. I feel like my folding into parent was like this over-emphasis on [00:06:00] providing financially, sort of morally maybe, the idea. Create a, healthy contributor, positive contributor to society. Like that was like, yes, that was the idea from the gate. So that's what I wanted to do. Yes. So take a step back. You are a single parent. I don't wanna get too much into the, the why's and the how, but you raised your son as a single parent. I think that's an important distinction because, . Being a single parent that is a father versus a single parent that is the mother. I think we talk a lot about, the unexpected parent that shows up at the doctor's appointments or at the schools or the unexpected parent who has to bow out of work engagements because you've got, childcare or daycare pickup. Let's compare and contrast and talk about that if a meeting comes up that's outside of my time zone, I'm like, oh, can't make that meeting. Or if I'm in training and it coincides with daycare pickup. I tell people I have to pick up my kids, so I need to bow out. And [00:07:00] people are pretty much okay with that. Has that been your experience? I was just talking to my son about this. And we've spoken about covering before. I always look younger than I am. That's been my experience. So when I was in my twenties, I looked like I was a teenager and as a young black man who to some people look like a teenager who had a child at work, It was, a problem. It became more and more a problem for me as I moved closer and closer to, tech, to enterprise level as I was climbing up the ladder. Particularly as a, a single parent. I was co-parenting with my son's mother, and we used that language co-parenting. But when he was growing up, there were times when, he lived primarily with me and spent weekends with her. And that spanned a number of years and then it would flip. But we always operate as if we are both a hundred percent responsible for him. And I remember the first time. When I got, to the tech space, when I mentioned that [00:08:00] had a child suddenly certain work opportunities started to disappear. People were making assumptions about what I would or wouldn't be available for. So I started to just not talk about being a parent at. , for the stigma around it and for how it was starting to show up impacting my career. Now my son is having a different experience. We were just now talking he was saying how today in his field, when he's sharing that he's a parent probably because he's also married. people seem to appreciate that and think of that as an indicator of his responsibility. Responsible. Yes. . Right. And he is responsible and he is stable. Mm-hmm. and he is focused on his family or whatever. I wasn't getting that experience. I wasn't getting, , that reaction when I would share, with folks when I would show up at doctor's appointments sometimes people were still looking for mom. Didn't believe I was the one to pick him up when I would pick up my son from school. I mean, also because I look young. There were times in middle school when they would challenge whether or not I was [00:09:00] his father. And I remember a time when they asked him, is this your dad? you know, after grilling me and I was like, go get him. Is this your dad? And he said, yeah, are you sure? , and I appreciate that they were trying to, protect him. And another time when, on his first day of high school, I walked him to school and he and I had a similar uniform for work. And I wasn't completely wearing mine that day. I didn't, I had my blazer in the car or it was at work. Uhhuh . But I had the, shirt and a tie and he had everything on. And I'm just walking into the school. and I'm leaving and someone, an an educator just comes behind me, puts his arm around my shoulder and he was like, where do you think you're going? Tomorrow make sure that you show up, prepare for school, wanna take you to the office, where we have some spare jackets. And I'm like, no, I was dropping off my son. And anyway, those kind of situations, Uhhuh, now when it has come to drop off and pick up and things like that. Very often when he was younger the, the spaces that were available for us to send him to would [00:10:00] have hours that just don't make sense with work responsibilities, like it still does. Your summer program ends at 2:30 PM Hmm. What am I supposed to do with that? Oh, well, I gotta find a program that starts at about 2:30 PM as well. Mm-hmm. , and then I gotta go to the place. take him to the next place. And we almost always used the pay for extra to drop off earlier. To pick up later, yeah. Yep. Before and aftercare and, yep. And there were times when, because of work commitments, I needed that. So I would show up sometimes if the end point was 6:00 PM sometimes I was there at 6:00 PM I was never there at six. Oh. Huh. But there, but frequently I was there at, at 6:00 PM or five 50, and he'd be the last child getting picked up and he, he hated it and I couldn't understand why he hated it so much. And then he explained mm-hmm. In this one situation that. , the person who had to wait with him was saying negative things that made him feel [00:11:00] bad. Mm-hmm. . So, I had to send a letter, we have to send letters sometimes. Yes, he hated the essential letter, but after I sent the letter, life was better for him. And they were very, you know responsive. We were paying for that service. That was their message too. I could probably still find this email. Mm-hmm. . And it was, and we needed it, you know, we needed. . And again, when I say we like me and him me, him and his mom, you know mm-hmm. , we needed that, that extra buffer, right? Being a single parent you know, even when you are co-parenting, this was, this is what I had to accept. It's still challenging because for that period, for that day, for that week, for that, whatever that period of time is, it's all on you. And it's, and it's, you can't expect that someone else, is gonna be there, gonna be able to pick up. So now just an aside I know that this is a bone of contention in the Single Mother by Choice space, that when people who are co-parenting or people who are divorced say, you I felt like a single parent. And I think that this is an example of when it's just [00:12:00] like, in that moment, in those moments, you do feel as if the world is on your shoulder. It doesn't, there's nothing that says it has to be that way all the time, but in those moments when people are making judgments, when people are assuming certain things about your character and your parenting style, Yeah. In that moment you feel very seen and you do feel as if you are a single parent. And that just happens. So can we just let people live? We have more in common than the, the things that separate us, so, yeah. So, you had your kids you had your son when you were in your twenties. I obviously had my kid when I was like closer to 40. , almost a 20 year difference and things have still not changed, there's still the hours for school are not conducive to parents who work. So we do have to pay for additional services like before and aftercare, the pandemic has, has halved. That for me, in [00:13:00] that I now feel like I have a little bit more wiggle room in the mornings to do school drop off. So I save a little bit of money there. But last year when I tried to do school dropoff and pickup, I think it nearly killed me I was like, I love my kid and I love hearing about the end of her day and capturing her when it's fresh, but that interruption to my workday meant I needed to make up hours in the evening, and it was just a lot, but I did it. I got to enjoy the time with her. But we are back to, our regular routine. Okay, so I don't wanna get all into your business, but dating as a single. Is different than just dating as a single person, can we talk about that a little bit and compare and contrast? I know for me now, all right, 20 year difference. I'm dating,. So you just need to know at that point in time, when you're looking at my profile, I'm a single mom, right? And then that's it. Like you're going to hear kid noises in the background, you know? And you know, that might work for some people, it doesn't work for some people. But as a [00:14:00] single parent, I feel I have very specific needs in terms of dating, and I am very clear about what those needs are, and I'm okay walking away from situations where it's just not for me, you know? But. You know I'm, I'm terrible at it. I've always been terrible at it. I'll be honest about that. And for me I didn't care as much because I decided I was parenting, you know, for good periods of time. And so that was a priority. That was the priority. And that also made things difficult. Right? Because the picture we paint for children is that, the person who's your ideal partner will be someone who puts you first, who sees you as the most important thing in their world or whatever. Mm-hmm. . Well, that's not gonna work for those of us who see ourselves as single parents who are you know, parenting. And sometimes I feel like there are these toxic patterns where people will follow that they [00:15:00] will think of their children as secondary not just to their partner, their mate, but to the person who might be come, their partner or mate who might also not, you know mm-hmm. in those moments. So I, I never wanted any of that. So I was the kind of person who rarely dated around my son when he was growing up. As an adult, sometimes, hasn't really appreciated that. But I think his experience benefited from that because mm-hmm. Yeah, I can't imagine, you know, doing the thing where there's all the aunts I guess is what it would be, aunts or aunt that, I definitely saw people who, whose kids had all these, these uncles or all these friends. Now these were. Uncles or like, people to dating. Yeah. How they introduce them to their kids. Initially when they're introducing them early when things are still developing. Sometimes they'll say they're a friend or they'll say this is your aunt or your uncle, whatever, which is to me , I don't disparage this, because it's a pattern. It's like [00:16:00] people are trying to figure out like, what am I gonna do? How do I navigate this? And they see that pattern out there in the world, and they're like, all right, well, I'll try that out. But when you create relationships with people and kids are people, you can't, expect that these relationships just get torn apart if things don't work out with you, with this other person. That's the thing I always, dreaded just thinking about, yeah, ? So I'll also add this, that. very often I felt like when I was trying to date, I was looking for other people who were also single parents, so they could get that part so they could understand that this, potential partner as primacy kind of mm-hmm. Sure. Principal doesn't really work in practice when you're, when you're a parent. Yeah, so definitely a lot of things to relate to. Like, as a single mom, , what does dating look like? , look dating is very expensive and very time consuming. That was one of the things that hit me the hardest was the realization once I became a parent, is that it's a lot more time. Or maybe I'm just more aware of the time that things take now all of my time is not my own like you said, I have priorities in [00:17:00] dating. And so when I was single, I did date men who had children and I've also dated men who didn't have children. And I made adjustments and I think it helped to have that firm boundary on, what the situation was and how much time even before I had kids, I was cognizant of the impact that I could have on my partner's kids, right? And I took that responsibility very seriously. And so now that I consider dating as a single mom, it is like, who gets to be introduced to my kids? And when, how do you navigate that? And I I, the confusion of seeing P D A. , your mom and your uncle is just mind boggling to be like, who? I can't, . How do you explain this? Right? Like, that's gonna trip somebody out and it's just, and, but it also makes you look a bit like a liar. And I don't want my kids to perceive me as lying or, incestuous with uncle.[00:18:00] So, you know, so, so for me, you know, but also having had enough time and space, I'm not trying to both parent and date, right? So my priorities are similar to yours. Like , I am in a parenting workspace. Dating is the icing on the cake if I have time and if I feel up to it. I let that be known. And that gets mixed reviews from people. . But I think being clear on what you're looking for, being clear on what the relationship is and what it isn't. And then look, you're never gonna meet my kids. And it's just like, what do you mean? I dated a guy who once was like, what role will I play in the lives of your children? None right now that's relevant. So, and it was just like, so for some people who are looking for, that type of stability who are just like, this is the role that I have to. have if I'm going to date a person with kids, that doesn't work for me because I'm also of the mindset, we'll come together and then we'll decide. But it can't be preconceive because you don't know [00:19:00] me. I don't know you and you don't know my kids. So yes, dating is always interesting. Yeah, I was, when you said you, you tell people that to whatever degree is optional, that they don't get to meet your. , do they always believe you and if not, do they somehow get shocked later on that it hasn't happened or that it hasn't happened yet? Even though you've already told them , I for sure had those experiences. I think some of it is those ideas that are barriers for us in the world. Those ideas. relationships look a certain way. Start to set expectations for folks early. So whether they mean well or they're being clumsy or whatever those preconceived notions that they may have about what their role is going to be or should be, or how they want it to look. You don't work, unless you somehow also share those same ideas, but, Even what you're looking for, and I'm okay walking away from situations where it's just not for me. Like many will assume you're a single mother, right? [00:20:00] They somehow missed the by choice part. Like, you know, I went to a doctor, you know, I looked through a sperm bank catalog, right? You know, I dropped all this money it was intentional but they'll be like, oh, you're looking for a dad, right? a husband, you're looking for a father for your kids. And I'm just like, no. Like if I wanted that, I would've done it in the situation that I was in. So I intentionally went this path because that ship had sailed. But to answer your question, like, you know, how is it usually received? I have had people who are just like, oh, that works for me, or it doesn't work for me. But I don't think I've had a situation, a dating situation that lasted longer than six, seven months as a single mom by choice, where it ever got to the point where they were like, Hey, when am I gonna meet your kids? Or something like that. It was. , , pretty much compartmentalized. So for me, I, haven't gotten a lot of that. I have had people that, are in different places and they're like, no, I could do this. But the questions you're asking, the amount of time that you want, it's just like, can you drop [00:21:00] everything after work and go to like opera? And I'm just like, what part of I need to know in advance? And line up childcare does not compute. Right. And so then there's a lot of adult. Yeah. A lot of adulting that happens when you're a single parent because regardless of how I like you, it this type of pressure I don't need. Right. And it's just like, you, you, you handsome at all. I enjoy the time we spend together, but I could do without this pressure. And so then you end up having to be like, sorry, but not sorry. Yep. There was a point where I was also primary caregiver for my mom when she, when she like, first had something really strange happen with her as a consequence of her having diabetes. And my days were you know, coming, picking up my son, going home. doing homework, making dinner for all of us helping my mom with things, spending time with my, my son and then chilling. And then sometimes, and so sometimes I didn't, I didn't have that, that break. And I was seeing somebody who, and we really [00:22:00] enjoyed each other's time, time and everything, but she didn't believe me the times when I would say, , no, I can't make it because I gotta do something for my son, or no, I can't make it. Gotta do something for my mom. Just thought I was lying. And you know, she'll laugh about it today, but she sent me every form of, of missive, I guess to break up for me a email, a text, uhhuh, , a phone call, left a voicemail. Cause it was very upsetting to her that I, I just, I wasn't making. I wasn't making time for her. Mm-hmm. . And she was, she was a single, a single mother. Which was always really interesting to me , that she had those expectations now and, and some, and as the, I guess the, the roles that we were playing in the relationship meant that I was the, I was the one traveling, I was the one coming to I was the one you know, driving maybe like I was, I was making all the moves in her direction. And , I met her, her child, day one. Mm-hmm. , and you know, that it was [00:23:00] cool. But it isn't a thing I would've done right as we, as we're describing. But there's all, you know, when we were, when we were growing up, there were all those movies. If there was a single parent in the movie, especially if she was white, then day one. there was a oops encounter with the kids or an intentional encounter with the kids, because you gotta know about the kids. And then this falling in love with the kids is if that was the thing that was always going to happen, never any awkward encounters with the kids. Because that would be, that would be traumatizing if you see 'em on screen. Uhhuh . But, but it would also be informative to see on screen, so. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Anyway, it was a, All right. All right, so shift gears. So the moment that I really clued in that you were that parent that could be a parent mentor for me was last year when I was going through a lot of issues with the school. And so I will, I will typically say when you are envisioning your life as a single [00:24:00] parent, because I did envision my life as a single parent. , you don't fully anticipate what it means to go from the frying pan to the fire when your kids enter school, right? You are no longer in control of their environment. they go to the school door, it closes behind them and you're looking through the window like I wonder what their day is like. And then you get filtered information. So going from from your kids leaving home to going into school is like frying pan to the fire. So I had to lean a lot on, being a black person, navigating white spaces, it's a lot of messaging, microaggressions that happen and gaslighting, it's just like, did I did what? Happened really just happened? Am I mis perceiving? So this issue that I had with my school was that they were like, your child's behavior is not developmentally appropriate and we need to get some intervention. There's a learning disability or something that's going on there. . So it was really gratifying and nurturing for me to have other [00:25:00] parents who have been there, and also with a bit knowledge on how to navigate these situations. So Clinton. , have things stayed the same or have they changed over time? I had experiences as a child along those lines that. Informed how I handled things with my son and choices that we made for the schools. So for his elementary and middle school experience, he went to a predominantly black school where we got really lucky. And it wasn't just that it was predominantly black, it wasn't even just that they, that they had this great focus on nurturing black children. There were a couple of teachers that he had who themselves coached me and his mom whenever they had an opportunity on those kinds of things that we might encounter. So whenever they would happen, we suddenly, we weren't shocked because we had sort of been prepared by these two other parent mentors that we had who happened to be his teacher. And so we could navigate them differently. And then so when those things would happen, you know, , we had language around how to message. We [00:26:00] had books back in the day that we've been looking at, you know, very often written by black teachers who were parents who've gone through these same experiences. So, no, these things have not changed, and I found that the whiter, the spaces that he got into the, the more likely that these things would happen, even though he's getting older. So also, you know, helping. Finding ways to carefully prepare your children to navigate that stuff as well as is hard because they're like the first line of defense. My mentality is to get everybody on. Team Kale, you know, team, whatever your kid's name is. Yeah. And and as team members, we all have a role to play, so don't shift everything onto me. I'm not gonna try to shift everything onto you, but those things that you're supposed to do, I'm gonna challenge you on. Right. I remember times when, when teachers would say things like oh, he's not paying attention. His attention is drifting when I'm doing the lesson. [00:27:00] So when I would ask a question like, so what did he say was happening when you asked him about it? Sometimes they would, they would, it was clear that they did not ask. they had already made some assumption that that's how he's going to be likely because he's black, possibly, also because he's specifically a black boy given what the studies are showing around certain kinds of situations. Yeah. Black girls have have similar, but also different things that they're going through. So weeding out those kind of biases and making sure that they are doing their jobs is important. So I, I always told my son and every kid that I encounter who I feel like I can talk to about this, the teachers have a job to. , the people at the school, they have, they have roles to play, they have jobs to do. And it's not all on you. You have a job to do as well, but it's not all on you. We have a job to do as parents, you know, your parents have roles to play too. But honestly, in the education system, I put more of a burden on the trained educators than I would on the, the parents who became parents, you know, like are doing their best and, and reading what they [00:28:00] read and spending time doing what they, they do, but largely relying on an education system with qualified professionals to help, to educate their kids, you know yeah, it hasn't changed and you have to constantly be careful and wary and, and, and navigate things. With that frame of, of race and gender, always. Yes, yes. That people will always try to put your kids into a bucket through that lens. Yeah. And I, I will tell you, I, I had to become a fierce advocate and it took all of my professional training to go in there and, and I hate this, that it's, I had to go in there so that I didn't get irate and show, how frustrated I actually felt because of the racial bias. that they view us with, but it's just like, okay, how do I hold you accountable using language that you use? Like they gave me a book and I was just like, okay, I read that book. Have you read that book? Because according to that book, this is [00:29:00] where she's at, and it's just like, similar to you, I got this complaint. But it's like you. Couldn't listen to a six year old or ask a question because she could potentially be right. And so now you are caught up in this ego, this push and pull, , this tug of war with a seven year old because you were wrong and you wanted to double down on being wrong, right? And so it's these interactions that it's like, it is about the adult in the situation and how do you get around that. And so I had to advocate fiercely. Like the counselor was like, oh, I set up a meeting with the principal. We can go talk. The principal is black. I was just like, yeah, I don't need you. I would like to talk to the principal on my own because I needed to get to the level of her blackness to say, you know, this happens and hold her accountable. Like, so what is your plan for the teacher so that this doesn't happen again? So I really think that we are not done with this conversation, so we are going to have a part [00:30:00] two. We're gonna come back next week and finish up the conversation with Clinton.

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