When I completed my paperwork to become a foster parent, I signed up for two girls, between the ages of 4 and 10. I was single with a fairly demanding career, so I didn’t want babies and I didn’t want teenagers. I was pretty ignorant, but I was at least savvy enough to know that. I also didn’t feel comfortable fostering boys, because I wasn’t sure that I could be the role model a boy needed. I was knowledgeable enough at the time to know that everyone needs someone who looks like them to look up to, and who will show them a path to success. In the last eleven years, that point has become all the more clear via research and experience.
My two daughters arrived in February, and my middle kiddo left the next day, because of violent rages that I now know were due to trauma. I didn’t know how to handle her behavior (nor did her former foster family, which is how the girls landed at my house, which a whole other post), so she was moved to a therapeutic foster home and remained in therapeutic foster care until I could become certified in therapeutic foster care and get her back. (Again, whole other blog post. There are so many stories…)
So, oldest kiddo and I are rocking along for about three months, and I get a call from DHS saying the girls have a brother. He’s 3. His foster home is being shut down because of confirmed abuse. And, did I want him? There’s something very unnerving about the way that kiddos are just widgets when these conversations happen, but that’s exactly how they’re handled. On good days they’re handled more like puppies than widgets, but still not like living humans. So, I said yes, of course I wanted him, because I didn’t want to separate siblings, so I hustled and connived in order to get him and keep him (whole other blog post…)
That’s how I became the mom of a boy. I love my boy. I would not do anything differently. I love him more than my own life.
I’ve done a fair job of being a role model. I demonstrated fairly appropriate form while teaching him to urinate into a toilet (“I think you need to arch your back more, buddy.”) I set aside a whole lot of fear and allowed him to play football. And, most importantly I hope I’ve demonstrated self-respect and respect for others. However, when a boy gets to a certain age, he really needs male role models, and I am many things, but a man is not one.
Since my son was three, I’ve been searching for a mentor, preferably a black man. I’ve called every non-profit I know during that time. I’m scrappy and resourceful, so that’s a lot of inquiries and cajoling over the last eleven years, with zero success.
I can’t say how often I get advice from other people about how my son needs male role models. On my worst days it’s all I can do to not say “Wow, how the hell did I not think of that? Thanks for your remarkable insight.” On my better days, I say politely that I’m aware, and that resources just don’t exist.
So, here is my ask. If you are a man who has any time to give, please consider becoming a mentor, formally or informally, for a boy without a dad. There are many single women like myself who have adopted kids, and who are doing their best but who, like me, no matter how hard they try, are not actually men.
Here are options for formal mentoring:
- 100 Black Men
- Big Brothers, Big Sisters
- MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership
- Campaign for Black Male Achievement
Options for informal mentoring of boys can look like
- Hang outs. Whatever you’re doing, especially with other men/boys, invite the kid along. Keep it casual.
- Leadership. Are you good at what you do? Take the kid with you while you’re doing it. Show him what success looks like, whether its a career, sports, volunteering, or whatever.
- Odd Jobs. Do you need some help around the house? Boys love to be able to buy their own stuff with their own money, and learning while they earn is so much better than many alternatives.
If you have suggestions or know of other organizations, please comment below. Thanks for reading.