Why is My Motherhood Considered Ghetto?

by Sharisse Tracey

When white actresses like Kate Winslet, Melanie Griffith and supermodel Christie Brinkley have a trio of kids with three different dads, it’s a trend. When I do it, it’s ghetto. There's even a reality show on the E! Network showcasing the exploits of The Stewarts and The Hamilton’s, as in forever young Rod Stewart and forever tan George Hamilton. These men have a lady in common: Alana Stewart. She’s the mother of their children and in Hollywood that’s called entertainment. But when a black woman, like me, has multiple kids with more than one man, I get labeled ghetto, promiscuous, easy, irresponsible, uneducated and even a whore.

I'm divorced and very good friends with my ex-husband. When I don’t mind the long explanation, I refer to him as my best friend. He’s slept on my couch plenty of nights and lived with me for short intervals. I even rented my house to my ex when I remarried my military husband and moved out of state. I was briefly engaged to my second child’s father before he took back his proposal, and I currently share the last name of my youngest children, as I’m married to their father. So what gives? There wasn’t any production crew in my house. No Ryan Seacrest, lucrative contract or magazine write-ups glorifying how wonderfully we all get along. My family has been blended since the early 90’s--well before that was a buzzword. I was in this thing before Will and Jada Smith’s nuptials, when she lovingly referred to her new stepson as her bonus child. So why am I labeled as “ghetto” for having four children with three fathers but white women are celebrated for the exact same thing?

At age 19, when I married the only male friend I’d ever trusted I was convinced settling down with a best friend would last. When friendship wasn’t enough after the lonely childhood of an only child, a baby seemed logical to me as a young and naïve teen. Divorce wasn’t something I spent time thinking about. Motherhood was. I’d always wanted to be a mother and somehow knew I’d be one early. But after being sexually abused by my father and confused when my mother stayed I believed I would have a different type of marriage.

Two years in and soon after our child was born I was no longer happy being his wife. I was having an affair with an old high school boyfriend I’d never gotten over. I jumped in the arms of another for what I thought were all the right reasons but definitely at the wrong time. Foolishly, I expected my new lover to act as a husband should. A year into that relationship I was pregnant and my second child was born. Newly divorced and still a kid myself, I was looking for someone whom I thought would love me back unconditionally, always be there for me and never leave me. I believed having a lot of children could fill in the empty spaces of my own childhood. I realize how ridiculous that sounds now. Determined to make this pairing work I vowed to stay no matter what. I was now a young mother with two children by two different men. The beatings had already started and nothing stopped them. Not pregnancy, not birth, not love, not even sobriety.

My live-in boyfriend of five years proposed and after an argument that he started, he recanted. Not wanting to be considered a “baby mama,” a new term first heard in my twenties that was always spoken about like it was a disease, I stayed in a verbally, emotionally and physically abusive relationship with the only man I felt gave me validity, who made me part of a couple, who made me not, a baby mama. But after half of a decade I had nothing left. No pride, no self-esteem, no self-value, and I thought no self-respect. My reasons for having children were simple: to love them. I didn’t have children to raise them alone. That was never part of my plan, nor did I have children to become a label, a stereotype for people to look at and judge. For men to assume I was easy and for women to assume the same.

When I sat down to watch all the highly-rated TV shows, none were my reality. The exact opposite happened. Single motherhood was being celebrated while I was being ridiculed. Celebrity moms were being praised for doing it all despite having access to nannies, housekeepers, chefs, drivers, bodyguards and personal assistants--all things I couldn’t even imagine. And I was being typecast for utilizing a welfare system that I not only needed for a limited time while I still worked and attended school but one I took myself off of sooner than I had to. It’s not about hating on the players but it’s for damn sure about hating the game. It’s time to stop this double standard.

We love our celebrities, and as fans want them to be our modern day heroes. I get that. I read magazines, watch movies and television and indulge in some reality television just like a lot of us do. But it’s time we stop glorifying entertainers for doing what most of us do without one quarter of their support. In the spirit of that idea, it’s also time to stop knocking down the everyday people who are more like the majority of us than them. While it’s true you might think you have nothing in common with a woman who shares four kids with three men. It’s far more likely that I’ll come to your aid if you’re in a jam than someone you don’t know and probably will never meet. So let’s stop with the name-calling and maybe just try to call each other what we really are, neighbors, friends, community.

Photo: William Bossen

Sharisse Tracey's work appears in The Los Angeles Review and at The New York Times, Ebony, Essence, Salon, Yahoo, xojane, she knows, MommyNoire and For Harriet and is forthcoming at The Washington Post, Dame and Honeysuckle Magazine. She's written a memoir, In Spite Of, about surviving her childhood and abuse. Several pieces from It have been published online. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Twitter @SharisseTracey.

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