I am staggered by the weightiness of the topic of race, poverty and parenting, because its implications are incredibly important. I ask myself, ‘what lay at the heart of the matter of this conversation’? Does a propensity of research really prove that poor Black and Hispanic children experience double jeopardy because of poverty and low quality parenting. Or, is this an instance of the intersection of research and stereotypical life experiences of the poor and minority?
Written by Allener M. Rogers, Ed.D.
As an education researcher, it is profoundly difficult for me to dispute the findings of rigorously executed experimental study designs where poverty, largely acting through the quality of parenting, produces adverse affects on child development (for examples see 1,2 & 3).
Much easier to debunk are biased descriptive studies used to infer relationships between racial and cultural socio wellbeing of poor minority children (4 & 5). As such, the propensity for erroneous interpretations by laymen especially disturbs me (6 & 7).
How we arrive at definitions of quality parenting and/or parenting skills is critical; it must be culturally rooted to be relevant. Being Black is not unequivocally synonymous to poverty and poverty is not unequivocally synonymous with poor parenting ability, as some people believe. According to the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, in 2010 the overall poverty rate in the U.S. was 15.1%, for African Americans it was 27.4% and for Hispanics it was 26.6%, which almost three times the rate of whites 9.9%. Families with children though comprise more of those in poverty. In 2012 the poverty for children is shown in the following table:
African American 37%
Native American 37%
Asian and Pacific Islanders 15%
Source: KIDS Count Data Center
I absolutely believe that child rearing is laden with stressors that, in combination with poverty, substantially increases parental stress. I have been there. I personally know this to be true. I grew up poor and living in a working class neighborhood. My parents separated when I was thirteen. My father was an absentee adult figure in the house and this caused numerous life challenges for us. We often lived without one or more major utility, such as water that we got from neighbors by the bucketful. We kept a large tab at the corner grocer and had all of our clothes made at home. I remember a constant chill in the house that our kerosene heaters could barely relieve. As a result of these quality of life indicators, my mother was quite often a strict disciplinarian both verbally and physically.
The stressors continued to affect my mother when she moved my siblings and me to a three-bedroom apartment that she could not afford. The stressors on my mother were great; paying rent while receiving only $65 weekly in child support, coupled with any income she was able to raise by selling Tupperware and Avon.
When I became a teen mom at the age of sixteen I continued to live in my family home until my daughter was kindergarten age. I received public assistance including cash and food stamps, which greatly helped to feed my entire family and to contribute a little more monetary income to help my mother with the bills.
My mother worked very hard to keep our family functional. Her most obvious behaviors were yelling, spanking and dishing out punishments for actions that disturbed her efforts to run a calm and smooth sailing ship. I have no doubt that the separation between my parents caused my mother to be depressed and anxious.
I worked briefly as a student intern at a neighborhood community center before leaving home to my live on my own with my daughter. One day the center psychologist struck up a conversation about my family. I will never forget our exchange. She asked how many of us where there and I replied 4; two brothers, my sister and myself. She next asked how many of us were high school graduates. I replied, all of us had graduated and she said that was unheard of in poor Black families like mine.
Here in Black History Month it is important to point out that, legions of poor Black and Latino parents want to see their children transcend poverty through education (8 & 9). Culturally, poor Black parents do whatever is necessary to ensure sons and daughters attain a higher level of education then their generation. Both of my parents were also high school graduates. It’s a sacred mission that we sometimes hit or sometimes miss.
Moreover, legions of poor Black children develop characteristics of resiliency and escape poverty and achieve success. It is important to point out on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that prior to the passage of the act the poverty rate for Blacks was over 50%.
In fact, while several longitudinal studies have concluded that poor Black children graduate high school at lower rates than middle class children (10 & 11). Other studies have indicated a positive relationship between poverty and academic achievement of poor students, when strong personal resilience is developed and high quality parental involvement is observed.
Despite our early life disadvantages my siblings and I successfully elevated our family out of poverty and placed us squarely in the middle class. We were not phenomenal. We simply carried out our cultural tradition of pushing past the barriers in our home life and in our community of the working poor so that the next generation is supported with high expectations from their parents.
Thus, the work we do to support parents’ is important to closing the achievement gap for poor minority children. The support we provide parents ultimately helps the children thrive, develop and eventually achieve. A parenting assessment tool, like the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale, serves as a guide to nurturing parenting. Using a parenting assessment you can support parents in building strong personal bonds with their children. With the information provided by a parenting assessment you can better partner with parents to help them achieve their goals for the children. Overwhelmingly, they want their children to escape poverty, and you can help them achieve that goal.