Being a single mom is a challenge, and a joy. Here are some tips to help you embrace the challenge and be a good parent to your kids.
If you ask anyone to draw a sketch of a happy family they are most likely to draw both the parents with one or two children. If you ask them if a single-parent family can also fit into the cozy happy family portrait you are likely to be greeted by a confused glance.
The truth, however, is that a family having just one parent can also be a happy functional family, while a two-parent family has every chance of being a dysfunctional one.
Statistics show that most single parents happen to be single mothers, than single fathers. We generally associate Western countries with single parenting. However, being a single mom is nothing new even in India.
Sita and Kunti were single mothers who were exemplary in their parenting. A woman may become a single parent by the death of a spouse, divorce or separation, the husband abandoning her, he being sent to jail or a rehab or by having a child out of wedlock.
Single motherhood by full choice of the woman – through adoption or artificial insemination is less heard of in India, although the numbers could increase in future. Being a single mom is a challenge, and a joy. Here are some tips to help you embrace the challenge instead of being at a loss on how to raise your children:
Coping with the shock of being a single mom:
Consultant psychologist Ritu Khanna’s observation is, “Being a single mom suddenly is a difficult situation. Whatever the reason it will entail grieving the loss or learning to cope with the absence of husband, and a woman needs to be allowed that. For women who have outlets outside the marriage such as loving parents, friends and colleagues the task may be easier as during the initial time of single parenthood the mother may be very emotionally depleted herself”.
However all single moms are not fortunate enough to have support. It’s best to accept the situation and move on. Says Milan Das, library staff of Sanskrit College in Kolkata who was left alone with three sons after losing her husband to cancer, “I had just no time to mourn but knew I had to learn how to survive instead.” Don’t indulge in self-pity. Improve your coping skills so you can survive on your own.
Relatives, friends and neighbours are likely to stream in to your home after you’ve lost or have been estranged from your husband asking the same questions over and over, some of which can be very inquisitive and annoying. Avoid those who annoy you but remember that there may be some among them who will offer genuine help.
Don’t be too dependent on relatives and friends:
While it’s true that a single mom may benefit immensely by help of relatives and friends it’s unwise to be too dependent on them. Says Shyamoli Barua (name changed), “I grew up in a very protective family and was misled to believe by my father and brother that a woman couldn’t cope without the help of a male member of the family. When I lost my husband I unquestionably accepted my father and brother as the guardians of me and my daughters. I also used my brother’s car instead of accustoming my children to public transport.”
“My father managed my banking and finances as I was clueless about such matters. Every household decision had to be done with their permission. Even though I had a job and was financially independent my father and brother always told me and my daughters that it was a hassle that we were dependent on them and as without them we would have perished after my husband’s death we should always be grateful to them. Even when my daughters were constantly emotionally abused by my father and brother I could say nothing.”
On the other hand, Jharna Dasgupta, ex-principal of Victoria College says, “I could cope with the sudden shock of widowhood as I’ve been accustomed to leading a hard life since early childhood. As my father was ailing I had to look after my younger siblings so bearing the burden of the whole family was not new to me. I never ever had a protected life. My husband always had cardiac problems, so I had partially prepared myself for the worst”.
To make matters harder for her, Jharna’s son was afflicted by polio almost at the same time that she lost her husband. But raising a physically challenged child single-handed didn’t daunt her. “I raised my son as a normal child. My relatives had told me to be extra-protective but my child’s doctor advised me against it. Special children don’t want special treatment or sympathy. He traveled all alone by bus, took part in academic and extra-curricular activities including sports and went on school excursions and picnics.” Jharna’s son is now a renowned economist who lives in the U.S all by himself and travels the world alone.
Dealing with questions about the father:
Children of single moms will always have questions regarding their father. Sanghamitra Roychoudhury lost her father when she was just a newborn baby but her mom tried that she could always connect with her father even though she had no memories of him whatsoever. Sanghamitra says, “My mother always used to tell me ‘try to be like your father’. My father thereby became my role model.”
Even if the mother has bitterness regarding her departed or estranged husband she should never dump her negative feelings regarding her husband on her children. Advises psychologist Ritu Khanna, “Children’s questions regarding the father need age appropriate answers which should be honest and real without excessive negative or positive emotions attached as they will otherwise confuse the child”.
It may be necessary to maintain some connection and cordial relationship with your estranged husband even if you do not have very positive feelings for him. After all he may be providing for the maintenance of your children.
About the father’s visitation rights, psychologist Ritu Khanna advises, “If the father has the potential to harm the mother or the children in any way – emotional, physical or sexual he shouldn’t be allowed any access to the kids until he takes help and changes. Otherwise and especially if the kids are close to him, they have to be given a chance to forge an independent relationship.”
Project Manager, Ani George from Malaysia, who is waiting for her divorce settlement, currently separated from her husband says, “It is likely that my daughters will eventually desire to have a closer relationship with their father in which case I have to tell myself that this is only natural, as they are half of him as they are half of me”.
Income may be cut short by the death or estrangement from the spouse. A housewife may have to take up a job to make ends meet. Expenditures need to be budgeted. You also need to teach your children the importance of saving money.
Sanghamitra Roychoudhury says, “I have seen my mother return home walking after dropping me to school only to save the bus fare, so it was not difficult to me to understand the financial crunch. It was always my target to get a place in first ten ranks in class to get a half concession. Right after the 10th standard examination, my mother motivated me to give private tuitions to add to the family income.”
“There was plenty of wealth around me, but my mother made me realize the pride in earning and gaining financial independence instead of envying others’ wealth. I can clearly recall the feeling of happiness when I got a pencil box after a long wait in the 7th standard. I have seen my mother to struggle for every single penny so I realized the value of money and saving money came to me naturally.”
Balancing work and home:
Even a working woman in a two-parent household finds it hard to juggle work and household chores. For a single mother it is even tougher, but not impossible. Sanghamitra remembering her mother says, “As far the work load is concerned, I believe it is always the strength and dedication that matters, whether the house is managed single handed or with a spouse.”
“My mother was an early riser and used to complete every household chore so that I need not bother about domestic issues but spend time studying instead. I can recall a couple of instances of her visiting me when I was alone in home suffering from stomach pain. She came to see me from office at intervals and during the lunch break, and worked extra time in office to compensate. “
“Doubtlessly I felt the absence of my father from time to time but never did I feel unattended. It was my mother who managed every need that a father generally takes care of, from looking after my education and health, taking me on outings, and of course being strict when needed”.
It is a good idea to train older siblings to look after the younger ones. Jharna Dasgupta however cautions, “Make sure that the eldest sibling is well-disciplined and properly trained otherwise he may teach the younger siblings harmful things and spoil all of them just like one rotten apple in the basket spoils the rest.”
Joining a support group of single mothers may help. You could come up with an arrangement by which all of you take turns babysitting one another’s children. You may also involve a trusted family member, friend or neighbour to take care of your children when you are at work.
Trying to coincide your work timings with your child’s school, tutorial or extra-curricular timings may help. If you have no support from friends or family, try to find a good crèche for your children.
We sometimes hear frightening stories about children of single parents going astray and taking to drugs and crime, but this doesn’t necessarily hold true. Aim at the overall holistic development of the child. Make sure that you are your child’s best friend and companion, so that he/ she shares everything with you and keeps no harmful secrets.
Sanghamitra says, “Children from homes of single parents in general suffer from loneliness, which makes them attracted to a different harmful world. In my case that never happened, rather I was never lonely, my mother used to spend as much time as possible with me keeping no personal agenda beside. She engaged me in different extra curricular activities. It was a trend to invite all my friends to my place and my mother became a member of our circle. She was used to tell me to accept the virtues of others so that I became a well-rounded personality.”
Jharna Dasgupta says, “Caring, sharing and values should be instilled in children as early as possible. Waiting to discipline them when they’ve reached their teens may be far too late. It is a good idea to involve the child in sincere social work which may help in keeping him away from harmful activities like alcohol, drugs and internet addiction.”
Shyamoli, on the other hand regrets the fact that, “My father whom I would follow blindly believed that if a child was brilliant at studies everything else was secondary. He insisted that I train my children so that they always top the class as I had always done. My children’s academic performance would always be compared with their cousins and if they couldn’t top the class I would punish them as per my father’s wishes.”
“I never really paid much heed to life skills education and disallowed my children from engaging in any hobby, extra-curricular activity, outings or interacting with friends as each and every moment was meant to be spent in studying according to my father. My daughters therefore grew up with serious psychological problems. Things got better only after I separated from my joint family and decided to raise my children independently. That’s something I should have learnt far earlier than when my children were in their mid/ late teens.”
Pay attention to your own well-being:
Single mothers often neglect their own well-being for the sake of their children. This may be detrimental to her own physical and emotional wellbeing. The end result may be that she won’t be able to take good care of the very children for whom she is sacrificing. Single mothers should never therefore forsake their own hobbies and make sure they keep aside time to relax.
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