Single motherhood in patriarchal India: Overcoming Stigma, Struggles, and Stress
Deccan Chronicle.| Kasturi M.
Single motherhood may be because of various reasons divorce, death of a spouse, unmarried single mother, or out of choice. (Representative Image: DC)
Hyderabad: While motherhood can be a tremendously rewarding experience, it can also be extremely challenging. It is a tale of surrender, self-discovery, tapping into one’s inner strength, and excited anticipation about unmapped futures. In India, where patriarchy is a largely prevalent factor, single moms often receive different treatment than those with husbands. Even today, people tend to judge too fast and label single mothers as incompetent, making it difficult for their situation to be accepted openly. They are discriminated, judged, and criticised constantly.
Single motherhood may be because of various reasons — divorce, death of a spouse, unmarried single mother, or out of choice.
Such mothers are prone to a lot of advice — from family, neighbours, and even strangers. It can be quite stressful when one is managing everything alone and still fall short of society's ‘expectations’.
Although financial independence might be a key challenge, being a single mother is also emotionally draining. With a safety net lacking, single moms also often face illicit approaches by other men, ranging from mild flirtation to subtle attempts at sexual harassment.
Research shows the happiest families are not necessarily the ones with two-parent ones — children also thrive with one parent, especially in a supportive community.
As a mother, it can be easy to put your needs on the back burner and focus solely on children. However, neglecting one’s own needs can lead to burnout, stress, and exhaustion. By taking time for yourself, you can show up as a better parent for your children. As a single mom, you may see struggle but never call it quits.
"It is not wrong when people say kids are a great blessing. When I lost my husband in 2010, my three kids were aged 12, 11, and 8. In my case, my kids were a great support, especially my daughters. I had a tough time taking care of them financially and I not been able to take a break since the last 20 years. And the worst part is, even today, I try my best to be with them all the time. As I had supportive parents and siblings, I was able to nurture my kids as independent individuals today. At times, it’s difficult to explain to kids of today’s generation. It is tough to understand the kids of ‘today’s time’ and it can get very difficult. But after fights, I end up reasoning with them and that’s why I guess I am their mom," says Reshma Begum, a coordinator at Al Falha International School. "Kids must understand that parents might scold you or restrict you from certain things but it’s all for your good," she added.
Uzma, a fashion designer who was married at a young age, got out of an abusive marriage when her daughter was 3 months old. Determined to give her daughter a better life and set an example of a strong independent woman, she says being married or being a single mother is not an easy choice. However, she says it is important to have a support system in such situations.
"Even though I had my parents’ support, which helped me get out of an abusive relationship, I don’t see a need to remarry as I am afraid of putting my daughter through a similar experience. I want to raise my daughter without any hindrances," she added.
Diana Monterio, a counselling psychologist says single parenting is hard on anyone and even more for single moms. Society sees moms as being responsible by default for their children and single dads often get the benefit of being seen as wonderful people for taking care of their kids alone. Single moms are also often looked upon as a stigmatised group who don’t have a husband to help them gain the same respect in society. Unfair as this is, single moms are often the strongest, most responsible parents of all as they bear the burden of stigma, parenting, and societal taboos and still provide a haven for their children to thrive. They often struggle with getting enough support and often, families reject help, blaming them for their actions or they push them to remarry to fulfill the "family" idea.
"Single moms I know and have seen often say that being single (and not partnered when the partner is not a supportive or healthy person) is better for their health and well-being. They have the freedom to parent as they want and also live life without the challenges of difficult relationships. Single moms provide children with the emotional support they need and adult children of single moms definitely see the sacrifices and infinite love their moms have made for them to have raised them so well", she added.