They say that , "Being a single parent is twice the work, twice the stress and twice the tears but also twice the hugs, twice the love and twice the pride."
I am perpetually in awe of Single Moms who literally do it all. I feel that we all could stand to learn from them and their journey.
This week, the Times Of Amma is happy to feature inspiring single mom, Sanaa. Sanaa is a writer, diagonal hugger, and founder of Kidchen. An attempt to encourage the next generation to have a better relationship with their food. In her free time, she leaves freshly baked goods on people's desks and door steps.
What is the toughest thing about being a single mother in India?
I guess the toughest thing in India is protecting your child from the stigma around him of being a son of divorce.
I could teach him a world of positive things but it won’t matter when all my son hears is “where is dadda?” from every office clerk, house owner, broker, neighbour, random lady in the grocery line. Eventually he is going to feel that it is a handicap of some sort, that his father lives in another house.
Do you feel that single mothers have it comparatively easier in other countries?
Perhaps, for two reasons. Financial aid, and the fact that divorce and single parenting isn’t as absurd a thought as it is here.
Society in general has a tendency to glorify motherhood, elevating mothers to the status of goddesses. Do you feel that single indian mothers are extended the same treatment?
I haven’t really noticed this. So no comments about that. What I have noticed is that when a child misbehaves or throws a tantrum in a social setting, or falls ill one too many times, or is a slow reader or skinny, or shy even, the blame automatically goes to, “oh this is what happens when children have only one parent.” Other parents just get sympathy or an “oh it is a phase, even my kids did the same”, but the single parent is always reminded of their single parent-ness. *shrugs*
Could you tell us about your support system as you navigate life as a working mom?
In the first two years, while I worked in advertising, I had a wonderful team of babysitters at work. They took turns anytime I had a meeting after hours, or an all-nighter before a big pitch and so on. I couldn’t have done it without them.
But today, as the founder of Kidchen, my work hours are great. I take care of all the ‘serious thinking’ work during the three hours that he is at school. And after school, he always has the option to join me in my classes since I work with children his age. Or he has his busy bag of supplies that he plays with on his own no matter where we are. So on a daily basis, my work doesn’t interfere with my mamma duties, and my son doesn’t interfere with my work responsibilities.
What sort of societal changes would you look forward to as a single parent?
Apart from the hundred changes that need to be made in the legal system here, I’d really be happy if people just stopped asking where the father is. No, he is not a navy man.
What are your thoughts on 'me time'? What do you personally do for your 'me time'?
My son, like me, is busy in his own little world and other than a fixed set of things that we do together (story time, cooking and mealtimes, movie/board game nights), we are pretty much two individuals going about our business separately.
So I get a lot of ‘me time’ to be honest.
And having flexible work hours means you get to stay in and binge-watch Netflix or go out and meet friends while he is in school without having to find a babysitter and then feeling guilty for having a good time without him. (Monday morning shows are a part of my me-time ritual. Gotta love the empty theatre.)
Are you ever affected by pangs of 'mommy guilt'? If yes, how do you deal with it?
When you are a single mum, with no help (maid/nanny), your child is a lot more independent than his peers by default, from all the daily errands he just happens to be a part of. Simple things that children usually aren’t a part of because he/she is left with the other parent at home, or in a car, or at a restaurant. So while I am extremely proud of how my 5 year old knows how to lock the gate, feed the dogs, shop for groceries, collect change, make breakfast, and pretty much take care of himself, I often wonder if I am denying him a childhood and forcing him to grow up too soon. I am pretty certain other 5 year olds aren’t taught the protocol to get help incase ‘mamma has fallen down and isn’t opening her eyes.’
What advice would you have for moms who are navigating the kind of journey you are on?
My only advice is for all those who are staying in unhappy relationships for the sake of their children. I am not encouraging divorce, but if the only reason you are staying is the child, then please don’t. You aren’t doing anyone favours by sticking around and exposing them to a negative attitude day after day. You are only creating horrible childhood memories that will remain with them for a lifetime.
This is something I had written after the separation, if it is of any help.
Have you thought about him? Well, of course I have thought about my 2 year old before I decided I needed a divorce from his father. I also thought about him when I decided to wait till he's 18 and off to college. I thought about him when he got yelled at for leaving a cookie crumb on the sofa. Not by his OCD-skewed Dadda. But by an unhappy stressed-out mamma. I thought about him when I was in no mood to play peek-a-boo. I thought about him when my perpetual-giggling son slowly turned into a cranky baby. Just like how his mamma stopped laughing carefree all day long like she used to. People become the environment they are in. If 25 years of confidence and security can be broken by 5 years of hostility and violence from one human, my son stood no chance. He'd grow up defensive. Always on guard. Concealing evidence of all things he thinks has to be hidden. And never learning love. And happiness.
So that's what I thought about before I took this seemingly horrible decision to break up my son's family. I thought about teaching him about loving oneself. And being brave enough to start over. That all you need is yourself and a sense of humour to get over society-built obstacles. That no matter how prodigious they appear, they are all insignificant. That if he can learn to laugh at himself, he will learn to accept mistakes. He will learn that only the weak settle for fake happiness. That only the weak create a fall guy to distract people with. That there's no strength in sacrifices and compromises if it denies you a chance to find happiness. That staying voluntarily in an unhappy environment is the new shame. Not leaving.
I do not know what my three year old will grow up to be, or not to be. But I know he will not be hiding under the undesirably restrictive title you give him. A son of divorce.
Sanaa, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to the Times of Amma family. We are inspired by your honesty and wish you and your son all the very best.
If you are an Indian single mom or you know an Indian single mom whose journey would inspire others, please get in touch with me on Facebook or on Instagram. Your story might help guide someone charting similar waters.