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 Asha Sarella. Asha is a Bharatanatyam dancer, movement therapist, and a counselor. She works with special needs children and adults, as a dance trainer. She is the co-founder of LEELA - studio and has produced 2 videos for Canadian artist Drew Smith, and another dance album for Christine Leakey.
What is the toughest thing about being a single mother in India?
To be honest I don’t know what it is like to be in other country, but I guess to be a single mother in any part of world is not easy. I guess it depends upon the individual how important is the world to her, it’s always better to shut the world and look into giving your child loads of love as both mom and dad.
Do you feel that single mothers have it comparatively easier in other countries?
Like I said I have no idea about other country but in India some are looking at you with pity, some curious minds, and some who feel that she can be exploited.
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 went through trauma as a single mother. A reputed school in Indiranagar refused to admit my child, because he was being raised by a single mother, I wanted to sue them but at that point of time I was emotionally not so strong.
Another international school where I joined as a dance teacher was so insensitive towards my situation. They would ask me to report to the school at 8 a.m while my son would leave home at 8.15 to his school and also since I was just a hobby class teacher, my class would start only from 9.30 a.m. When I shared my difficulty in coming early to school, the Secretary of the school refused and terminated me.
When my son started schooling, he was emotionally in pain, for everyone had a father, but he did not. There used be some questions asked about ‘spending time with dad’ and I had personally discussed with teachers that my son gets very upset when the topic of dad comes up. I suggested that they show lenience with him as far as such assignments were concerned, but they were all so insensitive.
The worst part was when my lawyer took my ex-husband's side saying it was better not to claim alimony as they may disagree to give it and in turn trouble me and my family. He said that they sound like they may harm us. I panicked as I fought this alone. I didn’t want my parents to get involved as they were going through lots of health issues. I was too weak physically and mentally. I got divorced when my son was just 5 months old. One can imagine what I would’ve gone through as it was just after the delivery.
Mothers are glorified as goddesses but a single mother is always taboo in the eyes of the society. All my friends made me feel guilty that I did not go back begging him to take me back. A list of should’s and should nots, It used to be like. 'Oh! He sent you a divorce notice? Oh I see…'
My parents were ashamed to let our relatives know that I was divorced. For almost 4 years even my grand parents didn’t know I was divorced. I was on a guilt trip all the time for no reason of mine. Few friends do accept me the way I am, but the rest talk behind my back.
Could you tell us about your support system as you navigate life as a working mom
Well my support system is the Universe. After my son become an year old, I started sensing that my parents were feeling odd about the societal responses. They were worried about how my younger siblings would get married if am living with them, hence I chose to move out and live by myself. Currently I don’t have a so called secure corporate job. It took a lot for me to quit a corporate job and follow my passion. It's not easy, but it's not hard as I am enjoy what I do. I teach Bharathanatyam and I work with special needs children. There is no fixed amount I get every month but so far our survival is taken care of.
What sort of societal changes would you look forward to as a single parent?
I worked in the corporate world for almost 15 years, I only saw insensitivity every where. I was terminated during recession.
In another set-up I got less than 5% hike after slogging the whole year, it would be 8hrs work at the office and staying up until 2 or 3 am at home. When I wanted to quit everyone scared me saying you are a single mom, no man to support how will you survive and educate your son? They infused fear and tried to keep me there for the few thousands they paid, but they would not give that extra hike or incentives. They love to spend money on swachch bharath project which would get them name and tax benefits. All are very happy to sponsor NGOs, yet they were blind to the plight of their own employee.
Society should be happy that when a man abandoned his own child and wife, she did not run away from her responsibility. When one finds a dignified woman who wants to work and make a living for herself and her child, there definitely needs to be a supportive atmosphere. If not from the money point of view at least don’t view her like she is a diseased pariah.
What are your thoughts on 'me time'? What do you personally do for your 'me time'?
After a lot of learning, I have created ‘me’ time for myself. I learnt that meditating and dancing gives me a lot of joy. I try and catch up with my buddies once in a while, I sort of learnt to balance everything – work, my son and me time. I would ask my mom or my close friends to take care of Jay and I would go off on short trips. I have done a lot of crazy stuff like watching movies alone and just taking my bike and going off on a long rides on Kanakapura road.
Are you ever affected by pangs of 'mommy guilt'? If yes, how do you deal with it?
Guilt used to haunt me a lot, I would not meet my friends or even eat anything outside without my son. I was always insecure about my financial condition. I would buy 1 apple and feed my son. I have eaten only rotis and chutney powder / dosa chutney powder entire year. After another year I fell sick and found my blood count went as low as 7 and I panicked and then onwards decided to take care of myself. My health is my priority now, I tried working additional jobs. I would work in an office and teach dance in the evenings everyday. Now I have no guilt, if I feel like eating ice cream I would stop by, or steal my son’s chocolates and he too gobbles away my Cadbury silk. Life has changed now, a lot of things make sense to me now. I have learnt a lot of things along the journey. I have no regrets, I feel that everything had a purpose and it just happened. All I need to do now is groom my boy as a sensitive human being and just giggle more and live a happy life!
What advice would you have for moms who are navigating the kind of journey you are on?
My advice to single moms would be to just do 3 things;
❖ Faith in the universe that everything is going on fine,
❖ Just remain courageous no matter what the situation is and
❖ Just listen to your heart – do anything and everything, only if your heart says ok or else don’t do anything for the sake of anyone even if the reason is your child. Believe me, you will not regret it! At the end of the day it’s just ‘YOU’ that matters.
Asha, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to the Times of Amma family. We are inspired by your positive attitude 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.