How hard and lonely is Single Parenting?

‘How long until I don’t feel so lonely again?’ remarks Lola, a single parent of five years, to two beautiful girls and a newborn boy, wistfully and visibly exhausted from her day-to-day. ‘On some days,‘ she continues, ‘I just want to run away, and never come back… I honestly don’t know how long I can continue with this darkness inside my mind.’ 

Her lament highlights in bold and underscores some very important elements that all Single Parents have to deal with, sometimes daily.

Namely, loneliness, sadness, stigma, and a very specific kind of isolation which becomes very visceral, and multiplied tenfold in certain circumstances, like,  

1. Hospital runs

Among the 10 Single Parents that I spoke with while writing this article, an overwhelming 8 of them agreed that a Hospital run is a top instance that makes them feel very aware of how alone they are. 

And, I’d agree with it too. 

In my experience as a Single Parent, I dread the day my son falls sick, because, quite honestly, I’d rather walk on hells fire, than walk in and out of the hospital. 

Says A, a veteran Single Parent, ‘When my older child, had to be hospitalised with multiple fractures, I had to carry my younger one with me to the hospital too, because not only was their father unreachable, but it was also too late in the day to organise any help. The whole experience took such a toll on me that I began to question the very existence of a God.’ 

Another Single parent, who also wishes to remain anonymous, adds, ‘For me, Hospital runs are the worst part of being a Single Parent. I’d gladly go back to my ex just to avoid it, that’s how much I hate it. Imagine having to deal with a sick child, and then have to deal with all the muck work as well, like wait in queues, talk to doctors, settle the bills, toilet runs, and insurance, to name a few… it’s horrible, and it is only humanly possible to do one of the two, but in my case now, I have no choice but to do it all… I call it the package deal from hell.’ she adds, thankfully, with a laugh. 

Having to load the car, if you have one that is, with a sick child and the extra, plus a bag of essential supplies and navigate through traffic under duress is a nightmare that other parents simply cannot even begin to fathom. 

2. When your own family fails to understand you

The period right after one’s divorce, death of a partner, or abandonment is a bewildering one, not only for the Single Parent but also for their near ones. 

Things begin to get awkward, mostly because no one knows how to behave around these unusual circumstances. This leads to a huge gap in the understanding of what the Single Parent needs and what nears ones assume that they need, and this, in turn, leads to misunderstandings, loneliness, and resentments. 

The worst part in all this is when the Single Parent has to put those around them at ease, with false consolations, and you will also hear the Single parent dropping very frequent ‘I’m ok’s, which is an injustice in itself because we are very far from ok. But because no one else has the emotional maturity to deal with sudden and socially unacceptable life changes, Single Parents have to pretend that they are ok and in complete control of their faculties as well as of their children. 

Imagine, the trauma of doing that, day in and day out. 

Says R, a widower and a Single Parent ‘When my wife died, my daughter was just a year old, so I took her and moved to my parents home, hoping that it would be helpful for me, as I assumed that they would be able to take better care of my daughter, while I worked during the day time and got a handle on my own life and feelings… but this turned out to be a mistake, as my mother got overly protective of my daughter, and even got angry with me one night when I tried to move her to my bed. All I wanted was some comfort from the warmth of my child, but she wrongly assumed that I needed space from her, and needless to say, I moved back into my own home the very next day to avoid further misunderstandings.‘ 

The problem with Desi culture is that we simply focus on the wrong emotions, instead of coming together as a family during an obviously confusing situation, most parents tend to fall into the ‘What will people say’ trap, and isolate their kids emotionally. This is why most divorced parents choose to swallow their own grief rather than emancipate from it, this is the folly of Desi society. 

3. When other Parents isolate us

The Stigma that exists within families, and the society itself, at large, against Single Parents is very real, and it is no lie when I say that it is brutal. 

It often leads to uncomfortable situations where Single Parents are overlooked, looked through, judged harshly as promiscuous or husband/wife stealers, uninvited, and mysteriously disinvited from events and functions, and looked at with contempt. And all this would have been bearable if the same treatment didn’t extend to the children of Single Parents as well. 

Says Jyothi, a Single Parent to two girls ‘It is very challenging for me to raise two girls by myself. I have had to come up against many self-righteous people, mostly women, who judge me for being a Single Parent. My kids too, are rarely invited to birthday parties and are often overlooked for participation at functions, and that is just sad.’ 

4. When we see other families together

No matter how put together and sensible a Single Parent might appear to be, there still are times when they look at other families and wish that just for a microsecond, they could experience what that felt like. 

This inadvertently leads to the onset of guilt and severe depression in most Single Parents. In my personal experience, I’ve had my sense of self drop to the floor, like a ton of bricks, when my kid asks me the hard-hitting questions like, ‘Why is it just the two of us, always?’ or ‘Why does my father not live with us?’ 

Says A, ‘The times that I feel extra wistful are when I am at the park, and I see the fathers playing with their kids, and I imagine the mothers resting at home, and I realise that that is one luxury that I can never have, and of course, at the Supermarket, when I have to do all the heavy lifting myself.’ 

5.PTA’s and other schools run events and functions 

PTA’s, school events, and functions are the very definition of personal hell for most Single Parents, not only because they have to be in attendance by themselves, but also because this is also the time when their kids feel the absence of the other parent. 

Seeing all the other kids being cheered on by both parents is bound to be jarring for a kid who is used to seeing only one parent, cheering them on. The absence of one parent is bound to lead to a lot of questions too. 

Says Tanya, ’PTA’s must mean Please pass the alcohol, right? Because I need a lot of it after! They cause more trauma in my home than even the actual absence of the father does, can you believe that? My daughter is always beside herself after what should be a happy event for her, just like it is for the other kids, but because my ex refuses to attend, I am left to wipe her tears after… but ice cream helps.’ she adds nonchalantly  

Dear Single Parents, since you cannot change the world and its opinion of you in one day, what you can do is own yourself, and your lifestyle as a Single Parent, and thrive in the belief that in the end, every bit of your sacrifices, tears, and fears, will have been completely worth it, when you see your young ones, turn into absolute delights to themselves and the community that they live in. 

So, save the loneliness on their account for another day, and love yourself more, because it is in that that they learn to be brave, pick themselves up after every fall, and love themselves more every day because you taught them how to.

(This article written by me has been published previously on Match Rematch, I own full rights to re-publish and reproduce anywhere)

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