Calvin and Hobbes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and our very own Jai and Veeru.
Just a few iconic people and their constant companions. Along the same lines comes Single parents and their constant companion, GUILT!
This guilt comes in many flavors – The I-missed-a-PTA Melba, the I-wasn’t-there-for-her-dance-rehearsal falooda, or the I-couldn’t-bake-a-cake-for-his-birthday cassata, and so many more. Even a perfunctory look into the guilt tells us that a lot of it stems from unrealistic expectations placed on single parents by everyone around them. I am sure that all of us have been bombarded with enough well-meaning and utterly ill-informed, misguided “advice” for 5 lifetimes.
Let’s deconstruct some of the not-so-bomb advice that we have all heard to death, shall we?
TERRIBLE ADVICE 1: ‘YOUR CHILD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR CAREER‘
This is something that we have all heard ad nauseum and especially because I work in a job that involves travel for anywhere between 12-20 days a month, this advice falls on me like rain. Of course, having a solid support system is imperative in these cases, but even with one, I have constantly faced criticism. There were Chinese whispers around me at family gatherings and a lot of people have told me to my face “Career is not everything”. “If you focus so much on your career, you will lose your son” “Why can’t you move to a desk job?”...etc
None of these people understand that not only was my job enabling me to offer my child the lifestyle that he rightfully deserves but also that I love my job and there is no shame in that!
A career is not just about a paycheck. A career is something that is fulfilling and offers one a sense of purpose. I am a big advocate of spending time with your child, friends, partner, family, therapist, or pets. However, this is not mutually exclusive to having an ambition. If you agree with me, stand up for your career, understand that a career is not a bazooka that can be called upon by “Well-wishers” to guilt-trip single parents.
ADVICE 2: YOUR CHILD IS LOOKING AT HIS PEERS AND LONGING FOR A DAD/MOM
If I had a penny for every time I have heard this, I would be able to afford a Hermes bag by now.
But jokes aside, I really think it is about time that people understand that it is seldom easy for anyone to walk out of a marriage and it is infinitely more difficult for a parent because a parent making the decision to end a marriage is also acting on behalf of their kid.
My point is that as Parents filing for a divorce, we are already very aware of the risks that we are taking without needing the constant reminders. And since Co-parenting might not be an option for everyone, most children of divorced parents have to live with being around just one parent.
This is the reality.
However, what we as parents owe our kids is to set them up for success in life. We must provide them with a platform to be the best version of themselves.
A home fraught with anxiety and tension is extremely sub-optimal for a kid, but as we all know kids are incredibly resilient and the current COVID19 situation is the best testament to this fact.
I am not saying that the kid of a single parent will never long for that stereotypically “normal” upbringing. Of course, there could be instances when they might wish for that, but the tradeoff is a no-brainer and when you look at the bigger picture, happiness really is just a construct that is only defined by you and your child. Do not let peer pressure ever make you feel insufficient for a child who will love you no matter what.
ADVICE 3: YOU NEED TO BE BOTH THE MOM AND THE DAD TO YOUR CHILD
This is the big one.
The contentious one.
A single parent is always expected to overcompensate. While in the ‘normal’ world, men and women have their roles assigned, in a Single Parent home, all the expectations fly off the handle, he/she is expected to play many and all roles, and the main one is to play both mom and dad.
Basically, a single parent is expected to be omnipresent & Omniscient.
Oh, wait! That’s GOD, but also me and every other Single Parent. (LOL, the irony)
It’s just impossible to be us, really.
The inane pressure placed on single parents to compensate for the fact that the child is ‘deprived’ or does not have a ‘normal upbringing’ is rampant. I have been asked to ensure that I pick up and drop my son from school every day, ensure I personally tuck him into bed every night, ensure that I make all his meals, and wait on him hand and foot.
Not only is it impossible to do this, unless I am a bugs bunny (who I’m not), but it also guarantees that my child will grow up as a spoilt brat who expects everything handed to him on a silver platter, and just as we as adults have adapted to a life without a partner, our kids must also learn to adapt to becoming more independent and self-sufficient and that is never a bad thing.
Here’s what I think, I’m not going to say that parent guilt is entirely a fallacy, after all, we do feel slightly guilty when we miss those important days or when we are just tired and unable to play god with superhuman strength, but I’d also say that a large part of it is built by a society that does not fully understand our actual travails.
So, Single Parents, when the going gets tough, take a step back and look into which parts of the guilt are truly emanating from you and which have been planted by conditioning and society and try and focus only on what is yours and therefore controllable.
You have the option to not get into this endurance race to keep others happy.
You are allowed to choose the flavours that are truly a reflection of your life and have a blast with it and your children!