It’s not easy to be a single mother

It’s not easy to be a single mother

Family is an important aspect of everyone’s life. If we consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a family may fall into the third set of needs which are social needs. In addition, human beings are social creatures. So, it may seem obvious why family is important. Now take a moment to picture your ideal version of family. What do you see? What qualities and needs do you want this family to provide? 

Storytellers have told tales about families with a man and a woman in a loving relationship and a kid throughout history. You may have imagined a similar picture for your ideal version of your family. You may have two people regardless of gender or biology in a loving relationship who may or may not have children. 

Whatever picture you may, the chances are rare for people to imagine a single parent as an ideal version of a family. In our Indian society, being a single parent is often viewed with stigma. Some of us may have never across such people in India, but statistics show a different picture. According to the 2019 UN Women report 4.5% (i.e., 130 lakh women) are households run by single mothers. Another report estimated 450 lakh single mothers are present in India. Some of them live with extended family or loved ones and others by themselves.

So how do such family structures function? What type of challenges do single mothers face? What are their rights? The following articles talk about these issues. 

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Challenges of Single Mothers

In India, a single father may be a hero who has his own set of struggles. But this is not the case for single mothers. Single mothers are judged at every step of their journey into parenthood. This judgement doesn’t only arise from others but also from themselves. They are faced with questions about career options, spending time with family, dealing with unsolicited advice and comments and especially making life decisions.

The worst of all is people’s snide assumptions and rumours. Thus, the challenges faced by single mothers can be summarized as follows:

  • Financial struggles
  • Difficulty in building a proper support system
  • Filling up the missing pieces in their children’s life
  • Loss of family or friends due to the breakdown of the relationship
  • Never-ending guilt
  • Lowered sense of belongingness
  • Social stigma
  • Difficulty in emotional regulation

It is also necessary to remember not all single mothers are divorced. They can be a single parent due to the loss of a partner or because they were never married in the first place. A woman can become a single parent if they have a child out of wedlock, unmarried women adopting a child, surrogacy, IVF, etc. 

In case of divorce, the reasons behind divorce aren’t only because two people couldn’t be with each other. It could be because they might be toxic to each other, or were in an abusive relationship or in a relationship which wouldn’t have led to a positive outcome. 

Being relationship that isn’t going to lead anywhere can not only impact the couple but also create trauma for the child. The state of the parents determines the state of the child. Hence, in some cases it ok to end a relationship if things don’t work out. Thus, we as individuals should be mindful of our situation and not jump to conclusions.

Legal Rights of Single Mothers

Have you ever wondered what the legal rights of single mothers are? How does our government support, such individuals? Given below are three core rights needed to be made aware of every single mother. 

1) Right to Privacy

According to Article 21, the right to privacy which is implicit in the right to life and liberty states that if a mother (considered to be the legal guardian of the child) doesn’t want to disclose the identity of the child’s father, they have the right to do so. The mother usually knows what’s best for her child. So, if she considers that disclosing the identity of her child’s father can bring harm to the child, she may not disclose such information

2) Right to Guardianship

In India, until the child is of age five the mother is the natural guardian. After five years the father becomes natural guardian. If the father dies, the mother is given full guardship of her children. Stemming from The Hindu Minority and Guardship Act, of 1956, which says that in the case of a married couple, the father is the natural guardian of the child. The mother’s natural guardianship rights are recognized only after the father’s.

In the case of a child conceived out of wedlock, the mother becomes the natural guardian with the father having no legal obligations. This also includes that the child is not required to inherit the father’s name.

3) Right to use Mother’s Surname

After the recent case of Vindhya Saxena v East Delhi Municipal Corporation, it was determined the child has the right to choose their surname. In the case of single mothers who have sole custody of their minor children, are allowed to give them their surname. In addition, according to the Supreme Court decision, a child is allowed to know about their parental decision but such information should only be disclosed in an envelope properly sealed under the court’s guidance.

Advice from other Single Mothers

An interview with various single mothers wrote a set of insightful tips for other single parents or any parent who are seeking advice to improve their children’s quality of life.

1) Dealing with discrimination

Single-mother families tend to fall into a social blind spot in our society due to rigidly defined ideas of marriage and families. This blind spot frequently takes the form of overt prejudice since other families may actively advise their kids to stay away from these families and refer to them as “broken families.” In times like these, divorced women or single mothers should remember it is not their fault. Not everyone’s life is perfect and this is fine.

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2) Support System and Self-Care

One of the challenging moments of being a single parent is finding a support system. Finding a support group of family, friends or other single parents can be beneficial to fall back to during times of need. 

Prioritize self-care. Even though being a single parent can be difficult, having a close-knit group of friends with whom you can spend time and rely will help you to run your family effectively. If possible live-in help or part nanny who can help you raise your children.

3) Need for different relationships

People say it takes a village to raise a child. This statement is a lot more applicable to single parents than to anyone else. Have relationships outside the norms of marriage. This doesn’t have to be romantic but can be a familial relationship or friendship. This enables the child to see that marriage is a choice not a compulsory act. 

In addition, male influence is necessary for child development and vice versa. Male influence may help children learn about different kinds of families and gender roles. It also helps the child gain a clear picture of the opposite sex. 

4) Looking for Employment

In terms of employment, it is good to get work opportunities with flexible working hours or have the privilege to be your boss. Having such jobs can help you to spend your time with your child. It can also help you to educate your child in ways normal schools might not be able to. An organization that offers family-friendly policies and bases their salaries based on deliverables and not the amount of time you spend at work is ideal. You may be able to explore such opportunities through a friend or other single parents. 

Women’s empowerment is essential and being a single mother in India isn’t a task. Single mothers must weigh many factors and make difficult choices. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Read the following article to get a glimpse into the difficulties that single mothers face, their rights and advice from other single mothers to single parents.

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