Four years ago, as I stood on a street in Bengaluru waiting for my taxi, I kept thinking. I had a child in my left arm, sleeping peacefully on my shoulder and a suitcase in my right hand. Balancing the phone was difficult and with a diaper bag on the right shoulder and a backpack slung behind, I must have looked really weird, standing alone out there, holding a child who was, at that time, thankfully asleep.
As I stood waiting, I knew that from that moment onwards, my life has changed forever. From that moment onwards, I was in it alone. To be frank, I was a new mother and I was still in awe of the life-changing experience of becoming a mother, of experiencing one’s entire existence, the core of one’s being becoming separate from one’s body and being bundled up in the tiny human being that was living and growing inside me just months ago still made me feel powerfully dizzy and ecstatic at the same time. I knew I was going to be alone and it was going to be tough, really, really tough. But I was willing to take that chance because I knew of the risks of the alternative.
At 30 years of age, I was a single parent. I had no job, no plan and no assured future to look forward to. At that exact moment, I also discovered that I had superpowers.
In India, or maybe everywhere else too, single parents are taboo. Single mothers even more so, because, our society, however classy, and advanced it might pretend to have become, still hasn’t adjusted to the idea of a woman existing without being validated by a man. These taboos exist in all levels of society, irrespective of class, money and position. As I went on with my new life, I made amazing discoveries. A barely educated maid can be more generous than a sophisticated aunt. A street vendor can be kinder and more respectful than a white-collar techie relative.
There were people who just never knew when to shut up. “Bachche ke liye baap zaruri hota hai” was the most common phrase I heard. I had no problem dismissing that idea because I have seen illiterate widows raising kids who grow up to be smart and successful. “How will you live without a husband in your life”? Well, I had no answer then, but I have done well so far.
There are women who work in brick kilns, stone quarries, tying their children on their backs. There are women who lack education, support and resources but still manage to raise children. There are women who have raised children alone in medieval worlds and war-torn badlands. Women raise their children in the harshest of situations and I was in a much better position, so there will be a no self-pity, no victimhood.
I was fortunate compared to many others in similar situations because my parents respected my decision. Life started to fall in place gradually and because all my time and energy was being taken by diapers, chores, work, giggles, feeds and burps then, I had absolutely no scope to grieve or give in to despair. The wounds were there, throbbing, whirring inside, I was aware of them, but the superpowers I had gained held the fort and never let them overtake.
The real challenges for a single parent arrive when the child is sick or when the child encounters the world outside, schools, friends and gatherings. The superpowers have never let me become incapable, but there remains a fear that keeps nagging, “Are you doing enough?”. We may or may not know whether we are doing enough, but we single parents do our best, that is sure.
A post circulating on social media caught my attention recently. It claims to be of a school principal refusing admission to a single parent’s child.
This is unfortunate & unacceptable !
Principal of St Lawrence high school in Vashi Navi Mumbai is denying to take admission for single parent students.
Look at her arrogance, Can single parent students be denied for schooling. How Sick ??@HRDMinistry @smritiirani@ShefVaidya pic.twitter.com/tnIXv995og
— Piyush Singh (@PiyushSinghk) June 15, 2019
I don’t know whether the post is true or not. I have no idea whether a school’s principal can be allowed to make such discrimination. Maybe it is one of the many power tussles and strange regulations schools usually put up and get away with. But I know that if it is a true incident, the woman behind the screen, who said with confidence that she is capable of supporting her child and meeting the financial requirements of the school, is another soul with superpowers.
The uncomfortable questions and social taboo never really goes away. In school, my hands always stop for a moment when I see “Father’s Name” written in bold letters in forms. Every school invitation or notification is addressed to the child’s father, not me. But that is ok. I have learned to accept the fact that my child’s father is our reality. I taught my child to say his father’s name when he is asked in school. It is not a taboo. It is the reality and we have to come to terms with it, together. I have decided to maintain complete honesty with my child regarding the absence of his father in his life and will be answering all his questions as they come eventually as he grows up.
There are moments of self-doubt and guilt. I have felt the full crushing weight of it sitting alone during long nights, checking the temperature, wiping with wet towels and praying, alone, when my child was sick. I have felt the heartbreaking void on my side when I had to hold a wailing, thrashing child down during vaccinations, alone. I have felt the sense of guilt when sometimes it just becomes too much and I feel angry at the tantrums, on the verge of snapping, thinking that maybe it would have been easier if there was another person to share the responsibilities.
There are moments when the wounds threaten to rip open the scars and rear their ugly head, there have been moments of sadness when I see children being pampered by a full set of parents, the father keeping watch as the mother queues up for ice cream. But in all this, I have also realised that children are much more powerful, much more resilient than us. There is no self-doubt in my child’s eyes when he comes running to me after school, hugging me tight and looking up to me with complete joy. There is no ‘partial’ happiness when we go shopping and queue up together for ice cream. There is nothing lacking or missing in the trust that makes my child search for me and hold my finger tight in his grasp when he is asleep. There is no void beside me when he recovers from the fever and starts jumping, running all around the house in his usual playfulness. We may not be a perfect team, but we are enough, enough for each other.
There will always be school principals who will dismiss a single parent as an unwanted nuisance. There will be moments, when relatives will offer weird glances and avoid inviting us for the photoshoots during weddings because u make an odd sight with the newlyweds, without a spouse to complete the picture. There will be comments and condescension, pointing out our ‘deficiencies’ in social terms. There will be social, emotional and financial constrictions, but we just have to deal with them as every single person does. Looking back, I often realise that it is not me who had supported my child, it is my child who has kept me strong and held me together. He is the Arc Reactor that makes me an Avenger.
There will be times when we feel left out and ignored, just because we are not with another person. But each time we realise that we are twice as strong, twice as a patient, twice as resilient, twice as caring because we don’t have the luxury of sharing the responsibilities, we will feel the superpowers that make us go on. We may not be perfect, but we single mothers and single fathers, who have found themselves alone with a child to raise, whether by choice or by circumstances, we are enough. We might err or falter, but we manage, one day at a time because we have superpowers.