Sushma Nalapat has a 16-year-old son Madhav
I’ve been a single parent for 14 years now. I got divorced when my son was just two. I cannot say it has been smooth sailing all along. The initial years were turbulent, especially since divorced women were looked down upon then. Now there is a lot more acceptance from society. I remember people asking me how I was coping without a “man” around, telling me how sorry they were for me – some even asked me what I did wrong. I made sure I never lied or make up stories about it. Though there were strange looks and remarks initially, they slowly died down and it did not matter anymore. I realised that the saying “the truth always sets you free” is true in every sense.
During this time, I had to go through a long and gruelling custody battle for my son as well. I think all of it only made me tougher and wiser.
Luckily my family, my family and relatives were very supportive of me. I had a few good friends too, who backed me up. I also landed a very good job in an educational group called Sadhbhavana a couple of years after my divorce, heading the administrative department of their school, Sadhbhavana World School, in India. The job gave me a lot of security in life, and it provided me a purpose in life. I am still with the group and I now head its entire operations and travel between India and the UAE. I also pursued my education during this time – an MBA and then also a B.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from a university in New Zealand.
My son is 16 now, he completed his IGCSE and is now pursuing his AS Level at Sadhbhavana World School. I knew I faced two challenges from the outset of being a single parent: one was bringing up a happy and mentally healthy child. The second was to help him understand why he only has a mum around and his friends’ have both.
So I always made sure I was there for him whenever he needed me, and at times when he did not need me as well! My parents were also there for him all the time, and they still are. I am always honest with him and he has all freedom to express his feelings.
When it comes to his dad, I gave him the freedom to talk about his father and I never said anything in front of him to let his father down. And once, when he asked me why only I was around, I told him that his dad and I both love him a lot, but we have chosen not to be together. He seemed satisfied with the answer.
I also made an effort to make sure he bonded with his relatives and cousins. And I made it a point to never force things upon him. When I say no, I explain to him why I am saying no. I think all this along with a pool of good friends in school kept him happy.
Every time I got Madhav’s report card from school, I was more interested in looking at the comment column where they detailed his attributes. Many of his report card comments always read “happy and outgoing child”, and this made me prouder than any grade he received.
Besides my parents, he has a few favourite uncles whom he looks up to. I also make it a point to understand where he stands on things. I do not expect him to fulfil my dreams for me. I let him pursue his own.
What is really the role of a father as compared to that of a mother? I find it difficult to distinguish between the two. If being stern when the need arises, providing for your child, being your child’s friend, talking about sports and driving your child to football games are the roles of a dad, I think I do all of that and more.
I never missed important days in Madhav’s life. I also made sure I spent quality time with him once I was back at home from work, reading a book to him, playing a game or watching movies, or helping him with his homework. Exclusive time was very important for bonding and we still cherish that. We go on trips together, just the two of us, and we talk, laugh and just enjoy the moment. Making memories, so to speak.
That inseparable mother-son bond has been my biggest joy. We understand each other so very well and we give each other space for our own things, at the same time we are connected. There is complete acceptance of each other as we are. He is what I see when I close my eyes or plan to do something different and I hope to think that I am the voice in his head.
Everyone who meets Madhav likes his friendly and witty nature, and that makes my heart sing the most – because I feel I have got it right as a parent.
Dr Mehanas K K has an 18-year-old son, Aadil
My journey as a single parent began in 2006; my son Mohammed Aadil was four then. The first obstacle I faced was when I tried to return to the UAE from India. I could come back on a residence visa as my father could sponsor me, but he couldn’t sponsor my child. After almost five months and a lot of paperwork, my father was allowed to sponsor my son on a humanitarian basis. We moved to Umm Al Quwain as he got into The English School with the help of a family friend there as admissions were already closed in almost all the other schools.
For me, life as a single parent was comparatively easy as I had solid support from my parents. When I started working, we moved to Sharjah and Aadil joined Our Own English High School there. Dentistry required evening practice and I always finished work at 9.30pm and would reach home only by 10. So I could hardly spend any time with my son or help him with his studies. But now, I would say, that was a blessing in disguise – he became an independent child from a very young age. From grade four, he used to go to school with a house key, would come home and heat up food on his own when my parents were not around (they used to be shuttling between India and the UAE) and he would complete his schoolwork before I came home. Perhaps I was blessed – I had a child who had taken things in a very positive way and was ready to do his share of work without making it more difficult for me.
I didn’t face any major troubles raising him. The biggest trouble I used to have with him was actually a funny one. Very often my son would go to bed without removing the key from the door, which meant I wouldn’t be able to enter the house at night. And he would never hear the phone ringing or the doorbell. I would have to get the carpenter to come and break the lock to get inside. Finally we put up a message on our door saying ‘Please remove the key from the door’ so he wouldn’t forget!
I always felt I occupied more of a father’s role than a traditional mother’s role as I was never the “cooking your favourite food” kind of mum. But we would instead go for a drive and have food from our favourite eateries. I used to feel guilty for not being like the other mothers who pamper their kids and follow up on everything they have to do in school. Now I know I didn’t have to be like that as he always had my mother to do all that, and my father as a father figure, stern and full of guidance.
I believe, for any single mother, a career is something that needs to be taken very seriously as you won’t be able to play any role properly if you are not financially independent. I was able to manage everything as I am a post graduate and had wonderful support from my family. I feel a positive aspect of being a single mother is that we share a great bond where we discuss everything, and the communication is always open as it’s mostly just the two of us. I was able to make the best decisions for him if he wanted to do something. He wanted to move to Kerala for grades 11 and 12. I made sure that I met him at least once in two months until Covid-19 locked us up in two different places.
To summarise the journey until now, I would say I was lucky to get a happy-go-lucky child who has always stayed positive and never made me feel I did something wrong by taking him away from his father.
Sabina Rafi Ahmed has a 14-year-old son, Aman Vinod Yadav
It has been a roller-coaster ride as a single parent. My son lost his father at the age of four, and I was just 27 – he died of a heart attack. It was especially difficult because my son had been closer to his dad than to me. Initially I wondered if I would survive – how could I cope with the loss of my partner and manage to bring up a child alone? But over the next few years, things kept playing out the way they had to.
I was in India then, and it was a difficult life as my in-laws were far away. Aman’s life was completely changed – my husband had spoilt him, bought him everything he wanted. And one day my son stopped getting those things, stopped being picked up from school every day by dad. I didn’t have the money to buy him most things that he wanted.
Aman became very sensitive – it was difficult to make him understand that the male figure doesn’t exist in his life like they do in his friend’s lives. He would cry constantly, and the principal used to call me up complaining. He would cry in class and his teachers would make him stand in the corridor outside so he wouldn’t disturb the other students. They then threatened to remove him from school. I had to intervene and meet with them and ask them to show him empathy as he’d just lost his dad – while I had moved on, he still had not. I also had a conversation with Aman, explaining that both his life and mine would get harder if he continued crying at school. I told him that God took his father, and we couldn’t do anything about it.
I soon made the decision to move to Dubai to be with my parents – they’re residents of Dubai for 40 years. My dad could sponsor my son on humanitarian grounds. Aman would cry and get frustrated even when he would see me talking to my dad, or see my sister’s children interacting with their father. It took a few years – but slowly he started becoming a happy child again. And I think that was also partly due to the fact that I tried my best to fulfil roles of both parents in his life when and where needed.
The key to being a good parent is of course being available for your child as and when they need you. Trying to fill the role of a father is difficult and his dad can’t be replaced but I tried my best; taking him out for fun activities, trips to other countries during annual holidays, ensuring I had a chat with him every day to understand his emotions, keeping track of his ever-changing likes and dislikes, making sure I knew what he did when I was at work. I had to do the balancing act: let him know the rules and tell him the right and wrong like his father used to, along with pampering him as I had always done.
As for me, when you raise a child single-handedly, you need to be financially strong – tough because I had been completely dependent on my husband. So having a job to provide a good life and education to my son wasn’t easy because I had to balance it with giving him time and attention. Thankfully it was easy to keep him safe while I was away at work as I was fortunate to have my parents around.
He still thinks about his dad but I think that feeling always stays, and I’ve done my best to be both reliable and reassuring at those times.
Single parenting along with managing a career is no walk in the park. If not for the full support of my parents and my in-laws, I would have massively struggled to balance both.
The biggest two aims of any parent are education and making their child a good human with both manners and values. So I now have a 14-year-old son who is loving, caring, practical, respecting and values life. The road is long with many challenges, happiness and sorrows, but I feel he has succeeded in it so far – and so have I.