When it comes to single parenthood, going solo is all about seeing double — sometimes literally.
If parenthood is proverbially the hardest job you will ever love, imagine doing it alone — double the love undoubtedly but double the work, double the stress, double the expectation...you get the drift.
Being a single parent, whether by choice or circumstance, is no picnic, and that’s putting it lightly. It is solitary, relentless and emotionally draining, but what is worse is how, in India at least, single parenting is hardly talked about, let alone its difficulties acknowledged in the public mind-space. “My son’s textbooks in school had a chapter on ‘family’ where there were descriptions of joint families and nuclear families but not a word about single parenthood,” says Basur Kiran, a social entrepreneur who runs a sustainable tourism firm Outdoor World and is a single father to his 13-year-old son Rohan.
“Initially it was most daunting — because of circumstances I could not help, I became a single father when my son was barely seven days old. I did not even know how to give him a bath,” recounts Kiran. (Eventually, he figured out that a baby could be placed in a large pan in the kitchen and err… cleaned).
…but the rewards are sweet
For Kiran, it became impossible to maintain a full-time job (he was a sales manager in a reputed hotel chain then) and also clean up the poop. “My whole life changed because of my single parenthood. I had to quit to maintain my sanity.” The tide though turned soon and today, Kiran is a successful entrepreneur with fingers in several sustainable pies. “Being the only single parent at the school, only emotional anchor and both the good and the bad cop to your child — tough job. But the rewards come and how,” says he. By the time Rohan was around five, he had ‘settled’ into his role and began to feel special. “The bond I share with my son is exceptional — fathers would give an arm and a leg for the kind of connection I have with my child,” he says with justifiable pride.
With pride, comes the rise
Pride is certainly one of the energy fountains that single parents drink from. As Mumbai-based child counsellor Shalini Grover says, for them, it becomes a matter of survival, especially if their finances are awry or sometimes non-existent.
Television actor, Dalljiet Kaur (now known as Deepa), who famously played Anjali in the hugely popular soap Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, found herself in a similar predicament after a rather acrimonious divorce around five years ago. “I told myself I had to do whatever it takes for the sake of my little boy; I was willing to work as a receptionist, call centre executive…anything,” she recalls. But her family and friends stood by her and her parents, in fact, told her that whenever she feels judged by the society around her (a pretty commonplace occurrence as one can imagine), she should just look in their eyes and feel their love.
“My family and friends were my biggest strengths — and adversity gave me the power of a hundred horses,”
she says. Kaur faced rejections but did not give up. Encouraged by her television friends, she determined to continue in her chosen profession. “I had put on a lot of weight…I lost it all, I revamped myself thoroughly and work began to trickle in.”
Facing children’s awkward questions
Today, Kaur has serials from prestigious banners in her kitty as well as tremendous love and respect from her followers, not to mention the very obvious bond with her son Jaydon, who is an Instagram celebrity in his own right. Notice that Jaydon has no surname. Are the schools today more open to the idea? “Definitely,” says Dalljiet. “I have been noticing a change in attitude — it is a slow process alright but nevertheless it is happening,” she believes.
Does Jaydon ask awkward questions? “Children are much more mature and adaptable than we give them credit for — Jaydon goes to the best of schools, lives in one of the best societies in Mumbai…there is nothing he lacks. For him, I am Mama and Papa both and he understands that,” she says, while adding that she did take a lot of care to shield him from all the unpleasantness in her life. Kiran agrees with this point. When the time came, he did tell his son that he belongs to a family with a lone parent. “While it is important to convey the truth, care has to be taken to also not make them feel alienated,” he says.
Support system is everything
Sitalakshmi K S, who is today in her early 60s, was a single mother in the 1980s, arguably an achievement by itself. “Mine was an arranged marriage but a terrible one. All I wanted to do was get out of it,” she says. Despite coming from a conservative family and surrounded by traditional (nosy) neighbours, Sitalakshmi stood by her decision, largely because of the backing of her parents. “I remember my then toddler son describing to my parents that ‘appa hatha (hits) amma’…I never did have to explain anything to him,” she says wryly. “I had no financial worries and my parents took care of everything. If not for their emotional support, I would easily have been driven to suicide,” she recalls.
Not everyone is half as lucky as her. Single parents with no family support and low incomes can be indeed driven to clinical depression and sometimes, even suicide cautions Grover. “Once I came to terms with being a single parent, I realised there are many out there who need a shoulder to lean on,” says Kiran who was one of the first to start a meet-up group for single parents in Bengaluru. Parents, often with children in tow, meet, thrash out issues they might be facing at that point, counsel each other or simply chat. “Children see other children from single-parent families and feel a sense of belonging while parents get the emotional support they seek,” explains Kiran.
In fact, Kiran says anecdotal evidence shows that it is single-parent families that are growing rapidly in metro cities like Bengaluru, and yet, there is no real effort to normalise their existence as it were or deal with such children with any sensitivity.
After all, no one deserves to struggle in islands of loneliness, least of all single parents. It is for the rest of the society to remind itself (and often) that it is only parenting that they are handling alone — not everything else in their world.