Single mothers worry over bias

A Mumbai school turned away a single mother, citing her marital status as the reason for denying her son a seat. Thankfully, single parents in Bengaluru aren’t facing such discrimination

In the Hindi film ‘Nil Battey Sannata’, Swara Bhaskar is a single mother raising her daughter by working as a housemaid.

Sujata Mohite, a resident of Mumbai, wanted to move her son from ICSE to the state board.

She and her son sailed through the interviews and tests, but in the final round, when the management learnt she was a single parent, they said they couldn’t admit the child.

A video of the principal saying she can’t “handle such children” went viral, and turned the spotlight on a new kind of discrimination.

Metrolife spoke to some single parents in Bengaluru, and though they were furious with the Mumbai school, they said they had not faced such discrimination.

Communication consultant Srobona Das is at a loss for words to respond to the way the principal spoke to the single mother.

“The very thought that children of single parents are ‘trouble’ shows her mentality. It’s quite sad someone in such a position has such an opinion in this day and age,” she says.

Srobona and her former husband co-parent their nine-year-old daughter.

“Schools today sensitise teachers and children about students from different family backgrounds. This has helped them become accustomed to the new normal,” she says.

Single parents can be of different types ⁠— widowed, divorced, unmarried.

While there are schools that require both parents to be present during the admission process, if they are divorced, the management cannot demand their presence, says Ashwini, parent.

Technical content writer Ashwini Jaisim says single mothers find it more challenging than fathers.

“From finding houses to being questioned about our ability to provide for the child, we run into many challenges. Women are considered incapable of handling the real world. Even in the video, the mother is assuring the principal she is financially stable, but the principal’s reply is appalling,” says Ashwini.

She is grateful Bengaluru schools aren’t biased against children of single parents.

“Children, too, understand there’s a new normal and are fine with living in two different houses. Yes, their schedules are hectic and other children might ask questions, but when we, as parents, explain the situation to them in advance, they know how to tackle it,” she says. Making your children understand is important, says Jaseena Backer, psychologist.

“In my case, I single-handedly raise my daughter. When she first joined a school, I didn’t find the need to tell the management I was a single mother. But when she moved to a residential school, I told them, and for her safety. My daughter also told a few of her friends and I respect that,” she says.

Avoiding the talk with children will only lead to complications, she warns.

“If you think the child is too young to understand you are a single parent, wait a few years, but not too long. It’s important for the child to hear about the family situation from you rather than others. You should not lie to children as you will only confuse them,” she says.

Things single parents should not do

Don’t hold your children responsible for your actions: that will only make them feel guilty. Whatever decision you take — marry, remarry, divorce or date again — is completely your choice. Don’t do it for the sake of your child.

Don’t try to become both mother and father. Do your role and do it well. The child will understand. Just because the other parent isn’t around, don’t be excessive. It will only spoil the child.

Always be honest with your child from the very beginning. Have clarity on where you stand and equip your child to stand up to society.

Don’t make the child feel whatever is happening in your life is his or her fault.

(As advised by Jaseena Backer, psychologist)

‘Not right’
Shashi Kumar D, general secretary, KAMS Karnataka,says it is sad a child was denied admission because the mother is single. “It is not right,” he says. The association
can only advise managements that practise discrimination. “There are schools that give all kinds of excuses if they think the child won’t perform... That‘s a management call, not ours,” he says.

Parents can sue school managements 
To a large extent, Bengaluru schools do not discriminate against children of single parents. “No school can deny a child admission because of the marital status of the parents. It’s against the law. In fact, if such a situation does arise, you can file a case,” explains Alisha Peres, divorce lawyer.

‘Sorry, we aren’t Mr and Mrs’
In the case of divorced parents, most schools don’t verify which parent the child is living with. “I have had clients who complain that the invitations are addressed ‘To Mr and Mrs...’. When a mother wrote to the management to correct it to ‘Ms’ instead, they didn’t accept the letter. This shows they aren’t sensitive enough,” says Alisha Peres, lawyer.

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