Single mothers: Of pride and problem- 4 September 2013

Nalini is a working woman. Divorced eight years ago, she has a daughter for whose grooming she is willing to go any distance so that the little one grows into a fine person. Her efforts are bearing fruits as Nishi, the daughter, is proving herself as a very bright student, obedient child, disciplined person, and caring and loving as well. For Nalini, this is an area of immense pride — in her ability as a single mother, as well as in Nishi’s well rounded personality just at the age of 13 years.

But then there is an area of problem as well. For, as a single mother and with nobody else in the family, Nalini has to do everything possible to keep the balance between the work and life. When Nishi fell ill with severe headache and high-grade fever, Nalini wanted, naturally, to stay with the child. But exactly that day, the office going through the internal audit and Nalini, as head of the administrative section, could not miss the office. She tried to call a couple of relatives and friends to keep a vigil over Nishi at home. No one could spare time. So, most reluctantly, Nalini kept things ready at hand for Nishi who lay helplessly in bed, locked the door from outside, and left for office.
What happened in office and at home can be left to anybody’s imagination. When Nalini came home almost mentally shattered with worry for the kid, she found Nishi’s fever having gone up by a degree. The Doctor came later, gave medicines, and slowly the girl recovered.
This is not an isolated case. Single women have to endure this double stress. If the child or children are groomed well, they feel proud of themselves and the kids. The trouble gets multiplied if the kids do develop proper habits. When that happens, the responsibility of that, too, falls on the single moms. Then life has one more area of problem. In such cases, the society is almost savage in criticism of the woman who is struggling to make the kids behave.
Almost as a universal rule, the workplace is not a happy place always. For, the demands at the workplace are often seen as clashing with the needs at home. Nobody is doing things intentionally, but the interests of the workplace often run counter to the issues at home.
In such situations, the talk of maintaining a balance between work and life becomes almost philosophical with little ground for practical application. Unfortunately, there is no effective answer to this issue, and single women have to keep stretched between the two areas.
At least in India, there are no easy solutions available. Perhaps, forming groups of single mothers could be one solution. For, in many places, many problems have been tackled well by forming groups of people trapped in similar situations. Putting kids in child-care home, of course, is one solution, which almost everyone seeks. Having workplace facilities like crèches for kids is another option. Finding good nannies at home is another. But all these may not be easily available in all towns and cities. As the kids grow older and start going to school, another set of issues crop up and assume an altogether different dimension. Handling teenagers all alone is another challenge for all parents and more so for single mothers who work outside the home. For, when the kids fall ill, as happened in Nishi’s case discussed earlier, then there is no easy answer, particularly when there is no one else at home, and the woman is not in a position to stay at home.
This is, thus, a major issue for social thinkers to tackle.

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