Single parenthood is a difficult venture to embark on in this day and age, regardless of whether one is a man or woman. While the anxiety of having to raise a child (or children) on your own is a painful enough concept, we must acknowledge that the experiences of a single mother and single father tend to be very different, especially in the ‘brown’ community. In this community, once a woman goes through a separation or divorce she is viewed as a failure and of less value for a variety of reasons, some of them including she was not able to keep her family together or her husband happy. All of this along with the added pressure of menacing in-laws in many cases.
To clearly look at the experiences of single motherhood in the South Asian community, we must first discuss what gets the average Desi woman there in the first place. It is an extremely common occurrence that these woman are married off by their families at younger ages ranging from around 18-24. And, they are usually brought over from their native country to Canada, where they are away from their families and without a support system. Being a young woman in a new country where you are not accustomed to the ways of society and your new environment is extremely intimidating as one can imagine. Back in the earlier days, such as the late 80s and early 90s these women did not have proper education, many of them did not even graduate high school before being wed. These women arrive here with no usable education, no connections, and no means of transporting themselves around town, unless being driven by their husbands. They are essentially being bred for dependency.
But why do these men, who usually are born in Canada or have spent a large portion of their childhoods in Canada going back to their homelands to find wives? Why aren’t they finding other ‘westernized’ women to marry? Because they want someone who is domesticated, who is willing to essentially give up their goals so these men have more efficient and convenient lives. These women are not expected to work or build careers, instead they are expected to be homemakers and make life easier for their new families. They are expected to make the tea every morning. They are expected to wash the dishes and keep the kitchen clean. They are expected to do the laundry. They are expected to cook food everyday with the perfect amount of flavor and spice. They are expected to have children within the first couple years of marriage. And most importantly, they are expected to do it with a smile on their face. From an outside perspective, it is easy to see this is not an ideal life. This does not go to say that women who aspire to be stay-at-home moms or wives lack drive or ambition, or are wrong for their wants, but in the case of young women in the Indian community, no one explicitly asks them what they want out of their lives. It is extremely important to remember that not every woman is built to be a wife or a mother. There is where the root of the problem lies. The answer can be as simple as asking the young woman what she wants before she is married off. But sometimes even if her desires are known, are disregarded.
Such proved to be the case for Jasmine*, a woman who was wed fairly young and brought overseas where she discovered that her life was not as she envisioned it would be in Canada. Her marriage was not a very positive experience for her and after a certain incident decided to pack her belongings and leave the toxicity that surrounded her, with her two young children.
“I wasn’t being treated well by my husband and his family I lived with. My close family was not in Canada, although I was lucky enough to have some distant family that would stand behind my decision to leave and support me,” Jasmine explains of her circumstances and how she left her marriage.
“So many times I heard stories of women just enduring throughout their lives all types of abuse from their husbands, and I was not going to be one of them. When I first arrived in Canada, I was very shy, I did not stand up for myself, but when you become a mother, you do anything to make sure your children don’t grow up in a bad environment.” She continued, citing her reasons for leaving.
When asked about the hardships of single motherhood, Jasmine said “Of course it was definitely hard. But I was determined to make things work for the future of my kids. I worked hard to provide for my family and we never were without anything.”
In this case, Jasmine re wrote her circumstances and went against the norm to move on to a more independent life with herself and her kids, especially at a time where it was not socially acceptable to do so. However, not every woman is that lucky. Many women in these situations tend to become desperate, and decide not to leave as they believe it is too hard and fear what lies before them as single mothers. This is why being a single mother has become a sort of taboo topic within the community, women barely tend to leave, so most people are in awe of those who do. Some common experiences single women tend to go through when deciding to be on their own are anxiety and worry about if they will be able to make it work, wondering if they will be able to provide financially, and how the overall situation will affect their children. All this along with dealing with the husband and the added family that comes along with him, depending on the type of people you are dealing with. These women deal with their close-knit community talking about her business, the spreading of rumors and unnecessary drama in many cases. Many times the females related to the husband (i.e. mother, sisters) behave the most heinously toward the wife, which also raises the baffling question: why have women lost compassion and sympathy for one another? Women need to be helping one another and raising each other up, rather than cutting each other down which is a lot of what we are seeing today.
However, with all this being said, it does not go to downgrade the plights that single fathers experience as well. But, I will go as far as saying they just may have it easier. Since they usually are the bread winners of their families they already have established jobs or even careers, and have connections that can help them out when it comes to the logistics of single life. But, when it comes to the emotional side, such as dealing with the feelings and the children, the toil is just as painful as any woman’s. The fact of the matter is that single women and men are brave people, and are trying to make positive changes in their lives and in the lives of their children. Instead of looking down on the woman who left an abusive situation to better herself, she needs to be seen as the strong and powerful female she is, and be regarded as such by her own community.
*Name has been changed