(name changed upon request) is probably like any other South
Asian mother in the Silicon Valley. Parent of three childrenâ€”two
teenagers and a 20-something, she works full time as well. In
the evening after ferrying the teens to multiple activities,
such as tutoring or extra classes, she has barely enough time
to cook dinner and complete household chores. She goes to bed
by 10:30 p.m. and is up again at 6 the next morning. “Mine is
a very long day,” she says.
there is one important difference. Divorced in 2003, Jennifer
is a single parent with primary custody and financial responsibility
of her children as well. Though the kids are supposed to spend
vacation time with their father, things are complicated by
the fact that both parents do not live close to each other.
As the children want to plan for extra classes or summer jobs,
they choose to stay with her, and Jennifer’s tight routine
is therefore all her own. Anyone’s illness can throw things
off schedule and she then has to take time off from work and
cope as best as she can.
South Asian culture, the concept of family is very central,
and any break from the tradition causes stress,” says Dr.
Alzak Amlani, a clinical psychologist who has been practicing
for the past 18 years in Palo Alto and San Francisco, as he
talks about the issue of divorce. “The entire extended family
will then withdraw its support to even the children, as they
are disapproving and want no part of the situation. In a worst-case
scenario, the father completely abandons the children and
won’t even visit them unless made mandatory by law. The entire
load is then on the single parent.”
the case for Jennifer who separated from her husband in 1999,
and has since been the primary custodian of her children.
Her family disapproved of the divorce and withdrew their support.
Though she was a very active member of the Malayali community,
she has since been cut off from her former social circle and
the loneliness is just one of many challenges she has to face.
harder for South Asians because we tend to stick to our own,”
says Amlani about the lack of a supportive environment for
Indian divorcees. “And our own may not want to expose their
family to a family of divorce.”
are a lot of problems being a single parent. Being a divorced
woman is very hard in our community; it is very challenging,”
says Jennifer. Though she feels that the decision to divorce
was right for her, she is not sure how much her children have
I asked for a divorce, my son lost the man in his life, and
he blames me for that. Looking back I realize how much my
boy, who was only 7 at that time, tried to make things work
by talking to both me and his father; a boy needs a father,”
she says. However, her daughter, who was older at that time
and aware of the tension between her parents, was more supportive.
that her children retained some stability in their lives,
Jennifer decided to continue living in the same neighborhood
so that the children would at least have the same friends
a village to raise a child; you need friends, relatives and
a community,” concurs Amlani. He also adds that a single parent
should make use of the resources such as therapy and support
groups to lessen their load.
Jennifer feels that her children have been scarred by their
parents’ divorce, she hopes that it has made them stronger.
However, she is aware of the fear at the back of her children’s
mind. For instance, they saw their father with another woman
and are worried about what would happen to them if their mother
decided to choose another partner as well.
is a fear and therefore a need for emotional reassurance that
a child requires most at this difficult time,” says Amlani.
places multiple kinds of pressure on the parent. Apart from
the challenges of dealing with the finances and litigation,
the single mother or father may also go through anxiety, anger,
and depression. This would therefore deplete their emotional
resources for parenting.
simplest of tasks can become a challenge as the single parent
is faced with new and difficult situations. Amit Rege, who
has been separated for 20 months and is now working toward
a divorce, has two kidsâ€”a boy and a girl, aged 15 and 9.
While he does get to spend time with his children, the meetings
are too short and not as frequent as he would like.
is a challenge,” he admits. “I have had to learn cooking from
scratch, and I try to cook something that my children like
when they come over. They would initially not eat anything
I cooked, but I am getting better now,” he says. “It is also
hard for me to find something that both my kids like to do,
as because of the age difference they have varying interests.”
there is some sadness and anger, he feels that his children
have adjusted to some extent. The older one has taken it harder,
the younger one is happier; and they mostly don’t talk about
it. As for himself, he went through some helpful counseling,
and researched books from the library to find out how to talk
to his children about the issue.
of muddle through, doing the best I can,” he says.
that “kids take their cues from adults. I have noticed that
even if a young child falls down and gets hurt, if the adult
looking after the child is calm, the child will settle down
too once the pain has subsided. It is therefore important
to gain the strength to not show your troubles in front of
the kids, to keep things calm.”
says Amlani, the stress of being a single parent can lead
to frustration and impatience. Overloaded with responsibilities,
the single parent may resent the kids as her own emotional
needs are not met. And where there is less parenting available,
kids also become more demanding and needy.
parental support, children may get angrier; they may feel
rejected, and therefore act up; or they could withdraw, preferring
to keep to themselves, and eventually get into troubleâ€”such
as drugs, drinking, or unsuitable company.
sometimes the parent is happier, adds Amlani. Freed from the
fighting and the tension of the marriage, the parent is at
peace and has more energy for the child.
is not easy to be strong, as was the case for Maya (name changed
upon request). Separated after seven years of marriage, she
has two children, now 16 and 15. Throughout her non-amicable
divorce, her children were with her and she even went back
to school to get a decent-paying job.
live, do what needs to be done; life seems to stand still.
I was concentrating on the kids, they were my focus, my priority,”
she says about her initial tough times.
she now shares joint custody of the children with her ex-husband,
Maya initially went back to India with her kids. There she
saw them thrive, surrounded by affectionate family members.
She however felt that her children needed both parents, regardless
of the relationship between them, and decided to return.
we came back, they quieted down; I could see the change in
them. We didn’t know anybody else who had had a divorce, and
they felt they were the only ones in this situation,” she
says, of her children.
to join Wings, a support group for divorced Indians made a
positive change in their lives. She was able to meet other
divorced parents and in the midst of this supportive environment
she saw her kids become kids again.
to feel bad for them; that they don’t deserve to be in this
situation,” says Maya. “Initially, it was hard for them, but
at the end of the day they were okay.”
both she and Jennifer warn that both partners should make
every attempt to work things out and choose divorce only as
a final option, keeping the interest of the children in mind.
While Maya feels that it is better to be at peace alone than
live together in animosity, Jennifer warns of the financial
struggle for both parents and the probable loss of their children
for most fathers.
feels that she did the best she could for her children, providing
for them, caring for them, and making sure that they could
always come to her if there was any problem. However, she
is uncertain about their future. “I worry about their livesâ€”if
they decide to get married. I hope this (her divorce) does
not affect them and that they have happy and stable lives.”
Gopalakrishnan is a freelance writer and editor.
India Currents, News Feature, Priya Gopalakrishnan