HER WORLD Sunday, May 12, 2002, Chandigarh, India

Maa tujhe salaam
Celebrating the triumphs and travails of motherhood
E it while juggling roles as a working woman and mother or someone who has devoted herself totally to taking care of the children, in no other relationship do you give so much of yourself as you do as a mother.

Gitanjali Sharma
mother may continue to nag and reform the child each minute of the day, but it is the father’s authority that the child fears to undermine. The father doesn’t oversee, monitor or pry into his offspring’s hour-to-hour affairs yet it is he who wields the invisible disciplining rod.

Tips for single mothers
UNDOUBTEDLY, there are some genuine handicaps about single parenthood that can’t be wished away. That single parenthood brings with it a number of difficulties brooks no argument.



Maa tujhe salaam
Celebrating the triumphs and travails of motherhood

BE it while juggling roles as a working woman and mother or someone who has devoted herself totally to taking care of the children, in no other relationship do you give so much of yourself as you do as a mother. Down the ages, motherhood has been valourised by society since it focuses on the traditional, nurturing role and negates the entity that a woman may have as an individual. It is no longer a woman’s destiny but is increasingly a matter of choice. In fact mothers are no longer martyr-like, with halos of self-negation. There is a yawning gap between the glorification and mystique of idealised motherhood and “the exhaustion of actual mothering.”

Mothers give roots and wings and enable the children to take flight but are always there for them whenever needed. The journey range from the time that a mother changes diapers to the times she holds the toddler’s hands to when she listens to teen troubles to pitching in when the kids get married and, of course, have their own kids. She has to learn to let go and watch them fumble and take their own decisions but for a mother a child always remains a child. Ever so often she will admonish kids or prescribe dos and don’ts, much to their chagrin and cries of: “We are not children any longer.”

She is the on who has to do the coping with an empty nest and the silence after a life that has been bustling with sounds and shared laughter, tears and turmoil. She has already coped with all the physiological changes, made umpteen sacrifices (and not even thought of them as that) and has had no expectations of any sort. Even if she has had expectations that have been belied she has taken her disillusionment in her stride and carried on, without bearing a cross. All she wants is the children should be happy and do well, wherever they are, and no harm may come to them. This is one unifying trait that will bind mothers across cultures and climes—the wish that no harm may come to the offspring.

In the postmodern world where there are no absolutes and certainties any more and even the traditional notions of child-rearing and bearing are undergoing a paradigm shift, the definition of a mother is also changing. It is no longer the only way in which a woman realises herself biologically because motherhood alone is not her destiny.

Despite trials and tribulations, despite tears and trauma, despite the sheer exhaustion and the thankless tasks, motherhood has its own rewards too. The biggest joy, besides bringing the child into the world and watching the miracle of creation is to be responsible for another human being and mould his/her mind, pass on an entire value system to the child, hone the child’s talents and think of him/her as an extension of herself —always. So what if this ‘being there’ has to be managed along with deadlines to be met, assignments to be done alongside the sheer business of living.

The image of the mother may have changed in this scenario where mothers are not expected to be just sacrificial goats or saint-like figures with a beatific smile but can have a life apart from the exacting schedule of child-rearing. The core responsibilities, however, remain the same. The primary responsibility remains the mother’s vis a vis the children. She may or may not get support and that support may not even be on a regular basis. Every one else has the option of not attending to the children’s needs. The mother does not. Most mothers would be horrified even if someone suggested it to them.

That’s why perhaps they labour under guilt and are ever-willing suckers for the guilt trip being laid upon them by unfeeling family members, acquaintances and even neighbours.

Not only personally but even socially the pressure to be a “good” mother can take its toll on a woman’s health. Just as dereliction of duty as a mother is unpardonable, the blame of a child who slips up or fails to either conform or brings a bad name to the family is squarely laid on the mother. A mother often has to be the fulcrum in more ways than one in a familial set-up. Just as she negotiates the relationship between siblings, she has to do the same between the father and the children.

The father’s job is to prepare the child to enter the world and equip him with the reality principle as opposed to the pleasure principle that the mother caters to as she gives the child instant gratification while attending to the child’s needs. While fathers can often be exacting and harsh or authority figures who enforce discipline and teach the child autonomy, mothers are more patient and tolerant and extremely forgiving about the foibles of their offspring—often to an unbelievable fault.

When mothers internalise the myth of male superiority and agree to abort a female foetus or torture their daughters-in-law for more dowry as demanding mothers of spoilt sons, they are falling into a trap that thwarts their basic instinctive desire to nurture life and not to snuff it out.

Even though the attitudes and orientation of women have changed from those of their mothers and grandmothers’ times, the social attitudes have been slower in changing as have been the mindsets of the men.

Hats off to the mothers of today who have the strengths and the grit to take on multidimensional roles and fulfill them ever so skillfully. We can surely applaud their effort and try and empathise with the stresses and strains of bringing up children in these trying times, especially without the cushion of an extended family.

With more and more marriages breaking up and more single women opting to have children or adopt them, it is high time that the state and society saw children as a resource of the future and pitched in to facilitate things for mothers. — A.N.


Gitanjali Sharma

A mother may continue to nag and reform the child each minute of the day, but it is the father’s authority that the child fears to undermine. The father doesn’t oversee, monitor or pry into his offspring’s hour-to-hour affairs yet it is he who wields the invisible disciplining rod. A boy who wouldn’t think twice before asking his mother for some money would prefer giving his date a miss rather than approach his father for the cash. The same holds true for a daughter too, who finds it easier to take permission for a late night from “mummy dear” instead of broaching the topic with the “world’s loveliest but… dad”. A father may be kind, understanding, loving, jovial and even playful but he exudes a silent strength and might which a child doesn’t like to tamper or take liberties with. As per psychologists, it is this healthy mix of emotions and authority exhibited by both parents that forms a healthy environment for nurturing children.

So what happens if a child has to be raised single-handed by a mother, for any which reason? It could be because she is a widow or a divorcee or somebody who has chosen to adopt or have a child on her own or because her husband’s work demands long spells away from home. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that all such women face a number of problems, some of which are inevitable and some that can be of their own making.

Factors that hamper a single mother’s task

Consciousness of their single status: Dr R.S. Bedi, a leading paediatrician in Chandigarh, says one of the biggest follies that single mothers make is that they don’t let themselves forget that they are single. This inability of the mother to overlook what she thinks is a deviant status reflects in her behaviour, reactions, interactions and relationships. For instance, a single mother may like to restrict her social behaviour, thereby making the child’s environment unfavourable for growth. The child meets fewer people and misses out experiencing a wide range of social situations.

This consciousness, which can also lead to a deep-seated complex, can also make the mother commit the mistake of either being overprotective or overindulgent or too strict, all of which can make the child go awry.

2. Conditioning: The single mother raises the child as per her conditioning— what she has been habituated to think is right or wrong in her childhood and adult life. Since the mother’s is not only the last but also the only word, so there’s little chance of any dilution in the orders. In regular families, if any sharp likes and dislikes of a parent are being thrust upon a child, he can hope to find an unbiased listener, if not an ally, in the other parent. Children’s are benefited when two adults jointly reach upon a decision. Dr Bedi says when his daughter sought permission to celebrate her 16th birthday at a discotheque, “my wife was flabbergasted but I was willing to hear my daughter out. Finally, we allowed our daughter to have her party home with a DJ in tow.”

3. Trying hard to compensate for the father: Most single mothers take it upon themselves to not let the child feel the loss of the second parent. But this is tough, if not impossible, to achieve. If you don’t have one leg, how can you assume that you can run speedily with two? And in this process of striving to perform the role of a father, she forgets her part as a mother.

4. Losing identity: When a mother’s life becomes child-centric, she begins to lose her own identity and personality. The thought that “I am living for the child”, does not benefit either the child or her. If a mother fails to develop her personality and sacrifices her career, friendships and hobbies in the hope of raising a happy child with a well-rounded personality, she is most likely to be proven wrong. It is probable that when the child grows up, he will think less of her for not having a self-identity.

5. All activities change: It is generally witnessed that when fathers’ go away for long periods as in the case of those in the merchant navy or the defence forces, many of the activities in the house are suspended or undergo a change. The socialising decreases, food habits change, at times even the mother’s way of dressing alters. And when the father returns, it becomes party time for the children. Like a 12-year-old girl of a merchant navy officer puts it: “When papa is away, mom becomes very overprotective. We even stop going to restaurants.” This sudden change in the activity scene makes the child think that the mother is weak. It is only the father’s visits that he looks forward to.

6. Mothers are more emotional: It is easier to enforce discipline, if the mother is consistent in her behaviour. Since women are more emotional than men, the children can manipulate them more. One woebegone look from the child, and she would be tempted to change her decision or retract her orders. To raise a disciplined child, consistency about what is expected of him has to be shown since he is a mere toddler.

7. Feel inferior to men: In our male-dominated society, it is hard to shake off the myth that men are superior. But a woman has to realise this fact for herself that she may be better if not on a par with men. This realisation comes easier to women who work along with men. Dr Bedi points out that a mother doesn’t have to behave like a man to be a good parent. She should be herself and not lose her femininity.

8. Take away space: Most mothers smother the child with too much attention and do not give enough space to their wards. In comparison a father, by maintaining a respectful distance, gains the respect of the children. Constant interference also fails to establish one’s authority.

9. Become untrusting: A bad experience, be it the betrayal of a spouse which led to the break-up in a marriage or duplicity of relatives after the death of a spouse can leave a permanent mark in one’s lives. Finding it difficult to trust those around her, the mother may withdraw. Less and less interaction is made with others so that she and her offspring face no problems. This shrinking existence can affect the child’s personality, and there’s a possibility of his becoming an introvert.

10. Lack of awareness: Being unaware about financial or career-related matters can leave a mother floundering when it comes to taking major decisions like investing for the child’s education, marriage or deciding on his career options Hardeep Sandhu, mother of two teenaged sons who lost her husband six years ago, says, “though it has been impossible to fill the void left by my husband, I miss him more now when one has to take certain crucial decisions about their career options. Her elder son is studying in PEC while the younger one has just taken his Class XII exams and is keeping her busy making enquiries and selections of engineering institutions to apply to.

11. Lack of male interactio: With the father missing in the house, the children are going to miss male company, which is crucial for their balanced growth. Mona Bhart, wife of a merchant navy officer and mother of two boisterous sons, aged five and seven, says: “I notice that sons my get very fascinated by any male visitor who comes to the house. They look at him in awe and observe his every action.”


Tips for single mothers

UNDOUBTEDLY, there are some genuine handicaps about single parenthood that can’t be wished away. That single parenthood brings with it a number of difficulties brooks no argument. But the way one converts these weaknesses into strengths or overcomes these limitations will determine your and your child’s happiness and well-being.

  • The mother has to be moulded, not the child. If she is normal then everything around her will be normal.
  • Single parenthood should not be viewed as a life-long tragedy with you playing the role of the victim to the hilt. Face life with equanimity.
  • Make efforts to establish your self-identity. It helps to have a job. But if you don’t have one, develop other interests besides home and children. Don’t ignore yourself, take care of your health, and remain well-groomed. Experiment with new hobbies and hone the existing ones.
  • Make more friends, while staying in regular touch with your old pals. Hardeep Sandhu says talking to her close friends, one of whom is living in Delhi, at least once a week over the phone comes as a major stress buster. She is able to confide in them what she wouldn’t like to burden her sons with.
  • Socialise with regular families. Your children should be exposed to complete families. They should regularly meet their grandparents and relatives, especially uncles. A child should be encouraged to establish a rapport with other men too like the male teachers, coach, etc. A three-year-old boy’s declaration that “only women go to office” may sound amusing but it mirrors his observations and the biased notions he has formed. Living with his single mother, he saw her leave for office everyday, while at the play school, he only spotted lady teachers.
  • Keep the family activities similar to that of a regular household. If you have been going out for summer vacations before your husband’s death, try doing the same even now.
  • A break-up in marriage must be tactfully but truthfully explained to the child. A conscious attempt must be made not to keep harping on the failed marriage or the “erring” partner. By putting the truth before the child in a matter-of-fact manner, you are giving him a chance to come to terms with the situation and get over a complex, if any.
  • Don’t take immediate decisions. Whenever the kids raise a demand, think about it. You don’t have to react instantly howsoever strong the urge may be, for you never know you may regret the pronouncement made in the heat of the moment.
  • Make wise investments, both you and your child shall need them. It pays to take health and insurance cover. All major expenses should be chalked out and handled judiciously. The children should also be made wiser about money matters, and taught the worth of valuing things. If need be, take professional help.
  • At times the child may have to be told that he will have to put in extra hardwork to triumph over a family crisis, resulting due to some financial constraints or emotional upheaval. A nurse in Sector 16 General Hospital lost her husband when her son was just in Class VIII. She told her kids they had no option but to excel. Today her son is an aeronautical engineer, and the daughter a doctor.