9 Months: Notes from a single parent on navigating separation in a way that's best for your child
Both parents need to work towards their child's emotional well-being when they're going through a divorce
Undergoing separation or uncoupling can be traumatising — especially when children are involved. There are so many changes that one has to brace for: physical, mental, and emotional. One is left coping with far more than imagined.
Taking each day, one step at a time helps. For single parents (be it the mother or the father who is bringing up a child), separation from a partner signals a forced shift. You have to deal with a relationship that fell apart, the resultant emotional trauma, and mixed feelings towards your partner, also the broken dreams you had of a life together.
As a parent, you're not just dealing with your own trauma — you're also attempting to heal your child's. Children mustn't become collateral damage in their parents' split. What is needed in these situations is honesty, sensitivity, and compassion. Your decision to be a single parent must be accompanied by heart-to-heart conversations (as many as needed) with your child; you must explain that just because you and your partner couldn't make your relationship work, it doesn't mean that you two don't love your child. Refrain from accusations, arguments and blame-games with your ex in the presence of your child. Both parents need to work towards the child's emotional well-being.
When life turned me into a single mother, I had to deal with a marriage that fell apart and my own broken dreams. I was on my knees, praying I'd find the strength to deal with life after an extremely turbulent marriage. Family support helped, as did the fact that I had a high-pressure job — one that entailed long hours and pressing deadlines — and this ensured I got back up on my feet. At work, my focus was on doing my best to keep my career going. At home, I was trying to create a happy atmosphere for my child.
My life revolved around work and home. I devoted myself to these two aspects: doing my best at work and being a single mother. I never tried being a father. My child had a father to play that role. That took some of the pressure off me. I didn't stop my son when he wanted to cry or express what he felt to my parents, me, or anyone else he wished to speak to. I needed him to feel normal. Finally, with a very heavy heart, I decided to send him to a boarding school.
This separation was tough for both of us. My son wouldn't be home when I returned from work, and his mother wouldn't be there when he got back from school. However, I felt this would be good for him — even if it tore me apart. While dealing with his parents' divorce, he thought he was the unluckiest child, one who came from a broken home. These thoughts faded amid the busy routine of his boarding school. There, he met children of other single parents and this helped dissipate the negative emotions he had about his parents’ split. And all of them helped each other. My son made friends for life, stepping in as the siblings he never had. Sending my child to a boarding school turned out to be one of the best decisions I had made in the interests of my child, no matter how much it hurt to stay away from him. In this regard, choosing the right boarding school was essential, one that focused on his all-round development.
Raising a boy in our country while not clouding him with our conditioning is crucial. I want him to know it is okay to cry no matter how old he is, it is okay to find an emotional outlet, and it is absolutely all right to feel what he feels. I am here for him and he can come to me with his problems, tell me if he feels my method of parenting needs a review. I allow him the freedom to choose, as long as he stands by his choices. I allow him to make mistakes — just as my parents allowed me to make my mistakes even though it shattered them. In the long run, that was what taught me to be responsible, for myself and for my child.
Being a single mother isn't easy; to be solely responsible for yourself and another life is a daunting task. I ensured my financial independence despite ample family support. I ensured I kept my balance in the face of external influences. One must behave in an exemplary way, to set a benchmark. To deal with pressures at work, carry yourself with dignity, ensuring your emotional stability, and at the same time not becoming a sacrificial lamb, requires tremendous gumption.
Priyanka Sehgal is VP — Content & Strategy, Firstpost. Priyanka received an award for the Smartest Digital Marketing Leader in India, conferred at the World Digital Marketing Congress by CMO Asia and the World Federation of Marketing Professionals. She is an accomplished TV and digital professional and was recently a guest on Firstpost’s web series 9 Months, a one of its kind path-breaking show on pregnancy and parenting. Priyanka spoke to host Meghna Pant about her journey as a single mother. The full episode can be viewed here.
9 Months, hosted by Meghna Pant, is now in its second season. You can watch the series here.
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