I got a job! I announced this to my then seven-year-old daughter Anna after I got home from an interview one evening.
“What job?” My child asked getting worried, “Will you need to travel?”
I was too euphoric to notice her angst. “I might,” I said as I placed my bag down, opened up a bottle of wine to celebrate alone; A single mom doesn’t always have the luxury of going out drinking with her friends spontaneously.
I had not taken alimony and I refused to take money from my parents. I was down to my last rent money. With my funds drying up, I had been worried how I would provide for Anna’s education and other expenses. And thankfully I got a job offer. I agreed immediately.
Over the next week, I prepared myself for the job. I bought new clothes; I met my friends. I spoke to my daughter about how our bond would still be intact.
The day before I had to start full-time work, my daughter was feeling happy for me but anxious for herself. We’d never been apart since the day she’d been born. I’d been a stay at home mother all this while spending my days and nights with her.
I cuddled with her reassuring her that nothing would change. I had a full-time maid who managed the house. I would be home early every day.
But things did change. Suddenly there was a whirlwind of activity, travel and stress. I was more tired than I expected to be. And even though I tried to be home on time, there were nights she’d call me to say good night.
“Where have you reached Mama?” She’d ask hoping I was closer home to tuck her into bed.
“I’m still stuck on Western Express Highway baby,” grumbling about the Mumbai traffic, “You sleep. You have school tomorrow. I’ll come kiss you goodnight.”
“Ok mama.” And I could feel the bond dissipate if I continued this way. I was so busy trying to prove myself in my new job that I had begun to neglect my duties as a mother.
For a single mother, the decision to go for a full-time job is not easy. There’s tremendous guilt and a heavy heart every morning when you leave your child. Often, we feel it’s not worth it and want to quit the job.
A friend of mine, Priya, who is a single mother of a four-year-old boy told me, “My son is calling the maid Mummy. Either he’s taunting me or not recognizing me. But what can I do? If I don’t work what will we eat? What is the alternative?” Her divorce was contested and her separated husband hadn’t paid for anything in her life.
Another friend of mine Sakshi who was a single mother of a twelve-year-old daughter said “I love my job and I don’t want to give it up. But I’m afraid she’s becoming so independent that she doesn’t need me anymore. If I’d been around more maybe we would have had a better relationship?”
A UN report states that there are approximately 13 million single mother households in India. Of the world’s 2.3 billion children 14 percent – or 320 million – are living in a single-parent household, most often headed by single mothers. And there is one thing they all have in common. Guilt.
Every mother has guilt when they leave their child at home but it’s single mothers who feel it more. We’re constantly worrying whether we should keep the job to provide a better future or spend more time at home to raise our children.
Most women have gone back to live with their parents and it’s the grandparents who help raise the child. Again, there’s guilt if the child stops listening to the mother or if parenting styles differ, who should the child listen to? Ideally, always the mother. Because the child needs to feel their immediate parent takes interest in their life and the parent can see the outcome of their decisions when the child grows up.
Since I don’t live with my parents and only had a maid to look after my child, I worried if she would become lonely, depressed, a screen addict, socially alienated, too independent, etc.
After a few months I found some balance in my life. I decided not to work in office beyond a certain time so I was home earlier. I changed the way I travelled even if it was more tiring for me. I completed whatever work was remaining early mornings after I dropped my child to school. And I gave up one thing that was taking up time from my life, TV. I didn’t take “me time” except when she was busy with other activities. And on the weekends, I did everything I could with Anna.
One day, a year later when we were colouring in the Secret Garden book she turned to me and said, “I’m glad you’re working.”
I looked surprised. “Really? Why?”
“Because you’ve become a better mommy.”
Note to all mothers: Your child is constantly judging your skills in parenting. Don’t stress. The graph keeps shifting.
“How?” I asked pleased I was succeeding at last.
“Earlier you were at home but we didn’t spend so much time together. And now whenever you’re at home, we do so many things together.”
“And when I’m not at home what do you do?” I asked though the maid filled me in on all that she did. Anna replied. “I have work to do!”
She’d realised that when I wasn’t at home, she still had to finish her homework and go for extracurricular classes. She began to value her time and space and became independent enough to look after her needs and still came to me for her wants. She could pack her school bag on her own but she still needed me to read her a story.
Maybe working isn’t so bad for a single mother. It makes your time more valuable for the child. You become a role model. And the bond deepens.
Madhuri is an author, film writer and single mother. She values her books, her friends and her freedom. The views expressed are the author’s own.