It’s very difficult to be a single parent. As it is, bringing up a child, even under normal circumstances, is a huge responsibility on two people — decision-making and responsibility weigh down every step. From which paediatrician to go to, which school to choose, overseeing the company they keep, keeping track of their education. Though not impossible, doing this alone is tough and takes a toll on the parent.
Most single parents put their children/child’s need above their own. This can seem like an obvious instinct, but sometimes, when somebody has just lost a spouse or gotten a divorce, they may immerse themselves in raising their children/child — especially since it is a way to avoid addressing their own emotional turmoil. Doing this, many people take years before they pay attention to their own emotional and physical needs.
V a 38-year-old client, lost her husband quite suddenly when she was 29 years old. She was 8 months pregnant at that time. It’s already very hard to lose a partner — for V it was even harder as they had recently moved to another country, and she had barely had time to make friends there. They had no family with them either at the time.
Eventually, V returned to India and moved in with her parents. Given the trauma, she barely had any memory of her daughter being born, and of the first two years of her daughter’s life. As soon as V’s daughter started kindergarten, the family started talking about her getting remarried. After all, she was only 32 years old.
However, V wasn’t ready to even consider any proposals. Even though three years had gone by, she was still in shock and not able to accept that her husband had passed away. V was overwhelmed with responsibility while also still grieving. She now wishes she had considered counselling then, instead of waiting all this while. V believes that would have been helpful in healing from the trauma effectively.
For the last two years V has been trying to find a partner again. It hasn’t been easy. For example, someone she was introduced to was divorced, but had no children. In their first meeting, he stated very clearly that if things progress with them, she will have to leave her daughter with her parents — he was not interested in raising another man’s child. Another man V met and dated for a brief period had, a few months into their relationship, suggested that she send her daughter to a boarding school.
V says at least 80% of the men she met were uncomfortable with her having a child. It made me sad to hear how matter-of-fact she was about this, since it’s something she’s come to accept as reality. At the same time though, I was reassured, because these experiences had not deterred her search for another partner, or marred her feelings about it.
A year ago, V met someone on a matrimonial site. They both had lost their partners and each had a child. Having a similar and equally difficult life experience made them form a bond and they seemed to connect well.
Everything seemed fine until the man started having concerns: will their kids be able to accept them as a couple and then each other as siblings? Will he and V be able to love each other’s child equally? Will they have to adopt the other person’s kid?
These are all valid concerns, and I don’t know of any single parent who does not go through a similar conundrum. In fact, my mother, too, who was widowed young. At the age of 26, she chose to remain single. She feared that whoever she’d marry would never love her children as his own, and that he might not treat me or my brother well.
V and the man she met on the matrimonial site are keen to consider becoming life partners, and are now in couples counselling to work towards this. At the same time V and I are working on creating experiences with each other’s children, which will help them bond, or at the least provide insights into how the children will behave when they are together.
It is a given that this is not going to be easy on anybody. Expecting any individual in this situation to love someone else’s child as their own immediately is an unfair ask. So is expecting the child to accept a new individual as their parent.
In my opinion, there needs to be a step-by-step approach. First, a few casual meetings with the children/child outside of home. The more interactive these meetings, are the better. So, picking something that the kids will enjoy – like bowling, painting, or a visit to an amusement park will be ideal. The idea is to get to know each other better in an environment that leaves a positive impact, eases the pressure and any awkwardness that such a situation tends to have.
Once the ice is broken and the child/children seem comfortable with the adults and/or each other, one can move the meet-ups to each other’s homes. Increased meetings will intuitively guide each parent when to broach the subject of living together or getting married.
Another important point is to not force your child to treat your partner as their parent and call them Mom or Dad. To have that relationship take its natural course will help in the child accepting your partner into their lives in a comfortable way – forcing them to do anything will only push them further away from you and your goal of having a happy bond as a family.
There is always a way for single parents to find love and companionship. I’d encourage you to also seek help of a good counsellor, especially in the beginning, on how to integrate the children with as much ease as possible, into your new, loving relationship.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org