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December 2000 issue

Special Focus: Single parenting

There was a time when Neena Gupta's decision to have a child out of wedlock without even disclosing the name of the father, was major news. Today as families become smaller and smaller, single parent households are no longer as unusual as they once were. Single parenting is not a new phenomenon in India. The death of a spouse was the commonest reason followed by absenteeism, mostly on the part of the father. Such absenteeism could be work related or because of a mistress or because the father had simply taken 'sanyas'. But much of these single parent households were hidden behind the undivided joint family façade and there were many shoulders sharing the responsibility of the rearing of the children. With the breakdown of the joint family system as well as the increasing rate of divorce and unmarried parenting, the single parent family is now coming out into the open.

So much for theory. If yours is a single parent family then you're more interested in the practical aspects of this social phenomenon. Lets take a look at the most basic concerns that you might be facing.

  • The biggest worry for most single parent families is providing an adequate role model for the missing parent. Don't worry however, finding role models in India is still not that hard because even though the joint family may be dying out, extended family ties remain a part of our society. Choose the role model with care though because whoever you choose should not only have the qualities you want your child to learn, he or she should also be physically close to the child so that bonding can take place.
  • You may worry that your child may be missing an important experience through the absence of one parent. Remember however, that children are normally tougher than we give them credit for. You may find that actually you feel worse about the situation than they do because their natural resilience and adaptability is greater than yours. Also sometimes the absence of a parent is better than the presence of a bad one.
  • Finances are often a source of anxiety in single parent families because psychologically there is no back up available. Often though this is more a matter of perception than fact as many families live very well with a single source of income. Being a single parent can make you financially independent, answerable to no one except yourself for the manner in which you spend your money.

As in any other situation, there are advantages and disadvantages to being a single parent family. Amongst the disadvantages are that children tend to grow up more one sided in their knowledge of family relationships, you may feel stressed out and alone more often than not and everything from social acceptability to financial security may be a greater struggle for your family unit. And the advantages? Greater self-confidence - for both you and your children. Making it against odds not only gives your children a better foundation for the future in respect to working hard and winning out, it adds tremendously to their self-confidence and sense of independence. They may work harder because they have faced hardships in life from an early age and learnt how to deal with life on its own terms. The same holds true for you as well. Similarly being alone doesn't always translate into loneliness - there are few as lonely as those trapped in tense or restrictive home environs.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding your family's single parent status, remember that the only lack that can stunt your family's growth is the lack of love. Single parents can, and have all through history, successfully created warm, loving and secure families. All families are unique and their uniqueness has less to do with the size or shape of the family as much as it has to do with the attitudes and forms of caring that the family enjoys. So enjoy your special brand of uniqueness and know that you are providing your children with all the love and caring they need to bloom.

 

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