The Challenges of 


Single 


Parenthood


Iris C F Gomes


Nalini Cardozo had been married to her husband since 1996, and the happy marriage had produced three children, who doted on their father. In 2010, however, her world of bliss came crashing down with the sudden demise of her soulmate. He succumbed to a viral attack which was suspected to be swine flu, but the details were never investigated. She was too shattered following his death to make any further inquiries. All she knows is that the virus attacked his lungs.


Two teenaged boys and a younger daughter were left in Nalini’s care. But for the family support from both sides, she says she might have not made it. One can sense the pain in her voice as she confides, ‘All of us go through the “why me?” stage. I read a lot of positive thinking books. This was the only way I managed to keep my sanity. Family has been a big blessing. It helps to talk to somebody who knew him.’


Financially, there was no problem. She had been employed at a travel company throughout the marriage and works there even now in the capacity of a senior manager; besides there was family to fall back on if the need arose. But the emotional and physical strain of playing the role of both parents was tremendously strenuous. She says with the faintest tremor in her voice, ‘It is not easy to fill the gap. It is stressful being a mother and a father.’


Nalini worries about her eldest son who has donned the mantle of adulthood while still a teenager. 

She blames the pressure from other people, saddling him with the unnecessary sense of responsibility of being the man of the house after the passing of his father. The younger two were comparatively more attached to their father, but while the daughter showed resilience, her second son withdrew into himself emotionally. It became a crisis situation which has still not been resolved completely. Constantly talking to him has been effective to some extent. ‘I’ve broken down at least 40% of that barrier,’ she says. In fact, whenever there are issues that require special attention, Nalini sits down with her children and discusses the problems them. In this manner she is able to provide a better perspective and resolve problems as a family.


It has been four years, and understandably the trauma of losing a loved one looms to herald the possible entry of despair. The struggle for normality continues in the case of Nalini, though things are not as bad as they could have been.

Derick Mendonza proves that gender has very little to do with how one grapples with widowhood. He lost his wife in a horrific accident when his two daughters, Christine and Charmaine were only 10 and 4-years old respectively. Christine is now 23 while Charmaine is 17. It has been well over 13 years and during this time he never once thought of remarrying despite the cautious suggestions made by family members. Where other men might have relinquished the children’s responsibility to the grandparents or brought in a new wife, Derick took it upon himself to ensure the loss of their mother was felt as negligibly as possible by his daughters. As a good cook, he had no problems in that area or housekeeping in general for that matter.


Nevertheless, as they were growing up, discussing sensitive topics like sex and having their first period became a dilemma. Female relatives came to the rescue at this time. Bad tempers were calmed by maintaining his cool and using humour as a balm. Balancing their opposing natures was quite tricky. However, the results have proven to show two confident young women who have always been above average academically.

Counsellors and psychologists are in agreement that widowhood, as painful as it may be, does not carry with it the same effects of being a divorcee or a refugee from a violent relationship. *Karen speaks for her mother when she says they were all relieved to part ways with her father. He was the bane of her mother’s existence and had managed to create major upsets in his children’s lives too. The five siblings were of a discerning age when their parents separated. The mother, *Sarah, went to work as a teacher to support her young ones. The turmoil in their lives bonded them to share a warm familial relationship. 


Religion has played an important role in Sarah’s life. Holding on to her religious convictions has given her the strength to survive and rear her children as strong and upstanding individuals. Communication between the siblings and their mother is excellent. They resolve every problem together and rally around any hurting member with their support.

Divorce or separation in many situations can have a residual effect on the child or children involved. The attitude of the parent they are residing with has a large role to play in the development of the child’s mindset. *Anne Fernandes, who walked out of her husband’s house at 10 pm, under the threat of physical violence and with just a few essentials, says of her 12- year-old son, ‘At twelve he is more mature than an adult. My aunt says he is the most sensible child she’s ever seen.’


After a tumultuous marriage, Anne decided she had had enough and moved to Dubai for a year to restore herself emotionally as she felt she was on the verge of a breakdown. The separation was hard for mother and son, who are friends more than parent and child. But Anne did well for herself by rising in position as a manager in a bank and passing Dubai’s daunting driving test to be able to move around independently. She took her son to Dubai then and enrolled him in a school there. Once they came back to Goa, there would be no turning around of the marital conundrum. She moved to her cousin’s furnished apartment when she was forced to leave her husband’s house and started working  as a consultant in hospitality.


Today her life is closer to what she would have liked it to be: she has her own apartment and four months ago she started her own real estate company. She makes sure she spends enough time with her son every day and has made him very independent so he can take care of himself even when she is not around. ‘It was very tough in the beginning,’ she confides, ‘but I concentrated on good things. Always thinking positive and not about how bad things had become.’


Though she has been dating and going out with friends, there does not seem to be a long term relationship in sight. She knows her son is not ready for something like that. Besides, with relationships comes hurt, something she does not want. For now, life is about enjoying her relationship with her son.


Being a single parent is a task very few would take on willingly, but circumstances will sometimes force you into the role. In each one of the cases, it is observed that positive thoughts, family support, and faith in God, have played a monumental role in restoring a sense of stability to these single parents and their families. Their stories stand as inspiration for those in similar situations but have given up hope and are burdened with despair.


(*Names have been changed)