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Mom Alone: Dilemmas Of The Single Mother

Mom Alone: Dilemmas Of The Single Mother

Being the only parent can be tough. But it need not be the end of a family life.

By Koh Joh Ting

"I struggled with making a decision for one-and-a-half years. I never thought I would divorce. Then I told myself, hey, this is life, just move on and concentrate on what you have to do. I figured it was better to go through with it now than stay in a bad relationship for the sake of the child. I know of couples who won't talk to each other after they return from work. I felt I had to be true to myself or feel drained. Yes, it is very difficult to juggle work, bills, bringing my daughter to school and back. But after struggling through the day, I relish going home and seeing this cute face telling me 'I miss you mummy!'" - actress and single mother Christy Chung.

If you are a single mother and reading this at home this Mother's Day weekend, you are not alone. If you went through a divorce, you need not be Christy Chung to realise the kind of social scrutiny you have come under since you parted from your former spouse.

The question "Did I do right?" will haunt you for the rest of your life as you watch your children grow under your care. But rather than dwell on the past, take a moment this Mother's Day to think about "How can I do right?" It helps to know who you can turn to in your hardest times.

"How Much Worse Can It Get?"
Azita Abdul Aziz, the senior social worker of the YWMA Family Support Centre, which helps single Muslim mothers here, tells HealthAnswers that a new single mother can have a lot on her hands after she signs the legal papers:
1) Going through the loss of a spouse.
Some women may never have been employed before their divorce and could be in their thirties or forties. They would have a big challenge trying to find work, and generally have less money than before. If they did not initiate the divorce, they would have a more difficult time accepting her new single status.
2) Coping with work.
This means that the children may have to cope with an absent mother who is out working. She may feel guilty that she cannot afford quality childcare for her children. She and her children may also have to move out of the matromonial home, and her children may have to adjust to school transfers, new friends, new teachers and a new school.
3) Facing social stigma and censure from people around her.
It is true. Some people will ask you outright "How can you do this to your child?" Some women also report that married female colleagues start avoiding them, says Azita, while men presume that they are available for dating.
4) Loneliness.
In a coventional family, one parent may take on the nurturing role and the other the disciplinarian role. But a single mother may feel compelled to be strict, and feel torn about it. "One child even told me that his mother has turned into a lioness," says Azita with a wry smile.20000512BOX.gif (29129 bytes)

The Waiting Children
Don't ignore how your children may feel. From their point of view, there is the loss of a parent to cope with as they adjust to new living arrangements with one parent. Some problems that may arise are:
1) The other parent is missed.
With a loss in income and support, one of the first things to go is family outings. "Families cannot go out together because the mother is trying to do more work to earn extra money," says Azita.
2) Guilt.
Some children blame themselves for triggering off the quarrels of their parents, some may also feel torn that they are forced to choose between parents. Adults can unintentionally and unavoidably turn their children into spies against the other adult."One child even told me it was better for him to stay in a children's home rather than make a choice," said Azita. "They also feel alienated if they have to change schools and homes."
3) Becoming withdrawn socially.
It's not necessarily true that young toddlers do not feel anything. "They can become worried and clingy because they pick up the vibes that their mother is sad," says Azita. "All children are affected one way or another. Teenagers may be ashamed or angry, while younger ones may withdraw into their own shell."

The Children's Future
Uppermost in a single mom's mind is probably the question how she can bring up her children to become happy and stable adults with a future brighter than hers.

The most crucial thing is that both parents should agree not to unload their unhappiness with each other on their children. So stop wallowing, your child's feelings depend on your mood. Your child will only trust you if you stop making him take sides.

The key thing to remember is that, Azita says emphatically, single-parent homes need not be a ready incubator for juvenile delinquents.

"The real question is whethere is a lot of differences at home. Even in intact families; if there are two styles of parenting, the resulting confusion makes it hard for the child to be happy. Lack of harmony is something that may lead to delinquency. But if a single-parent starts believing that her home will create delinquent children, it will be a case of self-fulfilling prophecy."

In fact, she said, some children in single-parent homes can become more responsible as people.

"They may become more sensitive as people because they understand what it means to lose someone close," she says. "As they are forced to fend for themselves, they learn how to analyse problems and solve them. If you adjust well, your child also will."

The Big Dilemma: To Shield Or Not To Shield The Child?
There is no clear-cut answer because of the individual nature of how each child deals with a divorce, say experts.
Says Dr Wong Sze Tai, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth-Charter Behavioural Health Services: "Different children react differently. Some kids feel very protective of their custodial parent and if they see her hurt, their feelings are affected. Divorcing parents must not get their children into a loyalty conflict as children may simply bottle up their feelings."
He added that if parents do not monitor, some children can get depressed and have difficulty concentrating at school.
Adds Azita: "It takes a lot of trust from the child before you can share, even though you may be saying from the start that it's not his fault."
Assure the child that you both will always will be there for him.
"Above all, it helps if you don't feed off your resentment and anger against your former spouse in the presence of the child. Life is like a journey; rebuild and move on."

YWMA Family Support Centre
745 5862

Counselling and Care Centre
536 6366

Family Welfare (MCDS)
1800-258 6598

289 8811

1800-440 9912

Mt Elizabeth-Charter Behavioural Health Services
1800-738 9595

Date reviewed: 12 May 2000

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