What is your father’s name? what does he do for a living? I grew up accustomed to these questions like many of us, having received them so often. These questions on their own are not the problem, but it is the intention behind asking these questions about a father only, is what concerns me. Why aren’t questions about a mother asked? I would have gladly and easily answered without hesitations if similar question were raised about my mother. The point I wish to make here, is how such questions can be quite alienating for some, we need to be more inclusive in the way we see families and parent figures.
I was born and raised in a maternal home, a joint family. But, the patriarchal undertones of our society are always present, where boys are favored and prioritized over girls. For my family, education was always emphasized as the only way for survival. But to my surprise while pursuing higher education a few educated male relatives discouraged my mother from allowing me to pursue my studies, questioning how she would be able to pay for my education? Others discouraged me and told me not to pursue higher education as a woman and that at the end of the day the beneficiaries of what I have acquired or achieved would belong to my husband and his clan. These comments, did not discourage me, instead made me thirstier for knowledge. Though not a brilliant student, I worked hard to quench this thirst, remembering the teachings and sacrifices of my mother and her siblings. This after all, was my education, my future and my choice.
Growing up, whenever people learnt about the absence of a father in my life, some were wise enough to remind me to be hopeful, that Our Heavenly Father is always there for fatherless children. While, I do seek God, many still showed me sympathy for not being privileged enough to have experienced a complete family. This sympathy became a burden almost, a constant reminder that maybe my life was incomplete, a reminder that I struggle with even as I grow older and wiser. I often kept to myself, reserved and alone not wanting these questions or sympathy from people. I did not want questions about my background and the easy way out was to have fewer friends and socialize less. My high school days too, were similar – marked by loneliness, insecurity, lack of trust, fear, and inferiority complex. Ever since then, the search for meaning of complete family and the purpose of my life began.
With a borrowed surname and citizenship, coping to lead life as a daughter of a single mother is challenging in our society. A paradox in Tangkhul society is that widows are shown care and some sense of regard, but towards out of wedlock mothers, many are still judgmental. Even their children are kept under strict vigilance about the way they behave. While experiences may vary, it is nonetheless a challenge, living is almost an act of resistance. I often felt like I had to walk extra miles, work harder, behave well and fit in if that were possible.
As I grew older, life took a different turn, I learned and broadened my understandings, became more aware and found the answers to questions that were important to me. Most importantly, I learned that a complete family and what it means is quite subjective, like all other life experiences. I no longer saw a family confined to the number of parents but rather built on bonds not only with those you shared blood relations with but friends you met along the way. When I was conceived my mother had a dream of a sharp paring knife attached to her wrap around, the meaning of her dream was realized and interpreted later. The sharp knife in some way represented me, who would take keen interest on the existing issues related to single mother in particular and women in general. Then, I learnt that this is the purpose for my life. Since then, I began to appreciate leading this life.
The children of single mothers yearn for empathy not just sympathy from our people in the society, along with acceptance and appreciation for our mothers. We as a people have the power to lighten the burden of any problem. To do this, we need to deconstruct our thoughts. Let us make our society more inclusive in order to make our world a better place where everyone will feel valued. Only I can be me and I have a story only I can tell, narrated in gist through this article. If you read this, take it as a reminder that you do not walk a roadless road, remember there is a story which only you can tell and it is beautiful and powerful.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
By Sopemla Shithung
M.Phil Scholar, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai| firstname.lastname@example.org