Pakistani women’s choices of when to marry, who they marry, when they start a family and how they raise that family are heavily scrutinised but once she becomes a single mom – by choice or by fate, that scrutiny goes up a few notches.
In general, we are not a culture that supports single parenthood, be it by divorce or even when a spouse passes away.
Nadia* a single mom raised her now college aged children for the bulk of their life on her own, she told Oraan that a big misconception is how divorce and raising a kid alone or between two households would hurt the kid.
“Hearing that ‘kids will be ruined, kids get ruined from broken homes’ was absurd,” she said. “Children don’t get ruined by broken homes and single parenthood, they get ruined by unhappy parents, and that can include parents still married. The whole stigma around [single parenthood] is ridiculous.”
Another misconception is that it’s a selfish choice or a choice taken to punish another partner, for mom Nadia, single parenthood was a necessary step and one that came at costs people she feels do not see.
“People don't understand how alone you feel because nobody can really understand what is going on with your child other than the other parent of your child,” said Nadia. This is especially tough when the relationship with your ex-spouse is not always friendly.
“People can try but no one gets it, you are alone in a lot of situations it feels like that.”
“There’s this thought that the decision could not have been the woman’s. The assumption that the child will always be worse off after the divorce than before,” Alizah* a single mom with a teenage son said.
“Single parenting doesn’t mean the other parent has to be booted out of the equation. It’s possible that they still exist and the child has a cordial relationship with the other side,” said Alizah, who raised her now teenage son primarily alone in Pakistan.
Another aspect to single parenthood is the financial burden it can have. In Pakistan’s patriarchal society, men being sole bread winners is not uncommon, you could say it’s the norm, so when a mom strikes out on her own financially it can be shocking and stressful.
Most of the mom’s we spoke with were working mom’s whose ex partner’s continued to play some role in their child’s life, but for Nazafreen* her child’s expenses all fell onto her.
“When I first left my husband I had not worked in a number of years opting to stay home with our children, but once I had moved back with my parents the right thing to do was to start earning,” she said, “it could not all fall on them.”
Nazafreen thankfully had a solid resume under her belt and quickly gained employment but said, “learning to budget and manage money while also learning how to be a mom and return to being a live-in daughter was a struggle. It took a few years to feel strong on my feet.”
When asked what pressure they face from society, especially raising sons as single women, all the moms talked about the impact that a mom can have.
“I feel all sorts of pressure, mostly society inculcating toxic masculinity into him and you being able to do little in the face of that. Also, how to not have the child be ashamed of his home situation,” said Alizah.
The sentiment was shared by Nadia, “I do feel pressure internally in raising a son in this society becauseI need to make sure that I counter any toxic masculinity type ideas that maybe coming from his father or outside influences. I try to work them out of my son's thinking as often as I can.”
Alizah also shared she feels pressure to make sure he is “successful in a traditional sense,” so that “people won’t talk shit about single women.”
Nazafreen feels the same way about her two sons, “their successes are a miracle and their failures are mine. I am made to feel that way a lot of the time, but never from them.”
We asked the moms about what single parenthood has taught them.
For Alizah it was the importance of community and family, and she hoped more family would step up as raising a kid “takes a village.” “Being a married set of parents does not really matter if you are not raising the kids together,” said Nazafreen, “You do not need people in your child’s life who are not committing to them, single parenthood if it’s a choice is a commitment and I believe your children see and respect that, I know mine do.”
For Nadia it was that in many ways single parenthood was “blissful and peaceful.”
“Being a single parent at times had been easier because there was more interaction with me than the dad so I was able to shape [my son] in a way that guided him away from some of the traits I would not want him to have,” she said. “In some ways having no one undermine your authority or undo what all you had taught, not interfering, was easier.”
*Names have been changed for privacy