As a single mom, Christmas has become bitter-sweet. This year I had to say goodbye to my children at 10.30am on the 25th and I won’t be seeing them again until early January. They are home for a few days and then they leave for another 10 days or so.
I’ve always loved Christmas time. As well as the anticipation of gifts and an extravagance of food, for us in New Zealand, it coincides with the start of our long summer holidays. The whole year seems to build to these weeks of swimming, beach walks, late nights and relaxation, time with friends and time with extended family. The time to make memories.
Now I am separated, my kids make many of their summer memories without me.
It’s hard enough to say goodbye to ones children on Christmas Day but, like many solo-parents, I also had to send them off to a situation which is often emotionally fraught and where the dynamics of the extended family are erratic and often volatile. On the other hand, their Dad loves them and they will have plenty of opportunities for fun and adventure, and they will (mostly) look out for one another.
I swing in my emotions around them parenting one another. I would much rather they didn’t have to do so but siblings have looked out for each other for generations, and were possibly closer and more mature for those experiences. I have seen these changes in my boys after other stretches of time away. Not what I would choose but not all bad.
My eldest is not quite 14 and my middle son is 10.5 years-old, like most siblings, they can be pretty awful to one another at home or the best of friends. These two have high emotional-intelligence and with them I have spent weeks, on and off, discussing strategies for managing different scenarios. They can Skype me whenever they want to and have safe people and safe places they can get themselves to, if the dynamics become overwhelming or feel unsafe for them. So, although I would rather they didn’t have to manage without me, I know that they can.
But my baby is only six. He just wants his Mum with him and, if unpleasant situations arise, he is too young to make sense of what is happening. I was with the older boys over previous summer breaks and could decipher situations for them. There were times when they were simply misinterpreting adult conversations, like all children do sometimes. Other times I needed to protect them from vitriol; explain mean jokes; counteract misogynistic or racist comments; or balance out blatant favoritism. I’m not there to do that for him and that is very hard on my heart.
The older boys will do what they can to help him but they are still not fully grown themselves and, quite frankly, there will be times that they don’t want to. On their return, I can talk him through things, be firm around any learned behaviors I am not happy with, and I can hug most of his broken pieces back into place. I can be his safe-place. It’s not ideal but it’s okay.
Big picture – we work better as a family with two homes. My heart hurts but the bigger part of me knows it’s the best situation overall. The reality is, I need this time to rest and be alone; I am a much better parent and person for these breaks. The boys are loved, and they will be having fun and lots of wonderful experiences. But the Mommy – guilt is big all the same and – I miss my kids.
Have you had times of Mommy-guilt? How did you manage it?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of three boys in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet.
“They said I must not have been a good enough wife…”
“Is it okay to ask the father to pay for my child?”
“I’m not allowed to leave the house.”
“Being a single mom, feel people look down on me as I matter less.”
What Single Moms Need
Those are just a few of the things I’ve heard over the year, since I started a local support group for single mothers called Single Moms Indonesia.
Living in a patriarchal country Indonesia, women still get blamed for filing divorce. The religious divorce court will put the blame on the women. The court will have a mediation session that almost always ended up with a panel of male officials putting the blame on the women. Women are usually prone to be verbally abused in this situation. It doesn’t matter if the woman filed for divorce following her husband’s infidelity or even abuse.
Indonesians have one word for divorced woman and it is laden with a negative connotation. The word is “Janda” and it’s true meanings are: a woman whose husband has died, or she is a divorcee. I’m not a fan of the word because of the shadowing negativity behind it. The word has turned into a label. It means that the woman behind it is someone who will seduce another’s husband, who ‘asked for it’. It means a woman who is worthy of all the juicy gossips.
To hear members of the support group that live outside of Jakarta, in small towns talked about how they are being isolated just because the neighbor thinks she may pose a threat for being divorced really disturbs me. Not only have these women lost their families but they are also being shunned by the society and having little supports from the government.
What these women need are our support. They do not want to be blamed for their decisions in life. They do not want to be made embarrassed and put on the spot often in a derogatory way.
What single moms in Indonesia needs:
Emotional support. Some members of our group choose to be anonymous because they fear that their families or friends will start gossiping.
Financial Education. Having to be responsible for their own financial state can be daunting for some women especially if they have never work before. Financial education can really help single moms to make better choices or investment.
Parenting Therapy/Support. Often times single moms here are stressed borderline depressed going through their divorce process this can greatly impact the way they mother to their children.
Affordable Daycare. One of the biggest challenges of working single mothers in Jakarta and Indonesia, in general, is the lack of affordable daycare available.
Affordable Housing. With prices of housing skyrocketing in Indonesia, plenty of single mothers are forced to move back in, with their parents or rent the cheapest place they can afford.
Child Support. There is no legal binding laws or government agency in Indonesia that assure children out of divorce families are financially taken care of. In most cases, men just flee and leave the financial burden of raising children to their ex-spouse.
I know these are very general things that not only Indonesian single moms needs, but all single parents needs.
Maybe as a society the simple first step we could take is to be kind and understanding towards single moms because deep down we are all just trying to do our best with the circumstances we are forced to be in, in this life.
Single moms, just like the rest are trying to make it work and to raise children who will become great individuals in the future.
How is life for single moms in your country? Does your government provide special assistant for single parents?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer and single-mom to one in Jakarta, Maureen.
Me and my boys on one of my very first training sessions. And on our very first training session on an island!
“You’ve got big muscles, Mom!” my six-year-old giggled as he poked at my legs.
“I’ve got muscles like you too,” he flexed his biceps and smiled proudly. He has been watching me get stronger physically through strength training, but he’s observing much more than me building muscle.
On September 26, 2014, I made a commitment to myself and my boys. I walked down a long gravel driveway to my first outdoor strength training session unsure of what to expect. All I knew is that I wanted to take care of myself and become as strong physically as I already was mentally. If I could take care of myself – mentally, physically and spiritually – then I could be the best mom for my kids.
The previous seven months were long and hard. I separated from and divorced my husband, made some incredibly tough decisions, sold my house, moved into a much smaller rental with my two boys, changed my name, worked on my book and started a brand new life.
I was happier than I had been in a long time, but I was worn out. There were days that I felt like I should have been wearing war paint. In the process of all this change, I lost weight. They say the divorce diet either makes you eat more or not at all. I had to force myself to eat during the hardest months because I was in survival mode for so long, my body never told me to nourish itself.
My first workout at WolfPack Fitness was intimidating. Training is done outside or in a barn, and the equipment is unconventional. I had very little arm strength and could barely lift a wooden beam with two arms for a landmine press or control a lightweight sledgehammer to smash a tire. My form was terrible, and I had a lot to learn.
It took time, but I learned. I learned proper form. I learned how to master basic movements we use in everyday life. I learned what my body was capable of. What I was capable of.
In the process of this learning, my kids were watching. My gym is also a wonderful, supportive community. I made instant new friends and so did my kids. They often come with me when I work out. They can explore nature or they can join me. Either choice is an enriching experience for them.
My boys spray painting cinderblocks, our home gym equipment.
I have gained a solid ten pounds of lean muscle. I am strong, not only for a woman, but for a human being. My body has never looked better, and I have never felt better.
I’ve gained the muscle, as my six-year-old likes to note, but I gained much more than that.
Lifting weights has brought me closer to friends I have known for years and introduced me to new friends who have loved and accepted me from day one. It has given me the energy to jump with my kids at a trampoline park for two hours as other parents sit and look on.
My training has grounded me, allowing me to handle all the wonderful things the universe has thrown my way over the past year. It has given me a level of self-worth that I have not had in a very long time.
As mothers, we do whatever we need to do to take care of and protect our kids. Too often it’s our own self-care that suffers in our quest to be the best mom we can be.
I choose to lift myself up through strength training. How do you lift yourself up?
When it was time for my son to start school, I knew I wanted him to go to private school and thankfully, he was accepted into one of the international schools near our house.
Private school has its pluses and unfortunately its negatives too.
My son’s classmates are from the upper-middle class, those whose spring breaks were spent going to Japan or Hong Kong to visit Disney Land. The same kids who also have their own iPads and the latest cell phones.
I realized this might cause a challenge for us—with me being a single mom, who had just recently returned to the corporate world—but I try not to let their different lifestyles make my son feel that he’s different.
So that’s why, on Easter weekend, I took him on a mini-getaway to my new job.
We did not take a taxi to get to my office, which is in a hotel. Instead, we rode the train like I do daily. I wanted to show him this is what his mother has to do to get to and from work. He got to see views that he won’t see from inside a nice air conditioned taxi or private car.
He loved staying in the hotel, just like most kids do, so we had a blast. But on our way home Sunday afternoon, the train was full. Not as full as it normally would be on a week day, still, we had to stand. We were leaning against the wall that separates the engine and the passengers. With the train swaying, it didn’t take long before my son told me he wished he could sit down.
Part of my mama bear instinct wanted to give him a seat but part of my tough love was to allow him to feel and experience how not everyone is blessed with a comfortable life.
I hope by showing him what I have to go through on a daily basis it will help him realize that I am working hard, that as the sole bread winner, I am providing for him. Yes, his father pays for school but outside of that, he is my responsibility and I’m doing my best to take care of him.
Yes, I told him I would love to be able to take him to Disney Land someday but for now, we have other priorities. Bills to pay, medicines to get for my parents, uniforms to alter, the list goes on.
Through our short train ride, my son was exposed to life “outside the fence”. What he saw through the windows of the train: makeshift shacks, houses built only inches away from the train tracks, kids playing soccer barefooted with garbage piling up around them. Hard life. The other side of glamorous Jakarta living.
We discuss this. He asked me why these people are living in such poor conditions. My heart ached having to explain that some people are not as fortunate as we are and that poverty is real.
We have a house to live in, a roof over our heads, while others came to the big city to chase their dreams and never made it. That’s why it is important for him to get his education so he can make a living for himself, one that hopefully he will love. I told him it is easy to look up and want what other people have but we need to be in the now, to be grateful for what we already have. To remember that there are those who need our help, who are struggling just to eat.
My wish is for my son to understand this, to grow up being grateful for what we have and to have a heart that is kind and willing to help others.
How do you explain poverty to your children?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer and single-mom to one in Jakarta, Tatter Scoops.
The image used in this post is attributed to Hideki Yoshida. It carries a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
Divorce is difficult for adults. Divorce is difficult for children. It is difficult for everyone. No doubt about it. I had sailed through it. Not a smooth sailing – mind you – but I learnt so much through the process. (more…)
My swim coach is in her mid to late twenties and she’s engaged to be married. On several occasions, I’ve noticed from the way she talks, that she does not seem to be happy in her relationship. Today, I didn’t see her engagement ring on her finger so I asked her about it. She said she had taken it off because she was afraid of losing it in the swimming pool.
I mentioned that I thought she had broken up and she confided that she had been on the verge of doing so the day before. She looked so sad and I understand how she feels. She is desperate and disappointed, she loved her fiancé but as he doesn’t show his love she said that she doesn’t feel anything for him anymore and she believes that sooner or later the relationship will be over.
I found myself telling her to think only about her happiness and about making herself the first priority in her life, that she must stop being the only one to give and that she has the right to receive. I expressed concern that by being the only one giving in a relationship, she may find herself, after a few years, frustrated, disappointed and unable to give anymore.
While talking to her, I found myself thinking about how women in my community, as well as in many other communities, grow up with the belief that a woman is created to only give. Everybody around her expects to receive yet no one thinks about what she needs or that she even has needs that must be met. A woman’s role is to make everybody happy even if she is not. Her husband, her children and even her parents expect a lot from her but no one cares about what she expects.
For many long years, I lived with the people surrounding me expecting too much from me. I was giving so much but at a certain point I could not go any farther. I could not accept the idea of burning myself for others while nobody thought about me. My reaction was a little bit aggressive. I could not bear anymore the idea of being a good girl, good wife and good mother.
Being good to my parents meant being obedient to my mother even if she was intruding on my personal life and imposing her beliefs as to what I need to do and what I should not do. Being good to my husband meant I had to take responsibility for everything, take care of his needs, be kind to him, work, and take care of the house all the while never having my needs met. Being a good mother meant taking care of the kids’ needs, studies, training and entertainment.
You may ask why my husband didn’t do his share in all of this? The answer is that we have different values and backgrounds so he always said that none of those things are his priorities, so if I wanted them I had to do it myself. For years I did, but after nine years I exploded and that was a turning point in my life. I got divorced and I lived, as a single mom, with my kids, for five years. Those years were the transformation years.
I finally realized what my mistake was. I was not making myself a priority. I was allowing everybody to make decisions for me. I was not happy yet I was expected to make others happy. I never thought about my needs, I was only focusing on the needs of my family. I reached a point where I couldn’t give love anymore. How could I do that with my emotional tank empty? To give love to others you need to get your emotional tank refilled. Only then will you be able to give love to everybody around you.
It took me years and I’m still working on it, learning to constantly refill my emotional tank from different resources in order to be able to give . That’s exactly what I told my lovely and kind swimming coach in my conversation with her today. Get your emotional tank refilled, do your best to find your own satisfaction and fulfillment. Do whatever you can to make yourself happy. Only then will you be able to give love to others . You will feel happy even if you don’t receive love from others because you already have your tank refilled.
I really sympathize with women in my community because they are taught lies about what it means to be a good wife and good mother and they believe it. They live internally unhappy but do not dare to object or ask for what they need. They feel that they must accept what they’re given. They are looking for approval from others and they are afraid to reject the beliefs they were bought up on.
What beliefs in your community hurt women’s well being yet they don’t dare to reject them?
Nihad is an Egyptian woman, who was born and has lived her whole life in Alexandria, Egypt. She says, “People who visited this city know how charming and beautiful this city is. Although I love every city in Egypt, Alexandria is the one I love the most.”
She is a software engineer and has worked in the field for more than twenty years. But recently she quit her job, got a coaching certificate and she is now a self employed life and career coach. She says, “I believe that women in this era face big challenges and they are taking huge responsibilities. That's why I have chosen my niche -- women looking for happiness and satisfaction. I help and support them in making whatever change (career change, life change, behavior change, belief change…) they want to bring more satisfaction and happiness in their lives.”
Nihad is a mother of two lovely boys, 15 and 9 years old. She states, “They are the most precious gifts I have ever had. I madly love them, and I consider them the main source of happiness in my life.”
Our inspiring mother in Egypt can also be found at Aurora Beams Life Coaching.