Saturday, June 9, 2018

Surviving and thriving as single mothers

 

By Esther Kibakaya

Being a parent isn’t easy, and being a single parent is even harder. Due to various reasons such as divorce, death of a spouse, abandonment and choice, women at any age can become single parents. When this happens, they are faced with a task of raising a family on their own. Woman looks into the lives of women who’ve managed to survive and thrive being single parents, and went on to help others cope with the situation.

Aveline Mallya, 34, went through a torrid experience that led to her pregnancy.

She dated a man whom after evaluation didn’t meet her standards. She later decided to end the relationship. Unfortunately for her, the man didn’t take the news lightly.

According to Aveline, the man she was trying to end the relationship with forced himself on her. Three weeks later Aveline found out she was pregnant.

“I was a bit shocked when I found out I was pregnant; I took the initiative to call my ex and told him the news. The response I received was very negative. He wanted nothing to do with the child, stating that he would never impregnate a woman like me,” she recalls.

After a week the father of the child tried to contact Aveline to apologise, but that is as far as his apology went, he still didn’t want anything to do with the child. This was the beginning of a long journey for Aveline as a single parent.

After some time, the single mother managed to get back on her feet and ventured out. “It was a very difficult time for me but one thing I learnt during my pregnancy was to accept the situation and learn to be happy by having positive prospects about the baby that was growing inside of me,” Aveline says, further adding, “Through acceptance, I managed to focus on a brighter future. As time passed, the idea of being a single mother didn’t seem so scary.”

Today, Aveline is happy to be a mother to a beautiful daughter. How she feels about her child is personified in the name she gave her, ‘Precious’. “She gives me courage to work hard because I know that there is someone in my life who depends on me and has managed to fill a void in my heart,” the proud mother says.

Being a single parent comes with a number of challenges and responsibilities, most of which are not different to those of a married couple.

From coping with sleeplessness nights to paying bills, all these demands are there, however, the major difference here is that a parent would be going through them alone. Despite that, single mothers agree that even when overwhelmed, there’s usually a way to overcome the challenges.

“You can learn to let go or live with hatred all your life,” is what Grace Zenobi, a 31-year-old professional accountant and entrepreneur based in Dar es Salaam, told herself when she and the father of her baby went their separate ways.

“We started a relationship in 2007 while I was still in college, and in 2010 that’s when I gave birth. However, three years later we went our separate ways. If someone is to ask me how or why we were separated, I can’t give them a clear answer because I and the father of my child never had any disagreement whatsoever,” she says.

Even though she gets occasional support from the father of her child, Grace is still tasked with carrying out all parenting duties.

She wishes that the father of her child would be able to be there for his daughter more often. “She misses that fatherly love,” Grace says.

Grace admits that it’s a good thing for a woman to have a husband because society tends to respect women who are married. She however cautions against women who decide to remain in abusive relationships just because they want to remain married.

“Women should learn to value themselves and understand how valuable they are,” Grace says.

She further notes that many women who are now single mothers had different expectations when they started their relationships. “We expect that these men will end up being our husbands but it doesn’t always work that way,” she points.

Acceptance

Grace and Aveline both agree that there are a number of challenges attached to being a single parent. However through accepting the reality you are able to focus on being the best parent you can be, filling the void left by the father of the child.

“I always make sure my child gets all the basic needs a child should get. This can be a challenge because it will require you to work extra-hard and above all to have that inner peace and calmness because if you fail to have that, it means you will start to struggle and you might end up failing as a mother,” she advises.

As a single mother, Aveline understands that it will reach a time when her daughter will want to know her father, but for now she does her best to paint him in a positive image by telling her how much he loves her and that one day they will meet.

One thing Aveline advises other single mothers out there is not to plant seeds of hatred to their children against their father because that can have a very bad effect in the future. “When my child reaches the age of five, I will tell her the truth of what happened so that she can make a choice on whether she wants to spend time with her father because it is her right as his child. I don’t want our misunderstandings to come between her and her father,” she says.

Single mothers organisation

The many challenges that single mothers go through, such as those that Grace and Aveline have endured, have prompted for the initiation of a single mothers organisation. The organisation, a brainchild of an event Grace and Aveline attended 2 years ago that focused on helping single mothers, tackles a number of issues single mothers go through, including the challenges they face when raising children on their own.

They also look for ways they can reach other single mothers living in rural areas.

“During the event we had an opportunity to talk to psychologists on how to cope with the challenges of being single mothers. The term ‘single mother’ isn’t exclusive to only women who are abandoned by men but even the widows.

For instance 90 per cent of my life I was raised by my mother. It’s not that my father had abandoned us, but because he died while I was still very young. As a result I grew up seeing how my mother struggled to raise me and my other four siblings,” explains Aveline, who is a member of the organisation.

During the event, the single mothers saw the need of having a big platform that will bring them together and not just for a short while, but something that will be able to reach out to a large number of single parents, including men in the long run.

“We decided to have our union which has a total of 26 women. Our target is to be able to reach single mothers in rural Tanzania who are struggling more than we are,” Aveline reveals.

One of the struggles that single mothers in rural Tanzania face is lack of education and awareness. They don’t know of their rights and values as human beings. “Some of them believe that once they get pregnant and men abandon them, all dignity is lost. The situation becomes worse in some communities where women are stigmatized for being single mothers,” explains Aveline.

One of the things the organisation wants to teach struggling single mothers, is entrepreneurship, so that they can be able to take care of their children.

Today, the organisation visited Salvation Army orphanage in Mbagala. While there they talked to young girls about motherhood and offered their moral support.

Beneficiary

Esther John, 29, a single mother of two children, is a beneficiary of single mothers group. She was also abandoned when pregnant. Her family was so disappointed in her. She eventually had to leave home and moved in with a friend. She however also had to move out from her friend’s place and started living with her aunty.

After giving birth to her second child Esther went through a very tough period. Thanks to single parents organization, who have become her helping hand ever since she joined the group.

“They’ve supported me financially by helping me cover some hospital bills whenever I and my newborn are admitted to the hospital or when I need to go for clinic,” she says.

Family to the rescue

27-year-old Insurance expert, Anna Richard, got pregnant when she was in college in 2013. Living with her parents at that time, she was petrified over how they’d react upon finding out she became pregnant out of wedlock. Unfortunately for her, the man responsible for her pregnancy didn’t want to hear anything to do with it.

However, her concern over her family’s reaction was far from wrong; they embraced her and gave her the confidence to carry on. She gave birth to a beautiful baby who’s now 4 years old. Anna takes care of all expenses such as school fees and other bills. She says the father of her child doesn’t even know how old the baby is.

Dr. Chris Mauki, a psychologist and relationship expert published on his website, chrismauki.com an article about the health and psychological challenges single mothers face when raising their children. He said it’s true that parenting for a single parent can be a challenge for both parents and their children.

He says researches have shown that there is a high possibility for children raised by single parents to have mental health issues which can result into depression, although these challenges can differ depending on the environment or areas where they live.

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