It is hard enough to bring up a child, let alone within a difficult situation such as divorce. During such times, both parents must work not only to ensure their children’s wellbeing, but also to make the transition as smooth and painless as possible. Single parents often find themselves doing a job meant for two all on their own! That is without even mentioning society’s harsh view on single parents.
We sat down with four inspiring single parents: Yara Kassem, mother of one; Mohamed Saleh, father of two; Rehab Khalil, mother of one; and I.M. father of one, in an attempt to learn from their experiences as single parents.
We cannot speak about divorce and not mention the pervasive misconception that it is bad for children, regardless of how unhappy the marriage is making their parents. “I have actually fallen for this misconception for a period during my marriage. However, I came to the conviction that nothing is healthy in a toxic environment. If you’re not happy, you cannot make your kids happy.” Yara explains. For Rehab, this myth was broken earlier, “when I saw my parents fighting all the time, to the extent that I once wished that they would get a divorce. I didn’t want my girl to grow up in a house where love is not served.” She explains.
In such a challenging situation, the support one gets from those around them makes all the difference in the world. Mohamed’s greatest support in this case came as a pleasant surprise, “I received support from my ex. Family was on the opposite page. So, we both agreed and decided to help one another and try to do this right.” He explains. For I.M., his friends’ support also took him by surprise, “I got the most support from people who came out of left field, it’s as if God sent me people.” he says. However, Yara and Rehab both expressed that they had to be their own supporters, “unfortunately my parents were totally against the divorce; they didn’t understand my reasons.” Rehab explains. As for Yara, it was her own choice, “it was not that people deceived me. I decided to take this battle alone, I did not want to burden anyone.” She elaborates.
The personal status law was, expectedly, brought up, “we need a law that supports single parents, a law which helps single mothers financially. My friends in Europe get proper allowance for single parenting, as well as help in schooling.” Rehab tells. I.M. had another point to make, “the current law in a nutshell favors the mother in terms of custody and the father in terms of money,’’ he continues, “it is becoming more evident that children need their mothers and fathers equally. It isn’t about the father being on the sidelines or being the cash machine, he should have an important role in his child’s life.”
Since their main objective is to keep their children happy and healthy, all four parents agreed on the matter of keeping the peace with their exes. “We decided to behave like rational, civilized people, and agreed that the kids come first. Of course we made mistakes, but we reminded each other. Communication is the most important thing.” Mohamed says. Respect, and placing the child’s well-being first, also worked for Rehab, “I was determined to keep my relationship with my ex on good terms. I believed that was the most important thing to keep my girl’s state of mind, feelings and personality in the best condition”, she continues, “I told him that for the sake of our girl, we should always respect each other in front of her.” I.M. agrees, “respect and honesty. These are the two things that have to be there, there should be a certain maturity that the child’s welfare is above all else.” He explains.
It is sometimes wise to use a professional’s help in navigating such difficult situations. That is what Yara did after the divorce, “I did take my daughter – who was around six years old by the time of the divorce – to a therapist. And it did help to a large extent,” she tells. Mohamed and his ex’s approach was slightly different, they went to the therapist themselves before announcing the split to their children, “we went without them and took one session. The therapist was very happy that we both went there, because usually one person goes and the other is resistant to the idea. She placed points for us to pay attention to, and helped us on how to deliver the news to them,” he says.
The process of bringing up a child is exhausting for married couples, let alone single parents. So the little support one is able to receive from those around them, can be of great help. “After the divorce I had support from my family and friends, and even my former partner. We have a friendly, decent relationship, which makes things easier for me for sure,” Yara explains. However, the hands-on approach I.M. has adopted is equally fascinating, “Since we got the separation and agreed that he is with me half the week, I have been the one taking care of him since he shows up at my doorstep. I change him, feed him, set up playdates, take him out, put him to bed, buy him toys and clothes, teach him new words. I really take care of my boy as a single dad,” he tells.
Rehab Khalil and her daughter
While support from family and friends may help a great deal, it is our society that makes things difficult for single parents, “society needs to change the common misconception about single parents, that they are bad, evil or have questionable reputations”, Yara continues, “which will take a lot of time for sure, but concrete steps must be taken in this regard, like for example in drama/ movies, these ideas must be integrated.” Rehab agrees, “awareness must be raised in our society about single parenting. People should learn to respect and appreciate the efforts of single parents. Yet what happens most of the time is very much the opposite”, she says, “this kind of awareness and support should start from NGOs and media.” The misconception for single dads, however, is that they do not know what they are doing, “there is this misconception that dads are clumsy and do not know what to do. Give dads more credit.” I.M. says, and recalls an incident where a woman assumed his child’s shoes were put on backwards because he did not know how to dress his son. When, in fact, it was the doctor’s recommendation for his baby’s feet at the time.
Upon bringing up bullying, three of the single parents’ stance was that they would handle this issue from their own kids’ side. “We should teach our children to be strong and to stand up for themselves. A child should be taught not to feel ashamed of anything but wrong deeds.” Rehab says, “I taught my girl that she should not wait for people’s acceptance, because they will never be satisfied with anything.” Yara’s approach focused on ensuring her daughter understood that there is nothing wrong with divorce, “single parents must be transparent, clear and honest with their children first. They must talk openly with them about divorce and be willing to answer any questions. This will reduce the child’s tendency to be intimidated”, Yara explains, “it would be preferable that the divorced couple has an okay relationship, and can agree on one version of the story to be told to their kids. That way they convey to their kids the notion that there is nothing wrong with divorce, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.” I.M. on the other hand, brings up an interesting point that must be addressed for the bullies themselves, “you need to teach them empathy. They have to understand that there are people who don’t have it as good as them and people who have it better than them, doesn’t mean they’re better or worse, and that they don’t want to hurt anyone for something that they don’t have,” he concludes.
Finally comes the question of patchwork families and the possibility of remarrying. While Mohamed, I.M., and Yara said they are not interested, Rehab had another view, “of course I consider remarrying and hope to grow our family. My Ex husband got remarried already and added two lovely brothers to my girl, and they love each other very much,” she says, “this is another issue that our community needs to understand… that divorce is not the end of the world. We should always start over, and give ourselves a chance for a new life, and open up to new love,” she concludes.
Society needs to change the common misconception about single parents, that they are bad, evil or have questionable reputations.
we need a law that supports single parents, a law that helps single mothers financially.