Navigating parenthood: The story of three inspiring single mothers
Single motherhood — a phrase that carries many stories of strength, perseverance, and resilience. It takes a village to raise a child yet single mothers are out there doing it all by themselves — juggling a million other responsibilities, and dealing with social stigma. Despite all these barriers and challenges, these mothers are shattering stereotypes and exceeding expectations.
This Mother's Day, we dive into the lives of these inspiring mothers who are rewriting the narrative of single motherhood, to learn about their triumphs, struggles, and everything in between.
Introducing our single mothers
The first of our trio, Razia Rahman is the CEO and founder of the NGO Protigga Foundation and Razia Rahman Consulting. With her work spanning over 40 upazilas, she is a mother of three and has dedicated her life to empowering women and youth.
Next up is Nudrat Nawar who is the deputy chief of Business Development and Corporate Strategies at Index Group. She is also a prosthetic makeup artist and mother to a 3-year-old son.
Last but not least, Sheikh Suraiya Rehnuma is a fashion and portrait photographer with her own studio called LenzKraft Production. She is the mother to an 8-year-old daughter.
The challenges of single motherhood
When speaking about challenges, all three mothers detail somewhat varying accounts, which prove that motherhood is a unique journey for everyone. According to Razia Rahman, the biggest challenge or rather annoyance has to be dealing with unnecessary, personal, and intrusive questions from people.
She mentions, "When I joined the workforce, I would always face questions such as 'What does bhai (husband) do?" In addition, she notes how the attitudes of people change, especially that of men, who cast nasty glances as soon as they come to learn of her single status.
For Suraiya, the biggest challenge was having to face constant criticism about her style of parenting. The constant disapproval made her second-guess her choices as they created doubts and dilemmas in her mind. In those anxious moments, she felt lonely as she had trouble finding someone to share these concerns with.
Nudrat details the struggle to manage work and motherhood, chasing deadlines, and taking care of her toddler's every need as the sole parent. Handling her own emotions while also managing her child's emotions does take its toll on her.
She has experienced "working mum guilt" for not getting to spend as much time as she would like with her son. In addition, it has proven to be a challenge to take out time for herself and manage time across all responsibilities efficiently. The frowning faces doubting her abilities to fulfil her motherly responsibilities along with career aspirations have certainly not helped.
The societal stigma, perception, and discrimination
Razia tells us that she had to experience character assassination and rumour-mongering in society. While she was in the early stages of her career, many in society discredited her achievements and deemed it unnecessary to invite her to social gatherings. Her children had to endure being labelled "children of a broken family" and deal with the barrage of questions that come with it, especially in school from the parents of their peers.
Suraiya adds the blame game that society indulges in with single mothers for every choice they make regarding their life and their children's life. In the eyes of society, no decision is ever sound coming from a single mother.
"The main issue I faced was during my daughter's school admission. I had to justify my status as a single mother, my income source, and how I'll be paying her fees. As a result, many of her school applications got rejected," says Suraiya.
Acknowledging the fact that everyone's journey is unique and many single mothers are struggling in their journeys, these inspiring women tell us that they refuse to be boxed into one identity of "single mother" or "damsels in distress". They have their own identities and achievements, which serve as a testament to their being all-rounders. These excellent mothers are achieving it all, demonstrating their competency and capability to raise happy and healthy children.
The financial challenges along the way
Shouldering the responsibilities of two people by oneself to raise their progenies does bring about its fair share of financial difficulties. Instead of giving up and submitting to their fate, our trio of mothers rose to the challenge.
Nudrat and Razia both mention adopting frugal lifestyle habits, reducing unnecessary expenses, prioritising wants over needs, and most importantly, working consistently hard to grow their careers ultimately increasing their earning potential.
"I create and stick to a budget that outlines my monthly expenses, including childcare, housing, utilities, groceries, and other essential needs. This helps me track my spending and ensures that I am living within my means," Nudrat states.
They all expressed gratitude for having a supportive family who was they were to help them financially if and when needed. "When I was still building my career early on, my parents supported me and my daughter financially. I had an unwritten contract with my father that he will cover our basic expenses including my daughter's schooling expenses".
As her career has propelled forward, she has become financially independent.
Balancing it all, the 24/7 juggling act
For Nudrat, it is about prioritising and setting realistic expectations. While emphasising the most on her toddler's needs, she plans her office work to achieve maximum efficiency while also ensuring that she sets aside time for herself to recharge, in order to be more present with her son without any lethargy holding her back. She advises being organised to reduce stress and manage things better.
Razia and Suraiya tell us about raising their children to be independent, mature, and understanding which has led them to be mindful of their mothers' nature of work. According to Razia, she gets ample personal time as she has to travel all over Bangladesh by herself for work. The domestic help in her house, who are akin to her family, also provides tremendous support around the household, pushing her that much closer to balance.
With Suraiya's studio being located upstairs in her house, her indoor shoots take place in close proximity to her daughter. She does her editing work while her daughter is next to her doing homework.
She adds, "I'm currently going with the flow and I don't think about balance. I'm also teaching and raising my child that way, that life is not always perfect and well balanced and that is okay."
How society can better support single mothers
All three ladies unanimously mention acceptance, equality, and respect as the crucial things that society must provide to single mothers. Single mothers should be respected all across the board and people need to stop asking irrelevant, unnecessary intrusive queries about their personal lives. People need to be less judgmental and more open-minded.
Counselling services for mothers need to be more widespread and easily accessible. Mothers with good mental health can raise emotionally adept and healthy children.
Single mothers should not be discriminated against in work, schools, or any other place in society based on stereotypes, gender, and marital status.
"Legal protections against discrimination, harassment, and violence for single mothers in the workplace and society at large would create a safer environment for them and their children," says Nudrat.
Nudrat and Suraiya note the utmost significance of having affordable and accessible community-based childcare or government-supported childcare for working mothers. Employers should also be empathetic and provide flexible arrangements for women so that they can be present for their children and have more of a work-life balance.
Society has to adopt a multifaceted approach to support single-parent households.
"Providing access to education and job opportunities for single mothers would empower them to gain skills, secure stable employment, and improve their economic independence. This could include scholarships, vocational training programmes, and job placement support," notes Nudrat.
Words of wisdom for mothers traversing a similar path
Razia and Suraiya note the importance of having faith and confidence in oneself. Working hard and smart consistently, tapping into one's potential is key to achieving success and balance as a mother.
Razia especially stresses the importance of having goals, attaining education, creating an identity for oneself outside the family, and being independent, particularly financially.
"Try to know yourself and respect yourself. If you don't treat yourself with respect, then others won't do the same", adds Razia. She strongly advises being wary of people and not trusting everyone with your woes and vulnerability.
They all note the significance of having a positive outlook and reframing the mindset to see the good in the bad and find the small joys in life. Being optimistic can push you a long way.
Leaning into your support network, be it family and/or friends, and fostering healthy friendships where everyone roots for each other's success can be a great way to stay mentally healthy and get rid of isolation. Collective success brings fulfilment like no other.
Most importantly, they ask all mothers to be kind to themselves. It is an uphill battle and taking it one day at a time, being realistic, being patient, and patting yourself on the back sure pave the way to make it easier.
MUA: Sazzad Hossin Piash