The Connotations Around “Broken Family”
As a child raised by a single parent, I have always recognised the pitfalls and stigma around my situation. I tried to hide the truth, not because I was ashamed of it but because I was taught that it was the best course of action. It was infuriating having to hide my reality but the trials and tribulations of my situation involved significant backlash from immediate family members and from the society at large.
It has been normalised for all households to have occasional quarrels but a home that is frequently subject to the clutches of conflict is simply not fit to house a child. A marriage that perseveres by the sheer force of social implications is a common scenario in Bangladesh. Despite the obvious issues that a conflict-ridden marriage imposes on the family, separation and divorce are not even considered because of the taboo surrounding it.
Those that opt for the rational move, and come out of an empty shell of a commitment are, however, shrouded by a lot of judgement.
Anik Rahman*, 42, talks about the initial reception to his divorce.
"When I first broke news about my decision, it was met with a lot of shock, even from the people closest to me. My parents said breaking off a family was an act of blasphemy. Eventually, though, everyone was supportive of my choice," he says.
I understand the need and benefits of an "intact" family. They are better equipped from an emotional standpoint. After all, having both your parents do their due diligence gives a child as good a headstart as any. Yet, it still does not justify the general perception that single parents have amassed from our culture and society. When dissected, it boils down to a lot of unwarranted moral policing that emerges from inherent sexism and dated gender roles that are still prevalent.
Siyam Shafie*, 23, an undergraduate student at North South University, reflects on his mother's experiences.
"Around the time my dad separated from my mom, everyone started questioning my mother's personality even though it was obvious that my father was the one having an extramarital affair. Every time this issue came up, my mom had to endure tough questions and have people tell her very demeaning things," he recalls.
Samira Yunus, 43, deputy managing director at an insurance company, shares her experience.
"When my daughter was just eight days old, my ex-husband snatched her away from me. For nearly two years, I feared for my daughter's safety and well-being," she says. "This prompted me to file for a divorce. What followed was a multitude of threats from my former partner."
"To cultivate more openness towards divorce and single parents, there has to be zero tolerance for abuse. We must nurture our children to be self-sufficient. I had the privilege of coming from a family with progressive values. Had it not been for my education, things could have turned out very differently for me," Samira remarks.
In a study conducted on 156 women by the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Department of Psychology, it was reported that 48.8 percent of single mothers were suffering from either depression or anxiety, where 17.3 percent had depressive disorder, 21.2 percent had anxiety disorders and 10.3 percent had a dual diagnosis. The causes were attributed to workload, economic stress, and social humiliation.
When talking about combatting the stigma around divorce, Dr Nafisa Huq, Assistant Professor at IUB's School of Pharmacy and Department of Public Health, says, "I think if initiative is taken to gather a group of people and have them spark dialogue about their experiences, we could see some positive changes. There is a lot to consider before such a significant decision is taken, so it is only right that they are encouraged through the inspiring tales of other individuals."
In terms of taboo, men are not spared either. There still resides this belief that fathers are incapable of being the sole caretaker of a child. Most people still expect fathers to be reserved emotionally, maintain their distance, and support their families unconditionally.
Anik talks about the hurdles he has faced with the custody of his daughter.
"While I was allocated a certain time each week with my daughter, there was no way to properly enforce it and ensure that I got to spend the time I was supposed to," he says. "This led to valuable time with my daughter taken away from me."
The archaic laws surrounding guardianship and custody laws are less than favourable.
According to the Majority Act 1875, the father is the legal and natural guardian of their offspring until they become adults. While mothers are not considered natural guardians under the law, they still have rights to custody of the child. But a mother may lose rights to the guardianship of her child if she remarries or is charged guilty of "having bad character."
Nonetheless, institutions such as Bangladesh Mahila Parishad are doing crucial work in this field to help vulnerable women seek refuge in their time of need.
"Their aid was invaluable to me. I was directed to the Victim Support Centre where I was given help straight away. They have been with me throughout the process and did not charge a single penny," says Samira.
What often gets swept under the rug are the long-lasting impact on a child, when they are constantly exposed to violent outbursts. To stop a fight, pick sides or be therapists to one's parents are outrageous situations for any child to experience. Such an environment is a melting pot for a young individual to develop psychological issues and even poses dangers of physical injury.
Dr Huq states, "There will be negative effects on a child growing up in an abusive household. There might be cases where the child fails to fulfil their true potential, have low self-esteem, and be more vulnerable to stress and anger issues."
"It is unlikely for every single child who has been exposed to violence to face the repercussions similarly. If we studied children from ten different households, chances are they will all develop nuanced responses to their situations," she adds.
Single parents are pinned down, vilified, and accused of being the cause of the downfall of their children. As kids who have seen our caretakers rise above and beyond, we strive to embody their courage and strength.
Raising a child is no easy feat. Single parents have to fulfil the roles of both a mother and a father. Single parents deserve more respect than they are given and rise above the stigma that persists.
Shafie says, "As an individual, my mother struggled a lot due to her financial conditions. As a kid, I would notice that she was struggling to make decisions and they just never made sense to me."
"However, as a 23-year-old now, I realise that she was growing up as well. That too, all by herself, without having a partner in a world where people wouldn't think twice about being unkind to her. I'd like to thank her for being so strong and always ensuring we had everything that we needed. She's been an amazing parent," he concludes.
*Names have been changed upon request
Abir Hossain is a failed SoundCloud Rapper. Tell him you too can't find anything to rhyme oranges with at [email protected]