With the strict gendered roles we assign parents in raising children, single parenting has long been frowned upon and stigmatized. Though instances of single parenting are almost unheard of in India, due to the scrutiny and ostracization single parents and their children are subjected to, the few single parent household that do exist aren’t just subjected to ostracization but are also considered a threat to India’s culture and the principles this culture stands for, but most of all, it is believed to be a considerable threat to the traditional Indian familial set-up .
Keeping up with our tradition of resisting and shunning anything that might not keep in line with our usually regressive ideas, crafted centuries ago in a completely different social landscape, the Madras High Court claimed that single parenting is a ‘dangerous concept’ for society. Justice N.Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court claimed that it can cause behavioural changes in children, which can be problematic for any society.
The judge also claimed that the familial set-up in India has moved from the traditional joint family to increasing numbers of nuclear families and finally to single-parent households. The observation, although, might not reflect the realities of the present-day scenario.
single parenting is considered a threat to India’s culture and the principles this culture stands for
Research suggests that single-parent households (resulting from both, death and divorce) are relatively rare, with less than 4% of families being headed by a single parent. The numbers have also remained stable over the last decade, with only an insignificant 0.1% increase, which still kept the total percentage below four. The research also found that 9+ people household were way more common than single-parent households.
Further, referring to a sexual abuse incident involving a minor, who presumably was in the care of a single parent, the judge said, “What kind of parents are they to be unaware of what is happening to their child.” This statement is particularly problematic considering it’s strong undertone of shifting the blame off of the perpetrator. Parent’s cannot ‘prevent’ sexual assault, nobody can. Asking people to protect themselves or others from sexual assault isn’t just daft, but deeply concerning, considering how it takes away the onus from the perpetrator. Attempting to shift the blame on to the victim or someone else instead of the perpetrator for sexual assault is what inevitably leads to our collective rape-apologism.
The Court’s stance is a massive blow to securing a place and acceptance for diversity in our societal landscape, which is currently almost non-existent. Implying that single-parents are somehow careless, bad, incompetent parents severely damages the cause of acceptance of single-parenting.
Single-parenting can be the result of uncontrollable circumstances like the death of a parent, but divorce is a leading cause, but whenever there is opposition of single-parenting, it is usually directed at divorced households, blaming the parents for making a ‘selfish’ choice, not just in respect of their children, but in respect of society, as a whole.
To understand this more fully we need to look at our disdain and stigmatization of divorce. The cause of divorced single parenting is made worse due to the fact that divorce in itself is considered a problem and a threat to marriage and family.
The Court’s stance is a massive blow to securing a place and acceptance for diversity in our societal landscape
It is often believed that children of divorced parents will grow up to be problematic adults, especially the children of divorced women, considering the lack of a ‘male figure’ in their life, growing up. A lot of people remain in bad marriages when they have children, especially if they have daughters stating that their daughters won’t be married off easily if they are the child of a divorced woman. This is a regressive and patriarchal idea, but has a lot of truth in it, it is largely assumed that women will make bad wives, just like their mothers once were, because we have always blamed women for ‘breaking-up’ the family and not being accommodating or compromising enough, something we solely expect women to do.
Our dismissal of single-parents also comes from the deeply gendered roles we think parents play. We collectively believe that a child can only grow up to be a healthy adult if their parents fulfill their roles depending on their gender and we believe with conviction that they cannot deviate from this gendered norm and perform a variety of roles and duties, even if it isn’t traditionally associated with their gender. The whole premise of the disdain of single-parenting is based off this ridiculous and patriarchal belief.
Having been raised by a single parent for little over a decade now, but in essence, all my life, I have never once felt my family or life has been any different from anyone else’s. I have had the same opportunities and privileges afforded to my friends who were raised by both their biological parents. I would also like to believe I am a healthy, strong, and self-sufficient adult, but this can be largely attributed to the fact that I was never taught to take shame in my parent’s marital status. Everyone who has ever known me knows I don’t speak to my father, something I do by my own choosing for my own reasons, independent of my mother’s; and that I was raised by a single parent.
Children are taught to take shame in being raised by single parents. Most children of divorced single-parents I have come across often lie about their parents marital status, fearing the stigmatization and ridicule they will be subjected to if that’s ever discovered. When the threat of their parent’s marital status being exposed is constantly on a child’s mind, they start to feel that their family is different or abnormal.
This has nothing to do with single-parents being bad parents, they aren’t, we are the ones that make it hard for the children of single parents, we refuse to let them accept their family for what it is, we refuse to even allow them to believe they have a family. The problem never lied in single-parents or their children, it lies in us, as a society, and in our dated, regressive, and toxic beliefs.
Our dismissal of single-parents also comes from the deeply gendered roles we think parents play
The High Court’s stance is deeply concerning but rather unsurprising considering our closed-off attitudes towards the constantly and inevitably evolving social landscape. We still attempt to hold-on to dated beliefs and traditions which just doesn’t reflect the realities of our world today and the slow, but somewhat linear progression of our society. In attempting to hold our ground and further our stubborn beliefs we often forget our stances affect the lives of people and in our attempt to protect our dated and deleterious ideas we shouldn’t be controlling and worsening the public existence of people who don’t live by our baseless norms, and subsequently altering their experiences for the worse.
Families, they are diverse, they don’t take a particular shape or form, single parent families, interracial families, families with queer parents, families with adoptive parents, are all families in their own right, none any lesser than the other. Nothing defines families more than affection and mutual respect, and any family having that is a family as good as the next. We often forget this in our embittered ideas of what should be because it once was like that. Families might look very different from each other, but they all share the same essence, despite all their differences.