SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting
Solo but Strong: Single Mothers in Singapore
It’s challenging enough being a mother, and doubly so when you have the tremendous task of raising children on your own.
Kelly* (*names have been changed), a 41-year-old working mum to two girls, lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack when she was 36 weeks pregnant with her second child. At that time, her firstborn was two years old.
She shares, “It was taxing having a newborn and going to medical appointments alone, on top of school events (like parent-teacher meetings and performances), household chores, marketing and fixing broken things in the house! I basically worked full time day and night.”
Single mothers do not always have someone to share the load with, and if they become the sole breadwinner of the family, the stress of providing for the family alone is a huge burden.
The strengths of the partner are also taken away. In addition, making decisions – such as choosing schools for a child – without someone to consult can be very daunting for some.
Huimin*, a 36-year-old engineer, watched her spouse lose his battle to cancer when their two children were four years old, and two-months-old. She confesses, “I never worried about any bills when my husband was around; I didn’t even know what insurance policies we had”.
She adds, “We had agreed he would take charge of our children’s education and after he died, I was worried that I could not nurture them academically”.
Gillian* conceived as a single and chose to raise her now five-year-old daughter without involving the child’s father, against the wishes of her family. “I felt hurt by my family who could not understand my decision and made me feel I was a disgrace to them. But I knew my baby was innocent and life is a gift from God.”
Apart from coping physically and financially, single mums also have to face their own emotional turmoil. Divorcees and widows alike have to manage the overwhelming grief of losing a loved-one, and sometimes, cope with the disappointment of a failed marriage or even the pain of betrayal. These emotions may be buried under the needs of their children, but never forgotten. Sometimes, looking at another lovey-dovey couple is all it takes to make a single mum feel the loneliness more acutely.
No matter what others think of them or their situation, single mums soldier on for the sake of their kids. As Kelly explains, “I had to be emotionally healthy so that my daughters will not be scarred by my negative emotions and still grow up in a loving family.”
The immediate family is often the first line of support for these mums. Some choose to live with their mothers or even mothers-in-law to share the caregiving load. Having someone to help cook or pick up the kids from school enables many of these women to continue working to make ends meet.
Faith is often cited as a source of spiritual strength, with members of their religious communities as sources of practical support. Gillian shares, “My church friends would help by driving us to places, buying us meals and giving me ‘angpows’ despite their busy schedules and own financial issues. When I felt depressed, they encouraged me.”
Connecting with other mothers in the community can help a single mother thrive. Huimin* got to know fellow single mothers through Wicare, a support group for widows. “When I saw the ladies and their children laughing and having fun together, I couldn’t imagine how they could have such joy when they have lost their husbands. As they shared their experiences, my tears just kept flowing. I felt so much better because they could empathise with what I was going through. Through them, I learnt there is hope.”
Single mothers, especially those with sons, also worry about their children lacking a fatherly figure in their lives. One mum lamented that her son used to ask why he was the only male in the house. Some choose to find godparents for their children in hope that bonding with them will be able to compensate for what they themselves are unable to model. Some make the effort for their children to spend time with male relatives, while others rely on communication, “I always tell my kids how wonderful my husband was, so I can frame in their minds the image of a good father.”
Self-Care and Keeping Sane
Mums are human after all and need their rest and recreation. Watching movies, reading, going for facials and massages are good for pampering the soul, they say! Being able to take short vacations with their children, or just eating and chatting over a meal together daily can be meaningful and restful.
Some, like Kelly, have also chosen to do volunteer work to help others in need. “Ironically, because I gave, I learnt to cope better with my own life as I saw beyond my own struggles and walked out of my own circle of limitations and helplessness.”
Hear their advice to other single mums…
“Enjoy your children, don’t see them as burdens but as precious seed in your hands. You can’t control their future but you can give them the right ‘fertiliser’ to become wholesome individuals, glorious in their own ways. Go beyond running errands for them, to bond and play with them and you will feel blessed to have them.”
“Don’t force yourself to forget the past, sadness diminishes over time. Focus on how you can value yourself, your children and your future. Use failures wisely as a weapon to improve yourself.”
“Take one step at a time. Live each day at a time.”
Supporting Single Mums:
1. Practical help is most useful and welcome. Ask what needs to be done, and offer to help. You can ferry their kids to and from school, service their cars, or help them to run errands.
2. Include them in social gatherings but be sensitive to the setting. Is the event/meal affordable? Offer to babysit or take the kids out on a play date so mum can have some time to herself.
3. Show concern by asking questions gently and listening intently. Be sensitive with what you say. Do not say things like: “You’re still young, you can find someone new”; “I know how you feel…” (if you really don’t).
Where To Get Help
Wicare is a support group and a VWO (Voluntary Welfare Organisation) that assists widows and the fatherless in their time of need and provides grief support. They have a series of self-help programmes that support widows emotionally and encourage bonding with others in the support group, assist widows to become self-reliant and financially independent, encourage widows to reach out and support other new widows in turn, and help widows to move on, care for their children and re-integrate into society. Tel: 63542475; www.wicare.org.sg
WeCare for U
A key initiative of NTUC Women’s Development Secretariat (WDS), this project reaches out to assist single mums to build greater resilience and independence. The WDS also helps single mums back to work through their Back2Work with U Programme. Tel: 62138270 / 62138384; www.ntucwds.org.sg
HELP Family Service Centre
As-Salaam PPIS Family Support Centre
Helps Muslim single parent families who are facing multiple challenges such as coping with loss, grief and adjustment and to cope with the challenges of rebuilding their family lives. Tel: 67455862; website
The Singapore Single Parents Meet-Up Group
For solo parents with children. There is a belated Mother’s Day gathering planned for 31 May 2014.
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