Tribute to All the Single-Parents

It was my third PTC (parent-teacher-conference) last week. My objectives as the form teacher were simple: to understand the child’s background and relationship with his/her parent, to offer advice on how the child can improve, and to address any concerns the parent might have.

So like previously we saw a plethora of different parent “types”. We had those who were too busy, they had no time for their child, and therefore did not turn up. We met with parents who were so strict they pulled a black face and kept heaping their child criticism upon criticism. We also had parents who were protective, and parents who had baggage of their own they came to be counseled.

But the kind of parent that strike me most deep, I think, are the single-parents.

Perhaps because my siblings and I were brought up by our single-parent mum, we know that it is sure tough to be a single-parent mum. Not only are you responsible for putting food on the table, these single-parents are also responsible in calling the shots and making the decisions in their child’s upbringing. Should they employ a domestic help, or should they let their grandparents take care of the child? What if the child becomes overly pampered, or if the child does not have proper supervision at home? How can keep tabs on my child to make sure he/she does not mess around, but at the same time give him/her enough free space to socialize and grow and learn? If my child is doing badly for a subject, how can I make up for it, if I am tied down with work until 8pm every night? How much allowance should I give to my child, and daily, weekly, or monthly? How should we celebrate their birthdays?

The decisions that any parent has to make is endless, and it will never end, even as the child grows older. The future of your household, your family, your child, lies very honestly, in the hands of that parent calling the shots.

It can be a beautiful picture, or it can be a painful one wrought with struggle.

When we were growing up, my mum often said this of her role as a single-parent: I have to be both the father and the mother at the same time; I have to wear both hats; I have to discipline and I have to love.

As a teacher speaking with the single-parents of my kids, I realize that I was witnessing that very struggle my mum was speaking about.

They have to be both the disciplinarian, who will mete out the proper balanced consequences of wrong actions – without which the child will run free and not have the proper supervision and guidance probably required during their teens. And at the same time they have to be the caregiver, the one who will show love and concern, and coax the child into doing what is right. Let’s not bring in how the natures of women and men are intrinsically different, and are probably wired to play different roles in a family.

As a result, I hear that struggle in their voices when we converse with them. On one hand they are driven by an obligation for the good of the child to discipline them, on the other hand they hate to be the one who always follow up with such disciplinary measures because it puts a strain on their relationship with the child, and many of them simply do not have the luxury of time and space to follow up with their child closely.

Many parents we spoke to, shed tears of frustration and sorrow when we met them. I don’t think I am deeply affected with grief at the sight of my students’ parents wiping away her tears, but I do feel pained for her, in a sense. “I really don’t know what to do…”, “It’s my fault…”, “I should have…” are very common things we hear. And for one moment, I feel that the school should educate the students on how to show gratitude to their parents and understand that it is not easy to bring up a child, much less if you have to do it without the support of your spouse.

I think our kids need to realize that what they see as a nag and a bother, is actually a form of love their parents are showing towards them. I just wish we did not feel such dire need to address the academic concerns of the child, but address the moral, emotional and social needs of the child more. For the first time, my heart went out not to the students, but to the single-parents struggling to deal with life and family on their own.

I think they deserve a standing ovation for their continuous attempt year after year to hold on to and bring up their children. We do not credit them enough praise and thanks, and certainly their never-ending efforts deserve all the recognition we can give.


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