When society looks down on single parents

Thirty-year-old Annette*conceived one year after completing university. She had started working after graduating when she met Bob*.
Is society stigmatising single mothers?
Is society stigmatising single mothers?

Thirty-year-old Annette*conceived one year after completing university. She had started working after graduating when she met Bob*.

“We started dating and a year later, I conceived and had a baby girl. Bob had to leave for Europe. Unfortunately, the long distance crippled our relationship and it hit the rocks. Personally, I always thought my life was messed up because I couldn’t see myself raising a child alone. Unlike in the developed world where single parenting has been accepted, in Africa single mothers are shunned and bullied by their families and institutions such as religious institutions or even health facilities,” Annette narrates.

She further explains how she has struggled to get different documents for her now 8-year-old daughter.

 “For instance in Rwanda, for one to get a child related service; one has to give reasons why you are not married. This is actually dampening because it is not easy to share your private life with strangers. I remember the time I tried to get my daughter’s birth certificate from a high-end hospital where I delivered her. To date I have been denied the document. Again, people seem to think life has been wrapped up and sealed for single parents. It seems that we can’t attend social events, go to church or even date anyone. People think that you are social outfit. I guess it is the reason for so many brides walking down the aisle nowadays,” Annette muses. 

The Kimihurura resident says, instead of giving single parents a hard time, they should be supported.

“Although we all know that men and women may become single parents by accident or by choice; the plight of single mothers especially is not readily acceptable in our society, let alone our institutions. The challenges of being a single parent are enormous. They range from the fact that it is quite draining to raise a child as a single parent. It doesn’t matter whether they are male or female; meeting the child’s emotional, spiritual and financial needs is difficult and finding the balance between one’s career, relationships and the child’s needs is tricky.”

However, Annette concluded saying that seeing her daughter grow up healthy, intelligent and beautiful and working hard to meet her needs gives her satisfaction and a reason for living. “She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Annette says.

Based on Annette’s story, one can think that single young women who conceive children out of wedlock are the only ones that face the plight of single parenthood. But 54- year- old Maria Mukankusi a single mother who lost her husband and three children during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, says that its been a challenging but rewarding experience.

 “Before 1994, I lived happily with my husband, five daughters and two sons. But with the atrocities that befell this country, my three children and my husband were killed and it has not been easy for me as a single mother. At some point I thought I could marry again so that I could get someone to help me raise my four remaining children but my husband’s family always made it harder for me because they believed that I could produce more children with the new husband and forget about the ones I had with my late husband,” Mukankusi narrates.

We met the widow in Kimironko, where she works as a house-help. We found her washing clothes but she was amazingly hospitable. The smile she offered us was so amazing. But behind the smile is a story of trials and tribulations.

Dressed in a colourful kitenge and a blue T-shirt, she had few kind words for the rest of society.

“People always blame you us for the mistakes our children make saying, ‘no wonder they are brought up by a woman. People think children brought up by women are always spoilt and if they are boys they never become important men,” Mukankusi discloses.

 “Well”, she proudly says, “although I didn’t have enough money to make sure all my children went to school, I strived hard by taking good care of them so that they would not become beggars, thieves or prostitutes. Based on my experience, I stand to say that a single mother can raise a responsible child just like both parents can.”

‘Mama’s Boys Become Baby Daddies’: A Look at “Oprah’s Lifeclass” on Fatherless Sons’, an article published on Clutch Magazine, points out that the gripes some have with single mothers is that they baby their sons instead of raising them to become responsible adults that one day can be great fathers. Caroline Nderitu, a renowned karaoke host in Kigali, who is also a single parent, disputes that.

“My son’s father died when he was very young. We have formed a strong bond with my son who is now 19 years old and we have been through a lot together. Building a strong bond with your child whether as a single parent or as a parent helps foster communication. Instead of letting your child be raised by a house-help because you are too busy with work, spare ample time with your child and they will turn out to be great parents in the future,” Nderitu explains.

She also decries the negative manner in which Rwandan society perceives single parents.

“Before society gets to know why you are a single parent, especially for women, the initial reaction when you say you’re a single parent is negative until maybe a point when someone knows you a little more. Only when they learn that maybe you’ve been through a divorce or your husband passed away do they sympathise with you,” Nderitu reveals. 

“ I now get respect from society because my son is now at university and yet I raised him on my own. People admire, are mesmerised by and appreciate the good job I have done. My son is also proud and very appreciative of what I have done for him. It’s so breathtaking when he looks at me and says ‘Mum I love you and I appreciate what you have done and sacrificed for me.’ The fact that he acknowledges that I have sacrificed a lot to raise him as a single mother, that’s very rewarding,” she says. 

* Some names have been changed


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