Not everyone grows up in a family with a mummy and a daddy. Some kids have two mummies or two daddies, some grow up just with one parent. Here’s a peek at three of such situations in Singapore, with individuals who had to wear all the hats and the pants in the family.
Personally, I don’t even know how my mum survived single-parenting, but I do know that I still look at her every day, and think, “I want to grow up to be a superhero, just like you.”
1. I Literally Did Not Know Where Our Next Meal Was Coming From
I don’t think marrying their dad was a mistake, otherwise, I wouldn’t have had my girls. They’re the best things that came from this marriage.
We uprooted the family, moving to Singapore because he wanted to work here. But before our second Christmas, we’d hit the beginning of the end. The split mercilessly wrecked everything we’d made together; Life, the home, the girls’ childhood. But I didn’t want the kids to grow up without their dad, and hate me for it, so we stayed.
As non-natives to the country, my girls and I paid for it in all the ways you can think of. In Primary Three, a teacher told my oldest and the entire class that, “Streaming is very important. You must study hard so you can be in EM1 or EM2 – EM3 is where there are students from broken families.”
On top of being a third-culture kid, being picked on for her distinguishable Scottish accent, and being the peacemaker between her fighting parents, she was subjected to an environment where a primary school teacher would say such hurtful things to children.
That’s why there is such shame and stigma surrounding divorces in Singapore. If you have a schoolteacher, a figure of authority instilling thoughts that cause this kind of segregation – is it surprising?
This stereotype of single-parent families being dysfunctional just gets re-emphasised at every turn and corner in Singapore. My daughter once came home to find the deadbolt broken and stickers pasted on items of any value, marked as collateral for the insurmountable debt that wasn’t even all mine.
I don’t know what that does to an 11-year-old. It made me wonder if the powers that be carrying out consequences like these stop to consider the domestic situation and how much more emotional damage they might be doing to a child.
Still, I always tell them, “You have to rely on yourself, one day the little piggy bank will come in handy.”
Parenting alone, I wasn’t just mummy, I was sometimes daddy, their friend, and also, as I like to say, their “Jiminy Cricket” (Pinnochio’s conscience). Parenting in general is lots of trial and error.
When the girls were at fisticuffs, I’d yell, “You’re sisters, you only have each other. If one of you needs a liver or a kidney, who do you think is going to be the one giving it?”
I’m not infallible, and the fear of not being around when they need me is real, so I want them to always look to each other.
I’ve never had a boyfriend in the 17 years since, and frankly, I don’t really need one. I prefer the bed all to myself. You don’t need a partner to have a life. They’ll add a bit of colour, but you are not defined by a partner.
However, I have rekindled my romance with Whiskies – Japanese ones. Now that the girls are older, I sometimes hang out late with friends. I need to occasionally indulge, or I will resent the ones I love.
Putting them first in my life is something I don’t regret. If I need a reminder of something I’ve done right in my life, I look at my girls. I am so proud of everything that they’ve strived for and achieved, conventional or otherwise.
That said, no matter how old they are, I’ll worry. I’m their mum, it’s my prerogative.
— L.Y.M, 53
2. If I Listened To Everything People Said, I Wouldn’t Be Who I Am Today
I was a parent at 17. Forced to grow up, I gave up dreams to focus on my children, and passed opportunities to be the main caregiver. It was my choice.
The hardest thing about being a single mum wasn’t just about being a single parent but also being very young. I wanted to be the best mother that I could be, to give my kids a better upbringing, a better life than I had.
What topped that was later getting divorced. Two failed relationships, four beautiful children. I wasn’t strong for me and I didn’t pick up the pieces because it was easy, but because they looked up to their mum. I was strong because they are my everything, giving me strength to overcome and be the best that I can be.
Twice I had to pick up the broken pieces and not let their lives crumble.
All around me were looks of disappointment, words of discouragement and criticism. Why did marital status or age even matter? I was a mother. Period.
In our very Singaporean and inherently Asian culture, this sort of family situation is immediately looked down upon. To many, I gave up my teenage years, the chance for further education, and my dreams.
But being a young parent means I’ll have energy for them even when they’re in their 20s. I am healthy enough to train them in the sports they want to excel in. We can bond – travelling, learning new languages or arts.
Having said that, I would love for my children to not follow my footsteps. I want them to take their time – figure themselves out. I want them to never stop dreaming, and live those dreams, instead of being limited by what others say.
If I listened to everything people said, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today.
While they focus in school, I can now focus on my businesses; Work that still allows time for them. In the future, I won’t just have time and energy for my children, but my grandchildren as well.
They are the reason that I breathe everyday. All my sacrifices, it was all worth it.
— Taryn Ann Swyny, 29
3. Am I Less Of A Parent? Hell No.
My ex was physically and verbally abusive, even when I was pregnant. He’d disappear for days, cheat on me and drain me out financially. When I finally got rid of him, I never asked or claimed a single cent from him.
It’s super funny how people are so quick to say things that imply we brought this single-parenthood on ourselves; Promiscuity or “not being careful” are just one of many things I’ve heard over the years. How about it being the fact that the other half of this genetic contribution was too self-absorbed to see nothing wrong with abandoning a child?
I didn’t have help or support from the Singapore Government either. There are incentives of up to S$18,000 when parents have five children or more, but single parents don’t count. What, are we less of a parent? Hell no.
Better yet, young mothers are immediately labelled as being a burden to the rest of the family. Yet in Singapore, where you can only purchase HDB flats when you’re over 35, being a single mother in my late-20s still means I can’t buy my own place. Even if we are over 35, newly-divorced parents are not allowed to buy a HDB for another 30 months once the matrimonial home is sold.
Here’s some perspective: That’s two and a half years of not being allowed your own home.
Do you think we want to trouble our family, or our parents? Even if I wanted to live on my own with the child, it’s not like I can. These rules, no grants or help for three generations in the family living together because “we fall outside of the family nucleus”. Meanwhile, married couples are getting incentives by the thousands of dollars just to live within a certain radius of their parents.
Life already sucks, you don’t have to make it worse.
From the start it’s just been me and Aqisya – I’ve always needed her to know that she was never a mistake, a burden, or a pain and I will never forsake her. She’s given me the best years of my life and more to come.
Without even knowing it, she teaches me life’s greatest lessons.
Having my daughter and raising her on my own is the greatest, most humbling thing that has happened to me. She made me appreciate life more – having her has made me more grateful to be alive. Life hasn’t been easy for us, but we are in this together for the long run, just us.
I always remind her, “You’re no different from anyone else”. She was made with love, and so, she is love. Sometimes I look at her, and I don’t know what I did to deserve to have such a beautiful daughter.
All the times I lose my head, it’s due to my incapability to have my shit together, and my inability to be kind. But she is the most perfect and most beautiful creation I have had the chance to meet.
I don’t need anything else, as long as we have each other.
— Marie Ismail, 37
If you know any single parents out there, remind them that they’re doing the best they can, and that is enough. All parents should be celebrated, and single parents deserve a double portion.