Breaking the Stigma, Non-Custodial Moms in India Are on the Road To Redefining Parenting

Jude Anthony Joseph’s recent Malayalam film Sara’s aptly highlights the stigma bordering women who decide on not to have youngsters. It describes how a “child-free” woman is usually perceived as egocentric, immature or faulty, and the long struggle this sort of a girl has to undertake to chart her very own one of a kind path. Curiously, on the other end of the amorphous mothering spectrum, lie gals who despite currently being mothers both pick out to or are not able to stay with their little ones. But because of to their persistent invisibilisation, there is minimal that we know about them.

Out there info at the nationwide level these kinds of as the Census info on feminine-headed homes present some clues into the number of current one mothers in the state. But these figures do not expose the entire image, as most single moms proceed to live with their prolonged family members. A 2019-2020 report by UN Girls tried to fill this hole, highlighting that in India, the variety of “lone mothers” is mounting, with 4.5% (around 13 million) of all Indian households run by single mothers.

Even further, it also revealed that all over 32 million one moms are approximated to be residing with their extended households. Unfortunately, the report unsuccessful to include one, non-custodial mothers in its sample design suggesting as if to give up or lose custody of one’s young children is more than enough to render anyone a non-mother.

Enduring stigma

Feminist scholars Joyce A. Arditi and Debra A. Madden argue in their get the job done on non-custodial mothers that the negative stereotyping and belief that non-custodial are in some way “unfit” or “defective” originate in the cultural graphic of the “good mother”, who not only engages in intense mothering methods but also makes continual individual sacrifices for her little ones.

Gazal Raina, founder of Milaap, a single of India’s only support groups for non-custodial mom and dad, observes, “It is extremely tough for a lady to make clear why she does not have her small children dwelling with her it is continue to a lot easier to notify people today that your little ones have been snatched away from you than it is to explain to them that you voluntarily gave up custody.”

Between non-custodial mom and dad, there is a distinct ethical hierarchy between gentlemen and girls. Gazal remembers, “In a single of our assist group conferences, a woman shared that she is a non-custodial mother and that she voluntarily chose that arrangement. The minute she completed talking, just one of the fathers existing in the conference jumped in, with a barrage of concerns at her and stated, ‘What sort of a mom are you? How can you give up your baby like that?’ I experienced to promptly bounce in to diffuse the predicament.”

Both moms and fathers are affected by the patriarchal ideology that promotes mothers as nurturant, selfless caregivers, and fathers as peripheral suppliers. Sociologist Jackie Krasas argues that the horror that underlines the negative reactions to non-custodial mothers partly rests on our reduced belief (and expectations) of the abilities of fathers. It is a generally held notion that non-custodial mothers are placing their little ones in harm’s way by picking out not to dwell with them.

Yet, gals are more and more resisting these suggestions by leaving unsatisfied marriages and, in some cases, by possibly providing up the actual physical custody of their youngsters or striving to guide a full existence in spite of dropping custody.

Contextualising non-custodial motherhood

Women relinquish the custody of their kids for varying reasons. Shalini*, a 35-12 months-previous media professional dependent in Bengaluru, gave up custody of her daughter three many years in the past. She shared, “My daughter grew up in a joint family she was pretty hooked up to her paternal grandparents. 1 of the good reasons why I gave up custody was mainly because I did not want to acquire her away from the men and women she liked. As an grownup, I realized with time I would regulate but I could not place her through the trauma of leaving the people she cared for.”

Neetu*, an aspiring picture advisor also based in Bengaluru, decided to give up the custody of her two kids thanks to her lousy money ailment at the time of separation. She observes, “My relationship with my ex-husband experienced generally been challenging but I could not go away due to the fact of a absence of familial assistance. But soon after the passing of my mother, my brother and bhabhi (sister-in-law) in brief succession, I realised that lifetime is far too limited and that I really do not want to dwell an sad daily life.”

Just after voicing her final decision to finish her marriage, Neetu created the challenging choice of relocating out of her marital residence, letting her little ones continue to be with her ex-partner. She claims, “People all around me said I really should feel about marrying once again, and ideally I will find a superior person who accepts my youngsters. But I went from everyone’s assistance, and made the decision to let my youngsters keep with my ex-partner till the time I am financially capable to glimpse immediately after them.”

It is significant to observe here that the situations in which women of all ages both give up custody or shed custody, on most instances, have profound ramifications for their subsequent marriage with their young children. Gazal finished her relationship following encountering domestic violence for various years. During her separation, she also decided to give up the custody of her 16-year-aged son as a way to honour his alternative to are living with his father. “I feel my son chose to stay with his father to have access to improved possibilities in life. I comprehended his concern, and willingly approved his conclusion,” she states.

But her existence immediately after giving up custody was not quick. Gazal recollects, “In my situation, my son determined to live with his father but people close to me assumed that I need to have performed anything mistaken to travel him away. My closest pals would check with me, ‘What did you do? Why doesn’t he want to are living with you?’ As a outcome, I commenced to feel that it’s possible it was my fault possibly I need to have tried tougher to encourage him to are living with me.”

Sadly, in the months next her separation from her ex-husband or wife, Gazal seasoned complete estrangement from her son. She states, “In the beginning, I wrote several email messages to my son begging for forgiveness and hoping to describe my reasons for permitting him go, but he by no means responded to any of my messages. At a time like this, it is the other parent’s accountability to guarantee that the little one will get to love the firm of the two mother and father. Unfortunately, brainwashing the baby causes alienation and elimination of the non-custodial father or mother.”

Non-custodial moms frequently report that their ex-spouses have employed their youngsters as a bargaining chip possibly to punish them for ending the marriage or to get them to continue to be in the marriage. There have also been circumstances exactly where moms felt that they were wrongfully denied custody by judges who, they feel, ended up hand in glove with their ex-spouses.

Rajini, a residence decor designer based in Mumbai, dropped the custody of her two small children just after an acrimonious divorce continuing. She shares, “I realized my 14-12 months-old son needed to stay with his father in Sweden, and I approved his choice. But I was shocked when in the high courtroom the decide gave custody of my 24-calendar year-outdated disabled daughter, who technically does not even tumble in just custody rules, to my ex-husband on the pretext that in Sweden she would have a far better opportunity of attaining a occupation.”

Additional, Rajini statements she was granted only confined visitation legal rights dependent on the usefulness of her children, who are presently residing in Sweden. She strongly believes that the cause why, inspite of having a robust situation, she dropped custody of her daughter was because the decide was in touch with the workforce representing her ex-partner.

In a natural way, the journey in direction of forging a constant connection with her young children has been tough. “I feel my son, somewhere felt accountable for the soreness I was in for losing my daughter that guilt prevented him from opening up to me for a number of decades. My daughter, who has selective mutism, is incredibly not comfortable close to cell telephones, so she refuses to have a conversation over contact. It is only lately that I spoke to her on Facetime soon after many years,” Rajini shared.

Redefining motherhood

Inspite of these worries, non-custodial mothers are continually in the course of action of reimagining their position as moms. Gazal shares, “Redefining what motherhood implies to us commences as a coping mechanism but slowly it provides the chance to rediscover ourselves, and our talents.”

Shalini, who gave up custody of her daughter a several many years ago, went through significant psychological wellness problems soon after her separation. It took her a number of many years of treatment, and counselling to adjust to the new parenting arrangement, and is now on the route of discovering a new partnership with her eight-yr-outdated daughter.

“I interact with my daughter like I am her close friend. When she will come to stay with me all through the weekends I love it fully without using any avoidable pressure of becoming a “mother” all over her. In simple fact, I feel my marriage with her has noticeably improved simply because I am a happier particular person now than I was ahead of my divorce,” she observes.

Neetu, who is now dwelling in rented lodging a several kilometres away from her young children satisfies her sons each day for a couple of several hours. She claims, “In the starting, it was challenging not to be close to my kids 24/7 but with time I have realised that what occurred, occurred for the most effective. I have been a complete-time mother to my young children for many many years but now I will need to also concentration on my profession, and my joy, to demonstrate my sons what robust girls look like.”

Gazal, who stays estranged from her grownup son, thinks her prayers for his well-getting have constantly attained him, which in turn has introduced her to a spot of peace and helped her begin assist teams like Milaap: “From being responsible, depressing and heartbroken, I have observed a way to use my experience to build a existence of this means and intent. I am hopeful that when the time is ideal, my son and I will re-hook up.”

The predominant image of a single mom, increasing her small children by itself whilst hustling between multiple employment, stops us from imagining non-custodial mothers as single mothers who simply just selected or have an different parenting arrangement. The stigma, and ongoing marginalisation of non-custodial moms has prevented us from expanding our possess creativity of what motherhood can, or does, search like when it is practised by non-household mothers, exterior the establishment of marriage. By defeating the stigma we can probably extend women’s existence options, and stop them from succumbing to mental overall health issues.

*Note: Two of the names have been changed to secure privateness. 

Pritha Bhattacharya is a freelance journalist based mostly in New Delhi. She has just lately done her Master’s in Women’s Research from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Her past operate, covering issues of gender, lifestyle and politics, have been featured in Firstpost, Down To Earth, and Feminism in India. You can discover her on Twitter @prithawrites.