Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Connecting single moms

Salonaz Sami discovers that a single mother in Egypt can be more than just a superhero if she has the support of others

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“When I first joined the Egyptian Single Mothers (ESM) group, I assumed the other women I would meet would be like me. I thought being a divorced mother supporting a child would be a decision women like me might make. I couldn’t have been more wrong,” said Yousra Ayoub, an aspiring architect.

“Instead, I found an amazingly diverse community of women from all walks of life. There are women who are Muslims and Christians, urban and rural, from Cairo, Alexandria, and Aswan and everywhere in between, employed and unemployed, women from all across the spectrum,” she added.  

The EMS group was created almost four years ago by Nermine Abu Salem, founder and CEO of Gloria Egypt and most importantly a single mother to a beautiful daughter. Thousands of single women have joined the group since, seeking support in an effort to be the best mothers they can be.  

Parenthood is by far the biggest challenge many single women will ever face, but that’s also true if they are married. “The everyday duties and responsibilities of a single parent are no different from those of a married one,” explained psychologist Nadia Abdel-Samad.

“But you are on your own. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system backing you up when life gets overwhelming,” she explained, something that is done by ESM.

The group helps single mothers realise that divorce no longer has the stigma it once had for women. According to a 2014 report from the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre, 240 divorces now happen daily in Egypt, which means 10 occur every minute. Egypt is now ranked as having one of the highest divorce rates in the world.

“You discover it’s not just you, and that there are lots of single mothers out there and they are all just as confused and hurt as you are,” Abu Salem said. This realisation is a crucial part of the post-divorce recovery process. “Connecting with other people who have been through what you are going through helps on many levels,” she said. “If they can do it, so can you.”

“Surround yourself with emotionally generous people who will give you confidence and sound advice so that you can keep going,” she continued. “Take life one step at a time and forget about long-term planning for at least a couple of years following your divorce,” she advised.

From disapproving grandparents to gossiping co-workers, many newly single women have experienced uncomfortable situations caused by a divorce. The key is to stay positive, be prepared, and realise that everything will work out sooner or later. “Sitting at home alone with your children will most certainly not help, however,” said Fatma Ahmed, a researcher.

The women in the group are far from doing that. Instead, they provide a support system for each other on many levels. The ESM group includes psychologists and child-behaviour experts giving single mothers free help on different issues. There are also lawyers helping with alimony issues. Most importantly, there is the emotional and social help needed to move along the bumpy road ahead.

Like in the American film The Single Moms Club, the group helps those who come to ask for help. The film presents five single mothers from different backgrounds who are asked by their children’s school to organise a fundraiser. The women clash, argue and fight before finding inspiration, laughter and help by realising they have a lot in common despite their differences.

“When my daughter was 18-months-old, her father and I split up,” explains Fatma Ahmed. “He left the country to start a new life with a new wife without even saying goodbye,” she continued. “I was a heartbroken 26-year-old. The first year was the hardest, especially with no single mother role models in our community to look up to,” she said.  

“Things like finding a place to live and pay for it all by myself and trying to find a job when I had been out of the work force since college while juggling the day-to-day parenting of a toddler all at the same time were terrifying to say the least,” she concluded.

But this was until she found Donia through EMS, a single mother of two living in another city. “When things got too overwhelming, she would be there to reassure me that this too shall pass,” she added. “You can choose to hang on and survive, or you can choose to give up and die, she would always say. And she was right.”

The most important thing that makes a good parent, according to Abdel-Samad, is putting your own needs first. “This doesn’t mean compromising your parenting. It does, however, mean doing your best to keep yourself as motivated and stress-free as possible,” she explained. “This means you can give your kids the wonderful childhood they deserve.”

Single mothers also need to come to terms with ex-husbands, she said, though this can be easier said than done. “Being in a constant fight mode with your ex is the worst thing you can do to your kids,” she said. “Besides the fact that it will make you miserable, think of it as an obligation to your kids to stay friendly, or at least civil, to their father,” she added.

Being negative about men in general or your ex in particular is also something that children can sense, according to Abdel-Samad.

“Do your best to stop yourself from bad-mouthing him in front of the kids because he is their dad and they will still love him no matter what his flaws are,” she said.

If the father is not in the picture, there are other male role models out there, if not in the family, then among teachers, coaches and neighbours. “Whether your kids see their father all the time or don’t see him at all, it’s up to you to make them feel loved regardless,” said Ayoub. “Always be optimistic that your children will grow up just fine as long as you love them and raise them thoughtfully,” she added.

Women need this kind of reassurance that they can and will make it on their own. They need to know that life doesn’t end because their marriage did. “Don’t think that you will not be able to make it because you don’t have ‘prince charming’ beside you any longer.

You have your friends, and no matter where or who they are they are the only ones you will ever really need,” Ayoub added.  

Single mothers groups provide support and information to all women who are considering, or have chosen, single motherhood.

Members connect online across Egypt and beyond to share their experiences and resources on different issues. One woman might explain her situation in a post, for example, and then find other women helping in whatever way they can.  

Aside from this, Abu Salem regularly posts about different classes and workshops organised by the group. She also acts as a voice for those who have divorce issues and are seeking help, but would prefer to remain anonymous for whatever reason.

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