If there is one thing that makes Indian families uncomfortable beyond discussions of sex, it has got to be the D word: Divorce.
India treats divorce or separation in general like the plague. They deny, refuse to talk about, and sometimes outrightly lie about it. It doesn’t matter the type of Indian marriage; “arranged or love”, they both present themselves in various forms of exigencies that the families are not prepared for.
At least the majority of middle class India is not.
I was married 6 years ago, separated 3 years later, and have been divorced for 2 years. None of this has been easy to cope with, till date.
Do a quick search on the internet and you will find articles that analyse the legal aspects of divorce, give you the dos and don’ts of before and after, talk about custody of children, and discuss the cumbersome journey from application to alimony. You’ll also find a large number of MRA websites that accuse women for 'exploiting' 498-A.
Important though many of these subjects may be, you would not find much that discusses, “What prepares a family of the person who gets divorced?” Specifically, the families of women, because this is India, and not a lot of us remember that it is 2017.
In these two years while I have lived by myself, or with my family, I have realised that every single time that we have had visitors, or when someone has asked about me over the phone, the family has maintained that my husband was “away”.
In fact, we have had numerous debates about announcing it to the extended family - not because I owe anyone an explanation, but because I was tired of constantly enacting a lie. I was perfectly capable of interrupting people outside family mid-conversation when topics of my past sprung up. It became obvious to me that despite speaking about it at length, the one or two occasions when some family members were notified about it, my family was anxious, apologetic, and utterly clueless.
Neither is it possible to change deep-rooted cultural conventions overnight, nor is there any preemptive modus operandi that one can apply in any situation. But that does not mean that women who are in abusive relationships must continue to hold on to them just because our sociopolitical climate tells us so. And more importantly, as hard as it might seem right now to get out of an abusive marriage, the ordeal is not as bad as being in one forever.
As for those of you who have crossed the bridge, the reluctant attempts at giving life one more chance might seem to be sad, frustrating, and mostly just disheartening. It takes time, energy, and sometimes counselling to get better, because you might feel like the entire world has ganged up on you. The low self esteem, body image issues, and preconditioned patriarchal bargain will consume you whole.
The regular dosage of “a prying society” will only help further the appetite. I know how it feels - it is lethal. But when I go through these tumultuous emotions, I ask myself if I broke away from one cage only to be sucked back into another. That feeling goes, and I desperately try to be a self-respecting human again.
It is okay to do badly, but it is always worth giving life another shot. And the least families can do, is to try and not add to the baggage.
So irrespective of the trauma and anxiety, how do we go about living our lives again? How can we truly “move on”? There are a million “self-help” tips out there for a woman because we love telling women what to do or not do.
But this list is for her family. People who surround her and claim to love her.
Based on some of my own experiences and that of a lot of my friends, here are a few things you as a divorced/separated woman’s parent can do to make your daughter’s life a little less burdening. Because it sucks to fight for the space and time to grieve and heal at peace.
1. First things first, if you are a parent, talk to your daughter about what happened (in case it comes as a surprise) and let her tell you how much of your help she needs: legal, emotional, financial, or otherwise. Start with the premise that divorce is not a game of faultfinding.
2. Do not beat yourself up over it thinking this is the end of the road for your daughter. Even if it was, your paranoia will harm her there, not rescue her. Also, take time to understand that it is in fact, NOT the end.
3. Give her a lot of time, alone, but spare her your sympathies. If she lives in a separate city or house, do not badger her to move in with you. Be there for her if you can, but let her decide.
4. Resume life as you normally would. This news is not a roadblock. And if she chooses to resume her life (job or routine) normally, do not interfere.
5. Let her decide how much communication between the two families is okay - do not speak to her ex’s family without her consent. And should they contact you, keep her at the centre of it - do not go on an “elders talking” tangent.
6. Do not still hang the wedding photograph on the wall - if you are worried people will ask, know that your daughter’s well-being is more important than wandering minds and tell them if you have to.
7. Have a chat with her about when she thinks is the right time to inform friends and family if they don’t already know. Allow her to decide who will do the informing. And if you are informing someone, do not be apologetic, and do not join in their ‘greek chorus’. Essentially, state facts and move on.
8. Do not lie about her marital status to anyone. If you do, you immediately belittle her ability to think for herself, and also trivialise her decision. Maybe you consider it a mistake, but nobody cares about what you think. This isn’t about you.
9. Being supportive towards your daughter could mean that you’d attract more than a few brickbats towards yourself: thinly veiled insults, haughty chin raises for hoping that your “progressive daughter” could ever hope to find a man able and willing enough to “put up” with her, and sometimes the worst thing of the lot - unsolicited pity. Talk to your daughter about some of your own experiences and create a sense of this being a shared experience - albeit on different grounds. This is what families are supposed to do. It will also give your daughter a chance to stand by you, in the same way that you’ve been there for her. It makes her feel less helpless.
10. Do not bring up remarriage and relationship unless she is ready for it. It's not your call - the only person who can decide is her.
11. Finally, give her some credit for walking out of something that was toxic or abusive - that takes guts.
Familial influence can go a long way in healing or harming your daughter’s future. How you choose to be remembered by her is a decision you alone can make.
Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.