From far, Kochi would have looked like a peaceful getaway. Laila Zafar flew from Dubai and made a home of the city with her young son. But life as a single parent would bring challenges, a few that she expected, and a lot more that she didn’t. Laila thought it would be good to have a support group… other single parents who went through similar situations. It took her some time, but ‘The Village’, a support group for single parents, got formed and eight people turned up for the first meeting organised in November 2019.
“It is very important to have someone to talk to. Your married friends will not understand [your struggles] beyond a level,” Laila says.
Originally from Kannur, Laila moved to UAE as a young girl. As an independent lawyer moving to Kochi, Laila had anticipated problems of a different kind. Who would look after the son if Laila had to go somewhere, for instance? But in Kochi, she found other single parents going through an entirely different kind of trauma. “Here, people move in with their parents when they become single parents. The grandparents would take care of the children, so that’s sorted out. The problem they face comes from the society -- how it shames them for being single parents,” Laila says.
When she began an Instagram page – seeyouatthevillage – Laila didn’t expect so many to turn to the support group. But then there were single parents who just needed someone who’d listen to them, someone who would understand them without being judgemental. “You don’t need to explain yourself to each other. Why there are good days and bad days, why you sometimes cancel plans, why you can’t attend messages... others in the support group understand.”
Other people aren’t as accepting though. Society finds it hard to accept any arrangement other than a traditional marriage. And people ask uncomfortable questions, Laila has noticed; questions as rude as ‘Why would you leave your husband?’
But at The Village, members reassure each other, that being a single parent is not something that should give them shame or guilt. “There is so much of trauma in that one room [we sat in]. We say such questions should be erased. For starters, we should lead a conversation with ‘I am a single parent’ (as opposed to ‘divorcee’ or ‘separated’ etc). A single parent and child need to be seen as a family too.”
Incidentally, The Village was initially thought of as a support group for single mothers. But soon enough, it became a space for single parents of all genders.
“We are also thinking of some activities for the children of the single parents as well,” Laila says. The second meeting should happen in February, she reckons.