Dubai: Dr Othman Mohammad Zaman’s wife died in an accident when their oldest child was just two years of age. At first, it was very difficult for him to console his sons, while he was grieving. His family and friends stepped in as his support system and he cannot imagine the past four years of his life without them.
He said: “It was the most difficult time. We weren’t prepared for it. I was working in a different country and would travel back and forth for the children. The most difficult part was when they asked about their mum. I didn’t know what to do.”
Zaman says that his wife was also working full time and when she would come home, the children would be waiting for her at the door. “It tore my heart when they would miss and remember her,” he added.
They initially didn’t understand what was happening. When people came home for condolences, they would “get excited”. So, in his opinion, a support network is essential for a single parent, as without it, “it could have a bad impact on the children”.
According to a 2012 study conducted by Euromonitor International, UK-based market research publisher, there were 89,000 single-parent households in the UAE at the time. Raising children as a single parent can be like a juggling act. To maintain a work-life balance is not easy.
The transition to becoming the sole breadwinner may be difficult, as was the case for Parveen Ghandour, a teacher based in Dubai. She is a single mother to three children between the ages of eight to 14 years. And even though it has got easier over time, Ghandour finds it hard to manage on a single income.
She said: “I have to make sacrifices so I can do things for the children that other parents do for theirs. I do have some support from my family in the UK, and I would be lost without it. My brother and his wife visit whenever they can and make sure that they can help me in any way I need. I am also lucky that my children’s father does contribute to their upbringing.”
But, for her, the most difficult thing is to fit in as none of her friends are in a similar situation and it is not possible for them to understand what she’s going through.
She said: “Although I am surrounded by people, I can feel like the loneliest person. It is worse when the children are away and there is no one to share my time with or keep me distracted from how I feel.”
Hanadi Salman, a communications manager based in Dubai, is a mother to a 17-year-old daughter and was initially in a similar situation. Being a single mother, she found it difficult to build a support system as she felt that she didn’t “fit in”.
She said: “Most people my age were married with children. People were busy with their own work, friends or children.”
She commends those who do it successfully for “their efforts, commitments, tears and patience”. But, she does hope that companies were more flexible towards single parents in order for them to be able to maintain some work-life balance. “I don’t get to spend enough quality time with my child, which is a pity,” she added.
Her dream now is to see her daughter graduate from university, find a job and be independent.
One factor that all the parents we spoke with kept coming back to was that of a solid support system, without which none of them would have been able to manage.
Fiona Alison, who works full time in the hospitality management sector, has a 16-year-old daughter. When her child was younger, her parents would visit at intervals to help out and she also had help from a maid.
Alison said: “After the courts sanctioned the divorce, they never recommended any support groups. Where does one go from there? I found things like car services, repairs during an accident, passport and residence visa renewals for the child as some of the most challenging moments.”
Every time she applied for her daughter’s visa or travelled, she was asked to provide necessary paperwork to prove that she was in fact her sponsor.
She said: “There should also be focus groups for children of single parents. I was fortunate enough to find good friends who would help. My faith, family and friends are my strength today.”
Samson Assefa, an entrepreneur based in Dubai, first became a single parent when his daughter was two years old. In the past four years, he has had to sacrifice his business, travel plans and any form of social life.
He said: “I have no family here. I hired a babysitter who lives with us and helps me take care of my daughter. Without her, I couldn’t do anything.”
When he first began his journey as a single parent, he didn’t know what to expect. In his home country, Ethiopia, he would have had help from his grandmother, mum and neighbours, but here, he was all alone. His cleaning business, which employed over 200 workers, had to be shut down because between them and his daughter, who needed his constant attention, it was becoming extremely difficult for him to cope.
He said: “Maybe when she is older, things will be easier.”
There’s also the other side of the coin, where parents are having to stay away from their children due to a separation with their spouses. Vanessa Mier, who works in business development in Dubai, has a daughter who travels between the UAE and their home country, Colombia.
She was unable to bring her daughter here permanently due to a high cost of living. And now, with her having lost her job, she is unable to even meet her.
She said: “The time difference is nine hours and by the time I would finish work, she would just be waking up. I would have to stay up till late just to speak to her.”
Her daughter just celebrated her 15th birthday, which in their culture is a special event. But, Mier missed our on the celebrations, after she had already missed spending Christmas and New Year’s eve together. The last time they met was a year ago.
She added: “If there was any chance that I could bring her here permanently, I would love to do that.”