Fathima Qureshi heads the digital marketing vertical at a leading multinational bank. She is a supermom to two teenage children, and is based in Bangalore. She shares her struggles, joys and uncertainties over the last twelve years, and the unparalleled gratification she has received as a single parent. Some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the writer.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew my marriage would be difficult. I experienced frequent physical and mental abuse, and when I felt I couldn’t take anymore, I left my husband’s home to be with my parents. There’s a stigma attached to being a single parent in India, and more so, in my community. Not long after my son was born, I was pressured to return to my husband, and I did. Predictably, the abuse continued, and two years later, I conceived again. By the time my daughter was born, I knew my marriage was over. I was worried about my children more than I was about myself. I didn’t want them growing up seeing their mother subjected to this kind of treatment, and so I became a single parent under compulsion.
When I got divorced, my son was 6 and my daughter, 3. I shifted my little family into my parents’ home in Mangalore, but I knew that this would be a temporary solution. I didn’t want anybody’s pity or sympathy, and I most certainly didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. I didn’t want my experience to serve as a crutch for me or my children, and I decided to make a fresh start in Bangalore. My brothers, both of whom were abroad, were furious at my decision of wanting to live alone with two young kids.
The custody battle for my kids was difficult. My ex-husband dragged me to court and demanded physical custody. As a peace offering, I told him I didn’t want anything; no alimony, no child support. I just wanted my kids. Without the financial obligation to his ex-wife and kids, he let us go.
I landed a job as a call centre executive at HSBC in Bangalore soon after, and I grabbed it. I decided to tread the waters before uprooting my children from my parents’ home in Mangalore, so I moved to Bangalore on my own, renting a single room in a PG setup. Money was tight and I sought a loan to provide for my children. When I moved them to Bangalore, I admitted them in one of the best schools in the city, determined to give them the best education.
Within about five months, I was offered a role in the marketing team at Standard Chartered Bank, and that’s how my tryst with marketing began, rather serendipitously. I found it challenging to handle my career and my children; I was a mother and a father to them, and my role was twofold. Fortunately, I found a lovely, caring housekeeper, who supported me in caring for the children, serving them their meals and dressing them for school. She continues to be a pillar of strength for me even today, and I don’t think I’d have been able to manage without her.
While I was at StanChart, select employees were given the option to apply for an executive MBA at XLRI. I opted for the course, and it empowered me to reach higher. I set my sights on moving to Australia, aspiring for a better life for my children. I moved my children to my parents’ home for six months while I explored opportunities down under. Somehow, it never worked out, and I returned to India within six months.
Being a single mom to two teenage children is hard. I must play both the good cop and the bad cop. I must be a strict parent, and be a friend. My children confide in me, and yet know where their boundaries lie. They call me ‘Penguin’, an endearment they like to use when they feel especially affectionate.
Today, my kids share a superficial bond with their father. I say father, and not dad, because I think it takes great love and effort to be a dad. You must earn it. A year ago, for the first time, he started contributing to their financial wellbeing.
I’m in a much better place now than I was ten years ago, and many of my friends say that I am brave for having chosen to be a single parent. I don’t see it that way at all. I’ve given my children a better life than they would have had otherwise, and this experience has been gratifying to say the least. Both my kids have become unique, special individuals, with creative differences and minds of their own. I did what I had to for my children, and the rest, as they say, is history.