Divorce in an Asian culture

Posted 23 June 2017

Sonia, 41, is from the South East and is a single mum to two girls, 11 year-old Kiran and nine year-old Jas*. For the past five years she’s overcome numerous challenges, from dealing with divorce in an Asian culture to adjusting to her daughter’s special needs.

Dealing with questions

In 2009 my husband came home from work and handed me a letter and said I’m divorcing you. I felt physically and mentally sick. I rang my family and his and they tried to speak to him but he had made up his mind. One night he just didn’t come back.

The house felt empty, and the kids would ask where their dad was and I had to explain everything, answer all of the questions. “What did you do mum?” “What’s dad done?”

It’s hard to say that no one did anything, that me and your dad just didn’t get on anymore.

My mom and dad were shocked, because they didn’t expect it. I know divorces happen in Asian culture, but their youngest daughter was married and now divorced. I just thought, oh my god I now have to do this, I just have to get on with it for the girls.

Readjusting to life 

At first it was such a shock, I wondered, how am I going to budget?  I have to watch every penny I spend now.

I don’t get them treats unless I know I’ve got the budget for it. I put my heat on when it’s winter, otherwise we all sit in blankets. I go to the cheapest supermarket, look for bargains, and make leftover food. I always put them first and the things for me come last.

The toughest thing is going out and being social and meeting new people. I go out with my family to weddings and parties, but it’s difficult to meet up with others because of my kids. You have to say you can only meet people for a few hours, because weekends are busy with kids’ activities, from homework to swimming lessons.

Balancing work and finding support

I’ve always worked full time, even when the girls were small. They’ve got a registered child minder and I’ve managed dropping them off and picking them up. If one of them needs picking up urgently, my friend who’s also a single mum will go and pick her up. We help each other. It’s absolutely brilliant. If I didn’t have my friends around here I wouldn’t have known what to do. My family has been so supportive, and my neighbours are great too, they keep an eye on the house.

When my husband left a friend told me about Gingerbread. I read the comments from other people about their funny stories or stories about their children or even cooking recipes. I work as a civil servant, and because I see single mums and dads all the time I always mention Gingerbread for advice, jobs, support, and to talk to other people.

Healing old wounds

The girls’ father pays maintenance and pays the mortgage for the house. He’s a very good dad to them, I will give him his dues. He sees the kids whenever he wants to and I have never stopped him from that. I try to be flexible and swap days with him – the only thing that hasn’t happened is that he hasn’t taken them to India. When that time comes, obviously I’ll have to see.

After five years, coming up six, in their eyes they get everything their parents can give them. There’s no feeling of hate anymore. It’s just that he’s their parent and he’s come to get his kids. They get love from us both, they get both Christmases, both birthdays, both families. And I’m really proud of that.

Facing additional challenges

My girls are completely different – chalk and cheese – but they do love each other. Both were born early, one goes to Punjabi school, one goes to English school. One looks like me and one looks like her father.  They’re really clever in their own ways.

One of the girls has learning difficulties. She goes to speech therapy once a week at school, and she’s done really well to get this far.

Looking to the future

The thing I’m most proud of is overcoming all of the obstacles and still smiling at the end of the day. Having good quality time with them, and even if I’m scrimping and saving knowing that I can still do it. They never go without a meal and I make sure they have their vitamins, and I do all that.

A couple of weeks ago Kiran had to write a poem for English that could have been about anything, and what she wrote about was her family. And it was the most beautiful poem – all of the letters of the word FAMILY and something she loved about us for each. The teacher submitted it to a young poetry contest and they’re going to put it in a book. And it will be in the British Library. It just blew me away.

I didn’t even know she wrote it, it was a surprise.

It takes a lot of hard work for me to do it, but I just do. You have to get on with life. I have to live, and whatever I earn or whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it for my kids’ future. My kids are diamonds, they are my life and they mean the world to me.

*Names have been changed

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