Asian Single Parents Network sees rise in demand online

By Anisa Kadri
BBC Asian Network

Image caption,
Life coach Arti Joshi was the guest expert at a session organised by Aruna Bansal from the Asian Single Parents Network

"Once the children have gone to bed, the parents can have a bit of me time."

The Asian Single Parents Network has moved its sessions online during lockdown, doubling the attendance.

Aruna Bansal from Kent is organising the sessions every week, with life coaches and other experts, on everything from money management to mindfulness and even dating advice.

"Normally we do day trips with the children as well as holidays and Bollywood nights. But in some ways, Zoom [videoconference] calls are easier for parents in a way because they don't need to worry about childcare or travel," she says.

'Remain private'

Aruna, who founded the group, says the online sessions also allow parents from across the country to socialise - and talk about their challenges.

"A lot of our parents can't talk to their families about what they're going through," she says. "Because of the stigma in our culture, it is quite difficult to get that understanding from relatives.

"There is that belief that marriage is for life. You should put up with it no matter what. Sometimes females are blamed when marriage doesn't work out. Unfortunately, that is the case for a lot of my parents. Lots of members when they come to me, they want it to remain private."

Image caption,
Aruna Bansal from the Asian Single Parents Network

'Compromising person'

Shabana (not her real name), in her early 30s and from a Pakistani background, says: "Divorce is still frowned upon in some parts of the Asian community.

"Families aren't as supportive. My parents are there physically. But emotionally they don't understand. There is this perception that, no matter what, you should stick it out in a marriage.

"And that means you are a tolerant, compromising person. That needs to be challenged."

Shabana, who has a toddler, has been in "survival mode" during lockdown, after leaving her partner.

"It's so busy," she says. "You just get on with it. It is better for the child's development than staying in a toxic relationship."

Saroj Patel says she also felt "judged" by some in the South Asian community, when her son, 19, took his own life.

"The news spread back home to India," she says.

Image caption,
Saroj Patel with her son Sadil and daughter Sapna

"My parents got a phone call, like, 'Is it true that because your daughter, being a single parent, she couldn't afford things.

"'And her son went the wrong way.' I got the blame with some saying that I was in the wrong to leave a marriage."

But her parents have backed her decisions. "I did get support from my parents," she says. "They were more concerned for the welfare of their daughter rather than other people's gossip."

Saroj says she thinks of her son every day, sometimes writing to him in a diary.

Stay strong

"I sit with my diary," she says. "I'm always writing to him. I feel like I am talking to him through this way."

And she tries to stay strong for her daughter Sapna, 17.

"My biggest challenges are being a mother and father... making sure that my daughter doesn't miss out on anything, the love side, finance or education, and just to make sure she is happy.

"After the trauma I've gone through, my daughter tells me, 'You're strong.

"'You're a mother, father, best friend.' It makes me proud that I can be a stronger person for my child."

'Hardest thing'

Saroj works organising activities in a care home.

Sapna says: "She is doing the best she can taking care of me... and supporting me. The money is the hardest thing."

And even Sapna has been drafted in to help provide Zoom sessions for the Asian Single Parents Network.

She runs exercise sessions with Aruna's daughter Karishma.

"I'm trying to get fit," she says. "And I'm helping other people get fit too."

"It's enjoyable. I've met so many people. I find it useful meeting other children from single parent households. We are in the same boat. And they can understand me."