Being an American Muslim, the dating game is already complicated, and, in most cases, forbidden. Add a divorce and children into the mix and you might as well get used to the cobwebs down there if you give in to society’s stigmas. For some reason, immigrants brought with them a culture so intertwined with religion, they can’t differentiate between the two. This intertwining has caused some serious social issues that have done nothing but weigh on first generation American Muslims. There is no better example of this than in the case of a single American Muslim mother. When I speak about the single mother here, I am referring to the mothers who left their marriages for the better. To try to convince a mother to stay in a toxic relationship is, frankly, the most disrespectful thing I have come across. The hardest part of getting a divorce is dealing with the stigma around the “divorced mother.” You are advised by aunties to, “Stay with him. It’s better than no one,” because if you get a divorce, “No one will want you.” Hearing those words when you are already in a fragile state of mind can be detrimental to your mental health. In my experience, I was advised to talk to an imam (religious clergy) or stay with my ex and “work it out.” There was never any encouragement to seek professional therapy and it was so taboo that my ex kept convincing me we didn’t need it — until it was too late.
Add a divorce and children into the mix and you might as well get used to the cobwebs down there if you give in to society’s stigmas.
My parents were always supportive of the choices I made, but other people in the community felt it was their duty to imprint their ideals and standards on my life. It was as if suddenly, I was a broken bird that everyone wanted to touch, pickup, and put back down on the ground. No one seemed to know how to lift me back up into my nest and it didn’t seem they cared much to do so. One woman I’ve known for most of my life was near tears saying, “My heart breaks for you. Don’t stay alone. Move back in with your parents.” This baffled me because it was my choice to remove myself from a toxic relationship I felt was not benefiting me. Why was she sad for me? At that moment, I knew there were going to be a lot of people I needed to pay no mind to.
I am economically independent and set in my ways when it comes to raising my daughter. Eight months after my separation, I thought I would try to move back into my parents’ house to save money. The next 8 months in their house were very draining. I felt like I lost control of my daughter (and my weight) and was not able to keep us on the healthy routine that I had worked so hard on. After I moved out, I quickly heard all the opinions of people who thought it was improper, unsafe, and a waste of money to live on my own. They painted a picture of struggle when it came to supporting myself and did not think a woman could handle the stresses of being the head of a household on her own. At first, I was hesitant, letting their opinions float through my thoughts, but I’m glad I did not give in. Another picture that was painted to me was that if I lived alone, I would become a promiscuous woman and would never be able to control my “urges.” This was silly, but even if I was a righteous woman and abstained from any non-marital relations, it didn’t matter. They would paint the picture that I was promiscuous, anyway, just because I lived on my own as a single woman.
These preconceived notions of what a single mother is and should be affected the dating scene for me in the Muslim American community. I was not interested in being set up by someone who thought my standards were lower because this would be my second attempt at marriage. I now had much higher standards and I was not willing to rush or compromise what I wanted in a life partner. When someone heard I was a divorced mother of one, they automatically skimmed their memory of single men that fit 3 categories:
- divorced men
- unmarried men twice my age
- men looking for a second wife
Although (in my opinion) there is nothing wrong with these 3 categories of men, I did not feel that I should be limited in my opportunities. So, as soon as I was mentally ready to “date,” I let the universe bring me its options, one by one.
Contrary to common belief and stigmas, a single mother is just as desirable for marriage as any other woman. The suitors came regularly, from all walks of life: younger, older, never married, divorced, with children, without children, etc. Yet, those comments and preconceived notions that were painted to me at the end of my marriage, by people who had no business commenting, always lingered in my subconscious. I found it even more difficult for women I knew who had more than one child or came out of an abusive marriage. It was like they were forced to physically carry all the baggage their situations had given them. The only way to battle these stigmas and find yourself on top is to constantly work on yourself and develop your identity, separate from the identity society wants you to have. Do not fit into their narrative or give in to their story. Create your own – boldly and unapologetically.
Almost every single mother I know is braver, stronger, and more resilient than they themselves can even imagine. I long for our Muslim American community to stop looking at us single moms as damsels in distress or damaged goods, and to look at us as some of the strongest women in society. We had the courage to leave toxic relationships or we had the unfortunate experience of being abandoned. Either way, we got it together for our children. We put our children before us and at the heart of everything we do. We shoulder the responsibility of raising children on our own, sometimes with little support from the community around us. The character and faith we possess are, without a doubt, the richest characteristics any human being can share with someone looking for a life partner. If you are a single mother and struggling with your identity because of what someone is telling you, remember that some of the greatest women in Islamic history were single mothers. A single mother doesn’t necessarily need a man, but she is someone every man needs.