By Funmi Ajumobi
Maureen Mennor Nwaezeigwe is the founder of Singlemomhood Support Initiative. In this interview, she disclosed how she was touched by the emotional trauma of failed marriages and the heavy burden of parenting which single mothers are forced to live.
This spurred her to set up a forum that would provide them with emotional, financial and psychological support. Maureen explained that although she had always been concerned and was giving succor to single mothers she came across, she never really appreciated what they were going through until she became a single mother herself two years ago.
Why are you so concerned about single mothers? I have helped single mothers before I became one. I didn’t understand how lonely it could be to be a single mother. I never gave much thought to the impact on the children.
I love marriage and I believe, as a Christian, that God instituted marriage, and He wants godly offspring to come out of marriages, but the truth of the matter is, whether we want to admit it or not, marriages fail and the rate of failure is on the increase. Sometimes, people work so hard to make sure that marriages survive but at the end of the day it fails.
Some women and men have callously left their marriages. Situations vary and I wouldn’t want to go into what happened in my marriage but the fact of the matter is that my marriage failed just as many other marriages out there have failed and are still failing.
As an organization, we want to provide emotional support. We have our counselling segment on our website, singlemom.com, complete with phone numbers to enable single mothers and women who are thinking of coming out of their marriages call us. We will not ask you to leave your marriage. We want to see how we can help you find solution to your situation because experience is the best teacher.
Sometimes people need to get other people’s experiences to have a bigger picture of what they are about to do and, when they talk to people who have been there and have related with others who have had similar problems and have been able to render solution or have learnt one or two things from other people’s problems, they can help you to take better decisions.
We want to create a network where single mothers can come together, play together, share ideas on parenting, wellness and financial empowerment. There are single mothers who are rich enough to lend to nations and they can do everything for themselves and the children, but they have emotional struggles.
There are some in the middle class who can take care of themselves and the kids but partially also need support emotionally. There are also those who are really down there, they can’t take care of themselves and their children. These are the ones that actually caught my attention even before I became a single mother.
Though before I became a single mother, I didn’t really give much thought to the stigma, the financial and emotional problems of single mothers and their children.
Whenever I came across single mothers, maybe widows whose children have dropped out of schools due to non-payment of school fees, I have been lending a helping hand. But until I became a single mother myself two years ago, I didn’t really understand what it was all about. It was then I began to feel what it really meant for mothers to be single”.
In the course of counseling and working with single mothers, what have you discovered to be responsible for failed marriages?
The reason for the increase in failure of marriages is difficult to pinpoint because each couple has its own uniqueness. For some couples, it may be infidelity, for some, it could be financial because lack of money can bring so much pressure into a family and couples will begin to see things differently and begin to fight and judge themselves.
For some, it could be third party influence which they are not able handle which could be from their families or friends, neighbours or even colleagues. But the unfortunate thing is that it is on the increase and we hope to see a reduction through my organization.
We want to talk to single mothers and counsel them because, sometimes, it is good to talk to someone who does not know your name and who you are not afraid could leak your secrets. People go to their pastors but, sometimes, it goes beyond that.
You want to go to someone who will counsel you without bias. You don’t want to wait until you gather that experience in a negative way. It is just like when a pastor who is not married begins to counsel a married couple. I don’t think he will provide the kind of solution that a married pastor can give to a married woman. This is a supportive system that I think is lacking in our society.
I have looked round and discovered that there is no support system for single mothers. But, of recent, I heard of a church in Lekki, Lagos that is going to have a single mother conference. That is to tell you that it is something new. I heard about it when I began to plan for our quarterly programme called, ‘Singlemoms and kids get well retreat’.
There are pockets of help for widows and orphans but how do you help the single mother who is going through emotional trauma and what do you tell her about getting into another relationship?
Research shows that single mothers are prone to depression, especially those who do not have the financial capacity to handle the burdens that come with it. Often times you find that children go with their mothers when marriages end and it ought to be so because it is the mother who can take care of the children, especially when they are minors and, I think, the law stipulates that from age 0 to 17, the children should stay with their mothers when marriages fail.
Although we have seen some cases where children are snatched from their mothers, it is actually the right of children to stay with their mothers till age 17 because they need their mothers the most. So, the woman who does not have money but has to leave her marriage needs a peace of mind as we have seen that so many marriages have become toxic, hostile and violent.
The couple may stay apart for some time without necessarily divorcing because experience has shown that time is a great healer. If it is possible, you can come back again. But at the time it became really dangerous to live together, I advise that you stay away and also go with your children.
But the challenge that comes is how to take care of your children and yourself if you are not financially strong and that is where depression sets in because there is nothing that can be more distressing to a mother than seeing her children unfed, not well clothed, not living under a good atmosphere or condition, sick and having nothing to take care of them.
So it is my passion to help mothers in such conditions to have little businesses, attend seminars to get information on how to grow businesses, how to be financially strong and how to do good parenting. Parenting is not a child’s play if you must bring up godly children.
Most times, we get a bit confused because at different stages of a child’s life, he comes up with different traits and attitudes. So you want to know how others coped, especially as single mothers.
When both parties are doing it together, it is a lot easier but when you are doing it alone, whether as a single father or as a single mother, it becomes a different ballgame. But when you are able to network with other single mothers, it becomes easier because you then share ideas and rub minds.
Some women just decide to have babies whether by adoption or get pregnant from relationships and prefer to stay alone as single mothers
As I said before, I believe strongly in the institution of marriage. I believe God ordained it. However, judgement is not for me to pass on anyone who decides to stay alone. But any single mother who needs our support is welcomed to have it. But I will not accept a single mother who woke up one day and callously walked out of her home and abandoned her children, whether for career or financial purpose. But any single mother with children who needs help by accident, divorce, death of husband or who decide to live single with her children is welcomed.
When the love is still sweet, it has always been an issue for women not to work and totally depend on the husband. What do you advise women generally?
Because of unforeseen circumstances, I will advise women to work. Do something to earn an income. I understand that when the marriage is still in the early stage and the woman is going through pregnancy, child bearing, it may not be easy combining those things with your career but you just have to try.
Sometimes there may be challenges in your workplace or you just decided that the work was boring and you decided you need a break, please think twice about it. Don’t give up your job. If you are boring about a job, look for something else to do. If you have interest in business, think about it and you may explore online businesses where you may not leave your home and yet generate a lot of money. Don’t be idle hoping your marriage will not fail.
With your passion for single mothers in need, how do you source funds to help them?
It is a huge challenge. Before now, I was doing it in my own little way, but now that I have singlemomhood.com established, what I am trying to do is to solicit support from people who have the means to adopt single women and their children or help pay the children’s school fees or help with accommodation, petty trade or jobs.
I want people who are buoyant to support me with money to do what I am doing because some people don’t really have the time but have good will to support. But if you have the time, call and let’s talk. Singlemomhood.com has been something on my mind but, as I said, I have been helping single mothers in my own little way but, officially, we started recently.
Any success stories yet?
Yes, but it is work in progress because you can’t say a single mother comes to you and everything about the woman is completely sorted out. It is work in progress in the sense that you are able to help her children go back to school, you are able to give out small amount of money to start a trade, you are able to talk to a woman who is depressed to come out of it and she is able to look at life in a different way and able to forge ahead. She is no longer thinking it is over or it is the end of the world for her. She now looks at life from a positive mind-set that she can start all over again.
She now accepts that there are people she can mingle with and get information that can help build her life again. She now knows there are some people she can call from time to time and share her fears with that can make her come out of her challenges. So it is a success story unfolding and I see a very bright future.
In the next five years, what do you expect to see?
I hope to see Singlemomhood Support Initiative becoming a solid support system that has helped 50 women (10 per year) find their feet through our economic empowerment drive, and have become so financially strong their kids go to school, feed well, and live in safe environments. I wish to see SSI succeed in wiping away tears from the eyes of many single mothers whose hearts have been shattered by emotional trauma of failed marriages and the huge burden of single parenting.
I wish to see SSI help women become strong enough to support others who they also may meet in their lives’ journeys. It may be tough, but I believe it is achievable.
Don’t you think apart from women, there are also single fathers who are going through such challenges?
For single fathers, I also empathise with them because when I started singlemom.com, I got a lot of reactions from single fathers who were going through similar challenges single mothers are going through and they needed such support system that I set up for single mothers.
They told me their experiences and experiences of some men whose wives just moved out of their marriages abandoning their children to pursue career or one thing or the other.
I felt really sorry for them because men are not wired to be mothers. It is women that God created to be mothers, to nurture children. When a man finds himself in such an unfamiliar territory, it is a very difficult situation. Such men can call our support line and our counsellors are ready to speak with them and we will support them in any way we can.
We are mothers and we know what you are going through and we know what you need to raise those children, but you have to be strong and ensure the next woman you bring into your life must be mindful of the wellbeing of the children. We have had cases of step mothers who have done terrible things to their step children.
When marriages fail, the children are caught between the father and the mother. In the course of this project, I have met many who opened up to me and couldn’t stop their tears. Children who were living in affluence suddenly found themselves in a mud house with their mothers because their mothers didn’t have money and was hawking to survive. They suffered and their mother looked older than her age.
But, today, the man is coming back to the lives of the children who are grown-ups and are married. So, children suffer so much in such situation. I want to advise men that when their marriage fails, it shouldn’t end their relationship with the children. Make yourself available to the children as much as possible. They need you as much as they need their mothers. Children should not be allowed to become victims of broken homes.
What about the stigma on single mothers in our society?
It is unfortunate that when marriage fails, people do not understand the magnitude of issues that go on, especially in our society where women are easily charged and condemned.
When a marriage fails, what you see is that people condemn the woman that maybe she was wayward, or too proud or pompous to submit to her husband. Oftentimes, people do not take time to find out what burdens are on her shoulder. What are the bruises in her heart or on her body that she has been covering with make up or clothes? So, when people uncover themselves and say it’s enough, don’t judge them because psychological trauma, stress, pains they go through most times are stronger and more dangerous than physical pains.