No regrets: I left my conservative background to become a single mother by choice.
A Conversation with Janu
Athena: Thank you Janu so much for sharing your story with AFI. I know a little about you - that you are a choice mom who had a conservative upbringing. Can you speak about your background? Our readers may not be familiar with Tamil culture and its perspective. When you were a little girl, what did you think your future would look like?
Janu: My cultural background is Tamil. I was born in Sri Lanka but moved to Nigeria with my family at 9 months of age. At a young age, I became aware of the cultural expectations that lay before me. I was to make my parents proud in every way including getting very good grades, going to University to either become a Doctor, Engineer, Accountant, or Lawyer, graduate with honours, marry a well educated man (preferably arranged) with a good job who comes from a respectable family, have children and ensure the cultural expectations that were forced upon me were now forced upon my children. I did accept this as a very real possibility for my future.. that is until December 11, 1991.
I don't think alot of people can pinpoint a specific point in their life where they experience a fundamental shift in their way of being and the full knowledge that whoever they thought they were meant to be would never be. On December 11, 1991, my mother passed away, I was 11 and she was only 46 years old. Three weeks after she passed, my father had a quintuple bypass surgery which as we all know, with any surgery, there is always the risk of death. When losing one parent and almost losing another is your first real introduction to pain and loss, it undoubtedly changes you. I questioned God and my own mortality and it made me realize that I didn't really have all the time in the world to live my life the way others wanted me to live it. I would live my life according to my terms.
Athena: What is the path that led you to be a choice mom and how has your family reacted?
Janu: My greatest fear is being on my deathbed and saying to myself 'shoulda woulda coulda'. Anytime I have had to make a decision in my life that had some element of fear, I have always asked myself, is not doing it better than saying by the end of it all, 'shoulda woulda coulda'? I wanted to assert my independence and be able to take care of myself, so I moved away for school. I wanted to travel, so I moved to London for a year to work and travel. I wanted to be a home owner so I bought a home to call my very own. I ALWAYS knew I wanted to have children and I gave myself a deadline, if by the time I was 36 and still single, I was going to become a single mother because the alternative is 'shoulda woulda coulda'.
My father and brother were surprisingly supportive. They understood what I put myself through to find that special someone to have a family with and it meant a lot to me that they had faith in my ability to be a single mother. I am not really close with my extended family due to the cultural divide so I am not sure what their reactions have been.
Athena: Now that you are living a life so different from one that your family and culture hae laid out for you, how do you find it? Do you doubt yourself? Are you confident? What is your relationship with your roots now?
Janu: Let's face it, being a mother is the most difficult job you will ever have. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and if I was to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat. Yes I have doubts. I have doubts everyday. Do I show my daughter that I love her everyday? Will I be a good role model for her? Will she grow up to resent me for the decision I made to be a single parent? Will I always be enough? But all the worry, doubt and guilt vanish by just a look or a smile or a laugh from her. I made the right choice because I see the validation in my daughter. I couldn't be more proud or more confident in my choice.
There are not a lot of people from my background who have chosen a similar path to me which is why I think it's important to speak about my experience. At the end of the day, this isn't just about choosing to become a single mother, its about the right to choose in the first place. It's about questioning norms and taking a stand for deciding how you choose to live your life.
Athena: What is the best thing about being a choice mom and what is the hardest?
Janu: There are many amazing things about being a choice mom but I think the best thing is that I have the ability to actually be a mother without the presence or the influence of a man. The feeling of empowerment is immeasurable. As for hardest, it's having all the work and responsibility fall on just you. Yes, you can hire help but ultimately, you are the main person your little one relies on. It is hard work and most times, you reach levels of exhaustion that you didn't even know existed.
Athena: If you could go back in time what would you tell your younger self?
Janu: I am very proud of the person you will become.