By Vaishali, @ChaiChatter
Me: Mom, I’m leaving him and getting a divorce
Mom: It’s about time!
Brother: A ‘men!
Not exactly the typical conversation one would imagine having considering I am a Hindu-Punjabi woman living in America. Although the conversation didn’t quite go like that, the reaction from my immediate family was very much as stated above. Do keep in mind; I myself come from a divorced family.
Mom and dad divorced when I was 15 years old. I, like every other person getting married, had no reason to believe that my marriage wasn’t going to last forever. Fifteen years, two kids and many sleepless nights in which verbal, mental and emotional abuse prevailed that existence…it was time to end the nightmare.
I feel fortunate that my family- mom and brother- were more supportive of my decision than I had ever hoped or expected from them. Their obvious and immediate concern was of course for the safety and well being of me and my two children. Once we were settled into our new life at mom’s house, the kids and I both realized that we were going to have to follow a completely different set of rules than we were used to. I found myself in the same category as the kids, and mom now playing super mom to all of us.
Days turned into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years – life moved on. Not once did mom ever make me feel that the decision to divorce was bad. When speaking with my father shortly after my separation, he did try to convince me that I should perhaps make an effort “for the sake of the kids”. Once I explained to him the circumstances that led up to my decision, he heavy heartedly agreed that yes, we were better off without the ex-husband.
Gone were the days that I taxied the kids from soccer practice to basketball practice to games to school to home. Now the days were filled with an hour-long commute to work each way, working two jobs to make ends meet, going back to college, finding a peaceful solution to co-habitat with mom and somehow juggling the responsibilities of house work, kids’ school and my school all in a 24-hour day. Regretfully, some things from the previous list had to give in order to maintain some level of sanity. A sense of obligation to not add more work on my mom was heavy on my heart. The kids and I divided daily chores. I made it a point to cook dinner daily in spite of our busy schedules in order to not burden mom further.
The emotional trauma of the divorce took a toll on us a few months after the split and we sought family counseling, typically something shunned by our South Asian community. My family however insisted that was a necessary step towards understanding, healing and moving forward with our new life. In spite of getting resistance from the children, we went religiously to the counseling sessions. At one point, it was done more so due to a court mandate; nonetheless, it was done. Whether the kids will admit to it or not, had it not been for the counseling that my family pushed us to seek, we would probably not have understood and dealt with the issues that presses for many years afterwards in the positive light that we did.
There were many times in which the kids’ behavior was reflective and a direct result of the emotional trauma caused by the divorce. My brother stepped up to the plate to play the positive male role model that their lives were lacking thus far. This included intervening and helping to prevent some typical altercations that happen among kids on the playground. My brother has taken time off work and his private life to spend time with my boys so that they don’t feel a void of having a father in their lives. I don’t believe that they are appreciative enough or realize the sacrifices made on their behalf today. I hope that the realization comes to them sooner than later so that they can show gratitude towards the people; their grandmother and uncle that have been the pillars of strength for not just them, but also for their mother.
Fast forward 4 years -now comes the long awaited trip to my cousin’s marriage in India. Although I realized how touchy the subject of being divorced is within Indian family dynamics, I was in no way prepared for what I would face in the motherland. My immediate aunts uncles and cousins were well aware of this foreign “divorcee” that would soon be visiting them. The last time I had been to India was in 2000 – with my then husband and young toddlers. After some much hush hushed, late night pre-slumber whispers among the cousins, aunts and myself, they were all told of the circumstances leading up to the divorce. A fact that no one was happy to see happen, but accepted as the reality that must exist.
I found myself in the midst of wedding celebrations, being introduced to everyone and their long list of relatives. The first question out of everyone’s mouth was to inquire on my children and husband. The first time I was asked, the American in me wanted to blurt out the truth in a rebellious way towards the looks of the silent pleas from my aunts’ eyes
to not reveal “the truth” to anyone else. Having realized and fully respectful of the culture I was in, I found myself instead pasting on a smile and for the sake of the family’s name, resolving to a monotone response of ” Oh the children and their dad stayed back due to the business and their studies”. Family elders wished me marital bliss for which I would silently add “… next time” at the end of each blessing. I avoided conversation and contact with the elders outside of the immediate family circle for the very purpose of not having to continue with the lies and instead became submerged in every aspect of the Punjabi Indian day to day life that goes along with the wedding festivities.
All too soon, time to pack up the ladoos , the many gifts of suits and saris came and off to the airport I went. I came home, feeling more blessed than ever. Not only did I have the strong support and guidance from my small family of four in the US, I was truly blessed to have my entire family in India show me the same love and welcome me with open arms as they did. I do realize again, the necessary “evil” of lying to the elders and extended family as it is not wholly accepted as a society and culture as of yet.
Divorce in itself is a new concept to South Asians not just in the western world, but more so to us in our motherland. I suppose I could have insisted upon sharing the truth but felt that it’s not my place to do so. In the bigger scheme of things, my family accepted me and the reality of what my life is today. I honestly could care less what others thought, but I do respect and love my family enough to know that they are the ones that will be faced with a hundred questions, a hundred judgments and a hundred things to hear from a culture, people and society that are not necessarily
ready to hear a hundred answers back.