A safe space for Asian single parents
Aruna Bansal is the founder of the Asian Single Parents Network, which brings together South Asian single parents across the UK. She shares her experiences of being a South Asian single parent and tells us what prompted her to start up the Network.
I dated a Patel at university but we weren’t allowed to get married, so I came back home heartbroken. Shortly after that I was introduced to my first husband, but I was thrown out after 8/9 weeks by the in-laws because the dowry wasn’t enough. On honeymoon, my husband complained my parents didn’t provide a house or a car. I was only 21. It took me 2 years to get my clothing, and personal belongings back because they wouldn’t return them without going through court. My second marriage ended after 8 years because of various cultural issues, but I’m really thankful that I have my daughter. She has been on this journey throughout, grown up accompanying me on the hundreds of meets we’ve held over the years and she is one of the main reasons I set it up.
- Aruna Bansal, Director, Asian Single Parents Network
Aruna Bansal founder and director of Asian Single Parents Network, with her daughter.
Our network and why it was set up
When I became a single mum, there wasn’t much support out there for single parents, and nothing for South Asians. It was very difficult finding others to speak to who understood the cultural aspects of what I was going through. Many of my friends were from the Western culture, so as much as they tried, they didn’t understand what I was going through.
I craved company for myself and my daughter, as many of my friends at the time were in couples and busy at the weekends. I wanted company for us both when doing activities, on day trips, but I also wanted my daughter to know that she wasn’t the only one in a single parent household.
The Network was started on the social networking site Meetup in 2011, 11 years ago last September. I wanted to help others from my community who might be going through similar things after my own experiences and two arranged marriages. The Network was intended to get Asian single parents and their kids out interacting with each other for fun, support and friendship, and to enhance their lives in the process. ASPN converted to a community interest company in late 2020, and moved away from the Meetup platform to a new website.
What we are about
ASPN is a unique community which offers social, emotional and practical support in order to build confidence, prevent isolation and combat the stigma attached to being a single parent in a South Asian family. According to our research, it is the only support network for both single mums and dads across the UK for the South Asian community. We offer support to all single parents. Separated, widowed, divorced, single by choice, those who have gone down the IVF route or living apart can all fit into the category of a single parent family. No matter how you arrived in your current situation, it’s important for families and children to know they are not alone.
ASPN offers a safe space where members don’t feel isolated or judged. We often share member stories on our website and social media. We share how they overcame adversity and challenges in the hope that it will give hope and inspiration to those that are still on their single parent journeys.
There are other single parent organisations out there, but the reason it’s important to have one specific for the South Asians is because of the cultural differences and the stigma attached to being divorced and a single parent in this community.
More and more couples are less inclined to stay in unhappy marriages than previous generations. However, divorce can still be hard for some families to accept and understand.
Members often don’t want others knowing they’re part of our Network as they haven’t told their family, friends or relatives about their situation for the fear of being judged. It can be a very lonely and isolating time, especially if you don’t have the support of family. It isn’t always socially accepted, you can be regarded as a failure if your marriage doesn’t work out, intolerant, and looked down on. This can come from the older generation who believe that marriage is for life, that you should make it work no matter what, and unfortunately, it’s often the women that are blamed. We have had members who are going through Domestic Violence, but their family still believe that they should still stick at the marriage.
When members join, they breathe a sigh of relief, as they thought they were the only ones in this situation, but soon realise that there are many others out there in the same boat that they can talk to who understand.
Further information/ sources of support
Support with forced marriage and domestic abuse:
We celebrated our 11th Anniversary last September, and we are proud to have arranged hundreds of meetups over the years, bringing together South Asian single parents to have company when doing things that they would have otherwise done alone. These have been daytime events which are a mix of fun activities for both parents and kids. Evening events for parents are a great opportunity for them to have a much-needed night off, and we’ve also arranged short breaks.
We also offer a catch-up with parents on a Thursday night where they can talk and ask for support and advice from other members and a coach.
We’ve held numerous Q & A s with experts in different fields on a Thursday night. The questions they’re usually asked are specific to our single parents. For instance, we’ve had a number of lawyers, parenting coaches, finance specialists, dating experts, a careers coach, and a public speaking coach.
The stigma of being a single parent, was for the older generation with the dowry demands. Let’s be the change. We hope that by sharing our Founder and member stories it shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and no matter how hard things get, it’s only temporary.
If you’re a single parent, don’t hesitate to reach out, there are many organisations out there who can help.”