1. Who are we?
“In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony”
Famille Esperance (FAES) is a catholic ministry established under the law determining the organization and functioning of faith-based organizations in Rwanda. It has been founded by Sr. Immaculée UWAMARIYA and Christian families who are committed to promote life in the family at all human dimensions, spiritual and cultural. Its mission is to promote the Christianism into families, making them a little heaven on earth. FAES welcomes all stages of life and all religions for the sake of family sanctification.
When the ministry started, the focus was on promoting Christianism into families, but those having a husband and a wife at the top head. Along the way, it was observed that a large group of families was left behind, those families headed by single parents. FAES slowly welcomed other members and established other groups according to their social life and status, to prepare everyone to play a role in creating and relishing the family’ joy.
Currently, members fall into 3 groups according to their social lives: (i) married couples called “Abadatana”, (ii) single parents grouped into 2 categories called Beza b’Imana (widows) and Bakundwa b’Imana (divorced and never married parents), (iii) Abadasigana (fiancés), (iv) Urumuri (the youth) and (v) Abatoni (adolescents, below 18years).
- FAES in the life of single parents
In the last 27 years, Single Parenthood has increased in Rwanda due to parental mortality rate (mainly due to the 1994 Genocide Against Tutsi), divorces, break-ups, Unplanned pregnancy/unwilling father, abandonment… As the term says, a single parent is a person, who is living with and raising a child or children without a spouse or live-in partner, as an aftermath of reasons stated above.
We know single parents from both genders, but we rarely see single male parents who stay in that status longer. But hear me well, there are men who keep it longer for a number of reasons: still feeling hurt, wants to have it clear in their mind, want the kids to reach a certain age, or has lost the trust etc.
But what single fathers have as advantage to their female peers is that the society seems to quickly understands and feels very compassionate for them on how challenging single parenthood is and encourages, and sometimes helps, to find a new mate who will keep company and help in raising the family. They are accepted in the society without judgement or any kind of pressure, and still fit well in their families and social groups, a privilege single mothers lack.
- Single mothers – What do they go through?
“To be a good mother while my heart was breaking was one of the hardest roles I have ever had to play”(A single mom)
The hardship: Parenting has never been harder. Although all parents have the responsibility to raise their children and strive to see them healthy, happy and successful, single mothers face a number of pitfalls in this important role than parents in couples. These challenges can be grouped in 3 categories: (i) emotional, (ii) financial and (iii) social. They are heavily felt on single mothers’ shoulders, and they affect their children in different ways. It’s hard to balance work, social life and parenting for single moms, as they have to care and provide for the kids all by themselves. To make it through, they have to put in extra working hours. As a result, the sense of loneliness and depression starts to creep in, and they have constant fatigue.
Among single mothers, we see (i) widows, (ii) divorced or separated and (iii) never married women.
Widows: The highlighted challenges are not easy on the first category of single moms, the widows. Even their names in Kinyarwanda scares many. They have been blessed to have loving husbands, and caring fathers to their children, and losing this pilar in their lives never gets easier, to fill the void knowing that the departed is forever gone is really painful and hard. “Emotionally, you feel like a part of yourself has gone with your loved one. And because of your children, you try to put aside your pain to ease theirs” Mwiza said.
The Divorced. In addition to the reasons that led them to separation, divorced/separated single mothers are on their own after a shared life with their partners who have chosen a different path. Like widows, they try their best to ensure that their kids’ lifestyle doesn’t change much. “It is painful to hear your children saying … we used to do this or that, to go here and there, to have this and that… when Dad was here” Mukundwa said.
Financially, widows and divorced/separated women are hit by reduced income as they used to work and provide as a pair, and it is not easy to fill the gap. Most of the time, they will also start to lose family friends because our society still relates strong family ties to husbands only. Others will discretely vanish because they think you will turn to them when you’re in financial need.
“We are called to accompany, listen, and bless the journey of families… Not only to chart the direction, but to make the journey with them…” Pope Francis.
The never married women have seen worse! They have had a history of being ostracized in Rwandan culture since long. In previous centuries, families banished their unwed pregnant daughters to an island, leaving them on their own in the middle of nowhere. This has changed, just by wearing a different mask. The first picture everyone assigns to these single mothers is daring having sex before marriage. They are regarded as what is near to “prostitutes”, even though the circumstances around their pregnancies could have been caused by rape, constant child sexual abuse, unplanned pregnancies in young couples followed by abandonment…
By many, it is regarded as a sin that will never be forgiven nor forgotten by the society and the family. They no longer have value in the eyes of many. It is worsened by some religions where they are considered outcast, which makes it hard to find peace with oneself. They will suffer and bear the pain, shame, be called names, while struggling to raise their kids. A higher percentage of these children will never know or be in touch with their fathers. They grow to only wonder their roots, longing to know their relatives, but as many fathers in the picture have no pressure from their families and society, they move on with their lives leaving the burden to the mothers.
Divorced or separated and never married women are regarded as threat to married couples. “Men want to take advantage of our situations, and married women think that we want still their husbands!! Our families always put us at a very low level, like we worth almost less, even young sisters feel superior just because they are in couple!” Mukundwa shared. This doesn’t only affect mothers, it impacts children by lowering their self-esteem, worsen their well-being in terms of physical health behavior, mental health, peer friendships, bullying, and family relationships, compared to children from intact families.
All these challenges make majority of single mothers feel lonely, helpless, hopeless, lack of identity and lack of confidence. Many of them found it hard to maintain discipline among the children due to absence of male members.
- FAES changed our lives. It saved us, it saved our kids
“The best way to raise positive children in a negative world is to have positive parents who love them unconditionally and serve as excellent role models”
“My kids used to nickname me Police! A short time after joining FAES, this changed to Mom or Miss. Miss Coco is my new nickname”. Says one of the mothers.
“At FAES, we have boarded a different boat. We have and see colors in our lives. Not because we have changed the status, nor because we found gold mines in our yards, rather, because we are welcomed. We are accepted. We are valued. We are loved.” Mwiza testified.
Through different seminars and retreats led by experts and consecrated Christians, day to day communication and small but connected groups, FAES established an environment that provide serenity, reconnection to oneself and to God’s divine mercy. It mainly provides spiritual and moral support needed to thrive through the challenges. Through these channels, parents also learn essentials to raising their children in a Christian way despite today’s odds. “It connects you with other single moms, so you know you’re not alone, but also with families that are open and loving so you regain confidence in yourself, you have hope in the future which make us able to properly raise our children” Mukundwa said.
In this loving family, you learn to spend quality time with your kids, learn to accept that parenting isn’t a competition, you learn to take time for yourself, live in the moment and enjoy God’s blessings. You regain confidence and start to see light in your tunnel! “No matter what you went through, you find your place in God’s heart. Turi Beza b’Imana, turi Bakundwa b’Imana now and forever” (we are God’s Beauties, we are God’s Lovers). And she genuinely smiled.
Although good changes are happening in the life of these single mother, FAES is still observing serious issues in their lives, especially those related to financial security as they live on a single income, stressed in balancing home life and work life, pressure of the society, behavioral issues from the child and more. All these make single mothers prone to report internalizing and externalizing problems in their children which will affect the family. Many still need adapted attention to be able to open up and accept the situation in order to know how to cope with it in the benefits of the family.
- What Should We Do?
“Whatever the cause, single parents must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community, and from the parish’s pastoral outreach. Often, these families endure economic difficulties, uncertain employment prospects, problems with child support and lack of housing.” Pope Francis.
As complex as it is, there is no simple solution for the problems facing single mothers and their children. Single mothers are at risk of feeling lonely, because the society does not better understand, and some don’t want to understand, their specific experiences. Efforts from different level are required to help these families, and strategies must include those aimed at preventing causes of single motherhood where possible. FAES needs you and I to show and advocate for societal acceptance and support to help good development and wellbeing of children from single parenthoods. FAES needs you and I to reach more families. Let’s create a healthy and loving environment for these families, by being welcoming, less judging, more supportive, and loving. Let’s work together for a better world. Remember, we are all equal in God’s eyes.
By Amandine UMUKESHA (FAES)
In « Croisée des Chemins », Bulletin Officiel de l’Archidiocèse de Kigali numéro 120 (pp 27-33)