Published October 3, 2019
Written by Jamie-Claire Thanh-Tam Chau (Marketing and Communications Manager)
This past Sunday morning, ten single mothers and their children gathered together at the Coins for Change Vietnam house in Hanoi, Vietnam. One effort of Coins for Change Vietnam's HerAcademy program is to provide workshops for single mothers to learn different topics related to parenting, self-sufficiency, or psycho-social health as well as to connect to others in similar situations.
Most of the women on Sunday had never met each other, but they were each part of the Singlemum group, an online network of over 30,000 single mothers across the country. Lam Thai and My Hanh, two admins of the Singlemum group, were visiting Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh city and organized a lunch meetup to get feedback about the effectiveness of the Singlemum group and connect members in the area.
As the women began to come, some alone, some with one or two children, tentative smiles and polite greetings were exchanged. However, after stories of shared struggles and joys were shared, it would be difficult for anyone to have guess that these women were strangers only three hours before.
One of the challenges they had in common was the financial burden of raising their child alone. As the sole provider of their families, their money gets spread thin trying to meet costs of bills, rent, school fees, clothes, and health care for the children, not to mention taking care of themselves as well. One mom notes that buying clothes for herself or getting her hair done are things out of the question now.
Even when the child's father maintains a relationship with the children, the women still bear that financial burden. "I told my daughter to ask her father about school fees. He hasn't even given one dong. He sometimes will pick them up and take them out to eat, but that's the most he'll do," a woman shares.
While some women try to surround their children's lives with only happiness, a missing father is hard to disguise. One mom tells about the advice her young children gave to her. "You should take a husband," they said. "So our family can be full. You don't have to get back with our father, but just with someone who can help you raise us."
The conversation livens as the women share about their love lives as a single mother. They laugh and tell stories of the men they've met and dated. Some women had never been married, but those who were divorced expressed gratitude for the sense of freedom they had from both their situations and their ex-husbands, including freedom to love. Despite the strong social stigma that they face, one woman declares, "We should be free to love as a single mother."
However, not all men are to be trusted, they warn each other. One woman tells about a man who was flirting with her and her friends who are also part of Singlemum group with the intentions of taking advantage of them. There is a misconception that single mothers are "easy," she says.
While the social stigma of single motherhood didn't stop them from loving again, it did prevent some women from fully connecting with their relatives. One woman shares that she hid her relationship from her parents and gave birth on her own in the temple in Ho Chi Minh city. She told her parents that her daughter was adopted, not biological, because she felt they would not accept the truth. Although she is back in Hanoi with them now, they still do not know the truth. Another woman says that while her parents know about her child, her extended relatives in the countryside do not know. She believes that their living in the countryside, especially in Northern Vietnam, makes it difficult for them to abandon their traditional ways of thinking and accept her non-traditional family.
As the lunch ends, the moms share their grateful sentiments for the supportive people in their lives, including people in the Singlemum group. They exchange numbers and make plans to meet again.
One mother reminds them as they go, "You CAN be a single mother. You CAN make it without a husband. You CAN be strong."