Monday, October 11, 2010
What Kind of Mother?
I used to think it myself.
I used to judge any woman, any mother who admitted she'd "left" her kids or "let her kids go to their dad"-- as a VERY bad mother. Crack addict. Whore. Felon. Irresponsible. Maybe she was crazy, clinically depressed, mentally or emotionally incompetent and unfit in the worst of ways. Selfish at the least.
Then, about 6 years ago, I joined the ranks of those women.
THOSE women. The women I had automatically, without knowing their story, labelled Bad Mother.
I'm not what used to come to mind when I heard a mother did not have custody of her children... but those judgements haunt me everyday and I question myself and my choices all the time.
I imagine other people look at me like I used to look at a woman who did not have physical custody of her children. And whether real or imagined, phantom critics are harsh. There is guilt at every turn, even when I know that my choices, at the time, were the best and only choices I had. I don't know if that part will ever change.
I am finding out though, that I am not the only one. I am not the only woman who is neither crack-whore nor child abuser/neglecter/mis-fit who does not have physical custody of her children. I am not the only woman who either on purpose, of by default, does not have her children full time.
Society is changing. Women are not automatically opting to be the stay at home parent, and we are making as much money, sometimes more, than our husbands. It's a natural progression then, to assume that families are changing as a result, and more dads are staying home to care for the kids if mom is the higher earning bread winner. If divorce occurs, the old standard rule of the kids automatically going full time with mom is also changing.
One thing that hasn't quite changed though, is that a father with physical custody is considered a saint and a hero. (were single moms ever thought of as such things?) Whereas mothers without physical custody are viewed with doubt --- "What did she do or not do right?"
Sometimes, to avoid questions and to shield myself from raised eyebrows, I simply say that I am "The Divorced Dad" in my families situation. At least this partially explains how I can be thought of... I pay child support, I see my kids on the weekend, I work a lot so I don't make every baseball game or bake sale. It's my ex husband who chooses to do the day to day maintenance, and I support him and my children financially. He's Mr. Mom and I'm more like Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada.
(not exactly, but you get the picture).
Sometimes I tell myself that maybe I'm some sort of trailblazer. I'm an example of another way of doing things, a new breed of divorced woman. If it were simply the fact that my husband makes far less than I do and has a flexible work schedule and we were amicably doing what worked best for our children, well then, that would be the end of it. Simple and ideal. No drama. Just a matter of fact, cut and dry example of a changing social dynamic.
But exactly how I found myself a non custodial mother is not the least bit simple or cut and dry. It is quite the opposite. A twist of fate that has been tragic and illuminating all at once.
Next post: The Beginning