You’d think non-custodial mothering is all the rage. It’s certainly getting a lot of attention.
The Spring 2009 Brain, Child magazine ran a piece on non-custodial mothers, the challenges they face, how they make it work.
The Today show recently interviewed several mothers who gave up custody of their young children, both of them saying they faced judgment and questioning few men have to endure when they turn the kids over to their mothers.
Bitch magazine picked the Non Custodial Parent Community blog for its featured blog section.
Then there’s the non custodial mom story I’m totally absorbed in over at Literary Mama. There, former Strollerderby blogger Karen Murphy writes about walking away from her three kids almost exactly a year ago. Not only did she relinquish custody to her ex-husband, but she moved 3,000 miles away from them, too. She’s only seen them once since their first good-bye. The rest they leave up to phone calls, emails and texting.
I’ll admit, I’ve read most of Murphy’s essays, which she has periodically published in a series at the site, with my mouth agape. Murphy doesn’t sugarcoat. She doesn’t make excuses. It wasn’t easy for her to go — then again, it was. Her kids were sad to say good-bye and then reluctant when she visited. I kept thinking surely she’s going to turn around. Surely she’ll change her mind and rent an apartment across town, so ridiculous is the idea of cutting the apron strings this abruptly — and with a special needs son at such a young age to boot (a five-year-old son with Down syndrome)! One commenter wrote what I think many of the readers, secretly including me, felt in her earliest pieces: Karen — go back to your kids.
But she didn’t. And guess what. She’s happy. And so are the kids. As are many thousands of non custodial moms and their children.
We tend to think of non custodial moms as drug addicts or prisoners or Britney Spears, and any mom who doesn’t meet that criteria must be seriously cruel.
But in her most recent essay, Murphy paints the clearest picture yet of her reasons for leaving. She purposefully created an enormous distance for the kids, not in spite of them.
It’s odd thinking that I had to put 3000 miles between myself and my children in order to somehow become a more complete mother than I felt I was during the years when we all slept in the same bed. My picture of motherhood now has nothing to do with trying to overcome emptiness or trying to be someone else; it has everything to do with being the best person I can be for my children in a given moment.
Murphy writes about totally sublimating herself as a newlywed. (There’s a scene where she presents herself to her new husband while she’s sitting in a wheelbarrow with a sign that says “Chattel” around her neck.) And then loses herself even further as a mother. She’s so enmeshed in her kids she has effectively blocked her husband from being a father and them from living fully.
I stepped back from trying to be everything for my children. I left room for a distant father to become closer, to step into the space I left. My kids, rather than falling apart in my absence, seem to have become stronger: they are still straight-A students, they have more friends than ever, and they are growing into their independence.
Of course this is the part where we say, if Murphy had been the dad, this would not have been such a big deal. True, which is all part of this non custodial mom drama. Society still has a bias toward moms being with the kids, especially the young kids — especially special needs kids. Any woman choosing the non custodial role must be incredibly selfish. (I’d like to note for the record, however, that my stomach also seizes up in situations where the dad moves across the country from the kids as well. I should probably ease up on them like I did for Murphy).
So as these moms go public with their stories, you see the ones people get most worked up about in these arrangements — the kids — are turning out just fine and might not be how you’d arrange your life but how much of your life do you copy from others anyway?