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I Surrendered My Kid to His Dad

What does a mother do when she can't take care of herself in the way she's accustomed to? What does a mother do when the demands of life and parenting are breaking her spirit and she can't seem to find her way out of the shadowy places?

It's been nearly a year since my ex-husband came into my house, looked in my eyes and said, "You know you are not OK, right? You're not yourself. You're depressed, and you should see someone." His words scared me. I wondered what it was he saw, what it was that required me to see a doctor. "Let me take our son full-time while you take care of yourself." That was a big day for me; my inner darkness had at last been called out into the light. I needed help.

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I was raised by my grandmother. She worked every day to care for her family. She never once took a vacation or uttered a complaint. She awoke at 4 a.m. to head to work and returned just before dark. I remember my grandma would fall asleep nearly as soon as she sat down, and I'd spend much of the night waking her to insist she go to bed. While she was so devoted to her children, she ignored her own needs. She was a bit of a hoarder, and in retrospect, I'm sure she was depressed.

It has been emotionally challenging to be away from my son. But each day I ask myself, "How can I be a good mother if I can't take care of myself?"

When my son was born with Down syndrome, I swore to myself I would not be like my grandmother: I would not sacrifice myself for the sake of my child, and I would not ignore my own well-being. I told myself I would love both my son and myself. But motherhood is as much an inner reality as it is an outer one. Even though I may have made time to rest and to do things I enjoy, my mind never stopped worrying about the needs of my son.

Subconsciously I had decided that I must create a situation that would meet my son's every need for the rest of his life. I know it sounds insane, but parents of children with special needs understand the longing to secure their children's safety. In an ironic twist, the enormity of this responsibility weighed so heavily that it truly crushed my spirit. It became impossible to get off the sofa, to move my body and to take care of myself.

As I stated earlier, it's been over a year since my son's father offered to take him full-time so I could recover. We moved into this slowly by starting a one-week on, one-week off schedule. During that time I looked for work, hoping to get out of the house and off the sofa. When I landed a job that I love (which required working late hours), I asked my son's father whether he was still willing to care for our son full-time. He agreed.

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Most days, it has been emotionally challenging to be away from my son. But each day I ask myself, "How can I be a good mother if I can't take care of myself? How can I be a good mother if I can't love myself enough to ask for help and accept it when offered?"

It's been very difficult, but I've allowed myself to release the idea that I am solely responsible for our son, and I'm permitting his father to do what he loves doing, which is to be a dedicated parent. I'm glad that I made sure I was having a child with someone who wanted to be a dad under any circumstance. We both said yes to this particular child and all that his life would demand and offer. Now I'm working on giving myself what I need so I can be the mother my son needs.

Image via Twenty20/edims

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