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Questions to Never Ask a Mom on Sabbatical

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My son went to live with his father full-time at the beginning of the summer. And remarkable though it may seem, I am busier now working than I ever was parenting. I also have more energy, feel more peaceful, and have less anxiety than at anytime since becoming a mom. Not being the primary parent for our son has lifted me off the sofa and into my life in a way I could have never imagined. Initially the guilt was stifling. I felt like the worst mom in the world because my day was no longer consumed with the needs of my son. Putting my needs first felt not only awkward, but just plain traitorous. But as time passed, the guilt subsided and enthusiasm for what was possible surfaced. Nicely, my son's father has supported me every step of the way. What might be the most unexpected part of this experience is the questions people ask me and the comments they make when they learn I've given my son to his father in order to focus on my well-being.

Here are list of few questions to never ask a mom who has found the strength to take a sabbatical from motherhood.

1. What will you do with all the time you have on your hands?

This question assumes that a mother is only a mother. The truth is that a mom on a sabbatical gets to do whatever she desires with all her time. If she decides to watch hours of Netflix, she can. Or if she decides to start a business, that's good too. Our culture has decided that the self-worth of mothers is utterly dependent on mothering, and their lives outside of mothering are neither rich nor valuable. As mothers we often support these notions by making our children the center of our lives and putting our gifts and talents aside to nurture and fortify those of our children. Moms often put the needs of their children before their own, so it's not surprising that people wonder what will a mom do with herself if she is away from her children for an extended period of time. Sometimes the answer is sleep.

2. Do you feel guilty?

In our society, guilt is a emotion woven into the fabric of motherhood. We feel guilty if we can't get our children to eat the proper foods or into the best schools. We feel guilty for not wanting to play and for allowing too much screen time. Endless studies suggest that every good thing you do isn't good enough and every bad thing you do will likely lead to some horrible outcome for your children. Guilt just is, if you are a mother. Add extended time away from your child, where you are unable to monitor with your own eyes his or her every move, and the guilt meter shoots into space. Yes, I felt guilty. But as I said earlier, the guilt has eased over time. My son is flourishing and so am I. So hey guilt, fuck you.

3. How do you think your child feels being without you for so long?

This question reminds me of when I was a child, and how I felt about being away from my parents for extended periods of time. Honestly, I felt sad not being with my mom. I think my son might also feel sad sometimes. I also know that sadness didn't kill me, and it won't kill my son. What gives me peace is that while he's away from me, he is with his father who is as responsible for our son as I am. He listens to his needs and does his best to assure his safety and happiness. I believe my son feels loved and safe, even though I'm not the one providing this care. I wonder how often men get asked this question when they don't have custody of their children.

4. What kind of mother could leave her child?

Of course, I personally can't answer this question for every mother who decides to give over the primary care of her child to another person. Of the mothers I know who have done so, they each had some type of depression, addiction, or financial crisis that prevented her from caring for her children. I was raised by my grandmother because my mother was a drug addict. I spent decades of my life asking why my mother didn't want me, but I now understand that that was not the right question. A better question would have been, "Why did my mother need help raising me?" Our foster care system is filled with children born of mothers (and fathers!) who for whatever reason could not care for them. My answer to this question is: the kind of mother who wanted to do something good for herself and who had the support to do so.

5. You do see your kid, right?

Whenever I tell someone that my son is with his father full-time and that I'm working and rebuilding my financial independence, he or she asks whether I still see my son. Yes, I see my son when I'm not working or sleeping. Our visits are short. When he is not crying and asking to go back to his father's house, he tells me stories about his time with his dad. If there is one good outcome from our shift in caretaking (and there are plenty), it would be that my son and his father are bonded in a way that makes my heart swell.

6. Do you really trust his father?

Even though our marriage failed and co-parenting hasn't always been seamless, I know my son's father loves his son and will do whatever it takes where our son's well-being is concerned. I have heard many horror stories of parents, moms and dads, who have used their children to hurt the other parent. That has never been the case for me. My son's father has always supported me as a mother. I may have not made the best choice in my son's father as a life partner, but when I chose to have a child with him, I trusted that he would be a good parent. He really wanted to be a dad, in fact, he wanted to be a father more than he wanted to be a husband. After witnessing many women raising children without fathers, I was sure to choose one who would be hard pressed to abandon his children or anyone else's children for that matter. I really trust him.

7. Do you miss your child?

For me, the answer to this questions if no. Okay, I do miss the smell of my son and the way he snuggles up to me in the morning. However when I'm working, which is most of the time, I'm not thinking about my child. I'm thinking about the thing that is in front of me to do. As an Uber driver I'm thinking about getting passengers to their destinations safely. When I'm working in the gym I'm thinking about helping clients meet their health and fitness goals. And when I get home I'm often so tired that I've missed the short window to call my son and say good night. I don't have much time for missing anyone these days, just time to build something that will sustain my son and me.

People are always stunned when they learn I've willing agreed to have my son go live with his father full time. The funniest conversations are with other moms who want to know exactly what I did, said and wore the day I asked his father to take our son full time. They think I must practice magic or that my son's father is a saint. Maybe it's a little of both.

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