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
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
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
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