Leavetaking.

1 Mar

Comments from a piece on Salon, from a mother who “left”:

A narcissist. Totally self involved. Your children are lucky they had a more involved father. SHAME.”

“It sure would be convenient to parent at your leisure; it just wouldn’t be parenting, would it?”

“You seem very proud of yourself for someone who caused so much needless misery in the lives of two little children. You seem to buy every aspect of the grandiose rationalization you’ve constructed.”

***

Would we hear the same if the writer had a penis?
I’ve been beating my brain and heart for weeks about this decision, one weighted against my own background of loss, my experiences with other children of divorce. I remember the look on a friend’s face everytime her mother came, and left. I remember the echoing hollow of my chest not having a mother. It was hideous. I’ve been weighing the guilt of this decision against something so vagrant and seemingly radical that I don’t know if I can voice it without the critical mass rising up and howling for my blood.
I want to know myself, and be happy. I never wanted children either. I love them fiercely, but if I’m honest, and in the red light of a late night I am, I am not the mother they need or deserve. I am a shadow with them, a stressed shell of a woman who knows not herself or the world around her. A woman child who has made life altering decisions for others, always. For my father. For a husband. For a child.
I find myself now without time, without pause, in stasis, unable to move. So much time spent being broken, being in a broken concept that I cannot figure out what it means to be me.
And so selfish, I think I see the answer, even as it breaks my heart.
The problem is, it breaks my heart for all the wrong reasons. I don’t hear my own desires (for space, oh blessed space I can trap myself in, the silence stretching before me like a ribbon, the stillness I could melt to) I don’t hear my desire for my children’s happiness.
I hear the judgment, and the guilt of the modern mother, or more accurately, the war against her.
Does my vagina make me a better person? Does it automatically invest in my abilities their father doesn’t have? A bigger, warmer heart? More patience? The desire to play Lego? The want to be there, day in and day out until my hair grows greyer, faster?

Why is it that because I have created these creatures, willingly or unwillingly, regardless of my desire for them, I am to be tethered so absolutely to them, forever? And why does this not extend in the same way to a father? If I were the man, I could have left months ago, with nothing more than a “tsk tsk” to feather behind a door. If I were a man, my desire for summer visits and the occasional weekend would be lauded. My desire to have any interaction with my children at all would very nearly be considered revolutionary.
But I, possessing of a vulva and breasts, am none of these things for leaving. I am a bad mother, a selfish, narcissistic person, and a shitty all around creature. For wanting to breathe.

***

I spent the majority of my weekend with my girls, and by the morning on Monday all I could think about was getting back to normal, where normal is a day with limited interaction with them. I couldn’t bear to be touched any longer, and my knee jerk near revulsion when one of them jumped on me or asked for hug left even me ashamed.

Later when speaking with my boyfriend, I lost it. I burst into tears and couldn’t see why.

But then I could.

I spent about 2.5 days straight with my daughters, the longest amount of time I have in months, despite them living with me. And I hated it.

I hated the noise. I hated the sticky fingers, the need to be near me, constant, the mess that spiraled out from them, their crap, ever increasing in all directions, their voices, their incessant need. And I hated the way I felt, distant and unknowing.

I have all the stress for the least reward. My children spent the majority of their day at school and then with my father, seeing me for thirty minutes before school, and a few hours in the afternoon. Then weekends they spend with their father, who they miss and are genuinely happy to see. With me, it’s like puppies aching for affection, and I feel stunted and small.

I am not raising them, and I am fairly confident I no longer want to try.

I am not saddened by that thought, at least, not as much as I likely should be. I am saddened by the thought that at least a few of you think badly of me for it, for my rapidly approaching decision to walk away. I am annoyed that anyone might think this easy-I am full up with what if’s, and should’s. I am angry that as their mother, I am to be everything-I do not want it. I never did.

That makes it harder, that lack of wanting.  How do I explain any of this to people who want their children, who enjoy them, who are made better for them? I am made hollow by this mothering, this facade. I am not made better, or am good for them. I am unhappy with them, unhappy in this house and with this life.

This, this home, this place, these children, they are all failures I cannot change. A dream I had once that I cannot assemble, and have lost the will to fight with.

I am not the mother anyone thinks I am, or should be.

You have your homes. You have your warm place. I have empty reminders of all the people I wasn’t, and cannot be.

I cannot do it any longer.

***

I am terrified.

I want a clean slate. I want to start over, and breathe slowly, and finally determine, finally understand what I want. See if I can become the mother my daughters deserve, in months or years from now. I cannot be that woman here, not now, not like this.

I want a little house with a garden someday, a small thing like a fairy cottage, with lattice and fence, grasses. Stained glass in the window, trees all around. An attic room for my daughters, chicken coop behind. A quiet, sane place we can hide in, where I can love and stretch my arms. A place where the air is scented of lilacs and sunlight.

What I have is a house of cards collapsing, with a leaking basement, and a father who slowly seems to be taking over. I have become a wisp of a dream here, a passing thought to pay the mortgage and cafeteria bills.

I cannot do this, and I am scared.

Do not judge. You never quite know what it’s like in here.

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26 Responses to “Leavetaking.”

  1. Bad Mummy March 1, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    I’m not sure what it is worth, but I support you. No matter what.

  2. daysgoby March 2, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    I am not judging you. It seems to me that to admit that you are lost, and don’t think you are doing a good job takes a lot of courage.
    The main thing will be making sure your girls do not feel they are to blame. (Which can be tough)

    On the other hand, the fact that your dream cottage has a room for them in it makes me think that a big part of you feels like they belong with you….or maybe someday

  3. coffee with julie March 2, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    I agree with you that a mother who doesn’t want/choose primary care of her children is certainly judged harshly in our society, while a father in the same situation is considered the norm.

    It seems unbelievable to me that we still think that the person with a vulva is destined to be a primary caregiver during divorce/split, while the person with the penis is so undervalued in their parenting ability and desire.

    As difficult as it is, your decision cannot/should not be based on society’s outdated values, but on what you feel is best for you and your girls.

    I really feel for you and hope that you’ll be able to make a decision (one way or the other) and move forward.

  4. magpie March 2, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Oh hon. It’s so hard. Thinking of you.

  5. Leanne March 2, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    I’m not judging, and forgive me if it turns out I am, but here’s my perspective (and I think you deserve honesty): when you choose to give birth to children that you do not give up for adoption, you accept the responsibility of their care and keeping until they no longer exist, or you don’t.

    That’s what being an adult is about: accepting responsibility. We sublimate a great deal of ourselves in order to meet our responsibilities in life: we work jobs we don’t like to fund our needs, etc. Children are no different. There are no get out of jail free cards where kids are concerned.

    I fucking hate playing with toys and kids games. Hate it! A couple days with my boys when I’m solo parenting (Sean regularly goes away for 4-10 days at a time, which doesn’t make me a single parent, but certainly gives me some intermittent experience with the lifestyle)sometimes turns me into a screaming bitch. I will freely admit those things. But when was parenting easy? It’s not supposed to be and the challenges change with their ages. I imagine in 10 years I’ll hate being cooped up with them for other reasons than I hate it now.

    You’ll do what you need to do for your family, but “they drive me around the bend after 2 days” sounds like a weak excuse to base large life changes on, particularly when there are minors involved.

    Is it unfair to be tethered to something you don’t want to be? Not necessarily. But maybe this is a call to become a stronger person. Or get new meds. Or make new support systems. I would assume that mothering is a non-negotiable in life and that if you need to make changes, those changes have to take mothering into account. It sounds like a fantasy to walk away from mothering. And I think that fantasies are awesome when they stay fantasies but become horrible little disappointing things when we bring them out into the world.

    • thordora March 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      My concern is being a good mother. Should I stay because it’s considered non-negotiable? Should it be ok for their father to be a part time parent, but not me?

      I am not a good mother right now, because I am exhausted and done with it. It has nothing to do with meds. It has everything to do with doing it virtually alone for years, and now, being unable to do it.

      Fantasy is all fine and well, but for me, being able to find my footing as a woman and then yes, as a mother, is just as important.

      Is staying really good for children if it’s ripping the parent apart? We don’t advise parents to stay in a bad marriage, but we advise mothers to stay, regardless?

      I call BS.

      (and I wouldn’t be out of their lives, and certainly have no expectation of never being a constant in their lives again-but be it 3 months or 2 years of being the non custodial parent, I need to do so. Care means more than just being there physically and paying the bills.)

      • Leanne March 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

        Allow me to use some analogy. I spend my working hours with women in the midst of crisis and transformation. When a woman gets to a difficult time in her labour and begins to panic and desperately announces that she can no longer go on, that she has to stop, that she needs drugs I don’t assume that a) she’s asking for an epidural and b) that an epidural would solve her problem. What I know is that women in this crisis moment need assistance getting in control of their response to their situation. That can come in the form of reassurance, perspective, physiological comfort, cheerleading, mechanical changes in position or movement, problem-solving, etc.

        Similarly, I read your “cry for help” (I’m not making an assumption, I see you reaching out for help with processing this hard experience and making tough decisions) and my gut tells me that you are in need of more support. I don’t know what form that would take, but I’m sure it should include some kind of therapy or coaching and the help of your co-parent. This is the exact reason why there are so many resources specifically for single parents: it’s not easy and it takes a lot of work to stay sane while parenting effectively in this situation.

        FWIW, I don’t agree with you about fathers who give up custody of their children. I can’t respect them. The only exceptions would be men (and women) who are actively harming their children.

        The fact that you are so concerned about your own competency as a parent is a good sign to me.

  6. Bon March 2, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    i think you have every right to be a non-custodial parent…yeh, it’s judged. more for women, though increasingly just not the norm people like to believe in. but as part of a long-term plan that involves the kids being in secure & emotionally present relationships with both parents, it’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. and might give you space to find some kind of presence within the role, which it sounds like you’re struggling to do.

    i do seriously think there’s something about the drudgery of it all that’s baffling. and maybe not necessary. but i’m on my own slow painful journey to working that one through. 🙂

    in writing your way through it it still comes off more like you want to negate the mother role entirely, be free of it. being non-custodial doesn’t free you of it, is not really a clean slate, unless you skip the weekend visits and then you risk losing legal ground in terms of making your way back. so make sure you know specifically what you need – both in terms of space for you and continued rights to them – to prevent the most heartache down the road, okay?

    wishing you well, Thor.

  7. Kate March 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I don’t think you have any more obligation to be the primary custodial parent than your children’s father does.

    I don’t, however, agree with this. “If I were a man, my desire for summer visits and the occasional weekend would be lauded. My desire to have any interaction with my children at all would very nearly be considered revolutionary.” Is that really true? I think such an arrangement for a man would be easily tolerated and thought typical, but it would not be lauded or considered revolutionary. And I think people do judge the father who never sees his children harshly.

    I think parents have an obligation to be available and around for their kids. I do not think that means you need to have primary custody, however, especially if you feel like you’re not capable of doing a good job with it. There is a middle ground, and I’m pretty sure you are in it, between wanting to have primary custody and wanting to absent yourself from your children’s lives.

    I don’t find the absentee father any easier to understand than the absentee mother. Should my husband and I ever divorce, neither of us would take on either a primary or a secondary role as parent. But we are both people who are most happy and most fulfilled by our role as parents. So in our case, the sacrifice and difficulty would be in the hours spent away, not the hours spent with our kids.

  8. Sue March 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Phew. This is a tough one to comment on, J, not b/c of the judgmental stance but because of the complexity of the matter and the sheer, overwhelming detail of what it would all mean. I wonder if there would be a way to better divide custody in a way that would make your ex deal with more of the weekday, difficult parenting. I don’t know and I don’t want to give advice b/c I know shit about your situation and I know even less about family law. I do find myself wanting to say three things, though:

    1. Life changing decisions are best not made between the months of December and April.
    2. Life changing decisions once made can take on their own unanticipated consequences–particularly if they involve children, a troublesome ex and the courts.
    3. Parenthood (and yes, societally speaking, motherhood in particular) is a life-long relationship but it really isn’t a life sentence–and by that I mean Viv is already half-way to being grown up and on her own. If there was a way you could get a breather without losing so much of what all three of you mean to each other. That is what I wish for you.

    I really do hope that you can find the best possible solution for you and the girls. I acknowledge that none of this can be easy.

  9. Meaghan March 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Thor, yes.. this is hard to comment on, but I think it needs doing.

    I never wanted to be a mom. I got pregnant with a guy I barely knew at all – and the more I got to know him the more I knew I didn’t want to raise a child with him. I knew I didn’t want to give up MY life to raise a child, I didn’t want to give up my time or money or freedom. I didn’t want to do it. But then, I knew I COULDN’T have an abortion and I COULDN’T give a child up for adoption. So I kept her. And god help me, there have been times that I’ve regretted that decision. There have been times when I’ve wanted to take back time, or just take off. And I understand how that feels and I do not judge you for it.

    I love my daughter. I know you love your daughters. But unlike a lot of other people, I believe that there are times when you need to put yourself before your children – to put what YOU want and need before what you or other people THINK your kids want and need, and it seems like your time is coming.

    Whatever you do, there’s one blog follower out there (moi!) that supports you, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever want someone to talk to.

  10. Marcy March 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    You probably already know that my thoughts align most with Leanne’s in this matter.

    I also don’t think of fathers differently than mothers — both parents have responsibility to the children they have.

    I think I may have said this before, and it’s like what Bon notes, that there isn’t really the possibility of a clean slate. The kids already exist — that can’t be undone even by relinquishing all custody and visiting and involvement.

    All of that said, I know that you’re not taking this decision lightly, and I don’t / won’t unfriend you if you decide the way you’re leaning.

    If I could dream it into place, I would dream ways for you and the kids to coexist, with sufficient attention to their needs and yours, so that the blather and touching would be in reasonable amounts and spaces, and so that there would continue to be lovely photos and adventures and silences and times alone.

  11. just a passer-by March 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I wish you were not being judged. But I know one thing: If I had kids, or even just *a* kid, I would be where you are now. I would be able to think of nothing else but leaving. I have not been reading you for a long time and I don’t know the history of why you had children when you didn’t want them, but I do wish you well. I cannot imagine the pressure you are under or what I would do in your shoes.

  12. thordora March 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    For clarity:

    -I’m not looking to leave my daughters forever. When I speak of a clean slate, I looking to start over in my life. I’m currently “stuck”-I make too much to qualify for any assistance, have to work a horrible shift to make ends meet, and cannot upgrade my skills due to circumstances. The support I have is limited, and will not improve. (And trust me, the available single parent support is limited and mostly pointless unless I’d like to go on welfare. Which I never intend to do.)

    What I do want is an ability to really find out what I want-the person at the core of this, the person who has focused on everyone else since she was 12, and has never truly made a decision for herself, and is now lost and scared and not a good role model for anyone, least of all her children. Working a shit job in a call center is beneath me, and I don’t want my kids thinking it’s a long term career. A point in between perhaps. I want to have the time to be able to go to school, get a degree, and a real job that might enable me to do little things like, oh I don’t know, actually put my children to bed more than once a week or talk to them beyond telling them to walk faster or do their homework.

    Where we’re at right now is a no win situation, unless I am able to do something to change it. Living hand to mouth, with no ability to truly get ahead-this is NOT the example my daughters deserve, or the life I want to lead. Therapy will not change the fact that I currently have no way to make any changes to my situation without something important, like say, the hydro bill, going unpaid.

    Sacrifices with no real point infuriate me, and at this point, that’s all I’ve got. There’s no endgame-just more endless drudgery, lost sleep and scraping at happiness, for me and my daughters.

    It’s easy enough to look from the outside and assume my needs-but when the perspective is colored, when the people looking in are people who are truly fulfilled by parenthood, living in fulfilling relationships a life they want-I know it’s hard to understand MY perspective as anything other than selfish.

    This is not me.

    What it appears I need is a sabbatical from this job, this mothering, this constant movement from 7am to 1am, the juggling of a job then kids then house then job and maybe, maybe a few hours to me. I need the chance to better myself, so in 6 months or a year or 2, I CAN have my daughters back in my care more often than not, in a safe and warm home with a parent who IS fulfilled and able to focus on their needs a fuck load more than I can right now.

    And Sue, you are fucking correct. NO decisions between December and April, especially this year. (And if I’m honest, I’m waiting until spring to really decide, BECAUSE I know it’s affecting me as well.)

    but the craving for change, for space…..it’s real, and not predicated on anything other than a woman who has never had it.

  13. Shana March 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Thor, thanks for taking the time to explain.

    Sometimes, the problem becomes easier when you break it down into parts, as you did in your last comment. When I read that, it doesn’t sound as though your main frustration is necessarily the kids’ behavior. Rather, there are many other adverse circumstances, and having to care for the kids financially as well as physically on top of everything else makes you feel hopeless.

    Are any of the following options possible for you?

    1. Decide the degree and major you want, by considering fields that interest you and would increase your salary.

    2. Talk with your ex (without anger, and with the expectation of his help) about taking the girls for 1 or 2 nights a week while you attend evening courses. Point out to him exactly what you did for us in your comment: that ultimately it will be better for the girls and for you.

    3. Take time to explore career opportunities in whatever new field you are pursuing, particularly in your geographic area. Sometimes, by getting to know people somewhere (in a small business, at a university, in a cafe), you’ll make friends with people and establish connections that can lead to a much better job.

    4. Independently of your job, take the time to care for yourself every day, no matter how small the way. A hot shower. A food you particularly like. Reading, if that’s what you enjoy. Do these things not only because you enjoy them, but because you’re honoring yourself by them.

    Good luck.

    • Kim March 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      I do think #4 in Shana’s reply is so important. When I left my ex and moved 600 miles away, I had no support, no one else, and two kids 24/7. I learned very quickly that if I didn’t take care of myself, no one else would either. When the chance came to ship one of them off to their father for two months, I felt guilty because I wanted him gone so badly. Just some frickin’ peace, for me. Just some time to do what I wanted without someone clinging to my legs. My oldest was wrapped up in his friends and could hang out on his own if I needed him to. You have to take care of you first. Whether that be mentally, emotionally or physically, you can’t take care of them if your needs aren’t met. You’ve had quite a ride this year. It’s no wonder you’re drained. Do what is best for you, and your girls. Nothing else matters.

  14. Marcy March 2, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    Yes, thanks for clarifying — and I hope it does work out that you can reunite sooner rather than later, with as little damage as possible (to anyone) from the separation.

    Actually, it reminds me rather of the time when the psych ward released me before I was ready to go home again — and how it was rather difficult to get in there in the first place because everyone was so reluctant to separate mom and newborn. And I ended up staying at a friend’s house, and visiting my family for several hours a day, until I was able to live at home again.

    It seems to have worked for us — granted, I was only away for a week?

    ———

    Would it be awful to go on welfare temporarily while you pursue the career change? Would that possibly be a better option than separating temporarily?

  15. Schmutzie March 4, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I read that Salon piece, and I got it. I never had children, in part because I knew I would feel this way, and so I won’t be judging you. We’ve been fed this bullshit line that everyone with vaginas will love playing endlessly on the floor and be endlessly physically available and love every minute of being an entire family’s endless supply whatever they need. I doubt that the numbers bear that out.

    I think it’s a loving act gor both you and your daughters to ask family to step up to fill some of the spots you cannot. And it’s courageous to write about it. This is fairly fresh ground that needs turning.

  16. landismom March 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    I confess, that I have felt less judged about my decision to be the non-custodial parent than I thought I would. That’s in large part due to the fact that anyone who knows me, knows both my travel schedule and the fact that I’m the primary income earner, and the impossibility of me giving up my job to be the custodial parent, in our family’s economic situation.

    That being said, I’m sure there are people saying shit behind my back. But fuck them.

    If you do what is right for your girls, even if it’s hard, it will be for the best. If the worst thing that happens is that you find out who your real friends are, then that’s not awful.

    Sorry if that is coming off as facile. I don’t think that it’s easy.

    • thordora March 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

      It’s not. But you know that already. 🙂

  17. lgirl March 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    I saw the woman who wrote this book on TV today and thought of you. it may be of some intrest to you. ( Not a paid promotion just a reader of your blog.)
    http://www.feministpress.org/books/hiroshima-morning

    • thordora March 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

      Awesome! Thanks!

      • Lgirl March 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

        The interview more about how she never wanted to be a Mother and how society treated her after she left her children.

  18. tinsenpup March 21, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    “How do I explain any of this to people who want their children, who enjoy them, who are made better for them?”

    Sorry to chime in late, but you don’t. You shouldn’t need to. I can’t truly relate to how you feel, but just like me, you’re a woman and mother who loves her children and will endeavor to do what’s best for them. You are courageous for even asking yourself this question. I think it makes you a better mother than many. Follow your heart without fear if you can and try to ignore those inevitable negative voices.

  19. HopeSprings April 8, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    I know where you are…I’m in a very similar place myself. It takes great courage to be so honest. I respect and admire you for putting it out there for others to see. I suppose that sometimes people find it easier to judge and criticize others than to actually look at their own flaws and try to fix them. Or perhaps compassion and empathy just don’t come naturally to some. Either way, I hope that your candor is met only with kindness. I appreciate the voice you’ve given to mothers who wrestle with the difficulty of it all and the erosion of self that sometimes acccompanies the journey. All the best to you.

  20. andrea July 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    sweetie, I hear you i just want to say, you have not given up on your daughters, you have given up on yourself, dont do it – you are worth it – i just found your blog yesterday and started reading from back in 2009 – you were talking about how much your daughters meant to you and how could you trust anyone you met online to be safe with your daughters? The saddest part of all if you do walk away so you dont “have to raise your daughters” is your very choice is still “raising your daughters” for the rest of their life you have shown them their ‘worth’ to the world and everyone they encounter.
    hugs from andrea in australia x

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