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Abandonment, Parenting, or Motherhood?

This morning there was a note in my inbox with a link to this story: What Kind of Mother Gives Up Her Kids? What do you think? She asked me.

I’m in a ridiculously bad place with our daughter away at camp, so the obvious answer is a bad one. This week’s news (please make it stop) is all about Michael Jackson and Debbie Rowe’s children, and as a mother watching Debbie Rowe. Well, I can’t make sense of it.

I can’t comprehend not wanting to be with my kids. I can’t understand not aching to be with them. I can’t make sense of women who want to work outside the home, because by noon I’m pretty much ready to get my kids out of school or camp or wherever they are so that I can hug and kiss them and play with them.

Oh, except for the days that I can’t wait to shake my kids. Like the day I hid in the bathroom pretending I had diarrhea so that I could finish up a novel, or the day I hid in my closet and told my husband I was cleaning it, but I took a nap. There’s the time I got out of the shower, naked with shampoo in my hair and packed the three of them to take a trip to Palm Springs. I just wanted to be alone in my house. I enjoyed that break.

There are days that I just want to pull on a pair of pantyhose and join the workforce.

So I’m wondering if Maria Housden is a bad mother, or if I’m just jealous, because she gets to live the life she wants, and seemingly her children don’t resent her.

25 thoughts on “Abandonment, Parenting, or Motherhood?”

  1. As a girl whose mom made that choice when my brothers and I were 11, 9 and 7 I can say that it sucked. As a mom of three (one adopted after his bio mom’s rights were terminated) I think that mother’s that don’t want to parent should make that decision during pregnancy so that a child can have as much stability and security as possible.

    I have friends who have lost children and that loss was not the impetus for them abandoning their other children.

  2. As a currently non-custodial mother, there is so much I want to say on this, but I’m not sure where to start.

    I am going through an extremely nasty divorce, and when it drove me to a suicide attempt, my ex used that opportunity to get a judge to give him custody of our three kids. Our divorce date has gotten pushed to October, and I’m not sure after 7 months of him having them that I will be given them back. (My lawyer dropped me when I couldn’t pay him, and legal aid won’t touch the case.)

    I can’t speak for those who chose to give up their kids, but I can say that when you tell people you do not have custody of your own kids, it’s a horrible feeling. Because it used to be so common for mothers to get custody, people now assume that if you don’t have it, you must have beaten your children, done drugs, or some other horrible thing. People don’t know how to react when I tell them my young children currently live with their father. It’s just not the norm, at least not right now. More fathers are getting custody, so I think you will start to see this happening more and more.

    As far as the mothers go, whether it was by choice or not, try not to judge them too harshly. The pain of being away from your children is a horrible thing to live with.

  3. ok I can’t IMAGINE life without my kids, though right now I rarely rush to pick them up from camp, school, daycare, etc. They are 5 and 2. On the weekends, I totally kick them and DH out of the house to play *loudly* in the park or the library. Our condo is small, with no yard or garage, not even a playground in the complex and I do often feel stifled by daily obligations like housecleaning and dr’s appts…
    I lived in a similar situation as Maria’s kids…my mom left my dad and we stayed with HIM. Try being the only kids with divorced parents in a Catholic school and on top of that, living with the dad! Crazy, right? Even as an adult, I have only a handful of friends in a similar situation…
    Secretly (or not so much now, lol!) I’m striving to make my business successful enough that my husband can stay home, heehee! He’s way more fun than me…
    I don’t judge moms in a situtation like this…you can’t until you’ve been there yourself. My own mom knew my dad would give us stability and more chances than she could. It was painful and I feel, as a woman, there were MANY times I could have really used her around…and now I wonder how much of my own desire for “alone time” has been passed down from her…

  4. I don’t think it’s up to outsiders to judge what mothering is to the mother making the decision. The link, to me, read like a great mother who recognized what was best for herself and her kids and worked like hell to make it work.

    I agree that mothers are held to impossibly high standards that fathers, often, are not.

    Speaking as a woman whose birth mother placed her for adoption as an infant, my view that it takes a lot of self-sacrifice in our society to put your child’s best interest (being adopted, living with dad) ahead of worrying about what others will think about you. Usually they kind of people who judge harshly aren’t the kind of people whose opinions one should be seeking anyway. jmo

  5. “Shouldn’t seek” . Gawd I need a proof-read today.

    You shouldn’t give two figs what the judgmental, holier than Mother Teresa moms think. You can’t keep house, cook or please your man well enough to meet their standards on your best day. And they always make me wonder what really goes on behind the doors they don’t open to the world until after the housekeeper has been there for the week.

  6. I have volumes I could comment here but will stick to what I think is the only point that makes sense.

    We need to stop judging every mother for the decision she makes. Be it to work or stay home, to retain or relinquish custody. Each decision is personal and difficult enough without having a world of strangers passing judgement on our choices.

  7. Jessica, I usually love your posts and ruminations, but just can’t get beyond comparing a mother who gives up custody of her kids with one working outside the home.

  8. I work outside the home. I agonized over the decision, and I don’t do it so that I can further my so-called-career. I judge myself enough for the entire world, thankyouverymuch!

    I also dream of the day when I can go back to staying at home. When I can keep my own home clean and cook the dinners I plan in my head and pick my little rugrat/angel up from school every day.

  9. I don’t think it’s really fair to judge other people’s decisions, especially when it IS in the best interest of the child to give someone other than the mother, physical custody. Sometimes, after divorce, the father is more financially stable and able to keep the children in a more comfortable environment.

    (I hesitate to post the next sentence, but…)There is also the subject that no one likes to even consider, that the children are statistically safer with the father’s new girlfriend than they are with the mother’s new boyfriend.

  10. I think it’s a sign of progress that we’re even able to start talking about this. The easy assumption whenever a dad has custody is that there must be something horribly wrong with mom. I can’t say that I could ever make that decision for our family (and not just because their dad is a deadbeat, but because I enjoy being their full-time mom), but I also believe that not all moms are cut from the same cloth and it’s high time we start acknowledging that.

  11. There is no right answer. I stay at home with my kids. I quit my job 2 months before my first daughter was born. We live in a smaller house, drive used cars, and only get a vacation away every 2 or 3 years… but I stay at home. My husband knows it would be crippling for me emotionally NOT to be here for my kids. (My youngest will be in first grade this year.) It would hurt me not to be the one to pick them up from school, volunteer in their classrooms, take them to dance and after school stuff. I miss them when they are away from me even though half the time I want to strangle them out of frustration!! Personally, it isn’t such a fulfilling job. However, I would rather be a little less personally fulfilled and be a stay at home mom. That said, if financially I HAD to go back to work? It would be the hardest thing ever – but I would do it for my kids. Some people don’t have a choice. I’m so very grateful that I do.

  12. I am with the other reader(s) who are having trouble with the fact that you seemingly equate working outside the home with giving up custody of your children and flying half way around the world. You are talking apples and oranges.

  13. while i don’t agree with the wording…but who cares if i agree or not…i understand exactly what you’re trying to say.
    i…am the full time step mother of children whose mother essentially signed them away to us so she could spend her life spreading her legs and self medicating.
    personally, i love when my kids aren’t home for a few hours. or when i go to work for a couple of hours. adult time.
    i’ll say exactly what i said in a post i wrote about this very subject…
    you’d have to kill me and then pry my children out of my rigor mortis arms. and then…kill me again. because no one…EVER…over my dead body…gets to keep my children.
    because it’s one thing to be away from them for a few hours. but permanently…no way.

  14. you know i love you. but a woman’s “wanting” to work outside the home isn’t always a “want” – sometimes, it’s a “need.” as it was for so many years in my case, and as it will be if my start-up biz and concurrent attempt to get social media consulting work on the side don’t pan out as i really, really hope they do. we’ve always been a 2-income family, even when we didn’t have a child. and i always made more money. hubby is in production, a second career i supported him in choosing (he used to be a big firm lawyer, like i was). now, though he does great, he doesn’t make enough $$ to support our [pretty modest lately…] lifestyle. i want our son to have everything that i had growing up, and more. i dont want him to have to go into debt to pay for college. i did, and it sucked. and it limited my choices post-graduation in a big way. and so i work. until may 6th of this year, outside the home. i’m trying desperately to change that, run my own biz so i’m only working outside the home part-time. but if it doesn’t work, i’m going to get another job. i’m going to do what i need to do for my family. and i’m proud of that.

  15. Divorce is bad for kids, no matter what the justification. In most cases, it’s better for the kids if the parents stay together while they are young enough to require custody. I’m not talking about my opinion, this is the result of years of research in many disciplines.

    And as a widow, it’s frustrating to me to see people hurt their kids this way when they don’t have to. Single parenting is enough to drive you crazy; and we know IT is bad for kids, economically and psychologically.

    The sad truth is that most parents should just suck it up. You made a decision, now make it work. It gives me shivers to think of these men and women (yes, both) subjecting their kids to divorce for the sake of romantic notions like a fulfilled career or a life of adventure. Grow up — you have kids. They need two adults in their lives.

    Yes, you can have it all, but divorce doesn’t need to be part of this picture. We KNOW it sucks for kids; if you argue with me don’t argue over this well-known fact.

    Whoever gets custody is a bit academic when you are already tearing them in half. In the extremely serious situations where divorce might be justified, the second parent is not an appropriate custodian anyway.

    Let’s concentrate on women and men who are unfortunate enough to be lone parents for other reasons. I’m sure divorce is sometimes in the best interest of the children, but that’s not demonstrated in any of the families in this Marie Claire article.

    Stop romanticizing divorce, people! It’s bad for kids.

    — Supa

  16. When I first read this I thought, “Oh, no she didn’t!”

    Then I read it again. Then I clicked on the link (cause I’m notoriously lazy about that) and read the article.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that all mothers need to lighten the hell up. We need to stop taking another woman’s decision on what’s best for her family so personally. But I also think that cries of “we need to stop judging each other” are very unrealistic. People are entitled to their opinions, and they are allowed to voice them.

    I think we all do it in some fashion. Jessica can’t imagine wanting to work outside the home. I can. But I also can’t imagine not wanting to breastfeed, and I know millions of women choose not to.

    I’m fond of saying that pregnancy isn’t for punk-ass bitches, or bitch-ass punks. I’d like to extend that to motherhood. There are no easy answers and what worked best for you may be unthinkable for another Mom.

    I don’t think working outside the home is the same as abandonment, but I don’t think what the woman in the article did was abandonment.

    April and Dodi above both made great points. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be home w/ their kids. I was home with our 10yr old daughter till she started school. When I got laid off, I went to college and while in school (still am) I got pregnant with our 11 mo. old boy. I’m home with him now and able to do so while taking classes online and in the evening. Not every mother who wants to be home w/ their kids are so fortunate.

    God, I bet I didn’t make any of the points I wanted to effectively. It took me an hour to do this cause the baby is teething and cranky.

  17. Supa, I am sorry but I have to call b.s. on that. I don’t care how much research you have.

    There are plenty of people who grew up to be responsible, sane, adults and they came from divorced households. They weren’t psychologically damaged nor were their childhoods damaged. On the flip side, many people suffer from growing up in homes where the parents weren’t happy and trudged along out of obligation. I have personal experience on both fronts.

    The woman in the article didn’t run off to join the circus. She did what she needed to do in order to better provide for her family, and sometimes that’s not just financial. Kids want their parents to be happy and fulfilled. I think what she did was brave and at the end of the day, none of our business.

    Promoting the idea that dysfunctional marriages should stick it out for the kids is dangerous, irresponsible, and sad.

  18. Nina,

    I’m sorry, but the definition of “science” is that it does not rely on anecdotal evidence or your own experience solely.

    I did not say kids of divorce grow up to by psycho killers, or that all damaged people came from divorced households. I only said that research has shown — and most professionals validate — the idea that all things being equal, divorce is generally bad for kids.

    Promoting the idea that kids can do just fine with just one parent — male or female — is simply contrary to everything that we know.

    If I am incorrect — and if professional consensus is that people can follow their bliss whether or not they are partially responsible for smaller humans — then I will of course stand corrected. And I’m not going to argue what is widely known to be true.

    I *do* agree — DEEPLY — that parents should be happy and fulfilled. I *disagree* that the only way to make that work is by breaking your commitment to a partner and your kids. Moms or Dads who want to have it all should ask themselves, why can’t they REALLY have it all? After all, the heart of marriage (and parenting) is compromise. No one said it would be easy.

    Please let’s concentrate on people who have real problems.


  19. Nina,

    BTW I clearly engaged on the wrong point. You said in your first sentence that you don’t care what research shows.

    I generally take statements like that as rhetorical, as I did by replying, but I probably should take you more seriously. Sometimes beliefs are stronger than facts and I have no business arguing with what you know in your heart.

    I will say that I always held the same beliefs as you about divorce until I was widowed. And my own upbringing was clearly proof! But as I looked into my future as a single parent, I learned more about what we so cavalierly — and in my case, incorrectly — call “choices.”

    Apologies for, doubtless, failing to persuade you in a second round.



  20. Supa,

    Yes, I admitted that my feelings are based on personal experience (my own and those closest to me.) And I didn’t mean that children from divorced households would grow up to be psychos.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that life is going to be hard. At some point. Sometimes you have this wonderful childhood with no traumas to speak of and grow up to be in a failed marriage. Sometimes, you’re raised in a single-parent household and things are rough, but you come out being just fine. Whatever fine is.

    I don’t think MOST people want things to end up the way they do – divorced, sharing custody, or raising children alone. But while divorce may not be what’s BEST, it’s sometimes the only option. I think we all go into marriage and parenthood hoping that we’re gonna be one of the ones that endures, that provides the two-parent household that you (and science) seem to think is BEST… but if we’re not… well, I just hope that families like that aren’t labeled or that it’s assumed that the children of families like that will somehow not be happy, normal, or even thrive.

    I have someone very close to me that is fully aware that her parents stayed together because of her. And now, as an adult, she has issues. And when they’re not getting along… let’s just say it messes with her.

  21. Hi Nina,

    I’d be very happy to discuss this offline if you wish, I don’t feel I should take up more of Jessica’s space on this. I would like the opportunity to convince you if you’re open to it. supa.dupa.fresh AT or @ freshwidow.

    If not, one point: My family was like your friend’s so I have thought long and hard about my individual example. Of course, we’re all different and unique wonderful snowflakes and there are so many factors in life.

    Like me, your friend *can’t possibly* know that things would have turned out better for her if they had divorced.

    And that is why when we make huge choices that will affect vulnerable people in our care, parents listen to what generally produces the best results for the most people.

    Our kids need us to stop romanticizing divorce. Most of us don’t learn about the impact on our kids until we’ve taken an emotional stance that we can’t back down from.

    Few of us know any kids killed in car accidents in the 60s and 70s, but we all buckle our kids into safety seats. Why not apply the same care to the single most important factor in parenting?

    I appreciate the respectful dialog and hope I have at least persuaded you a tiny bit!



  22. Each situation is different and very personal. I believe that it is most hard on the kids because of the separation from mom. Kids want a mother who loves them and if they feel betrayed or abandoned, then they also feel unloved and unwanted, regardless of whether or not that is true. Go to my blog and click on the link to my guest post series, Confessions of a Gay Dad and you can see how I ended up with custody of my daughter.

  23. First, I totally agree with Dodi. Comparing a woman who works outside the home (for any reason) and a woman who abandons her child is not fair or right.

    Second, it is time to stop this “Us/Them” attitude when it comes to women who stay at home and women who work. It is antiquated and ridiculous. It is a waste of time. Truth be told, in today’s day and age most moms and dads go through seasons or phases, changing with circumstances presented to them by life. Most people have times when they get to stay home and times when they need to work outside the home. Seeing how its very rare to be able to make a choice to do either one, it is foolish to judge anyone who chooses/needs/desires to stay at home or work.

  24. You nailed it; In a divorce, the Dad is expected to leave the family behind. In 1986 I went through a nasty divorce. I had 2 boys, ages 5 & 3, and worked double shifts at Red Lobster. The Daddy made fabulous money, was a good parent, even though he wasn’t a great husband, and worked 8-5. I had no way to provide a stable enviroment for the boys, so I did what almost noone did at that time: I gave up custody. Once the animosity was worked out between my ex and I, we arranged a near joint custody arrangement where I had the boys every other weekend, and all summer. I also paid child support.
    I was completely ostracized by my family and friends as if I had abandoned them completely. Later, one of the boys came to live with me permanently.
    I have always felt like my childrens well being was more important than my own sense of indulgence, or even above what others expect.

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