Thursday, September 07, 2006

When Moms Leave

Recently, someone I know told me that a couple she knows is splitting up. It seems the female half of the couple doesn't want to do the marriage and kids thing any longer, and she is contemplating leaving.

When I heard this, my first reaction was, "oh, I know how she feels." Because really, I think everyone goes through that at some point. (A year ago, my partner and I were both secretly - or not so secretly, on temper tantrum days - wishing we could move out. If you've ever had a three year old, you'll know what I mean.)

"Yes," I hear you saying, "we all do feel that way from time to time, but it's one thing to think it and quite another to do it. I can't understand how a mother could leave."

This seems to be the crux of it. We all probably know enough divorced or otherwise split-up couples to understand how it works when romantic relationships end. But divorcing your child?

I do know women who left their families and who, today, have good relationships with their grown children. That said, I would hate for my mom to have done that. I have no doubt that it is traumatic and devastating. But then again, I have to ask myself, what are the other options? Reader, just imagine, if you will: what would the circumstances have to be to force you to a place where you would feel that the best decision would be to leave your child? When I think about this, I suspect that in most cases, it's not a decision most people make because they want more time to golf. It's not a decision that comes without guilt and pain.

I also can't help but to notice that it's the moms who leave that especially horrify us as a society. We tend not to get so upset at the dads, who we sort of half expect to leave, anyway. And we get more angry at the moms who are maybe middle-class, white, educated, who want careers or to climb mountains or to write books. Society doesn't care so much about keeping the poor, under-educated moms, especially those of color, with their kids. In fact, not that long ago, Newt Gingrich proposed taking kids away from welfare moms (who were painted as women of color even though statistics show that white women make up a greater percentage of welfare recipients).

So here's my (condensed) conclusion about all of this. It's not that we as a society have a fundamental problem with parents leaving their children. Now, don't get me wrong - my heart goes out to the children whose parents leave, as, I'm sure, does yours. But when we look at the larger picture, at which stories get particular national attention and which do not, and at which images tug harder than others at the heartstrings, we can't help but notice something else going on: as a society, we don't want moms of a certain social status to decide they can leave of their own free will.

This doesn't mean it's "ok" for moms (or dads) to leave. But it does mean that we're having a much more complicated discussion.

21 comments:

Drek said...

An interesting point. I wonder if, to some extent, the difference is one of expectations. If there's a cultural belief that welfare mothers are lazy or selfish then, yes, of course they're going to leave. On the other hand, if middle-class mothers are usually seen as responsible or upstanding citizens... their departure is more of a shock.

It makes me wonder what would happen if we fed these scenarios into the Affect Control Theory equations to see what sort of deflection results.

kal said...

I was searching the web about runaway moms because I am one. 4 years ago I left a somewhat abusive and neglectful marriage for another woman. My husbands famiy and my children were extremely conservative and having gotten married at 17 I had no idea who I was. I have since been in this very fulfuilling and loving relationship with my partner, however the cost has been huge. My 3 children who are grown or almost grown have completely disowned me. I wish I could find women in similar situations. However, even my previous married friends have not been disowned by thier children when they came out. I would not change leaving and be with my partner for anything, but wonder if there is anyone out there like me.

plain(s)feminist said...

Hi Kal,
Yes, there are people like you out there. Have you contacted PFLAG or your local L/G/B/T center for support? They might also be able to recommend books on just this topic.

It sounds like this was all very recent, and people can and do change. It is possible that your children will come to understand as they get older and start to look beyond their borders. I will keep hoping for that for you.

gingeryt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Plain(s)feminist said...

gingeryt -
You are certainly welcome to your opinion, and even to express it on my blog, but please read the comments policy and abide by it.

Anonymous said...

hi all, my mom left me and my dad when i was 4 years old. i havent seen her scince i was 5, almost 13 years ago now. obviously i have to blame her as it has majorly effected my life but as much as i blame her i dont know the details in full and it will always bother me. i guess im writin this comment to any mom thats thinking bout leavin their kids, just to say stop! my mom probably thought that everything would be ok and my dad will bring me up all well and good, and he has, but there will always be something missing and nothing can ever replace it. i still have a small card that my mom got me for a christmas one year that i keep in my wallet, it says "to a wonderful son... with love at christmas... wishing you all the love in the world... love from mummy... xxxxxxx". every time i get upset (which is becoming more and more frequent) i open my wallet, find the card and rub my thumb over the letters and kisses as smooth as i can as not to damage the card, and i wonder why as i sob to myself. i think back to all the times i could have used a hug and there was noone there. what makes it worse is that i know my mom has a family of her own now with little girls and a new husdand, all the things that i always wanted. i just wonder if she for 1 second of 1 day has ever thought about me as i am always thinking about her. love u mom wherever you are x

Anonymous said...

I found this post from Google because I am a mom tempted to leave. I have the "perfect" life according to any definition. Yeah, I'd like to know why I want to leave. I have five children under the age of seven, and a very loving (albeit distracted) husband. But I feel like my brain is rotting. It's like everything I do is a total waste. I rarely accomplish anything, and what I do accomplish gets undone pretty much within the week (most likely within 24hrs). I'm sleep deprived, exhausted, irritable, and just plain sick and tired of all the nonsensical crap that I have to deal with day in and day out. I just want to bail. Seriously, anyone would want to bail if their whole life felt like a frustrating waste; like they are taken for granted while everyone just uses them so that they themselves can be happy. Meanwhile, mom is just rotting away- screaming silently wishing someone would pay attention. But no one does.

I'm so sick of this jailhouse that I've created around myself.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Hi Anonymous,
I'm sorry that you are having such a difficult time, and I'm worried about you - I hope that you will seek some help. I am a huge fan of therapy - it can really help, not just to help you deal with the situation but also to make positive changes in your life so that you end up in a better situation. You should be able to find free crisis counseling if money is an issue, and that person could refer you.

I'll be thinking of you...

Plain(s)feminist said...

Sorry - that last comment was for the second Anon who posted. (In December, when the first Anon posted, I was in the midst of chemo - I apologize for not responding, Anon #1, if you're reading.)

Anonymous said...

To annon with 5 kids.......I have 3 and feel 100% the same way.....I wish I could talk 2 someone who feels like this. I have a therapist but it doesn't change the way I feel. My husband is extremely controling.....he's the #1 reason I want to leave. However I've beena SAHM for 8 yrs and wasn't able to finish college....so I have no money of my own to afford leaving with my 3 kids. Every day I wake up and dread how many hours are left in the day until I can put the kids to bed. I love my kids but just can't ever seem to get anything with them or the house done. I'm so extremly overwhelmed and feeling hopeless about anything changing. I don't have friends because I always have to be here. I feel so guilty for feeling this way. I just hat feeling trapped.

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Anonymous said...

To Anonymous - I can totally relate and have thought about just packing my bag and leaving several times. Sometimes I think I forfeited my own life by having kids. Any hopes and dreams I may have had have been extinguished and now my days are spent taking care of everyone else but myself. I have a husband and two boys, one eleven, one three and a half. I'm exhausted and depressed and can't bear to hear one more time "it gets better when they are older". I recently had a double mastectomy with reconstruction and yet these people, my husband and kids, still take and take from me, draining me everyday with their wants and needs. I resent them all and wish I had the means to just disappear. Someone asked me if I was afraid to die (in regards to the cancer) and I told them it would be a welcome change to the life, or rather the lack of life, I have now. I feel like a prisoner and a slave and the only light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. So I know how you feel. I should have never married and never had kids. I'd be living my life and probably much more happy and fulfilled.

Anonymous said...

the way our society deals with motherhood in general is very dissatisfying to me. im crying reading these replies ... because i feel the same way. i was young (21) when i got married & pregnant. i sought out advice from everyone i knew, and they all were excited and happy for me. no one talked to me about how truly difficult it was going to be.. no one said i was too young, or that i should get counseling then- before all the problems started! i am upper middle class, bitter, and pretty hopeless about how i can make anything positive come from my situation, no matter what i do. my children mean everything to me. i mostly resent myself and my husband for being so foolish, and our kids just get stuck with us. its just a hopeless cycle.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I wrote this post a little over two years ago, and I am touched and heartbroken by the comments that have been left here in that time. Clearly, there are a lot of people in a lot of pain. I hope that you all are finding your way and finding peace and fulfillment.

Anonymous said...

I see Casy Anthony on the news and I think she should have just left. Just abandoned the baby with the grandparents. Those of you who were left by a parent don't know how dark the places in your soul can get when there is no way out. I hope my children will accept that me leaving is for survival not because I dont' love them with all my heart.

Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts of leaving. Until tonight I thought I was alone.

dominiquek29 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm a 39 college educated stay at home mom of 3 boys, 14, 12, and 10. From the outside views I have a great life and a great husband, but I'm miserable. I resent my kids and husband and want to leave. I feel so drained and used up by my family that every day i want to want to disappear and never return. I never seem to have time to get done what needs to get done around the house, I'm always exhausted, and by te time my husband steps in to help I've blown my top. I recently was hospitalized for stress that caused me to collapse. I don't want to be here anymore I just want to go away and be alone. I love my kids and husband very much but sometimes I wish I never got married or had had kids. Can anyone understand that?

Anonymous said...

I am a mom of 5 ages between 9 years - 9 months. I got married after my first kid was born I had barely graduated when i found out I was preg. It's ironic b/c i never wanted kids growing up dont get me wrong I do love my kids but I also think there is someone else that can do a better job raising them. I've come to the conclusion I need to leave I'm torn if I just walk away and never look back or try to keep in touch which I think may make it harder. The relationship with the kids dad has been horrible to say the least we have had good times i mean i did have 5 kids with him but the lies, infidelity, violence, emotional abuse... I have a lot of anger and resentment toward him. I find it hard to even be in the same room with him at times. I can only work certain hours as long as I am home to take care of the kids after school. Daycares are to be used as little as possible I have no adult life b'c I have the kids with me all the time. I cant even take time for a slow shower without interruptions of me needing to hurry because of the baby. I fear what an outcast i will become when everyone knows I left my kids behind to pursue my own life. but the way i think of it ... I am giving them the chance to grown up with someone that doesnt blow their top b'c everyday their rooms are a mess, that wont spank them for not sitting still in church, I dont want them to grow up with me as their mom I know the job I am doing althought it is my best I do not believe that it is what they deserve and think that they can have so much more without me in their lives. I will miss them terribly no matter which way I choose to go. I hope and wonder if they will ever truely understand my reasons for leaving.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Reading back over this post, my heart goes out to so many people who are in pain. For those of you who are thinking of leaving, please don't sever all ties. While it may be hard to leave and try to maintain some kind of contact, keeping lines of communication open will help your kids to eventually come to terms with your decision.

At least, that's what it looks like to me, but I am not an expert.

I wish peace for all of you.

Anonymous said...

I really never in a million years thought there would be another middle class SAHM feeling the same way I do! What all of you said in your posts about wanting to leave rings so true in my own life. I never ever wanted to be away from my kids or even had the desire to get sitters, but we recently relocated from los angeles to a small town near where we grew up and we have been strapped with a single income because I can't find a job with hours that I can work because of lack of child care. Same situation, I was young when I met my husband, we have 2 gorgeous children, and I want desperately to move back to LA where we have more resources but my husband and children don't want to go. I have fallen into such a deep depression and between the husband that doesn't help AT ALL, and teaches at a college not getting home til late, 2 dogs, 3 cats and a lizard, never being able to keep the house clean, I am spread so thin now that I am not good at anything, including being a mother. I really am shocked to find that not only has my life become so painful and full of neglect, but so has the life of so many other middle class moms. Our families don't help us at all with the kids, instead they get on me all the time about being selfish for wanting to move back out of the area. I had sooo many hopes and dreams for my life and they seem to have all just been flushed down the toilet. And to add to it all, I am no longer the fun, spontaneous woman that my husband knew me to be. Now I am the overworked, overstressed, housewife that seems to do nothing but nag and complain because my life is nothing anymore that brings me joy and happiness. I feel like I work in a sweatshop with no appreciation and not even a semblance of a soul that used to exist. I pray for myself and all of you that I know are hurting as much as I am.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of 3 children. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have felt like leaving and still dream about it. I know that life is meant to be wonderful,but it seldom ever feels that way. I am a huge fan of Abraham-hicks work and get that I am the creator of all my experiences. I feel that in order to be happy, it would require leaving my family, yet I don't think I would be happier without them either. I think, bottom line, I need to take the time to fill myself back up and make myself a priority. I allow this family of mine to suck me dry and sometimes I feel like I hate them. I don't blame any mother for leaving....that must take a lot of courage.