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.