Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Non-Custodial Mother

So what do you think of when you meet or hear about a non-custodial mother? A mother with small children who live with their father… hmmm….. Do you think drug addict? Adulteress who left her kids and ran off with her lover? Mother who cares more for her career than family? Someone who got pregnant on accident because she really likes sex, and wanted to continue having it without the snot nosed, demanding accompaniment?

When people criticize other parents, I always think “uh oh, you’ve just jinxed yourself.” I am sure that in the past, before I became a parent, I heard of a non-custodial mother and made some snap judgment. I’m sure I jinxed myself. I’d love to believe that what I’m living through now is the result of some stupid jinx. It’d be so much easier to deal with – accepting with grace some cruel twist of fate. Finding myself guilty of only a “snap judgment” in the past. But, being a citizen of the Real World, it’s not so simple.

*I* am a non-custodial mother. I AM a non-custodial mother. I am a NON-CUSTODIAL mother.

Which part of that sentence do I want to focus on?

The *I*? Me? How could this happen to me? I’m a devoted parent, I am always the one who took up the slack when the other parent was lacking. I’m the one who has altered her lifestyle, career goals and financial situation so that I can provide the sort of life I think my kids deserve. *I* am now lumped into that category of uncaring, drug addicted, adulteress losers. ME! Me, the woman who has always done everything with the best of intentions… and who recently realized that it’s incredibly naïve to assume that acting with good intentions will get me to the desired end.

Do I focus on the “AM” part? I don’t have to be a non-custodial parent forever. I can win her back. I can buy her a car for her to use when she’s with me, and surely she’ll want to come here. I can decorate her room and put in a dance floor, sound system and disco ball. I can fight through the court system till her father has no money left and has to give up. I have incredible powers of stamina, and I can do that. But I also have too much sense to waste the money and my family’s emotional energy. I’m not going to buy my kid. Let someone else do that if they so desire, but the values I want her to learn have very little to do with money or stuff. On the contrary, we want her to learn that money and stuff are poor substitutes for the things that really matter, and are really only a tool to reach a goal anyway.

I am NON-CUSTODIAL. I do not decide where my daughter lives. In fact, when her father goes overseas, she gets to stay with her step mother. Yes, the court has decided that staying in place with her step mother, rather than joining her mother, step father and THREE siblings, is in her best interest. It’s so hard to fathom… I am not sitting on the couch with her watching our favorite shows. I’m not the one who is constantly asking “do you need deodorant from the store? Are you sure? Cause I think you need deodorant.” I don’t fix her dinner nightly, nor do I wash her clothes and say “will you stop growing please?” I don’t take her bra shopping, or urge her to brush her teeth every night. I don’t get to observe the life cycle of her new pimples, her new crushes, her school projects. Inside jokes and routines are pretty thin on the ground between her and me. I’m the 2nd and 4th weekend and dinner on Wednesday parent.

It seems pretty cruel to me that in spite of this court ruling, I still have to get up in the morning, and engage with my husband, and care for my other children, and go to my job, and actually DO my job. I go to the grocery store and there are parents with their kids everywhere, and they have no idea that the I am walking around with a piece of me missing. We have a new camera, but still, where are HER pictures? I used to know everything about her – I could see something and think “she will love that!” … Now I see things and wonder “What would she think?” And not KNOWING my daughter like that is what hurts the most. I miss her company, I miss our jokes, and I miss seeing the milestones, but I have realized that it’s the not knowing that sucks hardest.

So, in the context of I AM A NON-CUSTODIAL MOTHER, I have chosen to focus on the mother part. The part that knows her daughter. The court and her father can keep me from witnessing the little ticks like nightly dinners, where she picks out all the broccoli from her stir fry, then sucks on it, never chewing and swallowing it. (what is up with that?) I don’t get to see the pimple from start to finish, but if I make the most of my visitation, I’ll know the pimple was there, and can talk to her about the things that work and don’t work on pimples. I can still observe, interact, and teach. Maybe, if she has a problem with pimples, I can be generous and buy her one of those expensive heat zapping machines – provided she understands that we’re buying it because it’s for her health and her self esteem, and not because we just buy crap.

I have tools at my disposal to be a mother – not the tools I used to use, but this is a new era. This is the era of regular emails from mom, regular text messages, regular phone calls. This is the era of being emotionally present and predictable so that she knows that even though I’m not there, I am HERE in a broader sense. My love is not conditioned on where she lives. It is not conditioned on the choices she has made in all of this. My love is constant and will be showered on her regardless. We’ve got to come up with new rituals and inside jokes, things that will develop through different routes that the regular “come home, eat cookies, do your homework, hang with mom while she makes dinner” sort of thing. Maybe stupid jokes sent every night at bedtime. Or talking on the phone while watching “So You Think You Can Dance?” Or sending silly pictures of cats back and forth via email with our own quirky captions.

I am still a mother, of her and of three other children who are hurting because of this separation. Being a mother means I will be flexible, selfless, creative, resilient, loving and constant. I have to be that for everyone, in a whole new landscape. I’ll let you know how it goes.

But in the mean time, I’d like to apologize to all those other mothers who may once have been a victim of my unthinking, quick judgments. Being a parent is about the BEING part. It’s a choice that manifests as an action, and is steady and never ending. …no matter where your kid is.

27 comments:

  1. i love when a new day brings a new perspective. this is beautifully written shannon and i hope it is still in web-land for her to see what you did emotionally for her in accepting things that she helped choose; in her honor. did that make sense?
    dont doubt yourself. you are doing it right.. well.. all but that left wing training on your kids you do. ;) (KIDDING)

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  2. Aww, Shannon. You're an awesome mom. I'm sorry the court said she gets to stay at her dad's house. I could go on and on about the idiocy of that, but it won't do any good. I'm always here if you need to talk. And I'm sure you'll find many ways to stay connected with her, and at some point, she'll appreciate it. (((hugs)))
    ~Shannon M.

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  3. beautiful. just beautiful. once again you awe me with your understanding and that amazing unconditional love you shower on ALL of your children.

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  4. I've always had a lot of respect for you as a parent. You put your children first and have always been willing to revaluate the decisions you make for your kids. I'm sorry to hear that you're having troubles with the courts about custody, that sucks. Transistions like this always take time to settle. I have no doubt that you will find the best way to be very present in your daughter's life regardless of the distance or court rulings standing in your way. I know she looks up to you Shannon, how could she not?

    You're still a better mother than the other non-custodial mother I know, and most of what I know about single-parenting you taught me.

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  5. Shannon, you express yourself so well.

    A few years ago, I realized that it seems like any "I'll never (fill in the blank)" is followed by God's saying "Hmmmm, you won't, huh?". :) I KNOW that's not necessarily truth but it works along the "jinxing" line.

    I do NOT diminish what you're going through at all.. I read the paragraph that started "it seems pretty cruel that I still have to get up every morning and engage" .. and thought, HEY, I feel that.. Of course I do, I'm a "non-custodial parent" too! And amongst the hardest part of my last year on that journey has been exactly this: "I am still a mother, of her and of three other children who are hurting because of this separation. Being a mother means I will be flexible, selfless, creative, resilient, loving and constant. I have to be that for everyone, in a whole new landscape."

    New landscape, even dessert wilderness (as you KNOW) has it's own beauty. You'll figure it out. Amazingly so, as always!!!

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  6. Wow! Reading this I felt like I was reading my own life story. I have been a non-custodial Mama for almost 12 years now, my son turns 18 in a few months and its been a crazy journey.

    Your words describing what it means to be a mother rwally resonate with me as I deal with a son who is a HS senior 1100 miles away...it woould be a difficult time if we were in the same house but its made harder knowing he is literally taking steps to a new stage in life (college) and I am not there to witness it daily though we are close and in constant contact.

    Sorry for babbling but its only in the past year or so have I discovered other non-custodial Mamas online. When I started this journey over a decade ago, it was a lonely time.

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  7. Just amazing. I had tears in my eyes reading this because I honestly (and naively) thought I was the only one who thought about such things, like the pimples. I see my daughters and want to be the one who reminds her to wash her face every night. But I'm not. I took her bra shopping and wanted to cry because she had grown two sizes since the last time. I'm not there when my son learns a new guitar chord or a new trick on his bicycle. My kids live 12 hours away, since HE decided to move out of state. I get them for months at a time, but the months they are gone feel like I'm being swallowed alive, and so much happens. And it's those months I get the questions: "Why aren't they here with you? What kind of mother are you? What happened to your motherly instinct? WHAT DID YOU DO?"

    I made the best decision I could in the interest of my children's quality of life, but no one ever understands that. Not only do I suffer without my children, I suffer at the silent or not so silent judgements of others.

    I talk with my kids almost every night. They do call me to tell me what's new, my son will put the phone on speaker and play his new chords. We sent silly cat pictures to each other, or even watch the same tv shows while we are on the phone so we can laugh at them together. No one else sees that, but it's the best we can do. I really appreciated reading this and not feeling so alone. Thank you!

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  8. I've been non-custodial for a little over a year. Women like us are forging a new definition of motherhood — I continually challenge my old ideas of what it is to be a mother since embarking on this journey. I love that you're focusing on the MOTHER aspect rather than the sense of lack, which is so easy to fall into. Your daughter has a wonderful role model in you.

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  9. great piece - totally reflects my situation. Unwilling non-custodial mother with other children who get to live with me .... just not one of my daughters and my son. It's all true, I tell my kids all the time, I'm not there but I'm still HERE

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  10. Wow. I just found this entry. It is the holiday season and I haven't had custody of my daughters for over 10 years. Their father makes every visit as short as possible and plans all sorts of other "more exciting" things for them to do than visit with me. My heart is broken. I tried, initially, to move on with my life, while still being an every-other-weekend mom. I did ok for several years, maintaining a full-time job and going back to school. However, it is getting harder and harder, as they seem to be getting more and more distant, despite the fact that I never miss a visit and I call and email and send cards. Nothing that I do ever seems good enough, or as good as their father's family. At least I see that I'm not the only mother going through this situation. I feel like I'm on the edge of either giving up, or re-energizing my efforts. Thanks for this entry.

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  11. Don't ever give up! I was taking a break and came across this blog. I too am a non custodial mother and it is HARD! I have returned to school and work part time. My journey has been painful, but it is places like this blog that help a mothers broken heart to go on. I was the primary caregiver to all five of my children. Two are adults now and the younger three teenagers. I have been the non custodial parent now for almost a year. I would love to share my story, however, it will have to be another time. I just wanted to say thank you to Shannon for your courage to share on behalf of all non custodial mothers, and to the other moms who have posted a comment, you are stronger than you think you are! Lets keep this going..... keep sharing, supporting, laughing, crying, praying, yelling, screaming, venting........ what ever you have to do....why not do it with us!

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  12. Okay Shannon.... I just took a moment to look at your profile and WOW...I think we may have alot in common. I am a Taurus, Do you love cats? All five of my children have cats and cats and cats..... I see you live in Texas. My oldest daughter lives in Dallas. She is an amazing writer and has her own blog. I think you would enjoy it.... www.thehappymeals.blogspot.com I am excited about your blog and will check it daily. LETS KEEP THIS GOING! I have to scoot, or I would write more. You will find I love to write as well! Bella.

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  13. I will say that you have written down most of the emotions I feel everyday. I want to wear a t-shirt that says I AM NOT A CRIMINAl. This situation makes me feel like I have done something wrong,but I have never done so. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to see my daughter. I am educated, I am a professor, I have 3 of her siblings in my custody. The father doesnt work with me, in fact he moved with her 9 hours away. I have gone to mediation to fix the issues, but the drive ends up empty handed because he wont show up. Thank you for putting your emotions, my emotions on this blog. You are very strong

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  14. Very well written and close to home. It is so comforting to know there are others going through the same thing.

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  15. I live the same life. I'm sorry for your pain, as I know it can be painful beyond belief. Incomprehensible at times. Courts make decisions that don't make sense. Kids and parents suffer. I'm not sure what to do or how to handle things at times, other than just try my best and let my son know how much I love him, and always will love him. I hope he can forgive me someday for moving away for my own job security.

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  16. I lost all three of my children, I am not a drug addict, alcoholic, nor a bad mother. I have PTS due to the childrens father beating me for years. I took up the slack, worked, and took care of the kids, while he played games on internet-enjoy your other children. You are lucky that you still share in their joy, god bless you and your daughter- she will be back at 18-as mine will be- til then I cry.

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  17. Your post just made me completely break down & bawl. It's so nice to know that I'm not alone. I have five kids. One lives 2,839 miles away. I am not, nor ever have been, a user. I did not abandon her. I fought for three years through a court system that failed. My other children miss her. She misses us. Nobody except another non-custodial mother (who wants their child) can possibly understand what we go through. I am counting the days until she is old enough to make a decision about where she wants to be. (Only 10 more years to go.)

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  18. hi, i just found this site. and it was a relief to know im not alone. i am not a noncustodial parent just yet....but i will be soon. and it hurts.i raised my son w/ out his father for 10yrs then he decided in the last 2 yrs to be in my sons life. my son has mental disabilities, from issues that happen when he was 4 months old. My son is VERY strong and can now beat me up. so i have decided to allow his father to take care of him for at least 1 yr. just to see what happens.and to those yes, my son has been to doctors on LOTS meds, been in institutions,the amount of help and things we have tried is unreal. My son doesnt seem to act out w/ his father. i am manly concerned of what will happen to my son when he gets older.is why i am making this choice. there is so much more to this story. but i just wanted to say THANK YOU for making up this blog. because my life is about to change in ways id never thought.... and it is very upsetting. BUT great to read that im not alone.

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  19. We noncustodial moms must stick together and let others know our story. When I meet new people and they look at me accusatory, I simply say at the time, it was in the best interest of the children. My dilemma now is that my ex-husband is getting divorced again while deployed, so the minor children are staying with a relative who they are familiar with and love. I am in constant contact and offering support. Ironically, the soon to be second ex-wife called me to compare notes if you will. My immediate reaction was one of pure heart filled sorrow for her as in the beginning, my ex had her believing that I had abandoned him and the kids which is not the case. He a good father and a good provider. At any rate, the world needs to know we are not dope addicted, uncaring and unfit mothers. We are mothers who have put the children's best interest first and made the ultimate sacrifice!

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  20. I Am a non-custodial mother, I am so sorry to hear these different stories about other non-custodial mom's who were baited into the legal system of family Court hell. It is not easy for any of us at all. I cannot believe that it has been over 10 years that my babies were used by the legal system to abuse and disrupt their authority based on money hungry lawyers and a abusive ex my children have no idea who I am, or what I did to protect them from harm. It's terrible how I was taught in schools, at home and even television to protect your self and your family from harm and yet none of these collected ideas are true. Abusers are winning custody, absent parents are taking custody, and the family Courts around our nation are going against well intentioned mother's who in good faith have a duty to protect and defend their children are being beaten and re-victimized by these so called experts with one thing on their minds MONEY! Stupidity and ignorance has entered the memories of our lives and the true victims are our children. As they grow up and become of legal age a whole new set of problems begin. Brainwashing by the vindictive ex, humiliation by the ex, the 18 year Olds no longer feel anything for the loving and caring parent. The boyfriend or girlfriend becomes more important than the mother that spent countless hours trying to take care of them, breastfeeding them, losing sleep over any cry or need that their children had. The lack of interest I see with my own situation is a grueling torment of deep sadness that has countless hours of pain and suffering all because a judgement was made against me and my children's life of hell began with their abuser. No one in the DC cares about anyone else's children nor do they care about what you as a caring, loving and devoted mother has done to protect your children, their privacy and security. They make a decision in a short afternoon, wait for a response and forget that the loving mother ever existed. These custodial father's are being given more leverage in the FC& the articles I read continue to provide false statements regarding custody of children.

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  21. Young girl's need to know about the Family Courts Father's rights movement, they need to learn early that not everyone can be trusted in the legal system, and if they put there bodies through pregnancy, labor and breastfeeding that the father of that baby has equal rights to their child and can seek custody even if he is an abuser, a liar, a cheater, a theif, and even a child molester. Reported Sexual abuse cases in divorce is disputed by the abuser using Partenal Alienation Syndrome, to make a good mother look bad, as if she is the evil over-the-top witch that is trying to interfere with the children's father. It's digusting how these men are using FC to protect themselves from ever being convicted, or even formally charge with these crimes against their children. I am so angry that women. Lawyer's and Lawyers that are mother's themselves have taken these types of cases to defend these unspeakable human beings. My children are at risk everyday while they are in the custody of their father and thanks to the corruption in these so called Family Courts, he is allowed to leave to any state with them, has disappeared with them, and according to the court documents I am on supervised visitation because I chose to protect my children from him and on top that I am required to pay him to abuse, abandon and humiliate my children on a daily basis. The Family Courts need to change their name to courts of intrusion. They intruded our our most personal and private lives. They harm children in every way because divorce with no issues of abuse of children is harmful enough and then to allow perpetrators to abuse their children everyday is far more damaging without the loving and caring parent to be their to protect their emotional, physical and social well being should be a crime punishable to the fullest extent of the law. My heart goes out to all the mother's who are in my situation and I only hope that soon this criminal act of in justice can be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law for all of out children's safety.

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  22. The worst experience in the world, :(( Both mother and child.

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  23. I just typed a novel and it deleted...it doesn't matter, I am glad you are all here. I feel so alone. I have no other children and they have 4 including my daughter. She is only 6. I know she knows I love her. But shes 6 hours away. I fought for 6 years. Theyre very very wealthy and I'm bankrupt. I try calling repeatedly but they don't answer. Its been 1 year and 27 days. Last year was bad, I dove into depression and let everything go. This year I think I'll do better...but how do I do this? I crave for her soft hands, her giggle and smile, her energy that NEVER ends. I long for her intelligent statements that blow me away and her kindness and politeness towards everyone. My bugs, my angel...I feel dead

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  24. This is the first time my attention has been grabbed from a ncp blog or web page. I have read many comments and I have to say I am A follower now. Thank you Shannon. I will not let my label of a non custodial mother determine my awesome parenting

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  25. Best advice is to fight hard to still be involved and the children will see despite what the dad fills their head with that you do care. Your time will come whrn hey realise that and want to live with you.

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