“I am the non-custodial, long-distance mother to a magical 9-year-old daughter. I belong to an unfortunate club of *2.5 million mothers in the US who do not live in the same homes as their children. We get by on 5-minute phone conversations, stuffed animals sent through the mail, weekends and summer vacations. We choke on disenfranchised grief. We carry the shame of a society who assumes we are unfit to parent or do not want our children at all.
“There exists an outdated, gender-biased conventional wisdom that asserts a woman’s primary purpose is to bear and nurture children, and that she ought to carry out this job in saintly fashion no matter what her circumstances. This sexist message is so ingrained in our culture, that any mother who does not have custody of her children is a deemed a derelict and immediately shunned.
“Unlike the nonchalance a non-custodial father experiences, a non-custodial mother meets with immediate disgust when she discloses that she is not the primary caregiver to her children. Her voice shakes and she braces for the sour look of disapproval, stunned silence, or an abrupt end to the conversation. There is an unspoken assumption that she must have done something terribly wrong. She is met with judgment, or, at best, a sort of morbid curiosity which will be addressed in whispers when she’s no longer in the room.
“The vast majority of us are not abusive, drug addicted, insane criminals. Most divorce-related custody decisions are made without the intercession of the courts. Why don’t we have custody? Some of us live with disabilities, or financial instability, or work jobs with odd hours; some made verbal agreements not honored by their ex-spouses; and, others chose to relinquish primary custody for their own private (and likely valid) reasons.
“Each of us are human beings who are coping with the loss of being separated from our children. Please stop adding insult to injury by perpetuating an absurd, gender-biased stereotype. Please, let’s stop shaming and ostracizing non-custodial mothers and aim for a realistic understanding of a complicated issue – if not a little compassion.”
*figure according to the United States census, 2012
A submission sent in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Sara LeeAnn Pryde
Editing credit: Harriet Evans