Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mothers who leave

Mothers who leave their children. This is still a taboo in our society. Certainly it is more acceptable for a man to leave his family than for a woman.

There is controversy about this in the US at the moment due to this story by the writer, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto.

Remember in The Hours the character played by Julianne Moore who left her husband and child? I read a reviewer say twice that she left because she liked to read books. That comment made me angry about the reviewer’s lack of understanding.

I've lived in a lot of share houses and three of my flat mates, at different times, have been mothers who left their children. One left to pursue music, and two to pursue visual arts. Neither had much contact with their kids. They'd all put a lot of distance between them. They basically drew a line under the mothering part of their lives and started again. All were on the dole. One was in love with another man, but wasn't with him. She did eventually, and after some dramas, end up with him.

At the time it made me ask if a creative life is really so incompatible with mothering? (The answer is probably yes.)

We all hear mothers say they have days when they feel like leaving, but they don't leave. It seems fathers can leave without too much disruption (or at least the mothers try to make it seem that way), but for a mother to leave is tantamount to willingly causing your children psychological stress that is irreparable.

Also, I've noticed that when fathers leave a single mother is expected to keep all the balls in the air: keep a clean house, pay the bills, and give the children every opportunity in life, all on her own. When a mother leaves, however, a single father receives sympathy, offers of help, and is applauded for putting food on the table regularly, but isn't expected to keep a clean house and remember what day is sports day.

I’ve thought about this over the last eleven years. The most vocal people I’ve found on the topic are grown children of mothers who have left. I’ve known women who haven’t had children themselves, and talk, with great sadness and some confusion, about their own mother leaving. One told me her mother left the day her father came back from the war. Especially in situations where the mother left, repartnered, and went on to have another family, the leaving is personal.

Do you know any families in which the mother has left? What has become of the mother? Has she kept in contact with the family? How did everyone react? Have the kids coped? What is the story when a mother leaves her family?

Is it possible to know how you will feel as a mother before you do it? Yes, we give up something of ourselves, but for some people, it is too much. We rarely hear from the mothers. We rarely hear their side of the story. Surely leaving your kids isn't a step taken lightly?

What about when it isn't so simple as meeting another man or just wanting to have fun? For some mothers, isn't it a matter of survival? I’m not taking about mothers who have drug addictions or real mental health issues. I’m talking about normal, healthy mums who leave their children.

I understand a mother leaving her kids, but I don't understand leaving one family to start another. Is the new situation really so different from the old?

Perhaps some mums keep thinking that they'll get used to motherhood, but they never do. Maybe they feel that they're faking it, and their kids are better off without them. Maybe we have too narrow an acceptance of what a mother is and if you feel you don't fit the image, then you're not doing it right. Maybe we're too judgemental and have too many pressures on mums. I've not spoken to any mum who has left her family since I've become one (and I don't really remember asking the women I knew years ago). I'm just interested in finding out what mums are thinking when they leave, and what happens then.

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