From all I’ve read – quite a bit – about being a non-custodial Mom, I’m supposed to revel in being a mother apart. I’m supposed to be gloriously independent. A Goddess, one website told me.
I am not gloriously independent. I do not revel in being a mother apart. When I hear of other parents who don’t see their kids I stare at the storyteller like they are an alien. I hide it well in public, but secretly I hate being “parent of secondary residence” as it’s called in New Jersey.
I think even before I filed for divorce I knew that I wouldn’t be custodial parent. I considered my earning power against my (then) mortgage and the fact that my son needed the school system and the house he was in.
I hated the decision when I made it. I knew it was for the best even then. Autism was the primary reason, but in reality it was more than just that. All of my reasons for giving up primary residential custody are still perfectly valid and still perfectly heartbreaking.
No truly good mother voluntarily gives up custody of their kid, I remember thinking at the time. Could I do it? Could I be an effective mom from 2 towns and 1 NJ county away?
Could I live with the guilt? Could I live without my kid?
I don’t know what I thought non-custodianship would be like. Somehow I thought it meant I would continue to be day-to-day Mom just not with my son living with me. It didn’t turn out quite that way. TheEx is a good guy, but non-custodial means you can’t, by definition, be there for the day to day. “Living separate and apart,” the words in my divorce decree, mean just that. You need to give the other person breathing room from time to time.
There was also a lot of empty time in my life. Time I wasn’t comfortable actually living in. I didn’t feel I had the right to actually live, despite what all the books said. I was a mom. I was supposed to be mom-ing, not doing anything with the copious amount of free time I suddenly found I had because I wasn’t.
Moving to Boston Metro for a job that paid child support didn’t help. I had a new job that required long hours, a new house that required unpacking, organizing, decorating, planning, and I was living with my best friend and husband who is a constant intellectual chatterbox. I still had time. I had more time than I ever needed or wanted to have. Time I felt, and still feel, I should be using to actually Mom.
Building a Life Apart
In my fantasies, I am there. I am residential custodian. I am chief cook and bottle washer. I get to attend parent teacher conferences live and in person. I get to pack lunches and make beds, and fight homework battles. In reality, I’ve had to find things to fill what I call the parent-gap. My career plays a large part in that. I am guilty of choosing a job that requires long hours and little time, during the day, to think about much more than work. Read Actively, my freelance writing business, is no mistake. It takes long hours as well. I will tell you that I like role playing games – classic Dungeons and Dragons-type table top role playing games because they require creative and critical thinking and thus keep my mind and my writing sharp. Really, I’m just whiling away time on weekends with them. The same goes, I suppose, for my gym membership.
All of these things on the surface appear to demonstrate I have a life apart from my son. Really, they are and always have been just anchors, keeping me in Boston when I need to be, keeping the miles off my car so it is there to travel when I need it to be.
I recently decided that maybe – just maybe – I could be allowed to have a life as a non-residential Mom.
Not just live.
Not immerse myself in my dream job for 10 hours each day to avoid missing my son.
Not just engage in hobbies to take my mind off the pervasive feeling that I should be somewhere else.
Actually have a life.
I think I could. My son is 18 now and soon will go into peer assisted living. He doesn’t need me there every month. He doesn’t always answer the phone or FaceTime when I call. He doesn’t sit like he used to with me on video chat while he works on the computer or watches a movie and talk to me for long stretches.
So maybe I could allow myself to enjoy some of this so called “glorious independence.”
Maybe I could attempt to find my inner Goddess.
Nah… Good mothers don’t do those things.