Last year, I engaged an attorney to take on my ex-husband and fearless co-parent about an issue involving our son. It was the first time since our divorce I had ever felt like I needed to. Yes, co-parents argue from time to time. Yes, TheEx and I have our moments. Mostly we just lock horns and let things go because whatever we’re currently arguing about is not worth exposing our son to the argument.
This time it was important enough to me not to let it go.
The Mother Rogue, blog and podcast, is both an advocacy and sympathy site for non-custodial parents, long distance parents, and in particular, non-custodial Moms. Most people do not understand that living without your child is not something anyone does by choice. There’s also a social stigma around those of us who do live without our children.
I want to make people aware of the former and end the latter. I spent 14 years feeling that stigma, even from, for 9 of them, 2 states away. I never want anyone to feel the way I did. I never want anyone to go through what I did. Preferably, no non-custodial parent would make the mistakes I did.
Back to TheEx. Last July, I was honestly afraid to take TheEx on legally. The entire time I was doing so, I wanted to retreat. The something I was engaging a lawyer for was something I knew I could not retreat from. What the something was doesn’t matter. What did matter was that I was engaging in a legal argument with a man who knew how to press my buttons when I most needed to stay calm. The moment I lost my legendary temper, I would lose, no matter how right I was.
To keep your calm when you are fighting with someone, you have to understand why you care enough to have that fight in the first place. You have to know what is it about them that allows that person to dig under your skin and chew down to your last nerve.
When I hired that lawyer and pushed that one issue, to prepare for TheEx pressing all those buttons, I paused and asked myself that question. I stopped to consider how I felt – really felt – about being non-residential custodian.
I realized I never, in at the time 13 years, done so. I divorced. I remarried. I justified. I built a career to fill the gaps where I wasn’t being Mom. I told everyone I gave up custody because my son needed the home, school system, stability, and support system TheEx could provide and I could not. I went on and on about how I couldn’t afford a house in Bergen County, New Jersey (who can?), and my job as an editorial project manager that kept me at the office late hours. I stammered about how when I was getting divorced my newly diagnosed as autistic son (his choice to be called autistic vs. an individual with autism, I did ask), was in – at that time – a proactive school system while other parents of autistic individuals were hiring advocates.
I defended the WHAT. I never acknowledged the WHY.
So TheEx continued to get under my skin, and I continued to react. I still cared about him, I felt guilty for giving up custody, and I knew, somewhere deep within myself, I wasn’t being honest. I wasn’t wrong when I told people why I had given up residential custody, but I wasn’t entirely truthful about it.
The primary reason I gave up residential custody was because I knew I would be outspent in a custody battle. When you decide to fight for custody of a child, the courts order psychiatric evaluations. The courts get testimonies. There are motions, and mediations. Whoever has the most money to spend on the best lawyers, the best psychiatrists, on all those motions and mediations, often – not always but often – wins.
I didn’t have those kind of financial resources. TheEx did.
I also pictured a child, stuck in between 2 adults who both loved that child fiercely, each of us pulling on one of said child’s arms. I didn’t want that for my son. I wasn’t even willing to find out how much it would cost to fund a custody battle, because I did not want my son to go through one.
When I realized that, not only did I win the legal issue I was pressing, which benefited my son, but I started building a more constructive co-parenting relationship with TheEx.
My son has a happy life, and a successful one, and he enjoys 2 parents who are friends and can, even when they’re fighting, as we still do on occasion (Rome wasn’t built in a day or even 365 of them), be in a room together.
I have a lot of wasted emotional time to make up for. I wish I had stopped after my divorce, taken a beat, and looked at my feelings before I spent 14 years arguing with a man I still care about. I wish it had not taken me 14 years to acknowledge and let go of all of the real reasons why. I wish I had not been so self-righteous. I shouldn’t have wasted a second justifying who I am as a Mom, and make no mistake, I am a MOM. I am not just a biological mother. I am a Mom. I am connected to my son. Over the years I’ve learned that proximity is only one component of good parenting.
Don’t be me. 14 years is too long to live like I did. Take emotional stock now, and invest the time you save in your new partner, yourself, and your kids.
No matter how it is that you are a non-custodial parent, you are a parent. You are Mom. You are Dad. You are dedicated to your kid(s), and you are brilliant.
Long Beach, Littleton, MA