I am not 100% comfortable in delving into all the details of my life on my blog, but I would feel fundamentally dishonest and remiss while writing and blogging about expanding the Feminist dialogue and growing the message and not sharing a few fundamentals as to why I am here in the first place.
I don't feel obliged to reveal all that is personal, but I think it's important discuss how the heteronormative patrirachical paradigm doesn't fit for us. I think it's real important. I have had my teeth kicked in a few times (metaphorically) when the personal and the political have converged in my life, but I am going to keep trying to find the balance because I believe in walking the walk and talking the talk.
I have two children. One daughter. One son. My daughter doesn't live with me full-time. Gasp! Shock! Horror! What? Who is this devil woman and what has she done to get her kid taken away? Gack! Non-custodial mothers aren't really welcomed with open arms into this society. We get instant judgement and very personal questions about our rights where our children are concerned. We are conditioned in our society to expect that all mothers live with their children and that if they don't, it must be for some horrible reason caused by the mother who is ultimately Not Good Enough. These women must not have the "mothering gene." They must have done something bad to not live with their children.
During the last election I was writing about why it was important to have adequate and accessible healthcare. I wrote about my daughter who has severe medical issues. I worried that I was sharing too much information, but I also trusted my 3 readers with this information because I had something to say about the personal being political. Now, I have something to say again about her. About me. About us. I love my daughter like a knife in the heart, it is both beautiful and terrible and without the emotional support of my wonderful husband, and our beautiful son, she and I might still be lost. I owe them both a lifetime of gratitude for loving me and loving her. Even though she only comes to us on the weekend. And those weekends are filled with managing her care.
My daughter has cerbral palsy and is quadrapalegic. She can't talk, walk, go to the bathroom, write her name, or say "Mama." And, that is the very tip top of the ice berg. I am just going to say that when I divorced my ex-husband 12 years ago (geez!) my daughter was living with me full time and going to see her dad on the the weekends. But, she had so many health concerns and then both my parents who were my main support got sick in the same year. Really sick. With MS, and heart failure, and they couldn't help me anymore. Just like that. I had no one. Her home caregivers would quit without notice. I missed a lot of work due to doctor appointments, hospitalizations, and no child care, and I was always on warnings at my job because even though my employer knew of my daughter's severe medical condition, I didn't qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act because I hadn't worked there for a whole year, and they were not about to concede that to me.
I felt like I was going crazy. I was emotionally and physically exhausted all the time. She had sleeping and eating problems. As in she threw up everything she ate and she wouldn't sleep. At all. She was five years-old, and I was rocking her for hours on end through the night. Every night. When she went to her dad's on the the weekend I would wake up all night thinking I heard her crying. I was feeling more than fragile. I was feeling hopeless as though our future would be only doctor appointments and sleeplessness. Forget trying to heal from the pain of divorce and hospitalized parents and keeping a job that was always in danger.
My ex-husband had more support from his family, including his new wife. My daughter went to live with him. She got a grant from his county for her wheelchair and walker. And, then she was registered for school in his town. I wanted to leave the Midwest. Her dad and I split custody. I left for Arizona to find us a new place to live and left her with her father so I could find my way back to being her mother and get a little bit of sleep. I came back after two agonizing months of guilt, shame, doubt, and missing her, and she was doing better and was going to school, and had more help based on her residency so she stayed with him. He had two more girls, and I got married and had the Kid, and 13 years later we're in a routine that seems to work for all of us.
Being a mother who doesn't live with her kid is beyond "NOT" easy. In hospitals nurses and doctors often talk to her stepmother first, her teachers don't remember that I share joint custody, and I have to explain to strangers often, without telling too much, why she doesn't live with me.
Katy Read writes in Brain, Child on "Mothering from Afar,"
“You can’t believe the discrimination and bias that people have toward you,” says Voichescu, who now carries around laminated copies of her custody papers wherever she goes. “It’s like you are an alien.”
Noncustodial mothers like Voichescu might feel like cultural oddities, but they are actually far from alone. There are about 2.2 million noncustodial mothers in the United States, according to the most recent U.S. Census records. The reasons women live apart from their children are many, of course, including a move, a job, family preference, a prison sentence, or a court order. Some noncustodial mothers live near their children; some live in different cities or states or countries (the last group includes women who come to the United States from other countries to work as nannies or maids in order to support children they’ve had to leave back home).
Some women retain the right to share physical custody of their children, even if they choose to live elsewhere and not exercise it. Some share legal custody—that is, they retain the right to make decisions on behalf of their children, even if they don’t live together. And some have neither.