Recently I heard from a relative that one of her childhood friends had ‘disappeared’ and effectively abandoned her children (a pair of boy and girl twins aged 5) to the care of their father. I will call her Ashley*. I didn’t know Ashley personally but I knew of her from my relative, who, along with her sister, is a godmother to the twins. I was told when her twins were born. I was given sporadic updates on how they were doing. I always inquired how Ashley was doing, but everyone thought she seemed fine. Her friends were always ready to lend a hand with babysitting as her family was not nearby. Ashley was one of the first of her friends to get married and become a mother and the fact she had a set of twins while still in her early twenties was a novelty to all her friends, most of whom she knew from her childhood.
Apparently, Ashley upped and left her family one day about 2 years ago, when her twins were about two and half years old. She could not be reached or contacted by anyone. Up until today, no one knows where she is or where she is living. My relative assumes she’s living with friends and doing drugs. She used drugs before she became pregnant. I found out in the same conversation Ashley herself had been abandoned by her own parents when she was 12 years old. After her parents divorced, her father moved back to his country of origin. Her mother met another man out of state, got married and moved in with him and decided to not bring her daughter along. She has barely seen or spoken to her parents since. From the ages of 12 to 18, she lived with the family of her best friend.
Through the various ‘updates’ I get about Ashley, I also know her marriage was less-than-happy. Prior to her becoming a mother, she had no college degree or established career and she was working as a barista. Her husband had a stable job and was able to support them all. After her children were born, she had no career or job to go back to and so she was thrust into the role of being a full-time mother, probably against her choice. After all, she couldn’t justify putting her children in daycare on a barista’s wages. So, she was effectively stuck in the house, with two screaming children and alone most times. Because her marriage was fraught, the couple avoided each other, which means all of the childcare fell on her. Her husband, by all accounts, had checked out and detached himself from his young family. He brought home the bacon and kept a roof over their heads and that was about it. And one day she snapped and left without telling anyone where she was going. All her friends were shocked but when they came to, they really weren’t that surprised, after all, that’s what her parents did to her. She’s simply repeating a vicious pattern. It’s all she knows to do.
As my relative was telling us this story, some listeners were pouring scorn on this mother for abandoning her children. I said ‘this girl needs help. She needs help with coping skills. She needs to turn this ship around before it’s too late.’ Someone in the conversation retorted, ‘how do you help someone like that? Someone who abandoned her own children?’ I hear the judgement in the tone of the voice and I chose to not engage.
I learned this over a week ago. This reel of this story is still playing in my head.
I don’t know Ashley, but from I know of her, up until she left her children behind, she was a struggling but caring mother. She was young but tried her very best to be a good mother under very trying emotional circumstances. Since her mother went AWOL on her, the one person she could turn to for support is not available. Her husband was uninvolved and she tried to cope with that the best she could. She often told my relative that she felt trapped in her marriage and in her situation. She has nothing to fall back on and nowhere to go with her twins.
This is the dark side of motherhood that no one wants to talk about. The universally taboo subject of a mother abandoning her duties, her most fundamental duty which is to care for her children in favor of her own selfish desires and needs. With all the mom-nazis and breastapo on the blogosphere, dictating to everyone out there how a child should be raised, no one dares to express the opposite view for fear of judgement from these self-appointed parenting experts.
The narrative usually goes something like this: Parenting is hard, it requires a lot of self-sacrifice, to the point of martyrdom, BUT I’d never trade it for anything else. My children mean the whole world to me. All of this sacrifice will become worth it once they grow up to be amazing people. All the time I muddled through the day in a haze of sleep-deprivation, physical and mental exhaustion, not to mention putting my own desires, goals and dreams on hold to tend to my baby will all be worth it is simply not true. To some women, it is not worth it. It will never be worth it. And it’s got nothing to do with love. Don’t believe me? Google the words ‘I hate being a parent’ and see what comes up.
If you ask any mother if they love their children, in the abstract sense, the answer will almost always be ‘yes, of course’. But love in the abstract sense does not always translate to the ability to care for the child. It does not always translate to having the ability to cope with child rearing and all that it entails. A woman’s best years are also her childbearing years. Having a child for most women, will almost always, delay, derail and in some cases, forever defer her own dreams and goals. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact of life. For a woman to resume her life and career where she left it off pre-baby will take a whole support system which most women do not have.
The simple fact is, not everyone is cut out to become mothers. Some women are more self-aware than others, but most women know if they are the mommy-type fairly early on. And those who aren’t mommy-types, please, for your own sake, do not cave into any pressure to have children. And get really good birth control. There’s no going back after a child is born. Your life will veer between feeling guilty for wanting to chuck it all in and run back to your old life and bitter resentment at your children for taking up all of your life now.
Some women are just better at coping with the frustration that comes with parenting. And some women are more suited for the domestic drudgery that comes with mothering than others. Some women find domestic work healing and nurturing. Some find it a near impossible grind and feel they become dumber with every load of dishes and laundry they wash. Most mothers are in between these two extremes.
I very much wanted to be a mother from a young age. I never thought about my ability of being a mother but I thought I would ‘figure it out’ as I went along. And it was an issue I wasn’t going to force, I was going to let it happen naturally. Meaning, I wasn’t going to marry a man for the sole purpose of procreating. I knew I didn’t want to be a young mother and I wanted to work, carve out a career for myself before I crawl into the cave this is known as motherhood. I had both of my children in my thirties. They were planned and I was ecstatic. I love being a mother. Most of the time. Some days I hate it and I don’t apologize for it nor do I feel guilty for it. After all, my children will probably never feel guilty for giving me such a hard time, I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for dreading the task of looking after them day in and day out. And I do it regardless if I feel like it or not.
After I had my second child, the decision was made I would stay home with my children full time until they are of school age. It’s been two years since I became a full time mother and four years since I became a mother. I prepared myself for how hard it was going to be but I was wrong in the areas in which it would be hard. I found myself mourning the things I didn’t think I would miss. Such as having hours to myself to read, or blaring my favorite music in the house, which are not child appropriate. I missed having my own paycheck even though it wasn’t a huge amount but it was mine. To be almost 35 and ask your spouse for money is not a place I ever imagined myself being in and at this moment, I am working hard to address that particular irritation.
I feel my brain rotting a bit each time I hear ‘Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round’. Leaving the house to go anywhere with the children makes me just want to stay home because the thought of packing all of their paraphernalia is exhausting. I fancied myself as the mom who lugged her kids everywhere so I can be ‘involved’ in their lives. I can’t even be bothered to leave the house. All of this ‘extra time’ I imagined where I can write, read and learn a new language while I stayed at home with my kids is all but a fantasy. Any time I am not doing any chores I am too tired to do much else. Having said all this, I know it’s temporary. And it seems like eons away but I know they will grow up one day sooner than I like and not need me so much and all of that free time I want will be back. However, a young mother with poor coping skills will not appreciate this fact. She can’t see further than today and it’s just the same as yesterday. One long slog of wiping their noses, picking up after them, loads and loads of washing and a perennially unkept house. Sometimes, that is just too much.
So, back to Ashley, if she had a mother around to tell her that, this too shall pass. When your children are in school, sooner than you wish, you will have time to yourself again. You will be you again before you were up to your eyeballs with diapers and snot. But her mother abandoned her when the going got tough and when a new guy presented her a better life she ran. The thing is, Ashley will probably one day realize this is one of the worst things she’s ever done and she’s inflicted the same pain her mother did on her children and it will be too late to do anything about it. Right now her children are only 5, if she returns to them, even on a part time basis, she can minimize the damage.
Ashley’s children are fine. Ironically, after she left her children, her husband totally stepped up to the plate. He completely re-organized his life to accommodate his children. So, he is capable of childrearing after all and it took his wife walking out on them for him to step up to the plate. I am not blaming him for her departure and abandonment of her responsibilities but that he had a role in it.
*Not her real name.