After the divorce, I was choked with guilt, tormented by public condemnation. I pretended that everything was fine: during the day I played with my daughter, and at night I howled into the pillow. A year later, I found myself at the bottom of depression and started therapy. Three years later, I finished therapy and promised myself that I would write an article about this experience. For two more years, I watched our family and searched for words. And finally, I’m ready to tell.
Deal with guilt
After the divorce of parents, only a few children remain with their fathers. This is due to the patriarchal view that women are more competent in parenting. In judicial practice, the decision to leave the children with the father can only be due to the fact that the mother is “problematic”: she does not have a permanent income, she is negligent in raising children, she has an alcohol or drug addiction, a psychiatric diagnosis. Unfortunately, the conscious decision of the spouses to leave the children with the father, even in 2022, is considered a strange and suspicious whim.
In the first months after the divorce, I did not allow myself negative emotions. I sincerely tried to keep the family in harmony, talked a lot with the child and pretended to feel fine. But what really plagued me was repressed guilt and shame. When I found the strength to turn to a psychotherapist, he prescribed mild antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy for me. We formulated two theses, which I repeated over and over again when emotions went off scale:
1) Yes, things have changed. Yes, I no longer fall under the image of a “good mother” accepted in society.
2) No, I do not become a bad mother from this. I continue to love my child and will be able to find new forms of communication with him. I will continue to take care of him, I will be there, I will give support and love. It’s the 21st century, and I can definitely handle it.
The second problem is public stigma. After moving to , I felt tempted to just keep silent about the fact that I have a son in another city. But it seems like a betrayal! Therefore, always – at work, in the kindergarten, on the playground – I clarified: there are two children, the son lives with his father after the divorce. And every time I heard in response: “Well, it’s necessary! How could you do such a thing!”
My ex-husband and I discussed this situation as a very clear manifestation of inequality and sexism in society. It would seem that we are in equal positions: each of us is a parent who lives with only one of his children. But people around us treat us completely differently.
Sometimes there is no condemnation behind this question. Many people have not experienced this before, so if you have the strength and desire, you can sincerely talk about the position of your family. It was this approach that helped me cope with excessive attention. I formulated the main theses for the answer:
- This is our joint conscious decision with my husband.
- In a situation “both children stay with one parent”, the second parent would inevitably be offended and unhappy, and this is how we maintain a balance and do not spoil the relationship.
- We asked our son, and he, after thinking, replied that he wanted to stay with his dad in his city.
- My ex-husband is a good dad, he has a strong attachment to his son. I trust him.
- I remain a good mother to my son, we regularly see each other and call each other, I am aware of his successes and difficulties, I help with studies, clothes and so on.
I tried to regain my confidence and put myself in a strong position. Not “it happened”, not “the court made a decision”, but “we decided so, and we are sure that this is for the benefit of the child.”
Redefine your values in motherhood
After we divorced, I moved to another city, but for another year I tried to control life in the ex-husband’s house. We constantly quarreled, and I was unhappy with everything, including the behavior of the child. I seemed to have lost my bearings and wasted precious time on reproaches and quarrels.
One day I asked myself: “What do you want? You have so little time and would you really waste it swearing about untrimmed nails?” It became clear that my new format of motherhood required new values, and I deduced my own rules for the “Sunday mom”:
- Appreciate the time. Yes, now my son and I spend much less time together. But little is better than nothing. Three days spent actively and interestingly together can be more valuable than a month when parents and children live together but only meet for dinner.
- Don’t criticize, but help. It happens that in the life of my son something is done wrong (he grew out of shirts, there are not enough sports, he can’t learn the topic of “The World Around The World”). In this case, criticism does not change the situation, but only angers. If I can help, I help (buy other things, join circles, look for a way to explain a topic). If I can’t help, I just leave it as it is, without accusations like “you can’t do it.”
- Not to teach, but to love. Since our time together with my son has become very valuable, now I want to spend it on the most, most important things. For me, the most important thing is to show love. In our case, the father will teach his son how to use a knife and fork and tidy up the closet, but he will not be able to teach him to speak tender words, come up with funny nicknames, touch like a mother, joke and dance like a mother. Love like a mother. Only I can do this.
Try new forms and ways to communicate with your child
Now my son is ten years old. As a family, we call each other about once a week and discuss cartoons, videos about higher mathematics and memes about cats for half an hour. The son can write to me and ask me to order food or groceries if he is tired. Twice a year my daughter and I come to Yekaterinburg to spend a few weeks together. But this comfortable regime was not formed immediately.
At first, because of guilt, I tried to be around as often as possible, flying to a different city every month. Then, relying on the saying “the main thing is not quantity, but quality,” she tried to make our meetings with her son overly eventful and festive. But gradually our relations harmonized. Here’s what helped us.
Have fun together
Feelings of guilt and loss can be very strong, especially at first. I had periods when I did not have the strength to spend a lot of time with the child. In this case, simple children’s entertainment helped us, since there are many of them in the modern city. To spend a few hours together, my son and I went to the park of designers, to the cinema, to trampolines, to the zoo, to the rope park. We rode bicycles, looked at the children’s railway and simply rode trams around the city. In such trips and trips, you can find new topics for conversation, get new impressions and learn something unusual about each other.
Take away for a while
When the heavy emotions subsided, I was able to take the child to my city once every two months for 5-7 days. This gave him the opportunity to see a different lifestyle than his father, to visit interesting places, communicate with relatives and with his younger sister, who sometimes misses his brother.
Phone calls and video calls
Our son was homeschooled until the fourth grade, so he only got his first phone at the age of nine. Before that, to talk to the child, I had to call my ex-husband. Sometimes this is inconvenient. Firstly, you don’t always want to communicate with your ex-spouse. Secondly, it is often not clear what to talk about with your son. A simple question “How are you?” often confuses the preschooler. Therefore, it was important for me to learn to ask more specific questions that the child would be really interested in answering. How do you feel today? What is your mood right now? What do you see from the window, what is the weather like? What game have you been playing lately? What food have you enjoyed recently? What cartoon would you like to see?
Now my son calls me himself to tell me about the YouTube videos he has watched, or about the games, or just to chat about “nothing”. Honestly, I don’t always understand or are interested in what he talks about – for example, he loves mathematical puzzles, but I don’t understand anything about them. But I always listen and ask questions. We also play games on the phone: in cities, in words or in “danetki”. And sometimes he just calls me and shows in video mode how he does something, for example, draws diagrams or graphs. It is not even what you are talking about that is important here, but the very fact of closeness and communication.
Often I think it was my desire to be free that hurt my son. That he will reproach me when he grows up. But growing up is traumatic in itself. No matter how good a parent you are, your child will still find something to tell his therapist. Therefore, I humble myself and try to choose words right now in order to tell about the reasons for my decisions in the future.
In order not to lose and not forget these words, I keep a diary book for my son. In fact, I lead two – one for my son, the other for my daughter. In them, I tell at what point and why changes took place in our lives: how their father and I fell in love, how good we were together, why we decided to leave, why we are in different cities.
I believe that a good parent is one whom the child trusts. Therefore, I try to behave with children responsibly and openly. I’m not afraid to talk about my feelings: about how I worry, how I miss you. Let my children know that there is no shame in discussing emotions and thoughts, that trust is wonderful.
I’m definitely not the mother of the year. But I am an honest and sincere mother.