On Being A Non Custodial Mum
Separation is hard, but for no one is it harder than for kids. When DH and I realised us just wasn't working for us and I moved out, our main concern was for Baby G, who is four now, well past toddlerhood but still young enough to accept whatever is going on. So we thrashed around various shared parenting arrangements, but what it came down to for various complicated reasons was that I could either have primary custody of G during the week, or I could stay at uni. Deciding to do what is better for my son in the long run - me in a stable and reasonably paid career rather than bouncing between call centre jobs forever - rather than what is easy in the short term, I decided to stay at uni whilst G stays with his Dad during the week, and stays with me on the weekends; after I graduate, in a couple years, he will live with me. I know he is safe and being well looked after. But I've become that creature anathema to society; the non custodial mother.
We've grown away from the idea that only a mother can provide proper care for her young child, but still, it seems unnatural somehow. I carried him for nine and a bit months, breastfed him for another sixteen, and now I don't see him for days at a time. I'm not there to cook him meals, bathe him, tuck him in and kiss him goodnight. Sometimes it's just about okay. Others I don't cope very well at all; I cry in lecture theatres, on the train, when I hand him over to his Dad, when I see his favourite foods at the shops and think no need to stock up.
And I don't know where I fit in. Where are the support groups for the weekend mums? There's still such a norm of the single mum that if you don't have primary custody as a mother, there must be some issue - substance use, mental health, being an unmaternal bitch. When I explain that my kid doesn't live with me during the week, the response is usually a baffled "why?" which makes me disinclined to open up to people.
Can I even call myself a single mum? It's common, on the internet, when a partnered woman left alone whilst her partner travels complains of "feeling like a single mum" for actual single mums to retort "you are not a single mum. I have to do this all on my own, always, there's never anyone to share it with." When I hear this, I sometimes have to suppress an urge to say "at least you have your kids. I'm not there to soothe my child's nightmares or kiss his boo boos. Yes constant care is hard, but there's an aching gape in my soul almost all the time". And by this definition I'm not a single mum. All the parenting is shared, and I'm not doing most of it.
I don't know anyone else in my situation. There's no support group along the lines of Dads in Distress. And when you hear "men's rights advocates" whinging about a misandric court system handing custody to women, you hate even them more than you already did, and you didn't even think that was possible.
And whilst all this is going on, I'm also mourning the end of my marriage.
I try to keep focused, keep my eyes on the prize - that damn degree that represents financial security for me and G. Finally. Days when I'm tempted to drop out to spend time with my kid, I know I have to keep going. None of this is how I would have chosen or imagined life turning out, but there is much joy in my life when we are together. But much sadness too, and a sadness I can't share; unless you're reading this and in the same situation, in which case please drop me a line in the comments, I'd love to talk to you.