When mothers leave their children

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So I’m not married, nor do I have children. At the moment, I pretty much float around in a self-absorbed bubble that includes coffee, wine, Netflix and snacks. If there is one thing I do know, it is that I cannot predict the future. But I do hope that one day I am able produce some cute little mini-me minions (children). I would hope that I have a supportive, caring, handsome, 6-foot-tall-chiseled-Chris-Hemsworth-esque type husband but hey, as I said, I can’t predict the future.

But…what happens if my relationship doesn’t work out? What if I have children and then realise that I’m really not cut out for motherhood? What happens if I decide to abandon my children? Am I then a #terrible person? Or worse, a #terrible mother?!

For many mothers—perhaps more than we realise—a number of situations and circumstances could lead to a decision to leave their children. In today’s society, it is has become almost normal for the male/husband/father to be the one to leave. Research done in Australia suggests that in 2013-2013, 81% of one-parent families had single mothers. It certainly appears that no one bats an eyelid when the father leaves the family and his children, but if the mother does it’s, like, the WORST.THING.EVER.

So, why do some mothers choose to leave?

There are a range of reasons, situations and circumstances. Sometimes, the relationship between the parents is so toxic that it is adversely affecting the children and co-parenting just isn’t an option. Sometimes, mental illness may mean that a mother is unable to care for her children, therefore the best thing for her to do is too leave—for her safety and her children’s. And, sometimes, a mother is so unhappy with their life and herself that she makes a choice to leave.

Melissa Collins, a mother, chose to leave her children due to pure unhappiness. ‘I think I left for me. And that plagues me, I still deal with the grief and guilt on that’, she says. Melissa said that when she made the decision to leave her children she felt, ‘freedom and trauma all wrapped into one’. Melissa did everything she thought she was ‘supposed’ to do—partner, car, house, marriage, children—she fulfilled the roles she thought were expected. But she felt as if she wasn’t fulfilling her life and purpose and therefore made the decision to leave.

Many, if not all, mothers who choose to leave their children are faced with incredible judgment. And, more often than not, this judgment comes from other women. There is a particular belief embedded in society that a woman’s maternal bond to her children should be so strong she doesn’t even think to leave. ‘Selfish’ is a word that appears to crop up frequently with this issue. However, as author Kasey Edwards states: ‘That's the thing about motherhood: you have no idea what it's like until it's too late. You can read all the books you like, listen to the stories, gather advice but you cannot conceive the way motherhood can drain your physical and emotional energy until you feel like a shell of your former self’.

The other side of this issue falls, of course, with the children who are abandoned by their mothers. Anger. Pain. Loss. Sadness. These are all words used to describe the feelings that they have—even years after their mothers have left.

Teigan, now 24 years old, was abandoned by her mother at the age of four after her parents’ relationship broke down. Although Teigan did still see her mother from time to time as a child she said, ‘I felt quite abandoned by her. We never cuddled, there was nothing there’. Puberty and adolescence were particularly challenging for Teigan, ‘I was envious because people around me had a mum in their life’. It wasn’t until Teigan was in her late teens that she told her mother how she really felt about being abandoned. Teigan and her mother are working on rebuilding their relationship; ‘We are now in quite a good place, but it’s going to take time to have that [mother-daughter] relationship’.

This issue is certainly one that remains taboo. Mothers such as Melissa (mentioned above) have chosen to talk about their experiences in the hope that this issue will become more widely discussed and accepted. At the end of the day, each mother's situation and life is unique. And until we know their full story, we are in no position to judge.

I think it’s important that we think about changing the way society perceives mothers, and their expected roles. At the moment it seems that ‘…when a father leaves his kids it’s unfortunate. When a mother leave it’s a scandal’. So, let’s talk. Let’s understand.

You can here more of Melissa’s story, and other mothers in similar situations, by clicking here

ABBEY BRANDENBURG

Abbey Brandenburg