Lose your kids, find yourself

Rahna Reiko RizuttoSalon, the Woman’s Day of the Manhattan set, has a feature called Real Families, described on the site as “a personal-essay series that celebrates the surprising and ever-shifting nature of domestic life in the 21st century.”

“Surprise” is hardly the word for what I felt, though, when I came across an account of Salon’s latest “real life” in an article on Yahoo. It was, by turns, so depressing and exasperating, I hardly knew where to being writing about it.

The original story is headed, “Why I left my children”. Here is the gist of it.

“Rahna Reiko Rizzuto says that she never wanted to be a mother.”

Call me old-fashioned, but once you take Baby home from the maternity ward, it’s a little late for that sentiment, isn’t it?

"I had this idea that motherhood was this really all-encompassing thing," she explained on the Today Show.

Actually, it is -- unless you choose to opt out, after the fact.

Ten years ago, when her sons were 5 and 3, Rizzuto received a fellowship to spend six months in Japan, researching a book about the survivors of Hiroshima. Four months in, when her children came to visit, she had an epiphany: She didn't want to be a full-time mother anymore. When she returned to New York, she ended her 20-year marriage and chose not to be her kids' custodial parent.

Wow. I told my girls about this article, and my youngest, 6, almost started to cry. Rizzuto doesn’t say how her preschool sons reacted at the time of her epiphany (I can imagine), but she claims that they are now “fine”.

In fact, their relationship not only survived her leaving, but "has improved."

"I had to leave my children to find them," she writes “In my part-time motherhood, I get concentrated blocks of time when I can be that 1950s mother we idealize who was waiting in an apron with fresh cookies when we got off the school bus and wasn't too busy for anything we needed until we went to bed."

No one need be surprised that pretending to be a mythical middle class 1950s mom (whatever that is—since most back then actually were the 24/7 types) on a part-time basis is easier and perhaps more fun than doing it for real, day in, day out, for the whole 18 years. Parenting is hard, and it demands sacrifice and commitment.

The article also brings up cultural and gender issues:

The idea that a mother could love her children and still choose to leave them to pursue her own goals is the antithesis of being a 'Tiger Mother'. It also goes against our culture's definition of motherhood. But it shines a light on a glaring double standard: When a man chooses not to be a full-time parent, it's acceptable—or, at least, accepted. But when a woman decides to do so, it's abandonment.

This is a false comparison, since the argument doesn’t distinguish between moms who simply work outside the home (and many must) and moms who kiss motherhood goodbye and strike out on their own.

And yes, gender standards are different; many of us choose for them to be so. Many couples choose to embrace the Dad/breadwinner; Mom/home-caregiver model, and we’re not going to apologize for it. Not only do we think it’s natural (or divinely ordained, if you prefer) but it just works better for most families who want one parent at home, for that one to be the mom.

In my estimation (questions of abuse or violence aside), it is unnatural and heartbreaking for either parent to leave the marriage and family, but particularly poignant when a woman chooses to leave her children. Kids need love and stability, not only when they are small, but right until they walk out the door to college. Many of us have experienced the dizzying speed of this life cycle. Children are small for only a short time; they grow up too quickly. But not quickly enough for some.

One case, of course, does not an argument make. So the Yahoo editor found another absentee mom. Talyaa Liera, tells what it was like deciding to move 3,000 miles away from her children, after being home full time with them for 10 years:

"I realized that by being so nurturing, I was in some ways keeping my children from growing to their potential"

So… the less nurturing and more distant you are, the better your children will develop? I’d like to see a study on that subject. In the end it seemed to boil down to achieving self-actualization for Liera. In the 1970s this used to be called “finding yourself”. It is unfortunate that fulfilling oneself so often comes at the expense of someone smaller and weaker, who didn’t ask or choose to be in that situation.

I have been a mother since I was 20," [Liera] points out. "I did not have the life a normal 20 year old would have. While I don't regret that, I knew that I now have the opportunity to reconnect with who I might have been then, but with all the tools and skill sets I have learned through motherhood. I have the unique opportunity most women don't get to have, of being able to truly create the life I wish to have, do something in the world that makes a difference, and model this kind of independence for my children."‬

I can’t help taking exception to her implication that those of us who choose to stay with and raise our children are not “making a difference” in the world. It’s also scary that she might hold this up as an example of how she’d like her children to behave someday. I am all for women being able to create the life they “wish to have” and the freedom NOT to choose motherhood, but perhaps that notion ought to occur sometime before marriage and/or pregnancy.

Liera, now a “spiritual advisor” still misses her children, but nevertheless feels “very connected to them…”

"‪Now we stay in touch by phone, IM, Skype a few times a week,"

From the Me Generation it’s a short jump to eMom and iParenthood. If only someone could invent an electronic hug.

One hates to judge: divorce happens for all kinds of reasons. It is often a tragedy, and families have to cope as best they can. But that doesn’t stop it from being terribly sad. Tiger mom or not, those of us who remain at home, despite the careers and adventures we might have had, can take consolation in this: we might not be the world’s best moms, but we’re here.

“The question that curls, now, in the dark of the night," Rizzuto writes… [is] "How do any of us decide to leave the people we love?"

The answer is, some of us don’t.


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