In February 2015, my life changed dramatically.
I went from being single mom working in corporate America to being the non-primary parent, working for myself, and creating a much better life.
True to the single mom stereotype, I was living paycheck to paycheck and was constantly stressed about whatever bill was due next. My job paid what are statistically considered poverty wages and there was nowhere to grow in the company.
We had food on the table, a roof over our heads, and were generally doing well, considering that a lot of single moms are in much worse situations. This fact didn’t negate the worry that I had that I was setting a bad example for my daughter.
Not a bad example in the sense that I was doing drugs or bringing guys home -- I wasn’t. I worked all the time and whatever time was left I spent with her. No, this worry was of a different variety.
I worried that I was teaching her that struggle is a part of life -- something that many of us are taught subliminally. I worried that she would grow up with issues from not having her daddy in her life (a struggle that many women can relate to). I worried about the relationship she would have with money if she watched me try to make ends meet. I worried about a lot of things during that time, but the biggest worry of all was that I was setting an example for her that life is very, very hard -- and that is not something I want to pass on to my child.
At four years old, she didn’t know that I couldn’t afford to send her to camp. She didn’t know that I was thousands in debt and scared that I would never climb my way out. But eventually, as she grew up, I knew she would become aware of these things.
I also know that children can feel things, long before they understand them, and I didn’t want growing up with a struggling single parent to be a part of her life story.
What I want for my daughter, more than anything else, is to have a happy mommy and a childhood she won’t need to heal from.
And so, I let my four-year-old daughter move in with her dad, stepmom, and 6-year-old sister a state away from me.
Her dad and I talked about this for months -- and most of the time I shot the idea down. I thought I could never let her go. The truth is, when I finally decided -- in February -- that maybe the most unselfish thing I could do would be to let her live with her dad, I knew I made the right decision.
What I knew before, but would soon become much too familiar with is the fact that we live in a society that criticizes moms for everything they do -- the familiar breastfeeding debates, methods of discipline, being a stay at home mom, being a working mom, being a young mom or a single mom have all become topics that people use to tear mothers down.
This topic -- being the non-primary caregiver as a mother -- is no different. I’ve gotten horrific comments from people I thought were friends. One person said, “It’s OK. We aren’t all cut out to be good moms.” Another said, “Did the drugs get you?”These are just two examples out of hundreds.
What people are really saying when they express their judgment is this: “You are doing something that I don’t understand and that scares me. The only way I know how to handle it is to react with anger.”
And guess what? That is OK.
Other people’s opinions about my choices do not in any way make me less of a mom. I no longer feel the need to justify myself to people. What I do feel the need to do is let other moms know that it is OK. We are allowed to do the best thing for our children -- even if it’s not popular.
Shortly after she went to live with her dad, I was able to quit my corporate job. Being able to do that was the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. I had felt suffocated by that job for 2 years and being able to walk away from it gave me a renewed sense of purpose.
It took a few months to get going, but I now work for myself full time and make enough money that when I see my daughter, I can take a week off and take her to do anything she wants to do -- without stressing about bills or anything else. That is an amazing feeling
She got to go to soccer camp and karate camp and I got to take a trip to Central America. She gets to grow up with a sibling, a precious gift that I’m so grateful she gets to experience, and I get to live my life in a way that allows me to grow as a person -- and encourages her to do the same.
All of these things make me happy, and when I’m happy I’m an infinitely better mommy to her.
What I realize is that if I hadn’t been willing to look at what was truly best for both me and my daughter, I would have kept us both in a place that limited our growth.
Honestly, I never thought this would be my life -- but it is, and I’m happier than I have ever been. She is happy, too, in a way that I don’t think would have been possible if I kept her with me to stick out the single mom cycle that so many of us never escape from.
We miss each other. We get on the phone and cry together sometimes. Some days I worry that she will feel like I abandoned her -- though I do everything I can to make her feel cared for and loved, even when she isn’t with me.
Not everyone will understand my choices and most people probably won’t agree with them. There is a stigma around non-custodial moms that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
What works for me and my family will not work for everyone, but if there is one thing I know without a doubt, it’s that making the choice to become a weekend mom has given both my daughter and myself opportunities we would never have had otherwise.