Men leave their kids all the time.
You don’t have to look much further than the average family to find an example of a man walking away from his children, either permanently or temporarily, for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps it was a cousin, an uncle, or even your dad, but stories of men packing their bags, walking out of the door, and never looking back are hardly rare.
But what happens when mothers leave?
Recently, a personal essay, “Why I Left My Children,” appeared on Salon.com. In it, writer Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, describes the feelings of guilt and the vitriol hurled at her because she left her children with her then-husband in order to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Encouraged by her “childhood-sweetheart” husband, Rizzuto set off to live in Japan for six months interviewing survivors of the atomic bomb.
“The question I am always asked is, “How could you leave your children?” How could you be the mother who walks away? As if my children were embedded inside me, even years after birth, and had to be surgically removed? As if I abandoned them on a desert island, amid flaming airplane debris and got into the lifeboat alone?
Hyperbolic. Inflammatory. But that’s part of the point. Because my relationship with my children survives. In fact, it has improved”
Although mothers leaving children for prolonged periods of time is nothing new, it is extremely taboo. Scores of grandparents, aunts, and uncles have been left to raise children after their mother peaced out (for various reasons). However, most people view mothers who leave as abhorrent parents and lob judgments at them, while not holding fathers to the same stringent standards.
What’s up with that?
If two people are responsible for creating and caring for a child, why is one—the woman—always expected to invest more time and effort than her partner or risk being labeled a bad mother?
Rizzuto bucked conventional roles and pursued her dreams without her kids in tow. Shortly after moving to Japan, her marriage fell apart and when her children moved to Asia to live with her, it was a complete disaster. Rizzuto soon realized that having her children in Japan, without the support of her husband, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and it brought to light an uncomfortable truth she had long ignored: She never wanted to have children in the first place.
“I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over
…My problem was not with my children, but with how we think about motherhood. About how a male full-time caretaker is a “saint,” and how a female full-time caretaker is a “mother.” It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. And we punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.”
There is an inherent double standard when it comes to parenting because babies come through a woman’s body. In light of this, many believe that the mother-child bond is somehow more sacred than all others and that mothers should ultimately be the ones responsible for raising the children.
But should this always be the case? Should women always sacrifice themselves—their goals, dreams, and aspirations—for the sake of their children? Does choosing to parent differently, or allowing the father to take on the primary caretaker role, make women bad mothers?
What say you, Clutchettes and Gents? Speak on it.