Almost 21…

When we are thick in the midst of the day to day of raising kids, it’s easy to get mired in the daily stressors and struggles and miss the joy. Raising children is not for the faint of heart and in today’s world, it seems like there are so many things out there ready to steal the joy of raising our kids.

My own parenting journey has been long and winding and at times a bit unorthodox as I found myself in the role of non-custodial mother. A role that shifted my entire view on mothering and probably made me a stronger mother as I found myself making decisions I never would have imagined, including moving to a strange state and laying down roots in that state for the sake of my son. Yet even in the most difficult years of the parenting journey that involved many tears and much legal advice, my only goal was the well-being of my son.

The bond between mother and child when healthy despite unorthodox circumstances is never broken. But there comes a point when a mother, who will forever see her kids as her babies no matter what the chronological age of the child, must step back. A mother at a certain point must step back and let her birds fly and trust that she has given her babies the tools to navigate the world and allow them to soar or fly on their own merit. There is no greater joy to a mama though when she steps back and realizes that her babies can fly and that she is merely a bystander and safe harbor. That is the place I find myself in this evening.

My son who I often refer to in this space as the college kid is in that place. He has been home for the past ten days and I am in awe of him. He will turn 21 a few short days after I turn 40 and I marvel at the young man he has become despite the many mistakes I have made along the way. I marvel at the young man he is and that he chooses freely to allow me to be a friend, confidant and yes, his mother. He tells me that he is in awe that I was already his mother when I was almost 21 yet I am in awe of how confident he is and at his ability to stand in his own truth. For the past 48 hours, my son has literally shifted roles with me and become my helper and while its been momentarily awkward, even that shifting in roles is simply part of the cycle of life.

If your babies are younger, hold em tight and savor the moments, even the challenging ones because the time passes way too damn fast. One minute, you are trying to make it through dinner and the next minute you are meeting their girlfriend on Skype and getting ready to see them off to the airport.

The scourge of the parenting world….

I have written in the past about my years spent as a non-custodial mother, granted now that college boy is 19 that label no longer applies. But in the years I spent as a non-custodial mother, I learned early on that society does not shine fondly on non-custodial mothers. I was reminded of this today when I popped on twitter and saw a tweet that stated “non-custodial mothers are the scourge of the parenting world” I ended up tweeting the person who said it and commiserating.

Yet why is it that a woman who chooses for whatever reason not to be the custodial parent is looked down upon? In many instances it’s the hardest decision a woman will ever make, in many cases these are women getting away from abusers who are better equipped to manipulate the system. In other cases there is health, financial and a myriad of reasons behind why a woman chooses to allow their child’s other parent to be the primary caretaker. I have never met a woman who was not heartbroken over the decision even if she knew it was in her child’s best interest.

Funny thing is men are never demonized for their parenting choices, sure if you are Kevin Federline who just keeps making babies you will get the stank eye. But for the average Joe if you financially support your child and make even a half assed attempt to be in their life, no one questions you. If you actually do even more you are damn near put on a pedestal!

One of the reasons I feel the so-called Mommy Wars that exist are damaging to women is because via those wars we attempt to reduce women to one simple role when the reality is as women our lives are rich and varied. For those of us who choose to become mothers, it’s a part of life but as anyone who has gotten a kid to 18 will tell you, you also realize as the years go on that you are a person too! Now it may not seem like it in the earlier days when sleep deprivation is heavy or you deal with the early years but motherhood does not negate who we were before children…at least it shouldn’t. Yet too many times because we as women give into the bullshit ideology of what a mother should be, we play a role in the same system that tears down women who don’t fit the model of what a mother is.

One thing I have learned over the years with my son is never in his eyes has he seen me as less than a mother. Recently he told me now that is in college that he can’t imagine how I tried to go to college, work and raise him and that he understands now why when he went to live with his dad I was able to return to school full time. No, I was not available after school with a plate of cookies and milk but I always knew who his teachers were and how to contact them. Prior to my move to New England, I flew out for his birthday celebrations and endured the looks of the moms wondering why I was not there every day. Of course these women weren’t there when I was nor do they have the memory my son has of the rough economic times that existed before he went to live with his Dad and how his change of residency allowed me to get stable.

Yet too many times, I saw the looks in the eyes of those who wondered about me…how could you? The thing about motherhood, it’s not one size fits all.

So when we talks about motherhood let’s talk about Mommas who are not with their babies every day, let’s talk about the moms that don’t fit the mom mold…they are also mothers who deserve a place at the stable as well.

The Ambivalence of Mother’s Day…thoughts on the day

Today is Mother’s Day, a day we celebrate and honor the women who in the ideal world not only brought us into the world but also raised us, nurtured us, sustained us and just loved us. It’s a day where the good feelings seem to flow like cocaine at a 1980’s rock party! Yet for some women Mother’s Day is a double edge sword, where it feels less than good because as a society we have a very narrow lens of what we consider to be mothering.

Many women come to mothering with eyes wide open, hearts full, just knowing they will love everything about mothering. Yet I was not one of those women, getting pregnant at 18 after being married a mere few months, made me ambivalent at best about mothering. I spent my entire pregnancy scared that I might die in childbirth and when my son was born, I didn’t even see him until four hours after birth. Yet the first time I laid eyes on him, something deep inside me stirred, I knew he was my world but I had no idea even after falling immediately in love with him how radically different my path to mothering would be.

I won’t rehash my past since its been written about on this blog before, but I will say I have been a teen mom, a single mom, and a non-custodial mom and of all those labels the one that draws the most raised eye brows is that of non-custodial Mom. After all, it’s one thing for a Dad to not be around but a Mom? Even now in 2011 when most of us consider ourselves open-minded about parenting, after all we know gay couples that raise kids…it’s the non custodial Mom that still throws us off balance. After all how does a mother leave her child?

In my case I didn’t exactly leave, but fear, intimidation and a lack of money led me to agree to something I didn’t want or believe in; back then I was naïve and thought it would all work out. I did not understand that in agreeing to give my ex full custody (granted at the time I agreed to that my son was actually living with me) I was putting myself in a bad situation. By the time I was finally in a place to fight back, it took thousands of dollars and I was able to get joint legal custody with my son living with his Dad. Joint legal custody is powerful because it meant legally we were on the same foot but my son still lived with his Dad and nothing could change that. So as regular readers know that’s how Black Girl in Maine came to be.

My son was 6 when he went to live with his Dad and in those early years Mother’s Day often felt like hell. The first year he was with his Dad I didn’t see him on Mother’s Day as I was still in Chicago. I remember people assuming I was not a mother as they did not see a child, as a mother to not be acknowledged can be hard in general but something about a day that hinges on cards, flowers, food and time spent with your progeny when said progeny is not with you can just send you over the edge, emotionally and mentally.

By the time my son was 10, we were in Maine and I started being able to have my son on Mother’s Day, yet even that felt fraudulent. After all the next morning he went back to his Dad’s house, granted it was better than the years we were 1100 miles apart since once I moved to Maine, I saw him regularly.

Little did I know that by the time my boy turned 12, I was going to enter another club that makes Mother’s Day excruciating as hell and that is the motherless club. My Mom passed away when my son was 12 and that really added to my ambivalence about Mother’s Day. Due to the fact that statistically women live longer than men, generally a woman can expect to have her Mom around until she is in her 50’s, so if you are in your 30’s and motherless it seems strange to many. Granted there are many women who are motherless for a myriad of reasons, as I realized yesterday when my favorite barista shared with me that she had not spoken to her own mother in years. Again the mother-child relationship is fraught with tension and despite our best intentions it cannot be summed up easily and stuck on a card ready to sell.

Now Mother’s Day has evolved again for me, as my son is now 19 and away at college and I no longer have to claim that label of non custodial mother though I do because it shaped me and has shaped my parenting towards my 5 year old. As my husband lovingly jokes there are times I over parent her to make up for what I feel was under parenting with my son, granted my son has never felt that way and despite my not being around every day, our relationship is strong. I must say that as much as I bitch about technology and social media, it has allowed us to stay very connected since let’s face it as a college freshman yakking on the phone with your Moms is not a priority. Yet we text, tweet and Facebook daily.

Today this post is for all the women who don’t have a Hallmark style relationship with mothering especially non-custodial Moms and motherless daughters/Moms. Don’t get caught up in the imagery of mothering, trust in your heart and know you are a mother no matter what. For women whose mothers are no longer in your life, honor the women in your life who nurture you regardless of connection. There is no reason you can’t do something special for women who have nourished you emotionally or mentally.

Have a Happy Nurturer Day!