How CAN a mother leave her children?
This is a discussion on How CAN a mother leave her children? within the Chit chat (MAIN) anti misandry forums, part of the Introduction to anti misandry category; How CAN a mother leave her children? By AMANDA CABLE, Femail 01:00am 22nd June 2006 For most women, it's the ...
- 22nd-June-2006 #1
How CAN a mother leave her children?
How CAN a mother leave her children?
By AMANDA CABLE, Femail 01:00am 22nd June 2006
For most women, it's the one bond they'd never break. But as this special report reveals, an increasing number are walking out on their families.
Lesley DarcyÂ’s children were six and seven years old when she pulled them on to her lap, hugged them and gently announced that Mummy had some news.
As they listened in wide-eyed innocence, she explained that she had decided to leave their home in the provinces and move away to a place called London where she could be alone.
"I canÂ’t make you happy," she said, smiling down at their tearful faces, "and Mummy isnÂ’t happy herself."
Just how much of that traumatic conversation little Alice and Robert will carry into adulthood remains to be seen. But Lesley admits the news came as a crushing blow.
With incredible understatement, she says: "Oh, they were completely devastated, just as any six and seven-year-old would be. They didnÂ’t understand Â— it was really hard."
Not hard enough to stop Lesley walking out of her marital home and moving to London to pursue her dream of becoming a writer Â— a decision she doesnÂ’t regret.
"When I meet new people now IÂ’m not particularly upfront about it," she says. "ItÂ’s not that I donÂ’t want to admit that I left my family, but I get so fed up of people seeing me as this awful mother who left her kids, without actually getting to know me first.
"People say you have a responsibility to children. Well, youÂ’ve got a responsibility to yourself, because if you canÂ’t be the sort of person you want to be, then how can you be the sort of person you want to be for your children?"
Sadly, far from being an exception, Lesley is part of a growing trend of mothers who choose to leave their children behind.
There are now 100,000 mothers living apart from their children in the UK Â— with a disturbing 12 per cent increase every year.
A hard-hitting Sky Two television report, Mums Who Leave Their Kids, lays bare some of the shocking stories of mums who have fled, and investigates the impact on those who are left behind.
It was the brainchild of journalist and presenter Jane Moore Â— herself a working mother of three children.
She says: "I actually had the idea when I met a woman in a hotel bar. I asked who she was waiting for, and she said she was meeting her children. I asked if they had been away, and she told me that they lived with their father.
"I listened as she explained that the marriage had broken up and he had always been a better parent than she, but inside I was recoiling. "Â‘I kept thinking: 'What kind of mother doesnÂ’t live with her children?'
"Sure, IÂ’m quite a feminist, and if somebody says itÂ’s a womanÂ’s job to empty the washing machine, then I would say: 'DonÂ’t be so chauvinistic.' But if someone suggested that if a marriage breaks up, then itÂ’s a womanÂ’s job to look after the children, IÂ’d say: 'Absolutely right.'
"It started me wondering why we are so hard on mothers who leave. After all, if it was a man at the bar who was meeting up with his children, I would think: 'ThatÂ’s really lovely.' In truth, we donÂ’t view mothers in the same way.
"I decided to find out more Â— to take a journey into the world of the mothers who leave."
First stop was our wannabe writer Lesley Darcy, who boasts: "I donÂ’t think of myself as someone who has lost. IÂ’ve got something which most people can only dream of Â— freedom."
Darcy, now aged 32, married her childhood sweetheart when she was 20 and they settled into a pleasant family home in Southampton. Four years later, daughter Alice was born, followed 12 months on by their son Robert.
But then came the birth of a new ambition Â— to be a writer. As her children started to grow, Lesley found herself torn between what she regarded as domestic drudgery and dreams of success.
"Meals were late, clothes werenÂ’t ironed, a layer of dust began to settle on our home. I was writing all night until three or four in the morning and I was a monster mother, really short-tempered with them; nothing they did was right."
When her own mother died in June 1996, LesleyÂ’s world caved in.
She admits: "Part of my wanting to be a mother was so that I could give my mother grandchildren. It left a huge void. All of a sudden I had lost my best friend and nothing could fill that: not my husband, not the child and not my life."
Her solution? To seek a literary agent in London and leave the family home for ever.
She says: "Telling them was devastating. I said I wasnÂ’t happy and so things had to change. When I told them I was getting a divorce, Alice screamed Â‘I hate you!Â’ Robert started crying, too.
"It was so hard leaving. At times, when I was first in London, I missed them with a physical pain. Birthdays have been hard Â— not only theirs, but mine, too Â— and I cry every time on the train coming back to London after IÂ’ve been to visit."
Lesley sees her children at weekends and insists the arrangement is ideal.
"IÂ’ll stick with the decisions I made. The children are very happy where they are. They have a fantastic stepmother, and the life they have is far more enriching than it was when I was there.
"I know that I caused them immense pain and I feel hugely guilty about that, but I can see huge advantages to the life they have now."
Lesley Darcy is far from being alone. But why exactly is the trend for mothers walking away from their children on the rise?
Jane Moore says: "I think a lot of that has to do with women becoming more independent, working harder, with more plates to spin and becoming far more stressed.
"The whole 'having it all' nonsense means doing it all Â— a lot more women are having variations of a breakdown or post-natal depression.
"There are also women who donÂ’t take naturally to motherhood. In the past, they would have stuck to it because the alternatives were few or zero. Now these mothers feel they do have a choice, and perhaps they feel society wonÂ’t judge them as harshly as it would have done years ago."
Consultant clinical psychologist Claire Halsey, 48, a mother of three, says: "It is still extremely rare for a mother to leave home and relinquish the care of her children to her partner. Many mothers are acting on a belief that it is genuinely better for the child.
"Single mothers are economically very disadvantaged, and some mothers genuinely believe that by leaving the children with their partners they will be financially better off while remaining in a familiar environment.
"In some cases, that immediate love and bonding between mother and baby doesnÂ’t happen automatically.
"While a newborn baby has an inbuilt instinct to bond with its mother, not all women actually experience the rush of love or the tremendous maternal instinct that other people feel. It is perhaps the lack of these overwhelming feelings that allows them to put a career first.
Flexible working arrangements also mean that dads are now more able to parent than ever before. It was rare for any father to take an active parenting role 20 or 30 years ago, but this has changed dramatically.
"Many fathers are far more hands-on now. As a result, mothers may feel they are genuinely leaving children in good hands.
"In general it is always best for a child to remain in constant and loving contact with a mother, but circumstances vary, and perhaps society nowadays does not judge as harshly as it would have done in previous generations."
Unlike Lesley, mother-of-two Liz Reynolds is consumed with guilt after walking out on her children.
She lives alone in a house she bought opposite the school that her son and daughter attend Â— hoping to catch brief, stolen glimpses of them. Liz, a 39-year-old nursery nurse from Nottingham, had an affair Â— and, as her marriage collapsed, she decided to leave the children with their father.
She says: "My biggest regret isnÂ’t that I walked out on my marriage, itÂ’s that I didnÂ’t take my children with me.
"I was moving to a freezing, one-bedroom flat. I thought it would be better for the children to stay in the house they knew, in their own bedrooms where they were warm and comfortable.
"I trusted my ex-husband with the children completely, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I had broken the marriage up by having an affair, and I felt heinous and awful, that I had let everybody down. I didnÂ’t think my children should have to face the consequences of my behaviour."
Liz left the family home in February 2004, when her children were aged six and nine.
She says: "I was so naive. I thought it was a temporary measure, until I had the money and somewhere suitable to live.
"Instead, I was vilified for my decision. So-called friends would come up to me at work and say: 'How can you look after other peopleÂ’s children when you canÂ’t even look after your own?'
"When my husband decided that my temporary home wasnÂ’t suitable for the children to visit, I was forced to go to court to fight for custody. The court battle was horrible. In the end, they made the children chose Â— and they chose to stay with their father."
As a result, Liz now has a shared residence order Â— with her children spending Monday nights and every second weekend with her.
She says: "I miss them all the time, and it is like a physical pain. I miss not being a family.
"I donÂ’t regret walking out on my marriage Â— but leaving my children behind was the worst mistake I have ever made in my life, and I live with that emptiness every day."
Sally Greaves, 35, is another mother who left her children after having an affair which tore apart her marriage.
She left her children Â— two girls and a boy, aged ten, nine and six Â— with their father in the family home after having an affair with a man she met on the internet.
Although she is now married to her lover David, she bitterly regrets walking out on her children.
Sally says: "I can remember the day I left as if it were yesterday. It was Easter weekend four years ago, and the children were staying at my MumÂ’s. My husband and I had another awful row, and he shouted: 'Just get your boyfriend to come and pick you up and leave!'
"I was in such a state I ran upstairs and packed a bag, throwing things in without knowing what I was doing.
"All I knew was that I had to get to David. I remember thinking that once everything had calmed down, I would go and collect the children from their home in Yorkshire, and they would come to live with David and myself at his home in Sussex.
"I now know that leaving the family home was the worst possible thing I could have done, because my ex-husband used the fact that I was the one to leave, 'abandoning the children for my lover', to secure custody of them.
"Now, I only get to see them every two or three weeks, although I can speak to them on the phone Â— at allocated times, I canÂ’t just pick up the phone when I want Â— and they spend a small part of their summer holidays with me.
"No one can describe the misery of being a mother who is apart from their children. But, of course, there are people who will say that I brought this on myself Â— I was the one to leave.
"I live for the weekends that my children come to stay with me, and I plan all sorts of fun activities to fill our special time together. But no matter how hard I try, my little girls are sounding more and more distant from me.
"My son is suffering most of all from our separation, and I really worry about him. I get a lot of support from a charity called MATCH, which is a support and advice group for mothers who are apart from their children, and it is a comfort to know that I am not the only one.
The trouble is, there is such a stigma in leaving your children Â— I never tell people unless I know them really well. They think that mums that leave their kids must be monsters. Even my own mother thinks that I was wrong to leave.
"Well, IÂ’m not a monster. I adore my children, and I miss them every day Â— so much that it physically hurts at times.
"If I could turn the clock back, I would not have left. I think my marriage was doomed, but I would have handled it much better and made sure the children came with me.
"David and I are now happily settled. He is a 37-year-old office manager, with children of his own from a previous marriage. We now have a lovely three-bedroom house, with two bedrooms decorated and full of toys and cuddly animals for the children.
"When the children are not with me, I often sit in their bedrooms, and cry. In truth, I end up crying every day. Silly little things set me off, like seeing a mother in the street holding hands with daughters the same age as mine.
"I miss all the small things I used to do for them Â— things which were so routine, like tying up their hair before school, reading them bedtime stories, or watching them having their swimming lessons.
"I yearn for that normal, family life and I know my children are being torn in two. It is a desperate situation and I would do anything to change it."
As Liz Reynolds struggles to come to terms with a life of loneliness, and Sally has to deal with the regret of her decision, what of Lesley Darcy and her bid for literary fame?
Four years after she bid farewell to her sobbing children, she has yet to get her name in print.
Only time will tell if the sacrifice her offspring were forced to make will be worth it in the end. * Mums Who Leave Their Kids is on Sky Two on Saturday at 9pm.
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