When my daughters were 10 and 7 years old I left them. Gave custody of them to their father. Moved out.

Did I stop being a mother on that most horrid day of my life? Not for one second.

Did I stop actively parenting my daughters on that most horrid day of my life? Not for one second. Did I give up or walk away from my daughters on that most horrid day of my life? Not for one second.

The year was 1984 and in spite of all the strides feminism had given us by that year, it was still unacceptable for a mother to leave her children. Fathers had been doing it for centuries with few repercussions, but a mother who did such a thing was, even in 1984, instantly and harshly judged to be unfit to call herself a mother.

I heard the phrase ‘how could you’ over and over again – from my coworkers and from my friends and from my family. From my own mother. And I suspect, right at this very moment, from many of you as you read this piece. Mostly, I heard it from myself.

I’m writing about this for Mothers Day because I believe there are a number of other women who have lived with a similar millstone, albatross, sorrow, for much of their own lives too. And I believe it’s time to brush that gremlin off your shoulder and celebrate the great mother you are now and have always been. I think I can do that best by telling you my story and letting you draw your own parallels.

When I was planning to end my marriage, I knew that custody of our daughters would be a major issue. My husband was a devoted father, active with our kids on a daily basis. He taught them colours by letting them help sort.  A good dad. And so I knew that there would be a big mean uglycustody battle should I challenge him for custody of our children.

It seemed to me that it’d be a lot less disruptive to my kids if they could stay in their own home, go to their own school, still have their own neighborhood playmates. It seemed to me that it’d be a lot less disruptive to my kids if they were not subjected to a bitter custody battle. It seemed to me to be the most sensible arrangement given that I was a flight attendant and out of town for 3 or 4 days of the week, not even home in the evenings with them. I wanted to do what was easiest for my daughters and least disruptive for them too.

It took me about 5 years to realize that the real reason was that I didn’t have the courage, the strength, to go through one more battle. I realize now that I was literally on my knees mentally and emotionally when I left and I was trying to do whatever I had to do in order to save my spirit from being crushed by my husband. I could not have faced even one more battle.

That realization was stunningly freeing for me because, for the first time since I’d left, I felt some compassion for myself. I realized how scared, frightened I was that I wouldn’t be able to do it, wouldn’t be able to walk out that door. Away from them. And feeling the compassion for Marcia of then gave me a start to becoming the Marcia of now and knowing and accepting that I did the best thing for my daughters. Accepting that what I did was not bad and the fact that I did it didn’t make me a bad mother.

I’m fortunate that I had immediate unlimited access to my kids. They stayed part of my life on an almost daily basis when I wasn’t at work flying. Their father and I worked out a schedule of being at their home with them that seemed to be the best solution. And our separation became sane enough that we were eventually able to attend school activities at the same time so our kids always knew that they had the support of both of us. My kids spent weekends with me and weekdays with their father while I was away. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked much of the time.

My daughters and I have stayed very close through the last 23 years; I am still their mother and they love me as I love them. I’m a grandmother now to 3 perfect granddaughters.

This month I celebrate Mothers Day by being with my daughters and my granddaughters and by no longer judging myself or accepting others judgments of me. And I hope my story has helped you, or your daughter, or your sister,
or any woman you may know who has lived through a similar experience. I celebrate at 66 with a hindsight that allows me to accept myself as the mother I was at 40. Happy Mothers Day.

Celebrate Age!

(c) Marcia Barhydt