Should I stay or should I go?

5 Mar

Would you walk away from your children to pursue a career or to find yourself?

Did you see Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s interview on The Today Show? She’s promoting her memoir Hiroshima in the Morning, which tells the story of leaving her husband and her two small children to find herself.

She did what?

As you can imagine, this has been a hot topic on internet parenting groups, many of us commenting without reading the book.  The discussions weren’t helped by the fact that Rizzuto isn’t exactly a “warm and fuzzy” interview.  She came off as cold and distant which didn’t send a great message to the TV audience. The big question is:  Could you leave your children?  What do you think about the women who do?

Criticism of Rizzuto’s choices are running rampant, and this made my brain go on overdrive.  My initial post on a stepmother support page was:

I know women who have done this and I’ve always felt like they were “defective” in some way (like their “mom gene” got mangled somewhere along the way). Without reading the book (and I’m trying not to judge), I will say that this is a brave thing for any woman to do and even braver to write about it and go on a book tour.  Imagine the hate mail and slings and arrows she has to dodge.  I would think in a way that it would be even harder than giving a child up for adoption because you’ve been raising them.

I walked away from the computer for a few hours and had an “aha moment”.  Perhaps it is in the best interest of the children if a mother who doesn’t want to be a mother walks away and leaves them with the parent that is willing to love and care for them.  How did I come to this conclusion?  Because I’ve always wondered that about my own mother.

I was born to an 18-year old single mother who barely knew how she got pregnant, let alone how to be a parent.  We lived with my grandparents (my grandmother was 37 when I was born, imagine that!), and my mom depended on them to help with my care.  Her job as a Polynesian dancer often took her to Las Vegas or Reno for weeks at a time, while I stayed with my grandparents.  She worked hard to make sure I was clothed and fed, but I’m not sure she ever wanted to be a mother and she will tell you with all frankness that she wasn’t a good one.

I honestly can’t remember living for any long length of time with my mom.  Two years after marrying my stepfather, they decided to move the family to Oregon (that included my two younger stepbrothers).  I didn’t want to move to Oregon, I didn’t want to leave my grandparents. I remember begging to stay and my grandmother saying, with sadness in her eyes, “It’s time for you to go live with your mom.”  I was 13.

I love my mother. I’m thankful that she did not give me up for adoption.  I am grateful for all the sacrifices that she made for me. But, and here comes the hard part, there was always an unspoken sense of “I don’t really want to do this”, which even as an adult, stings quite a bit. In the 60’s, women didn’t walk away from their children, but I’ve often wondered if she wanted to.  This is magnified by the fact that she has walked away from me twice as an adult for years at a time.  Did she stick around when I was a child out of guilt or a sense of duty?  She’s the only one that can answer that.

If she indeed didn’t want to be a mom and had the courage to walk away and leave me in the care of my grandparents, would it have been better for me?  Who knows?  I think the bigger question is what affects a child more negatively: being raised by a mother that’s resentful that she has to, or being left by a woman who knew she didn’t want to be, or couldn’t be a mother anymore?

 Hiroshima in the Morning is on my list of books to read.  It’s bound to be provocative and challenge society’s definition of what motherhood, fatherhood and parenthood really mean.  I personally can’t imagine leaving my kids, but I’d like to be in the mind of a woman who has because it’s a place that I know I’ll never go.

What was your initial gut reaction after seeing the interview?  Are you interested in reading the book to understand how she arrived at the decision to leave her marriage and her children?  Do you know anyone that has left their children in pursuit of a career?

3 Responses to “Should I stay or should I go?”

  1. Talia March 7, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Wow…I simply can’t imagine walking away from my girls. It never would have crossed my mind. I truly believe I was put on this earth to raise them and I did so lovingly. They are the best.

    However, if a parent – be it father or mother – truly doesn’t believe they can do the job then I guess it is best to allow someone who can love them to raise them. Too many times we see women/men doing a terrible job out of some misplaced sense of obligation, whereas I know there are people who want and can do so much better by the children.

    It certainly gives me something to think about. I know my husband would not cry or be bothered if his daughter no longer honored the visitation. (she has stated she only comes because she is ‘ordered’ to not because she wants to, but this is an entirely different case and oh, so complicated…

    Great post. Much to ponder.

  2. perilsofdivorcedpauline March 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I think, in cases of severe parental alienation, or when a divorced mom is worn down by years of purse-draining custody litigation, giving kids to an ex to raise full-time may be the only way to stay sane. And in time, some of those kids figure out why the mom had to say goodbye (because it was impossible to co-parent) and can reconnect with their moms when they can choose for themselves.

    On the other hand, BioStepMom, my birthmother relinquished me for adoption when I was 6 days old and it was years of therapy before I stopped taking it personally.

    A thorny issue, this.

  3. linda isenson March 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    I’m not a mom, as you know, BUT, when I was 13 my aunt and uncle divorced and she willingly gave up custody of my darling 18 month old cousin. We were all shocked – and with the ignorance of youth – I thought she was a horrible person. In my 20s I lived with my uncle and cousin and worked with my aunt (weird, I know). Anyway, it became clear that she did the best thing for her daughter. My uncle was a responsible loving parent while my aunt, who was very delightful,loving and warm, is barely able to take care of herself – even 25 years later. Naturally she and her daughter have a strained and complicated relationship but it has become easier as my cousin is now a mom. Another of my girlfriends mom left when the 5 kids were between 8 and 13 – they have a very tough relationship now that is getting easier with therapy. Her mom had a complete breakdown and still has lots of issues surrounding being a mom and whether she did the right thing or not. I think there is no easy answer and there are always difficult consequences. But we can’t judge – that is too simplistic.

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