Every day I face a unique stigma. I’m a mom who lost custody of her daughter. The challenges I face creep into every area of my life. Innocent conversations often become painful when talking to strangers or people I do not know well. Especially when talking to other mothers. I often find myself in a no- win situation, as innocence turns to judgment and often find myself wondering “to tell or not to tell?”
If you are a mom, talking to another mom inevitably your children will meander into the conversation, especially when talking to strangers. Children are the one thing that every mother has in common. The conversation begins innocently enough, curiosity peaked while admiring the two little ones I have in tow. The stranger inquires how old the girls are and if I have other children. They assume that my Firstborn “must be such a big help”, and that “I have a built in babysitter- aren’t I lucky”. I just smile and nod, politely agreeing, all the while feeling the hole in my heart grow a little bigger. And if I am unfortunate enough to have stumbled across a mom that has a child my Firstborn’s age, the question I dread most rears its ugly head: “Where does she go to school? Perhaps my so and so knows her.”
As I explain that my Firstborn goes to school in another state because she lives with her father, I can literally see the color drain from most people’s faces. The innocent conversation is then filled with judgment. I can see the other mom’s eyes searching me for my flaws because of gendered expectations. There must be something wrong with me if my child does not live with me. Is it an addiction? Did I abuse her? Am I mentally ill? The eyes searching me for that one little clue that will give them insight as to what kind of horror I am. The eyes then settle on the girls, pity filled, surely assuming the Firstborn is the lucky one. She is the one who will not have to be subjected to my shortcomings.
If I were a man sharing that my child lived with her mother the perception would be drastically different. Shock and judgment would be replaced by compassion and understanding. The expectation in society is that mothers are supposed to have their children and any mother who doesn’t is somehow unfit.
The only other choice I have is to omit my Firstborn’s existence when talking with strangers or folks that I don’t know well, but that is hard for me to do. She does exist and I want to acknowledge her. I just can’t bring myself to say that I only have 2 children because it simply is not true. And although the conversations begin innocently enough, the other probably getting more than they bargained for and later on talking with friends in hushed tones about “the woman she met today”, I am left again wondering “to tell or not to tell.” I am left feeling vulnerable and judged and almost wanting to share my story in the hopes that it might change just one person’s perception.
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