How Being a Noncustodial Mother Changed My Life
As I sit here beginning to type this, I wonder if a more appropriate blog may be how it hasn’t changed my life. That would certainly be shorter to write about. Then again, there may not be any content at all. To put it succinctly, being a noncustodial mother has changed my life in every way imaginable. Here, I will do my best to shed some light on a few key points. If you are reading this and are in a similar noncustodial situation, I am truly sorry for that; I know how hard it is. Hopefully we can share some understanding here.
My journey as a noncustodial mother began in 2015. It was solidified as my fate per the courts in 2016. As mentioned in many of my other posts on the noncustodial mother topic (for more see my tag), the circumstance came due to geography only. No fault, legal issues, drama, or any unsavory actions were at play (at least on my part). It was a total blow when it happened, but it was not entirely unexpected. Still, nothing can prepare you for the loss.
Coping, But Thrust Into Reality Real-time
That is where my story begins. With the coping of the shock from the loss. I really didn’t get an opportunity to cope. Life goes on. There is no bereavement benefit when one loses a family court case. Because of the requirement to chug along with the rest of the world, I fell into line. Thrusting myself into work. I took any and all overtime I could. I felt it was an investment of my time to earn extra time off and money to stockpile for the time periods I would see my daughter again. Watching out for these opportunities gave me anxiety. If I missed one, it felt like a loss all over again.
When I did have visits, I found myself growing a little distant. I tried to focus on the external factors going on such as the excitement of the zoo we visited or the current holiday. As long as we kept busy, it did not leave my mind time to wander and realize it was all temporary. The matter of my daughter’s separation anxiety quelled my own. I stifled my feelings to tend to hers. Being the adult, I thought I could deal with the heartbreak much better than she could, so I let her be that focus.
The Noncustodial Mother = Always Planning
To support her in this matter, I would include her in my planning for the next visit, phone call, whatever. And I never let there be an open end of any unknown. There was always a plan for the next visit before the current one ended. This constant planning of the future kept us both connected and hopeful. It is extremely rare that we didn’t know when we would see each other again. It did happen, but I can only count a time or two it was the case.
This dedication to remaining as present as possible is the best investment I’ve ever made. I can see the payout of it all now. She has grown so much from those early years. As a preteen now, our bond is so strong that I am the parent she calls when in need. We have heartfelt moments, she calls me for all the typical mom advice, she expresses all variety of feelings. After all these years, I can see all the travel, no matter how short the visit or expensive the flight, was all worth it. For your child, it is always worth it.
A Secret Daughter
With positive impacts though, there are some negative ones. I am now exceedingly mistrusting of people. Always the cautious type before, my distrust heightened since becoming a noncustodial mother. The distrust is hard to put a categorical finger on. It is not that I think everyone is a liar, or out to get me or something. It’s just that I am so protective of my time and my children, that I live a bit on edge of anything that could happen to interrupt us.
I also keep my guard up often. When first meeting people I try not to discuss children. It pains me to shy away from the subject, but I’d rather not jump into the odd explanation that inherently comes as a noncustodial mother. Usually as soon as you make a new mom friend the questions all circulate around the children. How many? How old? What school do they go to? Are they in any activities? Etc. Etc. For safety reasons I do not air out this info to begin with, but with the added explanations my circumstances involve, I try to avoid it if possible.
Meeting New People
That being said, there are two situations I recall vividly centered around this subject.
First, I was in a dentist office with my son who was about three years old at the time. A fellow mom was in the waiting room with her crew of several children all years older than my son. She struck up the usual conversation of asking the particulars of my son, “how old is he?” “how do you like this dentist?” I responded politely. To which she then started commenting that I should just wait for the upcoming challenges with a kid aged four and five and so on.
Little did she know I had already lived through those ages with my daughter, but seeing as how she was not there, it looked like I only had one child and was inexperienced in that regard. An honest judgement I do not fault her for, but I went along with it. I agreed that those ages “sounded” challenging and that I’d have to “just see how it goes when it happens.” It hurt to not correct her, but it would hurt more to see the judgement on her face if I admitted my circumstances. In all, it did not matter, so I didn’t go there.
Another situation was when I met a grandma with her grandkids at the park. My son and her grandson were the same age and got along so well. This grandma was super nice and we struck up good conversation as I was new to town. The topic of other kids and such did not come up right away. She did presume he was my only child and I went with it. Then her older granddaughters showed up. They were the same age as my daughter and my son declared how they should be friends with his sister when she came to visit. I promptly admitted that I did have a daughter, and that I did not always advertise my situation with her. The grandma was still so kind.
Guarding Against Judgement
The two prior stories show non-parallel circumstances and results of admitting the noncustodial truth. In situations I was not able to avoid it, or would openly share with a “friend,” I have experienced reactions that run a full range. Some act like it’s no big deal, then don’t ever write or call me back. Some back away physically like I am dangerous to their children or something. Many have fired off an inquisition. Few have been truly supportive and curious.
I get it, it’s weird. I don’t want to be a noncustodial mother and cannot say how I would have reacted to ever meeting one if I weren’t. And I can see that it automatically comes with the assumption that I must be an unsavory individual to be in this predicament. All in all, it’s just better for me to keep my mouth shut until I decide to share it, and if I do share it with you, then please do not burn my extended olive branch into my circle of trust. . . .It’s hard enough without that.
Guarding Against Judgement continued. . .
Getting back to how this role has changed my life, I usually am an open book, unless it comes to this topic. Until I feel the need to share that is. I still choose to keep the situation a secret until I really get to know someone. At least a little more. Now that my son is more involved in meeting friends and having conversations, it is a little more difficult because he brings up his sister often. I am not ashamed of her. I love her. She fills me with pride and is one of the best things to ever happen to me. However, I choose not to air out the details of our custody to avoid it becoming a defining portion of me when meeting people.
Noncustodial parentage may be common, but a noncustodial mother is not the usual assignment. Just trying to spare us all some judgement is my motivation. I suppose it guards all our hearts, but mine mostly.
My head is constantly filled with the pain of her absence and the loss of custody. Every move I make, I make with her in mind. I try to save money wherever an whenever I can to have more to spare to cover travel expenses and spend on activities and such when we are together. I project my activities and actions out so as to cater to our time together as best as possible. Knowing deadlines for shipping, and when certain tickets go on sale to make sure I don’t miss an opportunity for something she’d enjoy always has my wheels turning.
Never before did I live so rigidly scheduled (outside of work). Projecting visitation, dealing with endless itineraries and the like, really changes how you manage the rest of your life.
A Child’s Empty Bedroom
For the first few years, I avoided her bedroom. There were times she wasn’t at my house for months. The longest span of time I have not seen her is only about two months, but back then I was the one traveling for the most part. The reminder of her empty bed and her dusty toys was too much.
Initially I could not go near her room. Then I would have to go into its emptiness to prepare it upon her next return. Let me just say, dusting a dollhouse your daughter was unable to play with for months is crushing. After the first time I had to dust her toys I vowed to never let her toys get dusty again. From then on I packed her things up each time she left. This may be extreme for some, but packing and unpacking them made more sense to me. When the toys were unpacked, they were good as new and I was happy to place them out and arrange her room in a new, playful way each time. Again, maybe a little extreme, but it worked for me.
If this is your circumstance, I encourage you to identify what your trigger points are. Try to change them if you can. The thought of dusting my daughter’s abandoned toys still makes me squirm to this day. And yes, the process of putting her toys away safely was hard the first few times. Even tear-splattered boxes did not hurt as badly as seeing an empty room with a dusty dollhouse though. Find what works for you.
Realist To A Fault
Baby showers, bridal showers, and weddings are not super joyful events for me anymore. Who doesn’t love going to celebrate these fun themed parties with friends and family? Admittedly, not me. That is new since my status as a noncustodial mother came to be. I see these events as a sad reflection on statistics that most marriages end in divorce and can’t help envisioning the happy couple/parents whoever going downhill like I did back in the day. Maybe even in family court dealing with a nasty custody battle like mine. Sorry, it’s harsh, but it’s my truth.
Once I was at a baby shower and was doing my best to be happy. I truly was happy for this new mom. She had gone through so much to get her baby. However, my reality deceived me at one point during the shower. We were going around the room giving words of advice to the new mom. My turn was approaching. I wanted to head for the hills, but didn’t know how to make a clean exit. My time was running out and I thought I could come up with some baby cliche and get by. Not true. I burst into tears and left without saying anything. Truth is, all I could think of saying was, “don’t get a divorce and move out of state ever.” Well . . . I managed not to say that (thank goodness!), but I did manage to look super crazy. Yay.
Enjoy The Little Things
With the pain and pressure of being a noncustodial mother, there is still good. Enjoyment can still be found and it really trains you to focus on the happiness in the little things.
Any time spent with your child should be treasured. Whether it’s in person or not. Put down what you’re doing and take the call. Make the call. I had never FaceTimed so much in my life than when I became a noncustodial mother. It hurt at first. I resented it; especially when her dad or his various girlfriends were in the background. I had to grit my teeth and push through it. Being a good example was never so hard. Pushing through the desires to be distant changed me. It made me stronger. Seemed it was a strength building exercise because I came out stronger and more resilient for it.
I was changed and retrained to enjoy the little things so much more. Thoughtful gestures, quiet times, uninterrupted phone calls, visits to a favorite donut shop, small town, etc., all became about the quality time more than anything. Creating special memories fortified the basis of our relationship and it was accomplished by not overlooking the little things.
Holidays As A Noncustodial Mother
In most noncustodial arrangements, the visitation happens mostly around holidays and summer break because that’s when kids are off school. It is easy to get wrapped up in the fun and pizazz of holiday norms, but make sure to stop when needed. A big change in my life as a noncustodial mother was when I started saying no to invites and such around times I would have my daughter. Sure the neighbor’s shindig for New Year’s Eve sounds fun, but I would rather tuck my kids in bed or have a party with them together since it’s a rarity. What may be a “normal” way for families to celebrate holidays looks different for a noncustodial parent. I learned to forge my own plans and traditions around holidays so that we stayed focused on time with my daughter.
Now we are years deep into this noncustodial arrangement, and are well set with our traditions and we all love them. They are uniquely ours and still so special.
Make The Most Out Of The Back And Forth
Being a noncustodial parent does not strip you of your role as parent. It only diminishes the constant physical presence in and around their life. Realizing that helped me immensely. Using it to my advantage to support and show love to my daughter helped her and forged our bond to be what it is today.
There is a lot of motion as a noncustodial parent if you or your child are able to travel often. This gives new opportunities to have secluded together time. Use it to your advantage! The time in the corner of an airport waiting for a flight, or the long hours on an interstate drive are wonderful times to bond. Seek out a quiet corner in the airport, grab some snacks, and play games. Plan for some road trip activities that get the two of you talking about your ideas, favorite things, dreams, etc. Some of our favorites are “would you rather?” type questionnaires.
This constant itinerant lifestyle morphed us all into amazing travelers! We now pack lighter, move faster, and really know what we want out of a trip whether it’s big or small. We know the ins and outs of rental cars, their policies, airports, public transportation and so much more. Not a bad change to have adapted so well to this aspect of the noncustodial mother life.
Aim To Help Others In The Noncustodial Mother Boat
If you’ve read this far, thank you. This may be a small platform, but I am glad to have it. Anything that breathes normalcy and acceptance to another noncustodial moms is my goal. This may be far from “normal,” but it should not come with the massive stigma that it does. Wherever you are in your journey as a noncustodial mother, I hope you and your child(ren) are well and doing the best you can. Love knows no boundaries.
As a final thought for this lengthy post I’d like to leave you with this. . .
Grow through what you go through. There will be change. There will be challenges. This is the hand you are dealt. It may be a bad one, but it’s how you play it that matters.