You hear it all the time. Mothers are nurturing. Mothers should never be separated from their children. You're basically the devil if you want or have to return to work.
And the father, well: he's applauded if he so much as changes one diaper. When you're a "woman" and you have a child, everyone expects you to drop every damn thing and devote (enslave) yourself to that new little creature. People think there's something seriously wrong with you if you dare to take the time to take care of yourself. It's supposed to be wired into you. There are reams and reams of articles and books on it.
I call bullshit on all that.
My child is my miracle for a number of reasons. It was supposed to be impossible for me to conceive or carry to term. But it happened. I ended up getting everything I didn't want during the birth but I was simply grateful my child was healthy. I watched my child grow. My expressions, my movements, my sense of humor. Lovely little thing.
But I'm an introvert. A writer. A thinker. And differently abled. I need a certain amount of time to myself, alone, or I begin to wear thin. My head begins to crowd and I get stressed out with all of the extraneous information. Thankfully, my partner understood this from the beginning. He was no idle parent; he was actively engaged from day one. He served as our child's pillow for the first six months. There was no arguing about who did what around the house. I had plenty of experience with children from years of my mother bringing other kids into our home and then from raising my sister's kids with her. When the father of my child joined our family, he learned about childcare by watching us.
All in all, I think we had—and still have—a much easier time of it than many people. There are still some things we can improve upon. I am horribly impatient. But I learned patience. I knew almost no positive role models; I needed more examples. Ironically enough, watching kids' shows and of course researching the hell out of positive parenting sites helped me garner ideas to foster better communication between my child and me. Everyone's always shocked by how well-spoken and knowledgeable the kids in our family are. That's what naturally happens when they're given room and when the moms are also given room.
When raising my sister's children, my sister and I traded off. We had a rhythm, a system, and things ran smoothly. For a while, the fathers seemed a bit lost. At first they weren't around. Until I met my current partner and we had a child. My sister's partner hated him at first; this wasn't how dads were supposed to act. Men were supposed to sit around playing video games when they were home from busting their ass making enough money to support the family, right? Because my partner was fully a parent, it behooved her partner to step up as well if he didn't want to "look bad by comparison".
My partner and I have never taken the usual route when it comes to anything in our relationship and parenting is no different. Though I did less writing, I did do it whenever the baby was napping or sleeping overnight. I watched movies and anime I loved. I listened to music. And as baby turned into toddler, I did Zumba in our living room as he watched with glee. We played and cleaned and danced and laughed. And when I needed a breather, I stepped outside or into my room while he occupied himself. Early on, I established boundaries between him and me, explaining that I needed some time to myself but that I wasn't leaving him. I still remember him sitting outside the bathroom talking to me after I taught him what privacy was. He didn't like it at first but then he created ways for us to still connect, even through the door.
My partner followed my lead. He wanted to become a better father. And he wanted me to take care of myself. That's why a little over a year ago, when I decided to remain in California during a visit, my partner said okay. There were better job opportunities and better health care (which I've turned out to seriously need; my health has gone to absolute shit). It's a much safer environment; I've only been hit on a few times in this past year, versus that and worse nearly every day I even poked my head outside in my last state and I'm much less likely to run into someone I know. Nearly everyone in that city knows one another or is related to one another, which meant there were always less than six degrees of separation between me and my rapists/molesters.
My partner's family didn't understand.
"Why would a mother abandon her child?" they asked.
These are the same people that, when our child was under two, complained that we never let him go anywhere overnight because most people didn't know how to care for his intact penis. They already didn't much like me. I was their son's first everything. I was a heathen, a bisexual, and a rape survivor at that. Surely I was too damaged for their precious, godly son. It's been nearly nine years and I don't believe that sentiment has changed, though I do think they've grudgingly finally accepted it's not just my pussy keeping him with me. They don't understand why we just don't get married already.
And now I've committed the ultimate sin. I left my child behind.
In the last year, I've seen my little buddy only twice, once when he and his father came to visit here and once when I took a trip back there. We talk every once in a while on Skype. That's always hilarious. He's not quite 4 but he understands how planes work and so asks when he'll get on the plane to come see me in California. He creates games for us to play through the phone. He's brilliant. And he's bright, even while he's in pain. That tether is still there. Every time I see a child I think of him. I can't wait to see him, hug him, and play with him once more in person.
But I don't regret moving without him. I know he's in good hands with the rest of his family. I know he misses me. I know that the time left to instil his core values is closing (the first four or five years are the most formative). I also know that that city was killing me. It had been ever since I was forced to move there. I knew that if I didn't get out I would die in that smothering atmosphere. I have been fighting ever since I left to come back here, to come home. And here I am building a new home for my beautiful family. First my child and his father. Eventually my siblings and their kids. Maybe a few of my closest friends. One at a time.
But it starts with me. Because I dared to do that one thing you do not do. I left my child behind. In order to create a better future.
I don't want him growing up thinking that mothers don't have their own lives outside of their children, that any parent doesn't have a life outside of their child. I don't want him to sacrifice his dreams, his sanity, health, or his sense of worth for anyone. I don't want him to go crazy trying to do "the right thing". I want him to be free.
Am I a bad mother for spending a year away from him?
It's not easy but I believe he's worth it, and so am I.