The Hardest Things About Being A Non-Custodial Mother

It’s not the long drives and miles put on my car. It’s not frustrated family members who suffer through broken communication with my ex. It’s not even my other children whining that they miss their brother, or asking when he’ll be back, or wanting to call him during the day when he’s at school.

It’s something so much more shattering than all of this.

It’s not knowing.

Not knowing if he had a rough morning, or if he’ll be angry at you in ten years. Not knowing if his stepmom secretly thinks you’re a piece of shit. Not knowing if you’ll ever forgive yourself. Not knowing what he cries about on his hard days, not knowing what kids ask him for help at school.

It’s explaining yourself.

The look on people’s faces when you tell them that you have a child that lives with his dad in another state. That you have three kids… some of the time. Explaining to your boss that they assigned you all of the holidays you have with your kid. Explaining to your kid that you have to work when they come up to see you. Explaining to your kid’s school that yes, they can wrap their heads around informing you and yes, there’s a policy for that and no, you don’t care that the situation is unusual. Explaining that your situation is unusual. Explaining your postpartum depression. Explaining that you didn’t want to be a mother, that you felt in your bones that your child was better off with someone else. It’s reminding your ex that this was not selfish. It’s digging deep for gratitude when your resentment for being hated runs deep.

It’s people who love you giving a constant stream of suggestions that sound like death sentences.

It’s uncertain grief.

The pain of the loss of time. The weeks, months, years of his life that you’ve missed. The loss of something you will always be trying to chase because, no, it’s not dead, it’s just fleeting, and you’re missing it. It’s the grief of him calling someone else “mama” not out of his own grief, but out of a love that you never knew, and it’s the grief of a sacred space at the table. It’s the heartbreaking grief of guilt, sorrow, and regret of an impossible choice. The grief over what you don’t know isn’t being said or told to you. The insecurity of exclusion. The insecurity of forgiveness that may never come.

It’s forgetting.

How small his hands were. What his favorite jokes were. What music we listened to when we were all still together. The good times. The joy. The laughter and funny faces.

And it’s the indescribable feeling of my body being lost at sea without my child. Him being cradled by another woman and the aches in my bones for his smooth, smelly skin against mine.

It’s a heart that aches painfully in my chest when the tides of this grief rise and ebb, and rise again.