I am defective. I’ve thought that about myself and been told that by others. Most people are just quiet in their judgment, but make no mistake, if you do not have primary custody of your child, they are making assumptions about you.
There is a misconception that mothers are always the custodial parent unless they’re found to be abusive, neglectful or living with an addiction. They assume that a judge or a CPS worker took your child away from you to protect him. They assume that you don’t deserve to have custody of your child because the people looking out for the child’s best interest want him to be with the father. These reasons might apply to some mothers, but not me.
Our first temporary orders hearing granted me primary physical custody, but my ex-husband was having none of that. When he turned me in on an out of state bench warrant that was more than a decade old, his attorney had already filed for an emergency hearing. Because I was locked away waiting for my court date when that hearing occurred, everything was overturned and I was granted only 4 days of supervised visits per month upon my release.
Almost one year later, I was still fighting the custody order, but his attorney kept delaying the trial date. His refusal to provide discovery got our trial date pushed back 3 times. They knew that the longer he stayed with his father, the more unlikely a judge would be to uproot him. He was doing well in school and speech therapy and was having his basic needs met. My ex provided financial support, but had his father move in with him to care of our son full time.
I was in a deep depression, missing him so much and feeling powerless to do anything about it. I went to every supervised visit I was granted, feeling embarrassed and ashamed that a 20 year old with a high school education and no children was charged with the task of making sure that my son was safe…from me. I felt the stares of disapproving strangers as we were supervised playing together at the park.Almost every time our visit was over he would scream and cry, “Mommy! Mommy! Want Mommy!” I cheerfully hugged him, told him I loved him and would see him really soon, then I turned around and ran to my car before the tears spilled over. It was excruciating.
It was all so surreal and unbelievable that this child I carried, fed from my breast, and literally spent every day taking care of by myself, was being used as a bargaining chip without any regard for his well-being or mine. I worked long hours for very little pay. I cried myself to sleep night after night, looking forward only to those few precious hours when he would be mine again.
The tactic worked. After missing so much of my son’s life, I was broken down and defeated. I just wanted to hold my baby again! So when the offer was presented on the morning of our trial date offering joint custody, I made a deal with the devil I negotiated for as much time as I could get and gave up my rights to almost everything I was entitled to in order to get a 60/40 time split. He starved me for 2 years and then tempted me with a crumb, who wouldn’t be tempted? Sure, I could have endured another year of supervision and exclusion, waiting to battle it out in court. I probably would have even won, but the price was too high to take that chance.
When people ask me where my son is and I tell them he’s with his dad, I can read the suspicion on their faces. Would a father get the same judgment for being the non-custodial parent? Of course not. Mothers are supposed to be perfect and selfless and work full time while doing at least 75% of the housework and be the primary caretakers. If a dad makes his child support payment and shows up for a weekend visit, we applaud him. Oh, he’s such a great dad! No one asks what he did to lose primary custody. No one.
I am the defective one. It is clear that the world doesn’t see anything wrong with a part-time dad, but a part-time mother must have deserved her fate. He was cold and calculating in his exploitation of our child in order to beat me into submission. I still feel shame when I have to explain my position, but I take it on the chin and move forward. My son needs me to be strong, and so I am.