The Opposite of Tiger Mom: Moms Who Abandon their Children

The Opposite of Tiger Mom: Moms Who Abandon their Children

I just read a profoundly disturbing article entitled “The opposite of a ‘Tiger Mother’: Leaving your Children Behind.”

The first mom featured in this article is Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, an author and writing professor who ten years ago divorced her husband of 20 years, and chose to give up custody of her two sons, ages three and five.

Rizzuto, reflecting on her decision to give up custody of her sons, explained, “I had this idea that motherhood was this really all-encompassing thing. I was afraid of being swallowed up by that.”

“I had to leave my children to find them,” she continues. “[Today], in my part-time motherhood, I get concentrated blocks of time when I can be that 1950s mother we idealize who was waiting in an apron with fresh cookies when we got off the school bus and wasn’t too busy for anything we needed until we went to bed. I go to every parent-teacher conference; I am there for performances and baseball games.”

The second mother profiled in this article is “spiritual adviser” Talyaa Liera who writes for Polaris Rising. In 2008, Liera divorced her husband and chose to move 3,000 miles away from her three younger children ages 15, 11, and 7 (she has a fourth child who is an adult).

Liera recalls: “At the time [of the divorce] I was a heavily involved, attachment-parenting Waldorf mom. I did the whole family bed, breastfeeding-into-toddlerhood, baby-wearing thing. I was at home with my children for 10 years before their father and I split up, and stayed at home after that, trying to create a writing career to support myself.”‬

When Liera left her children behind, she admits that she felt “‪very mixed” but also a distinct “sense of relief.” “‬Now [my children and I] stay in touch by phone, IM, Skype a few times a week,” she says. “I hear about their lives and give support.‬”

And here’s my 2 JewishMOM cents about these two tragic stories of two majorly confused mothers…

What I find so deeply upsetting about these women is that they think that raising children is something that mothers do because it is fun, or it is fulfilling, or it is pleasurable. And parenting CAN be those things. But first and foremost, we take care of our children because as moms, taking care of our children is our primary obligation.

Thou shalt not murder
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not abandon your child

And I think also that these mothers have a second problem: they dream of becoming “Perfect Mothers,” but they are extremely confused about what it means to be a “Perfect Mother.”

Rizzuto defends her current part-time parenting lifestyle by explaining that today: “I get concentrated blocks of time when I can be that 1950s mother we idealize…”

And Lierra similarly brags that “At the time [of the divorce] I was a heavily involved, attachment-parenting Waldorf mom. I did the whole family bed, breastfeeding-into-toddlerhood, baby-wearing thing…”

I am reading between the lines here, but it sounds like maybe what drove these women away from their families was their mistaken belief that the “Perfect Mom” looks like June Cleaver spending her day waiting by the door with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. Or, alternatively, the perfect mother looks like that neighbor who tandem nurses her 3-year-old and 5-year-old in her family bed.*

But setting unrealistic mothering standards is like trying to sprint the marathon. After a few years, mothers like that burn out, or in some rare cases even fly the coop, like Rizzuto and Liera.

For kids AND mothers to thrive long term, we moms need to learn how to pace ourselves for the long haul. That means that we need to be constantly fine-tuning the “Give to Myself/Give to Them” balance in our lives—in order to figure out what we need to give to ourselves in order to continue giving to our families.

And when we learn how to properly nurture ourselves, we will be able to nurture our families– not just for one year or for 10 years, but all the way to the finish line. With God’s help.

*I have nothing against June Cleaver moms or tandem nursing moms, as long as those mothers also make sure to stay in touch with what they need as people in order to thrive long-term.

Special thanks to Miriam Sherr for forwarding me this article!

Photo courtesy of Michael McClauslin

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24 comments

  1. Daniella

    Agreed. That second mother in particular sounds incredibly self-absorbed.

    Though I think there may be room to say that in some cases, giving up custody of one’s children may be the best thing for the children too. Of course, those are cases in which the mother is incompetent or at least less competent and caring than the father is, which is a serious problem in and of itself…

    May we never know from such things.

  2. How sad. And now what will these kids have to go through when they become mothers themselves, having never seen anything other than “perfect” or completely absent parenting?

  3. well, this whole subject really hits my “on” button, and please excuse the rant…

    my mother raised four kids in the 60′s and 70′s when everyone around her was waking up and wanting to be liberated. my mother was born and raised in Israel, raised by idealistic Halutzim parents. compared to her suburban middle-class american neighbors, she was light-years ahead of them concerning “liberation”.

    her basic theory was this: go to school, get an education. decide early (as in age 10) if you want to be married, then plan your life from there. if you don’t want to get married, then plan a career you can sink your heart and soul into. if you do want to get married, choose a career you can study for, and then put that degree in your back pocket until after you’ve raised your kids.

    i have a Master’s in Psychology, and for the past 21 years, i have not officially worked. and yet, daily, i am accosted by the question, “You have a degree–why aren’t you working? why are you wasting time at home with your kids?”
    ( i will not begin the part of the rant that describes my intense anger at the question being asked by frum jews, i can’t begin to express that feeling of horror…)
    I have come to the point that , when asked that question, I simply say, “I am staying home and raising my kids, so that in 20 years or so, my kids won’t have to waste precious time and money paying a therapist like me to straighten out the mess their mother made by abandoning them when they were little.”

    • Elisheva

      ::clapping:: Well-said.

    • I love your last paragraph! I got my Masters in Elem. Ed., took off 14 years to raise my children, then went back to teaching. My happiest years were raising my children. They are happy & successful adults now, with their own children. And don’t get me started on the joys of being a grandma . . .

  4. I know a grown (young) woman who had this situation of the mother leaving the family. I can see her emotional scars, and its so sad. She can’t get back that nurturing which she missed.
    Once when I had trouble with raising my young children, someone told me “grow up with your kids, thats how you raise them”.
    Nobody is grown up fully, and nobody has straightened out their issues fully. We need to teach mothers HOW to develop, secure, and procure, a support group so that they can accept their parenting mistakes and have the love and support to get “through it”.
    Its not easy and its harder for some, but we have to give Ahavas Yisrael, support and more, because we never know which mom is the one having a major crisis.

  5. I have felt like this– dear, I have so felt capable of abandoning my kids, leaving them with my husband and going somewhere for an “identity”– a job, a life of my own. So my mom flew me down to Arizona to spend a few weeks– it was my first vaccation in over ten years, and I was leaving state without someone dying. It was glorious. I came home to a total mess, my husband had been a slob and put on the kids to clean. My teenager, knowing that I wanted to get away, didn’t know if I was going to return and she said that if I left, she’d come with me.

    I didn’t appreciate my husband more, and it took me 6 months to recover from the cleaning up of that trip– no joke! My husband didn’t care about me more.

    I did realize that I need breaks. If I have a knitting class scheduled and at the last second my kids have a birthday party, I do my knitting class, instead. The kids can come first, but sometimes, they don’t.

    These moms sound like the women who’d intimidate me if I met them as mommies. I don’t think that it is “fair” to judge them without asking more questions that they have a right to say no to. I have more questions to ask– did they have breaks? Was it a lack of money or control in their lives? DID THEY HAVE GIRL FRIENDS who weren’t just like them, who understood a need to break out? I have a feeling that their husbands may have not been what they needed as turbo-mommies. They didn’t leave their children, they left their husbands.

    • I like the way you have worded your comment. I was in a 10 year marriage and had 4 kids in that time. About the 8th year of hte marriage it became very abusive because of the stress and pressure of his business and turning to alcohol. He was always a very aggressive, controlling and motivating person but it got worse after he was audited and almost shut down his business. I never had any money to do anything with, wore the same raggy clothes for years, I barely got clothes for my kids but they were always hand me downs. His income was high enough that we could have been livin it up and having a great life but instead we lived in a pole barn garage with no walls on the inside to seperate bedrooms, used a tub that wasnt even hooked up to the walls, we had to drag it over the drain and hook up the water hose to the sink to fill up the bath. It was so humiliating, those last few years. He wore me down with always telling me we should quit buying food so I could lose my weight and thats why he wouldn’t ever put money into me because I didnt deserve it. I over compensated with trying to be a perfect mom. Trying to be that old fashioned woman that he wanted, I started sewing our clothes, crocheting blankets, making cloth diapers for my babies, every meal was homemade because I was an evil Mom if I dare to buy my kids frozen foods. I left him in January of this year. I took my kids with me. I tried for months to find a job but it was hard because he wouldnt take the kids any longer than a couple of hours every couple of days. He wasnt paying child support but for some dumb a*s reason I still drove the 1/2 hour everytime to drop off my kids and pick them up. I ended getting evicted from my house cuz I ran out of ways to pay my rent. I took my kids to his house and told him “its your turn”. I had to take some time out to get a job and to get my self a home. It’s been 3 months now and they are still living with him. I am living a few miles away with a friend still working ft and still see the kids every other day or so unless I’m working overtime. Not a day goes by that I dont miss being with and raising my kids. Its hard to watch their dad get all excited when they are doing new things and I’m not there at the same time. And sometimes I still wonder if I’m doing the right thing right now. I ask myself should I struggle and have my kids in my care like I did before and just suck it up? I dont know. It’s still confusing and its going to be a long road still yet. I know I need help from the damage the marriage has done to me and sometimes I feel downright numb and dont care about anything in my life including the little ones, other times like right now when I read something so controversial it hits me, hard.

  6. I think it is important for mothers to take for themselves a little quite time out.

    I just took my quiet time and spent the time reading the inspiring posts on your website.

    Thank you again!

  7. you are so right dear chana! why do the papers always put the stress on extreme personalities; i mean between tiger moms and those selfish and irresponsible moms, here we are, moms who try to do their best and to cope with daily routine, little and big crisis, and to do something of our lives which really matter. But our western and so called modern world value selfishness more than mesirout nefech which is what motherhood is about! xxx

  8. Stay@HomeDad

    Wonderfull opinions and thoughts regarding these two sad and disturbed women.

  9. Don’t be so quick to judge. These mothers did not “abandon” their children as they do stay in touch. They bought into the whole idea that motherhood is the ultimate experience. An unhappy mother at home is just as likely to send a child into therapy as one who leaves. I know. My mother was miserable and was hardly maternal. She did the bare minimum to keep us alive. And as much as I wanted to stay at home with my daughter, when my husband lost his job, I went back to work so we could have health insurance. But I made it my business to be there for the important moments in her life. Did I abandon my daughter? Hardly. And what makes it different for fathers? Why is it okay for them to go to all corners of the earth and not mothers? My husband was home with our daughter for few years. She turned out just fine, thank you.

  10. You are right on with your comments. And you are an inspiration to all of us trying to be good to ourselves so we can be good for our families – for the long haul! Thank you!!

  11. An interesting read. While my knee jerk reaction to the two mothers was “how selfish!”, I do wonder what other aspects have been left out. It seems the second one was running from her husband more than her kids. I think our preconceptions of perfection absolutely affect our parenting and how we feel about our parenting. As a child of divorced parents, I can say from experience, sometimes parents are incredibly selfish and it just baffles the mind.

    Personally, I am struggling to keep the balance between being a mama and being an independent woman. I am a full time grad student, and I am the primary caregiver to my darling son (husband works 40+ hours); it’s REALLY hard sometimes! But my education is important to me, and I think it’s possible to maintain personal identity while fulfilling our out-of-home goals without abandoning the kids.

    Some have mentioned the double standard of men being able to leave vs the women, but in my experience it’s just as damaging to be abandoned by a father as it is to be abandoned by a mother! My youngest siblings have not heard from their father in over 3 years, and when they were in contact he was a total deadbeat and hardly interested in them. They now have deep emotional wounds and I can’t say it would have been any worse if it had been our mother who left them instead.

  12. My mum left me when I was only 4. She actually only looked after me for a few months before going back to work and left me in the care of her mum and sometimes childcare. I have no problem with that, as long as she’s there to be with me at the end of the day. When she left me at 4, it wasn’t because of necessity (we were comfortable), but she thought a life in Australia would be great cause that’s the golden dream of most Chinese people at the time. I was moved to another city to goto school and be looked after by my other grandmother. My Dad was a merchant sailor and was away for a year at a time. When I was 9, my dad and I moved to Australia to live with my mum.

    Well some hot life she ended up with, let’s just say it wasn’t worth dropping a comfortable life back in China for. By that time I was already an emotional mess, had severe social anxiety and attachment issues, as well as depression. Everything escalated and I am now a dysfunctional adult. I may have trouble remembering events (such as the day she left me), but the emotional scars have plagued my whole life. Thanks mum…and thanks for the icing on the cake when you don’t even care that I tell you i’ve been hurt by your actions. Instead you blame my genes! Well even if I was born defective, why add fuel to fire and leave me to fend for myself? Some people are not meant to be parents. I wish I was never born.

    I have my own baby and even with attachment, bonding and psychological issues, I still won’t abandon my parental responsibilities and create another mess. Once you become a parent, the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing is the most important thing. How can you be sure those are met when you are not even there?

    Mums who abandon their children and families may have ‘justifications’ in their minds and think their kids are fine. They will grow up to resent you when they become parents and realise what selfish, calculating and unnatural actions you have taken.

    • Oh Stella. Yours was the best post. We are struggling here with my two grandsons who were abandoned by their mother. Their father has done a great job being the sole parent. I am trying to be the “mother” so they get that experience. It is very hard because I can see the hurt in their eyes. They will know without our telling them what the situation has been. Once you have a child, it is your responsibility to be the parent. Jackie Kennedy said that if you screw up your children, it does not matter what else you have done with your life. Great woman, great quote.

      • I’m already in therapy for anxiety. I’m totally overwhelmed with my life. I’m about to have my 6th child in 9 years and my husband travels 50%. The closest grandparent is 1000 miles away. They’re living their own selfish lifestyle, but they would never think it with all of their volunteering and adopting another family to help. Anyway, I’ve thought of leaving, but won’t because of my faith. However, I’m so stressed I’m yelling constantly. I can’t even think straight to give someone an answer to an easy question.

        I used to want to be that “perfect” mom, but realize it’s not possible. I have my BS and would like to go back to school part time, but husband just told me we couldn’t afford it. He makes well over 6 figures and has rental properties. I don’t get that one. However, he is the better parent. He’s calm, loving, spends all of his free time with the kids (or me when possible).

        Maybe I’m wanting something not possible on this side of heaven.

  13. carmel morgan

    i am fighting to see my children at the moment, i left my children with my x husband, went back for them the same week , and he got acourt order saying i deserted them, that was in 2003, i am still fighting to get them back, i am bringing him aback to court, now he has stopped letting me see the kids, i got joint custody of the children once they reside with him he has made up so many lies can some one please help me,

  14. Chana Jenny, after reading all these posts, I’m awash with emotion at all the JewishMOms out there who have been in or are currently in similar crises or potentially devastating crossroads in their lives: looks like there may be need for some sort of support group with a professional JewishMom at the helm ….. I am feeling a cry for help and don’t have the tools to respond appropriately myself.

  15. I am not Jewish, but find many of these posts extremely inspirational and filled with wisdom. Thank you for your contribution to fellow moms of any faith. Numbers 7:22-27.

  16. Add me and my 2yr old daughters to the list. Left us penniless and refuses to see our daughter. I insisted on meeting a Jewish man, that I used the Internet to meet someone.

  17. I agree with the point of the article, but are these true cases of abandonment?

    I have been thinking a lot about maternal abandonment lately, as my grandmother (who I never once met- who never once reached out to me and I’m 19) recently passed. She and my dad hadn’t spoke in decades, as she had divorced his father (my zayde) and abandoned them when my dad was 5. It was the first case in our state where custody went to the father after a divorce, according to my aunt. He was the oldest child, so he was forced to decide between his parents, and his younger sisters followed suit based on my dad’s choice. My zayde was an obvious one to choose as he was much much more of a responsible parent than my dad’s mom- she would leave them home alone as small children when going out with men, etc. But still, it was a terrible position for him to be in at age 11 (some time had passed between the initial abandonment and the litigation). After my dad made his decision, my grandma really hated him and was critical of him. My dad never spoke to his mom after his teenage years. When my dad had my older siblings and then me, my grandmother never reached out to any of us- not once, ever! My mom never even met her. She passed a few days ago, and I’ve only ever seen her in one picture from when she was like 30.

    What mother could abandon their children like this, abandon their entire family and never even meet their grandchildren? It just baffles me. It makes me very grateful for the family I do have, and makes me understand my father better. I hope my grandma found peace somehow in her life, regardless of the horrible effects she had on everyone else.

  18. Bottom line: my parents did the best they could, and it was worse than I wanted and better than what others got. I have blamed plenty on my father’s emotional abandonment and my mother’s physical abandonment. But at some point the grown child needs to determine what his/her story is going to be, and it can most certainly be that s/he has a glorious life that passes along hope, love, and loyalty in powerful ways and does not continue the abandonment. Those genuinely worried about the kids will volunteer, give tzedakah, get to know the neighbors and offer help to the suffering. Becoming a parent does not cure or protect us from mental illness, exhaustion, or addiction. It does not give us insightful coping skills or perspective. Women who run leave children that can benefit from our attention. More productive and helpful to focus on rachmanus for the kids left behind than on judging the parents who leave.

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