A Nation of Motherless Children?

Last night I sat shivering on the bleachers with the other parents during a Little League pre-season scrimmage. Surveying the mix, I noted mostly moms and sibling hangers-on. Dads certainly attended too, and there were a few dotted here and there, but this was an early game probably more easily attended by stay-home moms and parents who rushed home early from work to get their kids there on time.

(Good men and dads, you know I’m a fan. I respect you and I write about that often. Today I’m writing solely about good moms.)

This simple scene of moms doing daily routine tending of their children–undoubtedly some like me who probably struggled to rustle everyone into the car, swipe a baby wipe across reluctant little faces, make sure the baseball player dressed out, filled up his tank with an egg salad sandwich and a bowl of soup, and toted a Powerade along with his new bat– pressed me to think about the freshest rash of divorce and custody cases that have led to mothers somehow losing full custody of their children.

This meaning, not being granted joint custody, or even generous visitation. In some of the more severely manipulated cases, the tables were turned on mothers who sought to protect their children from abusive fathers; they were punished in family court and by the abusive parent. Many are limited to a couple hours’ supervised visitation every two weeks. They don’t have the privilege of shaking on the bleachers with the rest of us, who naturally take such excursions for granted. Many times there’s a protective order that would keep them from attending even public events such as this, when all they long to do is see their children in action, and enjoy a game to break up a brutal week of missing their children.

Meanwhile, we lucky moms in the stands weren’t relegated to just chauffeurs, egg-salad-sandwich pushers, and spectators. One 13-yr-old waved his bat and proudly yelled to his mom in his cracking adolescent voice, that he was “Second!” in the batting order; another player came to sit by his mom after he’d scored a run. After pulling a muscle diving for a ball in left field, my son limped over to tell me he was OK, then limped back to the dugout to watch his teammates play. These ever-bigger, gangly teens who regularly deny they need anyone? They need their moms, and they show it as unabashedly and exuberantly as preschoolers.

Pilar Sanders, soon to be ex of Deion Sanders, is the latest, very public, example of a good mom in most people’s eyes except Deion’s (who stands, and stood, to gain from positing she was not a good mom, because that would mean he might have to share custody, i.e., share money). I don’t even remember what he said to imply she wasn’t a good mom. He just hurled the same mud-balls spouses hurl to make isolated incidents look like daily rampages, which is things taken out of context at their worst. (Courts could use a few solid journalists around to make sure this doesn’t happen, but I digress.)

But back on my civilian side of the news, I saw that Pilar wept when she heard the restrictive visitation when the jury ruled Deion would retain custody of her two sons. Any mom would break down about this. But she and her legal team were further shocked at an abrupt turn around in a jury decision that enabled her to share custody of her daughter with Deion. Just the next day, something made the judge change his mind. Her daughter is now in sole custody of Deion too. Although attributed to a “petition” to the judge from Deion and his lawyers, what backstage negotiation went behind that one is a mystery.

Do you know the spiritual, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child? All these sad, one-winner cases make me wonder if we’re heading toward a nation of motherless children. It might sound melodramatic, but think about it. More and more, money is the sole deciding factor–the winner’s money, perhaps money he shares with people who enable him to win. I suspect it’s the same money that could have been spent on child support or working together in a joint situation, but that seems a matter off the table.

Money should not be a deciding factor–or much of a factor at all, except for basic expenses for leading a secure life. Lately, child custody is being awarded to the bread-winner (who is usually the father). Is being raised in a household of privilege, when the source of the privilege is away all the time and the child-rearing is done by hired professionals or a live-in grandparent, better than being raised modestly by the one who nurtured the child from birth, better? If so, why? Why can’t the parent who makes more money help the parent who does not–who often has chosen a parenting path over his or her career–give the child what he or she needs to thrive day to day? And then when the child is with the wealthier parent, then that parent can lavish the child as he or she sees fit? Why does it have to be either/or?

I remember some words my mom quoted to my ex when we were going through divorce, when he was going for sole custody of our two sons. She said, “When a soldier is wounded or feels alone on the battlefield, he cries out for his mother.” Why? It’s not because a mother is more important than a father. Children need both–indeed, that’s how they came into being. But mothers are the nurturers, the givers of life. Fathers can be wonderful nurturers too, and there are times when a mother isn’t a suitable parent and the father does far better. He, then, should have custody of the children. He is the better care-giver.

But for the fine mothers, the ones whose parenting role is the essence of her being? We are built–BUILT–to nurture our children. Our bodies are designed so. I applauded the post of a man to Pilar Sanders’  Twitter feed a couple of days ago, saying no matter how much he disliked his ex, he would never willfully keep his child from his mother. I’m not crazy about dealing with my ex either, though we’re more friendly now, but he’s a good dad, and I would never wish my children to lead fatherless lives.

What kind of man goes to every length and expense possible to deny his children a healthy, some would say critical, portion of motherly love in their lives? Or not even that–what kind of man begrudges his ex any meaningful contact with her own children? Is this not evidence he could be lacking as a father? If not, why? Sorry about that failed relationship, man, but the children from it remain. Lucky you to have a magic wallet to make it all go away.

It’s time to stop treating kids as chattel instead of children. Children who need both parents as full participants and nurturers in their lives.

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