Non-Custodial Parenthood: The Trap

“As a parent, I have often wondered what it would be like to raise a child.”  Here I sit, 15 years later – still without my son.

My parents said they had wanted to help, “Don’t worry about anything daughter,” my dad told me, “You just take care of yourself.  We will take care of the baby.”

My social worker told me “You have a choice between foster homes or a relative. In a foster home, you will never have a chance to get your son back, because he will just get lost in red tape.”

Choosing my parents seemed like the perfect decision at the time.  I was 19 years old then and, while my parents had abused me both physically and emotionally, I still trusted them as their world was all I knew and understood.  My ex-husband who had disappeared during the divorce proceedings had also been abusive towards me.  All I knew was violence and unrest.  The social worker saw that I had a chance to get out of a world that would take me nowhere except to the welfare line.  My parents had not abused my younger brothers as they had with me, so I felt my son would be safe with them.

Non-Custodial Parenting (NCP) is not an issue of “Dead-Beat” parents.  These parents, the NCP’s, want their children returned to them but are held back by legal custodians.  These custodians are often times their own parents.  This can present a conflict between the NCP and their child’s grandparents.  The grandparents begin their custodial-ship for altruistic reasons.  However, as their tireless journey gets underway, their innocent feelings subside.  The powerlessness they had felt from their own children becomes power through the grandchild.  Suddenly, their anger toward their own child is diffused, as the grandchild becomes a pawn.  If the grandparents succeed, they will not only have their child back but the grandchild will stay as well.

Before further reading, I must provide a disclaimer toward this highly controversial article.  Not all grandparents react to the aforementioned matter in the same way.  Grandparents raising their grandchildren is an ever increasing population of second families.  Not all parents try to regain custody of their children.  Not all grandparents are as vindictive toward their own children as in my story.  As with all situations and different types of families, some people are good and some are bad.

“What do you want to do with your life?” the social worker had said.

“I would like to go to college and be somebody.”  These words came so swiftly from my mouth, I hardly had time to allow negative distractions to wash them away.  Since I had said it, I felt that I should live up to this dream.  Especially since my son was gone and I didn’t have any other excuses.  Besides, I had thought, this way I can get my son back and it will only be temporary.

After I graduated from college, I called my family.  “I would like to have [my son] back now.”

“Well Jeannine, what kind of money do you have?  What kind of insurance plan are you on? How much money do you have in the bank?” my father asked.  I had not thought of these things.  My energies were focused on graduating, maturing then my son would come back.  I had worked very hard at my job and made a decent living.  I could take care of myself, so I was sure I could take care of my son.

I have never felt “ready” to have him back in my life.  A certain kind of bonding goes on between a mother and child.  The mother feels neglected when there is a detachment.  When a child dies the connection becomes spiritual.  When a child is still alive the parent still has a drive to become re-united.  Losing my son was detrimental to my well being.  Growing up as an adult, going to college, were extremely painful times for me and I sought out relationships, just for the sake of not going at it alone.

Many women and men, who fall into the trap of NCP’s, re-create families that are lifeless and doomed, all for the sake of having other children.  Trying to make that special bond come back again.  I had worked on a book that discussed the subject of NCP’s.  In my research, I interviewed several people who have traveled this very path.  Four women at a local shelter, whose relationships had led them down to this very narrow path.  Their strength and courage to survive was undeniably unique.  Their vision to someday become re-united with the child they had lost was a battle with a chance of victory in their eyes.  Many times the people I spoke to had no idea how they were going to overcome this challenge, but their faith seemed to surpass this obstacle.

Finally, I had a chance.  For almost three years my son came to live with me.  I made sure he was in Boy Scouts, basketball, chess teams, you name it he did it.  I still did not have an adequate income, but we made do!  My life seemed to be okay.  The college degree I had didn’t apply to much because it was only an associates and I knew that I needed more.  I began to entertain the idea of continuing my education and getting my bachelor’s.

Now I was becoming Supermom.  My son had his life, and I had mine.  I worked forty hours a week, came home and made dinner, went to his games and then put him to bed.  Once a week, I would take a night class at the local junior college.  It was a start toward my higher education.  I thought that our life was the way it was supposed to be.   My son was very confused with his new life though.  His life with mom, minus the family he knew in Ohio.  He stole from the local stores and then would come home and tell me his friends had done it.  Things would turn up broken around the apartment complex and there would be knocks at my door.  Several times a gang of young children would come to my door to tell me what my son had done to them.  My son would have this act of crying “real tears,” and throw a fit of passion explaining to me how honest he was and how those people were lying.  I bought it a couple of times and then realized there were some serious emotional problems.

“Mother, [my son] has been stealing and lying and I don’t know what to do?”  I explained to my mother on the phone.

“He never acted like that when he was with us, NEVER,” she would reply.  Then she would continue to scold me with comments about my lifestyle and telling me I shouldn’t waste my money on some stupid college classes.

As I was driving home one day, I had a minor fender bender.  It jerked my head back so fast that it was like a smack from God.  “Wake up Jeannine, I told myself,” you are not enough for your son.  I cried all the way home as I realized my relationship with my son was over.  I wasn’t married and he needed a father.  My financial situation was not like my parents.  I didn’t even live in a house.  So when I walked in the door, after this accident, I looked my son square in the eye.  “What do you really want in your life?”  I yelled at him.  “You lie,  you steal, you complain all the time about your life.  WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT?”  Then I calmed down and asked him in a quieter voice.  “Do you really want to live with me or not?”

“I want to live with grandma and grandpa,” he said, “but I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” he continued.

That weekend he was on the next plane.  “Don’t cry mom, I hate that when grandma does that.”  He kept looking at his watch as if he couldn’t wait to get away from me.  “I wish that plane would not be so late,” he told me.  Then he continued to say, “I wonder who will pick me up from the airport.”

My son lives with his grandparents as he wishes.  His father (who had at that time re-appeared) and he get together every weekend without fail.  That was thanks to a lot of work I did over the years, trying to find this man and encouraging him to take an interest in his son and pay child support so that I could raise him.  He would never pay anyone any money, but he was happy to spend time with his son if it was convenient for him.  Meanwhile, I had given up and returned to my own life.  Letting go and giving my son his space to be happy in his life.

What is it to be happy?  When does it all begin to go so wrong that you don’t know where to stop and start over?  I became so lost in a world of who I was supposed to be that I forgot to be myself.  It is my hope that others will not fall into the same trap and so it is my intention to allow others to examine their own personal stories through mine.  How have you been raised? What do you need to say about this?

The issue is about grandparents raising their grandchildren.  It is about people being forced into situations with their children because they don’t know where to turn.  Young people getting married, raising children, possess love and passion, not the political savvy to win custody in a court trial we barely understand.  We turn to what we knew before we got married.  Our childhood, with all its misfortunes and yet routine.

1996, This article was written to be an introduction to my original book, Absent Hearts, Missing Pieces.

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