Shame and the non-custodial mom

single dad loose custody

According to Census data, there are more than 3 million single-father-headed U.S. households.

That suggests there are approximately as many non-custodial moms.

Why are moms the non-custodial parent?

Included in those women are mothers who chose to have minority time sharing with their children.

These are women who are unable to be with their children for at least 50% because of work obligations, incarceration, mental illness including depression, addiction, or charges of abuse.

These are also moms who were found by a court to be the lesser of two parents, and only awarded “visits” with her own children.

Those are the facts. But admit your assumption when you hear that a mother is the non-custodial parent:

You assume she is unstable, an addict, negligent, suffering from mental health issues or otherwise fucked up.

And most likely, a mom without primary custody of her kids is more likely to be in worse mental state than a dad. To wit:

According to Census figures, in 2011, 32 percent of custodial fathers didn’t receive any of the child support that had been awarded to them, compared with 25 percent of custodial mothers.


Dads tend to earn more than moms, because, well, men earn more than women.

Also, as Mona Chalabi of told NPR:

For a father to become the custodial parent, very often the mother might not be in a particularly good position. She might be struggling to find work. She might have drug problems. There can be all kind of issues there. […] That might play into the ability of those noncustodial mothers to actually make those child-support payments.

That may be the facts now, and it is certainly the stereotype.

But we need to face our prejudices, for ourselves and each other, and relinquish any shame or judgement attached to women who opt out of the role of stay-at-home, full-time, primary parent. That is not only dated, and does not serve individual women (as stay-at-home moms are more prone to depression, anger, vulnerability to domestic violence, and poverty, especially after a marriage or relationship ends), but holds women back collectively.

No matter the reason, the shame and judgement placed on minority, non-custodial moms is grave. Even if it is by her own choice.

A mom chooses to be non-custodial parent

A 50/50 mom shared this on Millionaire Single Moms, a Facebook group I run:

I hate to admit it, but motherhood has been very difficult for me. I love my daughter beyond all reason, but as a ‘thinking’ woman, it has taken away a part of my spirit. I can’t help but feel a deep resentment that I gave up so much of my life and very identity. My ex and I have 50/50 custody of our 8-year-old and I’m starting to consider asking him to shoulder more of the parenting burden.

Immediately other moms chimed in, sharing their own feelings about depression, overwhelm and secret wishes they had more help — including from their kids’ dads. I shared how my own feelings have shifted over the years,  from being devastated to be away from my babies for a moment, to encouraging my ex take them way more our custody agreement stipulated.

Of course it can be very, very desirable to be the non-custodial parent. Parenting is grueling work, emotionally taxing, and requiring of great sacrifice. That is why men choose it every day.

And then there are men who despise being relegated to minority-time parent, yet are forced into that role by a court system stuck that adheres to 1950s rules: Mom cares for babies, and is dependent on a breadwinning man.

No matter: All men as the minority parent is a culturally sanctioned role. Mom as the majority parent is the cutlurally sanctioned role.

Both are sexist.

Both are less-good for kids, per the research.

Moms as minority parents are judged, guilted and shamed for being incompetent mothers, damaged women, broken people.

What if no one had to make that hard choice? What if no one had to suffer the shame, or the guilt of choosing, or forced to be to be the minority parent?

What if no one had to struggle under the burden of being a primary, 70% or 80% or 100% parent?

After all — most moms will tell you — no one asked them if it was convenient or preferable to be the majority parent. That momentous task was forced upon them by way of sexism.

What if we all just signed up for 50/50 parenting [exceptions for abuse of course!], and called it a day?


Shared parenting alleviates moms from guilt

To the original comment at the top of this post:

It is so ingrained in us that mothers are to assume primary residence, custody and care of children, that it is a real source of shame and stigma when they are not.

This shaming extends to moms who have equally shared parenting time.

Here are some messages I’ve received from moms about 50/50 parenting schedules:

I’m in the process of divorce and 50/50 parenting makes sense to me, but all the women around me are aghast that I would be OK with being away from my kids all that time. They say things like, “OMG, I could never be away from my kids all that time!” and “Do you really think that is good for the children to be apart for you for so long?” Emma, the pressure is real!

When I tell people my ex and I share parenting time equally, they look at me like I have two heads. I get all kinds of comments about how they would never allow it, and how much they would miss their kids. I know their comments are uneducated, but they still get to me sometimes. It’s like living my life is an act of aggression on their motherhood.

In other words, the shame and guilt are real, including for women who get it and share parenting equally.

Takeaway: Don’t expect this to be easy. We are in the middle of a social revolutions, and mothers with shared parenting arrangements, or seeking 50/50 parenting, are the foot soldiers.

That said: Shared parenting is key to relieving guilt and shame for non-custody moms.

Equally shared parenting removes custodial and non-custodial titles, since time and responsibility become 50-50

On a persona level, this kind of sharing is so cathartic — when you’re a single mom there are so many things that can contribute to feeling of shame — the end of a marriage, pregnancy outside of marriage, not enough money, feeling like you’re not doing enough for your kids, or that you’re totally alone in a world of married people.

One thing I’ve learned by sharing my own story on my blog is that if I experience it or feel it, other people do too. I’m not so special that my feelings are unique.

And that gives me comfort.

What are you thinking and feeling? What are your feelings of shame as they relate to being a single mom? Do you wish you had less time with your kids? Were the non-custodial parent? Share in the comments.

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  1. If anyone has advice or support let me know. My story is I moved from my home state of Washington with my ex to North Dakota . We loved there for 4 years and had another baby. I was always moving for his job. He neglected our marriage and found someone else. I stayed after the divorce and we shared 50/50. Neither of us had family there but he had support and I didn’t. He wouldn’t help with much and made my life very difficult. I found someone dated long distance and then got engaged and we filed for me to move the kids. I have always been a involved and active mom. The court saw through his lies even though I had soils evidence and testimony. The kids are miserable and I am now paying child support. If there are words of encouragement please let me know. I am feeling so frustrated because the moment us moms put ourselves first for a second we are having to Sacrifice more than a man. In my opinion. I may be bitter but just looking for support as I feel isolated in this position as I am a good mom, no drug addiction. Etc.

    Heartbroken mom.

  2. Happy to report that biding my time has finally paid off. I now have sole custody of my kids. His crimes are catching up with him and he’s back in a jail. His money is running out and his family is tired of financing his crimes.

  3. So happy I found this article and I know that there are women out there like me. It still brings me a lot of shame, some days I am fine, but almost every morning I wake up missing my son. My situation was brought on because I didn’t have a lawyer and he did. For some reason I trusted him through a lot of the court proceedings because I had this hope in the back of my mind that we would end up back together and repair the family. It hurts when I have to talk to someone who abused me for years about when I can see my son. It hurts when I know that he used this as another way to abuse me, to take away the person I love the most. It hurts me when he asks to “go home” when I feel like his home is with me. I feel like most days I’m in mourning even though this happened years ago.

    1. I have two girls, I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping their environment the same as much as possible and giving up the house and giving him my girls to pick my own self up. Now I mourn them, and I dont get calls and they don’t pick up mine and it’s my problem now. I did move but I had to, visits were good and now they don’t want to come. I feel for you, this is hard and there is no advice but greiving advice and it’s crazy to me. I carry a lot of shame. I thought I was doing the best I could minus some mistakes. I pray that the result of trying will make them happy adults and hopefully then I’ll be needed somewhere. Idk. I pray for you and those dark days and nights. You’re not alone. I’m not perfect I know, I made my mistakes but during this time I’m trying to heal my hurt from my past so I dont put abandonment resentment on them from my old trauma. I just miss them and hope they know I love them and I’m sorry.

  4. Thank you! Mothers who are the non custodial parent support is very lacking. Glad that you have a forum for those who can relate.

  5. Reading all of these stories are like reading my own. My ex threw me out of the house bc I had met someone else and he was livid. He presented me with divorce papers three weeks later. Being that I was a stay-at-home mom, he was the breadwinner and got himself an excellent attorney. He told me that him and the kids are a “package deal.” Also told me, “I hope you know you’ve ruined your life” He has had sole custody of my children for 9 years (they are 20, 17, and 13). I couldn’t fight bc I literally had no money. I also believe my ex paid off the law guardian as well as the “supervisors” at the horrid place I had to go to. He talked about moving 900 miles away to be closer to family. I flew once a month to see my kids for about 2 hours. When I moved about a year and a half later to be near them, the custody agreement stated that I’d have increased visitation (I despise that word). I got to see them once a week for an hour with a supervisor, and then my ex decided he’d be the supervisor. Almost 4 years ago, my two oldest children stopped wanting to see or talk to me. They have completely cut me out, even tho I continue to text, send cards, bday and xmas gifts, etc. I see my youngest every other Sunday for one hour while my ex sits there. He has brainwashed the kids. They’ve said things to me that were verbatim from him. He talks down to me in front of them. He just recently remarried, and I am ill thinking about that woman being a mother to my children. I have been so depressed that I can barely get out of bed. I sleep a lot so I can’t torture myself as much. I try to hold onto hope, but most days I feel sad, lonely, empty, guilty, shameful. This is not the mother I ever thought I’d be. I simply cannot believe this is my life. I’m existing, not living. Thx for reading.

  6. While everyone has somewhat different circumstances, I find myself relating to each of them in some way. I am a NCM and it hurts. It hurts because it was not my choice. I just have to say in the long run the children hurt the most. No matter what I feel that I will continue to stand up for my children against my narcissistic ex. The only reason he has custody is because I worked 2 jobs and had to be forced out of my house because he lied and said I put my hands on him. That was dropped and he still has custody because he was a stay at home dad. He was unable to control me and I wanted a divorce so he told me he would make me suffer.
    We are still going back and forth to court for custody. I am finally stabilized after not being able to find a home and pay child support. I had to move with family 3000 miles away. Now that covid happened, it is not any better.

  7. This article really made me super emotional. I am a non custodial mother. I fight for my kids in court, but the reality is, he was the bread winner and he has millions. He won the battle because he’s the one with the money. Now he lives over 2000 miles away, remarried and poses her as their mother. I get visitations, but it’s never enough. Having to convince school officials that I am their actual mother breaks my heart every time. This year with the virus out break, I have missed mother’s day, Spring Break, Summer vacay, and just being with my kids during this time. It’s extremely hard.

    I feel so much shame whenever people ask why my kids are not with me, they just assume that I am a horrible abuser, or drug addict, or non caring mother.

    Just remember: I breastfed both of my children for two years each. I was a stay at home mom. I home schooled them and head them reading at age 3 and multiplication at age 6. Their father is abusive and is convicted of a Class D felony for domestic Battery, but since it was against me, and not the kids, the court would listen. It’s not always the Mother’s fault.

  8. i am single father who the mother of my children simply gave them up . She has means and the ability to care for them but chose to give me full custody out of revenge for me leaving her. not all women are innocent victims and this article paints women as victims. I read in comments women leaving her son for 12 months to go on deployment give me a break. There are alot more single father like me as society is making women selfish

    1. I am really sorry that all you have gleaned from this thread is that women are selfish. I would really like to know why you thought it was a good idea to come on here and make that statement. All of us have unique situations, and as far as I can tell nobody on here is pointing the finger or looking for sympathy. There are 2 sides to each story and this is a forum for women to be able to tell their side, to reach out without fear of judgement. I am quite sure that you are not blameless with regard to your situation. I have been a court clerk, and sat through countless divorce/parental rights hearings and the tide is turning. Historically men have been strapped with horrendous child support obligations, making it virtually impossible to survive. Not the case anymore. In no way am I asking for sympathy, nor am I selfish. Women carry a child for 9 months, we stay home and nurture and care for the child, we do the majority of the sacrificing because that’s who we are, we love our children beyond measure! In my case, for example, I could not remain married to my ex for reasons I don’t need to divulge here. His parents have money, mine don’t. They hired the best attorney, I had a public defender. So I was made to pay child support. See where I’m going with this? All my kids are in college, 2 of them to be married this year and I am STILL paying! I have had my license suspended, warrants for my arrest, been found in contempt twice! Pardon my candor, but I did more than my fair share in raising my children! My kids have offered to pay my arrears so I don’t go to jail! How insane is THAT? So please, refrain from coming on to a site meant for WOMEN and pass judgement. I have seen countless sites dedicated to men who get the shaft! Hell, there are numerous attorneys who will take their cases pro bono! Have a nice day DAZZ.

    2. As a father desperately trying to be with his kids as much as possible, I read each of these stories and I’m further saddened by the number of children denied access to both parents for no reason. I don’t believe this article paints them as victims, but shows how one woman went above and beyond to consider her children’s best interests over her own (all of the despite many people questioning her). Sure there are bad apples all the time; I could only wish I had the author as my ex. Maybe then my children would not be therapy to overcome the mental abuse being handed down by their mother.

      @Leslie…seriously if you have names of these ProBono father’s rights lawyers, I would love to get a name because I’m currently representing myself and the court does not listen to ProSe litigants.

  9. I have been silent in the public arena for over 20 years on my non-custodial mother status. I have read the comments and the common denominator is PAIN/SHAME for all of us, hence my silence. However, as the Phoenix rises from the ashes, so am I. I have recently come out in the light of day to begin blogging on Twitter, Instagram, everywhere. More to follow…probably content on Linkedin.
    Maybe I can help, encourage, inspire; I don’t know, maybe all I can do is put things on the table and heal. I do know that I should have fought harder 20 years ago but I was lost and demoralized. So I am determined to fight now. @915purebird purebyrd

  10. After reading this article and all the comments (thank you all for sharing your personal stories), I feel like need to come back and reply, (too emotional but I’ll try)….

    I’m a non-custodial mom and do NOT fit the standard. It’s almost unbearable to talk about and there’s a lump in my throat as I type now.

    Both my child’s father and I were active duty military and when our divorce finalized, I was deployed. By default, the he became the custodial parent of our then 2 y/o, because “my address was outside of the United States” on that day of court. I literally returned from deployment days later. Immediately upon my return, I went straight to the court to request an emergency hearing. Not only was I denied, I was told by the judge that “since the baby had been living with his dad for the last year, was a boy, and was already used to him, it would be better if he just stayed with him.” (this is when my heart shattered into a million pieces, for the first time).

    I cannot begin to tell you the deep, emotional trauma my ex has caused the last 15+ years. Of course, this situation could have been so much easier, had he been civil instead of hateful or spiteful. I am finally, now, ready to talk about my story and what I have endured over the years as the non-custodial mom. Luckily, my son and I are close and we have the most amazing time when we are together!!

    I have joined a couple co-parenting groups online, been researching and find articles like this one and decided to write (more than just in my journal). I started writing a book series, shedding a positive light on co-parenting and sharing custody of the kids. It’s a children’s book that will be used to inspire children and parents. The first book is being published now, to release Jan 2020.

    Thank you for allowing me to share. I’m currently on the countdown: 6 months until my son turns 18 (and I’m freaking out). However, I have a step-daughter who’s 7 and my husband is the NCP so I still got a while before I’m done dealing with exes. LOVE AND SUPPORT TO YOU ALL.

  11. When I became pregnant with our daughter it was both the most exciting and terrifying time of my life. I was twenty eight years old, happily married with a beautiful home, a great job, and an amazing puppy. I recall asking my husband just before delivering our daughter; aren’t you scared? His response was like, huh? I said this is only the most daunting task that could ever be set before us… We have the responsibility of raising another human being! MY husbands response, “its no big deal, we just have to do what we want to do…”

    Our children were two and four when my husband decided to leave me. It was one month after having our third child as a still born, and he simply said, “My love for you died, when the baby died.” My immediate response was; well what about the two living children asleep in the other room? Long story longer, our divorce began. My husband had purchased a rental property with the equity out of our homestead to buy his girlfriend a home. He had acquired over a million dollars worth of debt in which I was also a part of because he had forged my signature.

    Throughout our marriage he verbally and emotionally manipulated and controlled me; however shortly after filing for divorce he began to attack me physically as well. It was when he finally beat me down to the floor in front of our children when I realized I was being violated. As I laid on the floor, unable to stand up, I said get out of this house or ill call the police… it was then that our daughter, four years old at the time, ran around me, jumped into her fathers arms and said, “Mommy, Mommy, please don’t put daddy in jail!” he turned and looked at her and said, “Oh honey, don’t worry, Mommy and Daddy were just playing a a little game.” It was then that it hit me like a ton of bricks… our son can not think that what just happened was a game, because he may do the same, and our daughter can not think that this kind of treatment is acceptable, or she may allow the same. Shortly after he left, I decided to fight.

    I have fought that man for the past twelve years. What has it brought me? I was awarded Sole Physical and Legal Custody of our children; in exchange for taking on ALL of our marital debt. He basically sold me our children. I got a job, lost my home in foreclosure, filed for bankruptcy and moved our children into a small one bedroom apartment. The random weekends he would take the children I would literally have peanut butter to sustain myself… as he was the bread winner when we were married, earning six figures… Two months after the county garnished his wages for child support he quit his job and proceeded to run his own business. His business was set as a construction con artist. He would form businesses under different names until they were shut down. He has over ten pending lawsuits, thirteen judgments which accumulated over millions of dollars.

    When our children were around the ages of ten and twelve; they began to ask me if I could forgive daddy’s arrears, drop child support, and go to a 50/50 parenting schedule. YA! I too stopped in my tracks! I was all – – -um WHAT? I had never once mentioned to our children that daddy didn’t pay child support… They had NO idea what any of those things were from me… I went to enough co parenting classes to realize… To shame the other parent is to shame the child! All I would say if the children questioned their father was, “He is and will always be your daddy, and he loves you so much!” I can not speak for him and the situation you are going to have to take it up with him.

    There is so much more to tell but I sit here wondering . . . does any one even care? who wants to hear how my pathetic life has turned out!

    Lets just say it got a LOT worse . . .

  12. I too am a non custodial mother. Although my children are 24, 26 and 29 and all college graduates I still feel the “Sting’ of having to share this with people. I was not a bad mother, I was not an addict, I had a great job. I took 8 years off and stayed home with all 3 of my children until they were of school age. My ex’s parents have money. That should say it all. They owned the house we lived in and had me removed. They hired his attorney (the best around) who argued since I had no stable place for the kids, I should not have custody. I could not afford an attorney. This happens more often than people know. I was ordered to pay child support, which I did as long as I worked. After my divorce and losing my kids I began suffering severe anxiety and depression. This caused me to lose jobs and I bounced around from place to place. I am still in arrears and have now been found in contempt of court for non payment. I have no job! On top of that, I remarried in 2014 and as a result of this court action and the state taking 3 of his tax returns in a row even after filing the injured spouse form, we separated. So what little income I had (that he would allow me to have) is gone. My children are now helping me make the payment to avoid jail. They are paying their own child support! I have always heard how men get so shafted in a divorce. There are many mothers who have it much worse. We just don’t talk about it. Thank you for this article and a chance to tell a little bit of my story.

  13. I have wanted for the last year to write about this exact topic. I am a female non custodial parent who was forced by my ex husband to have a jury trial for custody of our two small children. For four years, I had been the stay at home Mom and he was a C level country singer traveling around the country for work. The jury was told lie upon lie upon lie and I was not put back on the stand to refute any of the lies due to my attorneys decision. My ex won primary residence of the children and they now live 624 miles away from me. Because I do not reside within 100 miles of my children, my ex uses that against me and I am often begging for my right to see my children. He denies phone calls from me to them and speaks badly of me around them. I can see how easy it would be to just give up. Stop fighting with my ex and only be a small part of my children’s life because of the emotional abuse I take just trying to beg for information about their daily life and time so I can see them. I have a small rental in the city and state that they live in and I either fly or drive twice a month to pick them up for a short weekend. If I resided within 100 miles of my children I would have 50/50 custody; but because I don’t I am begging every other weekend to have 2 additional nights with my own children whom I only see twice a month now. If it is convenient for my ex he “allows” it; but only of it is convenient for him. He believes that because he was awarded primary residence that he is the superior parent and because he wasn’t able to spend as much time as he wanted with the children during our divorce that what I am experiencing currently (not being allowed equal parenting time and no co parenting at all) is what I deserve. He is very punitive and I am often retaliated against if I try to exert any of my rights. My fear is that if I try to take him back to court for more of a 50/50 parenting plan while residing more than 100 miles away that he will ask me for child support since I don’t live where he and the kids live. I can’t afford child support in addition to traveling twice a month to spend time with my children. I can’t imagine living this type of life for an extended period of time and nor do I believe that any of this is in the best interest of my 5 year old and 7 year old children. Kids should have more rights too. I hope by joining this community I might find some support and healthy options to handle what has happened to my family.

    1. There are bad parents on both side of the equation. I’m surprised, though, that you were not able to fight the significant move. I think it’s pretty standard language in Illinois that anything more than 25 miles from the original residence takes a court order that the other parent can object to. I’m guessing it’s too late for you with that…

      I’m sorry for your situation. Don’t give up. I understand there’s alot to consider…but have you thought about just moving? I know it would not be ideal, but it would most likely be in the best interests of the kids.

      If I can also suggest, forget about lawyers and do most of the work yourself. They don’t care about the kids or you…but they do care about your bank account. The only problem is that most judges look down on pro-se clients. But my experience speaks to the mounds of money spent with little outcome I would not have gotten myself. There’s a ton of information on the internet…you can even read the state divorce law. This may also not be feasible if you are living so far away and have to go to court often.

      good luck!

    2. So sorry, Lauren. That sucks. In my situation – with my husband who’s the NCP, we got a court order with a geographic location restriction keeping baby momma to only two counties. In my personal situation, yep – I’m a NC mom like you! – I moved. I uprooted and moved to be closer, I KNOW that isn’t what you want to hear or even feasible at times. But I’ve done it twice. I won’t do it again, but did it to be closer so I could get the weekends, holidays, go to school events, etc.

      I am sorry that your ex, and ours, can’t just be mature or civil. These kids will need help later because of this irresponsible behavior. Good luck to you sweetie.

    3. Juju, that seems like a good idea, but I also uprooted and he moved and I uprooted and he moved…then he claimed I was unstable BC I didn’t hold a residence for very long. I couldn’t keep up with child support bc of the constant changing of jobs and the expense of moving so often. But of course, no one even questioned his moving around. Now my kids live 2000 miles away and I just can’t get up and leave another job and home. This country’s “justice” system is really foul and needs reform BIG TIME.

  14. Thank you Emma for a great article. It’s a shame, though, we have to wait for change from the Legislature in most states before real change occurs. I’m still waiting for it in Illinois.

    Now if we can just get the horrid lawyers, who care more about how much they bill than children, out of the equation divorce could be a relatively simple, painless, and equitable process for everyone involved.

    1. Totally agree. B/c my ex husband can afford a million dollar attorney, he gets everything and loses nothing. He admits he uses drugs, has a criminal background (which started after we were married and a huge reason why we divorced) but no one seems to care as long as he keeps pumping his millions of ill gotten dollars into the system.

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