Men leave their kids all the time.

You don’t have to look much further than the average family to find an example of a man walking away from his children, either permanently or temporarily, for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps it was a cousin, an uncle, or even your dad, but stories of men packing their bags, walking out of the door, and never looking back are hardly rare.

But what happens when mothers leave?

Recently, a personal essay, “Why I Left My Children,” appeared on Salon.com. In it, writer Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, describes the feelings of guilt and the vitriol hurled at her because she left her children with her then-husband in order to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Encouraged by her “childhood-sweetheart” husband, Rizzuto set off to live in Japan for six months interviewing survivors of the atomic bomb.

Rizzuto writes,

“The question I am always asked is, “How could you leave your children?” How could you be the mother who walks away? As if my children were embedded inside me, even years after birth, and had to be surgically removed? As if I abandoned them on a desert island, amid flaming airplane debris and got into the lifeboat alone?

Hyperbolic. Inflammatory. But that’s part of the point. Because my relationship with my children survives. In fact, it has improved”

Although mothers leaving children for prolonged periods of time is nothing new, it is extremely taboo. Scores of grandparents, aunts, and uncles have been left to raise children after their mother peaced out (for various reasons). However, most people view mothers who leave as abhorrent parents and lob judgments at them, while not holding fathers to the same stringent standards.

What’s up with that?

If two people are responsible for creating and caring for a child, why is one—the woman—always expected to invest more time and effort than her partner or risk being labeled a bad mother?

Rizzuto bucked conventional roles and pursued her dreams without her kids in tow. Shortly after moving to Japan, her marriage fell apart and when her children moved to Asia to live with her, it was a complete disaster. Rizzuto soon realized that having her children in Japan, without the support of her husband, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and it brought to light an uncomfortable truth she had long ignored: She never wanted to have children in the first place.

She remembers,

“I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over

…My problem was not with my children, but with how we think about motherhood. About how a male full-time caretaker is a “saint,” and how a female full-time caretaker is a “mother.” It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. And we punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.”

There is an inherent double standard when it comes to parenting because babies come through a woman’s body. In light of this, many believe that the mother-child bond is somehow more sacred than all others and that mothers should ultimately be the ones responsible for raising the children.

But should this always be the case? Should women always sacrifice themselves—their goals, dreams, and aspirations—for the sake of their children? Does choosing to parent differently, or allowing the father to take on the primary caretaker role, make women bad mothers?

What say you, Clutchettes and Gents?  Speak on it.


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  • This is crazy….No parent should leave their kids…let alone a MOTHER! To say she never wanted kids shows her irresponsible behavior…Having kids without thinking & then turn around to regret them because she is not able to follow her “DREAMS”…What a Dork!

  • Miss Jae

    And this is the exact reason why I’m never having kids! I like my freedom to be able to pick up & just go without having to consult a babysitter. I like kids (for a limited amount of time), but I don’t want one of my own. Now this does not mean that I don’t want to get married, because I will. My boyfriend is divorced & already has 3 kids from his previous marriage…thank black baby Jesus! So now he’s not looking to me to push any out!

  • Cynthia

    I have no issue with a male primary care-giver. I have no issue with a mother taking an opportunity for a career. What I have a problem with, male or female, is any parent that decides to pursue a DREAM instead of pursue parenting. It’s inexcusable regardless of the gender and makes me want to scream “Grow the F*** up!”. Raising your children is not OPTIONAL. And let’s not hide behind feminist arguments that men have been doing it all along and there’s a double standard. Yes, there is…but really? Our biggest goal as a feminist is to have the same right to a disgusting behavior as any man? That argument is just as ridiculous to me as some macho “men are men” mantra. Let’s fix the behavior across the board in society, not add more participants.

    Also, another thought, if the male is going to be primary care-giver (or vice-versa), this role needs to be consistent from birth on with only exceptions for extreme lifestyle changes (loss of job, illness). In this case, my question is..did Mom play that role for years and then have an about-face? If so, think about just how much that could mess up a child’s whole world and sense of being. So if Dad has been primary all along, I have no issue. But if Mom just “Quit”, I have a big issue. If that’s the case, to me, it’s borderline emotional abuse. Her fear of waking up 20 years later and regretting her choice to not pursue her “dream”? There is always another opportunity for work. There is only one opportunity to raise your children. And at the end of the day, work is just work, no matter how great it is, it’s not a human relationship with another being (and one that you chose to bring into this world).

    So I say, in general, this particular situation is not a huge deal that makes a bad mom. This is a parental decision and both parties agreed to it. But don’t try to sell me the other crap about equal opportunity to be a bad parent without any repercussion. That’s just BS. That leads me to believe there is more to this story than we are reading and this person has a lot of guilt they need to lighten by defending their choices in such a manner that they felt compelled to admit, in print, for eternity, that they never wanted to be a mother (which they went on to become, not once, but twice). There’s something wrong with this person if they are willing to do this to their own children (talk publicly about not wanting them) in order to defend a belief. Selfish, self-absorbed, cold. Poor kids.


  • Dorsey

    “Men leave their kids all the time.”

    STOP LYING! The truth is that women leave men and TAKE THE KIDS.

    STOP THE LIES, we’re tired of the abuse. Women lead in divorce and in sole custody due the bias of the Family Courts.

    Black women are leaving us and taking the kids and it’s been happening since the 70’s.

    Try looking up data before writing you hack