I decided that I didn’t like Rahna Reiko Rizzuto before she even opened her mouth. I thought I knew enough about the American writer to make up my mind. To decide that she was selfish and self-absorbed. To know that I didn’t understand her. Frankly, I didn’t want to. You see, in 2001 Rizzuto decided that full-time motherhood wasn’t for her. That alone is enough to push society’s buttons. When her two boys were aged 3 and 5, Rizzuto left them with their father while she pursued her career in another country for six months. She eventually left her marriage and gave up physical custody of her young boys and instead joint-parented (the way many fathers do) from a house nearby. She says she never wanted kids and that she felt “lost” being a full-time mother. LOST. I am practically eye-rolling as I type.
Ten years later Rizzuto has written Hiroshima in the Morning, a book chronicling her decision to leave her 20-year marriage and her young children and the repercussions she experienced from friends. Rizzuto appeared on the Today Show in the US earlier this year talking about the book…
I’ve been grappling with my feelings about Rizzuto ever since I watched that interview 12-hours ago. I get the feeling of disappearing as a person when you have children. Totally understand that some days you want a break. Some time out. A freaking large scotch. The chance to have a conversation on the phone that LASTS LONGER THAN FIVE MINUTES. I get it. I’ve been there. As the mother of a nearly-three-year-old, some days I’m still there. But in my book, you stay in the room. What type of indulgence is it to decide AFTER having children that actually, “Kids, I’m just not that into you.” What kind of trauma is set into motion when a mother leaves the family home? And if you don’t want children why have one? Why have TWO?
And then I found this piece written by Rizzuto on Salon.com entitled, Why I Left My Children (click the title to read the full story). In part she writes:
“I never wanted to be a mother.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. Yet their father wanted a family. He begged. He promised to take care of everything; he removed every possible obstacle I could think of. He would be the primary caretaker if I would just have them.
It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? I am a cold bitch. I was never a mother in anything but name. I am probably one of those women who will be arrested for going to a nearby bar and leaving my children asleep in a house with a faulty pilot light: a house in flames. I am a bad mother. But that’s not true either.
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.”
It’s a confronting statement: “We punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.” She’s right, of course. Because Rizzuto is still mothering her sons. She just chose to do it her own way. A way that worked for her. And maybe was better for her sons.
The fact is turning your back on full-time motherhood is the last great taboo. As a mother you’re allowed to feel overwhelmed. To admit to wanting a break. Even to finding motherhood tedious. But mothers aren’t allowed to say they want to leave. Society says we’re not allowed to say that motherhood or even full-time motherhood isn’t working for us. That we want to opt out. Go part-time and from a different location, no less. It goes against the grain of everything we’ve been told or been sold. That motherhood is natural. A natural instinct. But what if it’s not?
And if a mother doesn’t want to be there, aren’t the kids better off without her? Or if a mother decides she would be a better parent if she was the one who moved out (but close by) why does that press our buttons? And why is there none of this angst and hand-wringing when a father abandons his kids? There’s none because we’re used to it. (And I mean that in the sense that we verbally-bash mothers who leave more than fathers, in my opinion.)
I don’t know how I feel about Rizzuto. No part of me can fathom leaving my child. But I do think I can accept that for some women motherhood makes them feel like a square peg trying to be forced in a round hole.
** This post has been updated.
What do you think of Rizzuto’s decision? Should we be more accepting of mothers going part-time? Could you leave your kids for six months? Are there some days when you fantasise about walking away?.