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Mothers Who Give Up Custody of Their Children

Why Some Women Give Up Custody of Their Children

No matter how egalitarian people say they are, there's still an assumption that a woman's connection to her children is stronger — and perhaps more sacred — than a man's, and when a couple splits, she should naturally retain custody.

Rebekah Spicuglia understands the stigma of noncustodial motherhood all too well. She got pregnant when she was 18 and started taking classes at community college. Her husband, a restaurant worker who enjoyed staying at home and being around his family, didn't want to move when Spicuglia's educational ambitions landed her a spot at UC Berkeley. So she made the decision to move and leave her 3-year-old son Oscar with her husband. Now living in New York and divorced from Oscar’s father, she sees her son regularly and believes her decision was good for everyone involved. To hear what a psychologist has to say about the phenomenon and to weigh in yourself,


Spicuglia joins the 30 percent of women in the US— over 2 million noncustodial mothers — who don't retain custody of their children after a divorce. If they are anything like Spicuglia, they may face judgment, hostility and disapproval.


Clinical psychologist Judith Sills explains why this is unfair and acknowledges that sometimes these decisions are best for the children, too. "The fact is," she says, "some good moms can protect their children best by recognizing someone else is the better parent . . . maybe they're emotionally overwhelmed; maybe to get financially on their feet; maybe because in a divorce, mom is desperate to leave the house, but she knows the kids need stability." The child's perception, she continues, has more to do with whether he or she has a stable, happy home than it does with the social norms that adults contend with.

How do you feel about women who decide to give up custody? Does it contradict your idea of what a "good mother" should do?

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