There was a lot of feedback from my blog last week. Mostly good (thanks, friends!), some moving (thanks, jordansmom), some thought provoking (thanks again, friends!) and some downright hostile. I listened to it all, and paid attention because this is an issue that has come up a great deal in my professional and personal life. The issue of who has the right to move, what is in the best interest of the child, and is it possible for parents to follow their dreams if it involves a major geographical relocation after a split?
I need to clarify one issue: My blog was not criticizing Bode Miller for wanting to be a father to his child. Believe me, I have seen enough parents walk away from their families to ever take a desire for parental involvement for granted. It is sad to say, because I used to think it was a given, but Bode Miller must be applauded for wanting to be a part of his son’s life. And, yes, I would have written the same thing if the gender roles could be reversed . . . What I was criticizing in my blog was the manner that Bode Miller sought to be a part of his son’s life. It is not that he wanted to be a father to his son, but that he insisted on being a part of his child’s life in California. That forcing the mother to return to California to be near the father was seen as the only way to create this family. That there was seemingly no consideration of what was best for the mother and the child, other than the need to be physically close to the father in California. The fact that she was pregnant and had no choice but to take her unborn child with her when she moved made the situation that much more gut wrenching.
As I wrote last week, why wasn’t Bode Miller forced to move to New York? People reacted to this statement with the following comments: “you can’t force someone to move in order to be a part of the child’s life”, “moving is too much of a burden to place on a parent” or “it’s not fair for one parent to take a child away from the other parent”. But, that’s exactly what happened to the mother of Bode Miller’s son. By being told she was wrong to move to New York City, she was essentially being forced to move back to California in order to be a part of her child’s life. If asking Bode Miller to move to New York City is too big of a burden to place on a father who wants to live near his child, then asking the mother to move back to California must be considered too big of burden as well. Too quickly we jump to the conclusion that wherever the couple lived when the couple split is the spot where the children must be raised. As a society, we tend to worry about the parent that would be left, but fail to recognize the burden on the one forced to stay.
A woman came into our office a few weeks ago faced with this very situation. She had moved to Cleveland ten years ago for her (then) husband’s job. The plan had never been for the family to stay in Cleveland long-term. At the time she was home with their two young children. The understanding between her and her husband was when they were ready for her to go back to work – when the kids were in school – they would move to where she got a job. Unfortunately, the two had subsequently divorced and because of some poor investments, the extra cost of maintaining two households, and some frivolous spending, the woman and her children were really struggling to make ends meet. She is a very specialized engineer and despite valiant efforts she has been unable to find a job in Cleveland. She was in our office because she had been offered a great job in Connecticut; however, her ex-husband refuses to move and refuses to allow her to take the children. Her husband says it would be too hard for him to find a job in Connecticut. It would be difficult, but no more difficult than what the woman has been going through for the past five years in Cleveland. Her husband says it would be too disruptive for the now middle school age children to move. Would it be challenging for two middle school girls to move and have to make new friends and start at a new school? Yes. But you know what else is hard for middle school girls? Living without heat. And that is the situation this family was living in for awhile. I had to tell this woman that a custody battle would be difficult and expensive. While courts do grant permission for parents to move, the trend is definitely toward leaving things “status quo”. It isn’t fair, and while I know, I know, life isn’t fair, the burden seems to unjustly fall upon women who have chosen to stay home or have sacrificed more of their careers for the family. It is time we start looking at this problem from a different angle. It is time that both parents bear the burden of the split, and it is time for relocating with the kids to be an option for all.