I was in family law court years ago for a custody issue, waiting quietly behind two parents that were on stage and on display. The dad sat next to an attorney that looked like he haphazardly threw his suit on, while having one of those mornings when you get lucky with the bedhead. The attorney was obviously disorganized, searching through an open file while the proceedings are taking place. I’ve seen this situation before. Dad did something, usually related to drugs, mental health, violence or alcohol, lawyered up, and mom represents herself because, well, Dad is sinking his own ship.
That wasn’t the case at all, not even close.
The lawyer stands up, addressing the court, and begins to present a case to support an order that would require Mom to be subjected to drug tests with supervised visitation of the children. Apparently, she had been found in a local park downtown, unconscious, with a needle still hanging out of her arm recently. The lawyer continued, making sure he covered as much of the situation as possible. I looked over at the mom while the red paint of shame is being carefully applied to what type of person she is, getting a chance to respond, after Dennis the Menace sat down.
As far as her appearance, she didn’t have the best of clothes but for some odd reason, it was obvious that she tried harder than the attorney did that morning. She’s shaking a bit and I couldn’t tell if it was from withdrawals or nervousness or a little of both. There was nothing left of her, she had been stripped of everything she thought she was or hoped to be, and she had about 20 people behind her as a witness to it.
“Your Honor, I came here today to fight this case against me,” she begins as sorrow starts to grow, “and I realize now that I am in no position to take care of my children. I would like to relinquish all my rights as their mother and provide full custody to their father. I can’t be their mom anymore.” The dad, who pretty much sat motionless in his chair the whole time, finally leaned forward to look at her. She wouldn’t look back at him. My heart dropped and sadness came over me. I wasn’t against the feeling, it was a sad moment – sadness happens – I’m watching a mom give up her rights because she has a drug addiction she is feels powerless over.
I’m definitely aware of the power of addiction, how it can control my mood, behavior, choices, relationships, finances, attentiveness, and presence. The physical obsession can build into a momentum that feels impossible to stop, and impossible to live without. The fun ends one day and I find myself physically dependent, getting temporary fixes of relief that doesn’t last. I’ve kicked certain addictions cold turkey while others required humility in attending support groups. The chemical itself was never my problem, merely a symptom of it. There was a problem deeper than the surface of addiction, a hole created by negative emotion I’ve been carrying for decades. My words alone prove that I am unafraid to admit of what was or what is, and today I carry a new addiction to live and let be.
In that courtroom full of sorrow, it was oddly comforting to see a mom confess to being an unfit mother due to her drug abuse and addiction. Her children weren’t there but I felt for them, and I felt for their dad that would somehow, someway, need to explain the situation to them. It can’t be easy knowing what the right things to say or do are. In a way, I feel the mom was trying to do what was in the best interest of her children, keeping them away so they can’t be harmed by her. She seemed to cry out of conflict between what she wanted to do and what she needed to do. I thought it was a brave and honorable thing for her to admit this, especially with an audience full of judgmental strangers. Wait, that’s kind of judgmental of me to say that.
The judge looked at her and said, “I will not be ordering any such thing today, ma’am, but we will get you the help you need if you are willing.” I think this surprised the living hell out of her, and she accepted.
Mother’s Day, for some moms, might be a heavy day of guilt and shame from not meeting the minimum requirements of what it means to be a good mom. Even without addiction, the perceived idea of what makes a good mom captivates many moms wondering whether they’re doing enough for their kids. That in itself creates doubt or feeling lack. To me, I think a lot of moms go through moments where they feel like they have nothing left to give, reaching the brink of giving up and throwing in the towel. I’ve felt that way as a dad in the past. I’m sure there is a mom sitting alone somewhere unable to shake the past with an overwhelming sense of guilt that she is not good enough for her children, or that her children hate her, or whatever. And it could be very well true, that right now she isn’t fit to provide or her children don’t want to speak with her, but what makes a good mom isn’t one who does the best crafts stolen off Pinterest; a good mom is one that accepts the love around her, especially when she’s unable to love herself. And she never, ever gives up.