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The Judgement of a Long Distance Mom

Three years ago my kids moved to another state across the country from me with their dad. The heartache of being apart from my children is obvious. The second hardest thing about this is the constant self-doubt which is inextricably combined with judgement (both real and perceived) of others.

My ex and I realized it was time to release one another to live separate lives so we could both be happy. With a great deal of respect and love for one another, we carefully constructed a new arrangement for our family. I live in Colorado, they live in Vermont. I travel to Vermont every month to spend time with them. Although uncommon, I stay in the house where they live with their dad, my ex-husband. My kids spend summers with me in Colorado.

Ironically, I am a much better parent under these circumstances than I was when we were living as an intact-white-picket-fence family. We could have been the poster child for the American dream. But unhappiness, fed by alcohol and denial, plagued our “perfect” life.

I wish I didn’t give a fuck about the judgement of others, but I do. I don’t give enough of a fuck to change the way I live my life to gain the approval of others. But I do care enough to try to convince you that it’s all good. If I could carry on without hesitation, I would spend zero time or energy worrying about how the world might view my choices. But here I am, desperately searching for the words that will make you understand that I AM a good mother.

Every time someone asks me if I have children, I feel like I am standing naked in front of a firing squad whose bullets are judgments with the power to strip away my validity as a mother. In order to preempt the bullets, I feel the urgent need to simultaneously apologize for and justify myself as I describe my family situation to anyone.

I want you to know that I love my kids as fiercely and deeply as any mom out there. The way I am defining motherhood is good for my daughters. If I can somehow find the right words for the 30-second elevator spiel about my family, you would be happy for us. You will see that my beautiful daughters are thriving. You will know that there is a functional and love-filled partnership between their dad and me. If I don’t paint the picture just right, you will shake your head and lament the sadness of the situation. Then I will have to re-convince myself that your judgement doesn’t matter and that I am not a failure.

I am exceedingly grateful to my ex-husband for the grace and care he puts forth to make this work. My co-parent is a full-time single parent 75% of the time, and he is spectacular. He lets me, his ex-wife stay in his house for a week every month, for pete’s sake! He makes it possible for me to have an active role in the daily lives of our children. My children’s dad solicits my input on things like bedtimes, food choices, and talking to the kids about sex. He makes sure we Skype every day. He makes it possible for me to attend parent-teacher conferences and doctor appointments by phone. My co-parent could easily cut me out of these things. He is doing the heavy lifting, and I am chiming in from 2,000 miles away without any of the the toil or hassle.

The scenario we are living is exhausting, difficult, and expensive. It is also healthy and beneficial to all of us. We successfully carved out a better way of being. I am proud of us for making this work. Someday, I will stand before the firing squad of judgement and be impervious to its bullets because I will have found a way not to give a fuck.

Photo : Bulletproof / Felixnotes / CC 3.0


I'm a mom living and working in the Boulder, CO area. My two beautiful daughters, 10 and 14, live with their dad in Vermont. We have a very good co-parenting relationship, I travel monthly to spend time with them and stay at my ex's house so he can take off for a few days and get a break. It is working, but it is the hardest thing I have ever done.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Carrie

    What a great post – thank you for submitting it! Explaining the situation to other people was one of the most difficult parts, for me. Eventually, the thing that worked for me was to stop being apologetic in my explanation… to not sound nervous or bummed about it and instead to be confident and positive and then move along in the conversation. People only know what we show them. If I show them it is a big bad deal, that’s what they will believe about it. If, instead, I show that it’s ok, they didn’t tend to put too much attention on it.

    Also – none of their business! We all care what people think to some extent … but what they think doesn’t change the facts of the situation and has no bearing on the reality of how it’s working or not working. They could think you are a terrible mother and the situation is horrible – but that doesn’t make it so. That’s just an opinion that someone has about something they know very little about.

  2. boydy2669

    Good on you Clarice.

    I am about to go thru the same thing. My ex and I have a good relationship, but I think the dynamic is not healthy for either of us. I want her to find someone, and I want to move on with my life. I moved with her and my kids to a new state and its not working at all.

    How did your kids originally feel about the move, what ages were they? I told me ex I cant do this anymore and she has agreed to be flexible so I can see my kids ASAP.

    Yours is an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing and with any advice you have!

  3. Jordan B

    I am in a similar situation but my wife and I have yet to break the news of my intentions to live in another country to our 6 year old daughter. I’d love to get some advice on how to answer inevitable questions like “why aren’t you coming to stay with us forever” or “why did you choose that other place over us”.

    Any sound advice on how to do this?

  4. Ashley

    I want to learn not to give a fuck about this too. But I constantly worry about judgments from other people and more importantly my children. I live in constant fear that they will grow to hate me. My ex and I are separated in part because I transitioned to become my real female self, in part due to vastly different sexual and emotional needs and we just had become different people. Together we always fought and it was always over little nothings. After transition I’ve increasingly had more PTSD from the way that society treats trans people as disposable, and have had increasing depression and anxiety from that as well. I turn to substances to cope but fear I would make a horrible parent if I lived with them. At least when they lived near me I saw them a couple times a week, but about 2 years ago they moved from Washington to Arizona to have access to better autism education. However now, I can only afford to see them for a week 2 times a year. I’m trying to get better at communicating but they lead busy lives and I have a hard time remembering and pressing my ex to do video and phone calls with them. I KNOW I can be a BETTER parent, but I constantly suffer from anxiety and guilt and worry if my kids will hate or detest me, or worse, blame themselves for my absense. It may be possible soon to move down there, but that means losing 50% of my salary and the trans workplace and medical rights I fought and won for on the job.. Also and i currently give them 1k per month for child support and would lose my ability to do so if I moved though of course I’d be spending more time with them. Sorry for the rambling wall of text but this is the first article I’ve seen talking about a similar situation without too much judgment. If you feel the constant swirl of emotions that I do, I’m deeply sorry and know that you must be having a hard time whether you learned not to give a fuck or not. Regardless, thanks for sharing your story, it meant something to me and gave me a moment’s reprieve in a sea of anxiety and self inflicted torment.

  5. Mario

    Clarice thanks for sharing your story. I’m in a similar situation as your are. I travel to Kansas to see my daughter, stay with my ex in laws when I’m there. It’s been hard and but I’m making the effort to make this work. I FaceTime with my daughter a couple days a week. I’m involved in her life even though I’m in California. A first it was hard sharing my story to friends and coworkers but once I owned it it felt better. I know in my heart I made the right decision by letting my daughter go. Don’t worry too much what people think. The most important thing is that you and your ex are making this work. Life is not perfect but somehow whe make it work one way or another. Keep doing what you are doing, be part of your daughters lives. No one can tell you a single thing because they are not walking in your shoes. It’s very easy to critize somone without understand their situation. Life is too short to worry about what others think. Wishing you a life time of happiness with your ex and daughters.

  6. D

    Thank you Clarice for sharing this. It is encouraging and empowering.

  7. Murphy

    Just what I needed to read. I wish I didn’t care what others thought and I am trying not to. I recently moved to Florida and my girls are in Illinois with my husband. We are currently separated and heading for divorce. I am miserable here and made the move to better the entire family. It is the most difficult decision I have ever made, and I doubt my choices every day. But what is better for the girls? A miserable mom in Illinois or a happy and healthy mom in Florida? I think moms are judged much more harshly if they leave the family dynamic, because as many so called friends have said to me. “Moms don’t leave”. Well sometimes if it’s better for the children they do. Thank you for your story.

  8. Ayalarch

    I too will be heading down that road here soon, if I can muster the courage to move beyond all doubts and fears. I cannot stand doing this on my own. I finally have family who are willing to be supportive, and I need to go and do what is best for me, which is to up the anty on my education and be able to keep a job so that I can provide for the kids and not lose my mind. It’s a catch 22 in the culture we exist in. To break free will cost you, to innovate, to lead, to inspire – all have costs.

  9. Kim

    These posts have been a god send for me, in the sense that, now I know I am not alone. I am living in Iowa, my kids are in Texas. My current husband will not move back to Texas, and that isthe only home my kids have ever known. I have been away from them for a year, and it has been the hardest thing i have ever done. I don’t sleep, I cannot find a job, I want to be with them, but do not want another failed marriage. I am so confused. How does one live with their heart in two places?

  10. Tara Seymour

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this. This post was the first of its kind that I came across. I was starting to feel like I was the only mother on the planet that had a family dynamic set up over distance this way. Some of what you wrote were words I have said exactly the past few months. You give me hope, and a new realization that there are other moms out there that do understand this, and speak this language of doing things better this way. This is the most amazing thing I could have come across right now. Thank you so much.

  11. Bexbex

    Thank you. I can’t say much more than that. From this arizona mother of two little ones who live in Sweden. Just thank you.

  12. Beth H.

    Wow. Thank you for this. I truly felt alone, but now I know that I’m not. What I wouldn’t give to sit down with a cup of coffee and talk with you, and other women that are in the same boat.

  13. Saskia

    This is such a beautiful thread. Thank you all for writing and sharing your stories. I am a mom who is just about to leave my 6 year old son in Canada with his dad. Work has called me to southeast Asia and I know it would not be fair to my son or his dad to have him come with me. I am fortunate in that his dad is happy to care for him full time and offers me digital visitation and consults me about all decisions regarding our son. We have spent a ton of time together as a family leading up to this move and I can tell our son is feeling more and more confident in our abilities to navigate this as a family – despite my being on the other side of the planet. As mentioned by many of you, there is SO much judgment around moms leaving. Its not the status quo – moms are supposed to stay and care for their children according to society, but this depiction isn’t always fair. I love my son more than anything in the world, but I am also a career focused mom who has tons on my plate at all times. Trying to parent and run a company has been no easy task and often left me in a position where I felt I was in no way being the mom that I wanted to be. I was always tired, stressed out, had too much on my plate and felt I couldnt be fully present with my son. This is in no way what I wanted. Over the last year Ive found that my bond with my son has actually become better when I was overseas as I could really take that 1-2 hours to sit and connect with him over skype. I had a very special toy custom made for him that is his ‘protector’ and we often incorporate him into our calls to make them more fun. While this is one of the hardest decisions ive ever had to make I also know that it is the right one for our family. Kids absolutely do take sacrifice but one thing that I think thats important to remember is that you dont have to sacrifice who you are for your children – being raised by unhappy parents does more harm than good. And that is such an important thing to remember.
    So I agree – stand in front of the firing squad, have faith in yourself, choose love always, follow your heart. Your kids will thank you!

  14. Keilah Machelle Gates

    I feel you and have a similar situation with my ex-husband. He lives in Upstate NY and I live in North Florida. My 11yo son made the decision to stay with him to stay in school and with his friends up there and we refused to separate my 8yo daughter who has a disability from her brother. I moved to FL almost two years ago. I tried for 7 years to rough it in Upstate NY and originally being from FL it got to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore. There were no good jobs, I had no real support system, and the climate was inhospitable to say the least. He’s actually looking to move further south too because of how hard life is up there.
    At first I was terrified and ashamed of my decision. I don’t get to see them very much but luckily my ex and I have let go of all of our previous bullshit and are getting along and communicating for the well being of our children. That decision alone has made it so much better than it could be. Still, the stigma of being a mother so far from her children is ridiculous. I explain to the ones that I need to and avoid the question to those that I don’t need to. I have explained that we left the decision up to our son and that my ex and I get along very well which is all true but they still end up looking confused at the very least.
    Don’t even get me started on how empty life feels. From going from being a person who wipes noses, schedules doctors appointments, organizes closets, meals, comforts, hugs, and kisses your little one to just seeing them on a screen or hearing their voices through a device is so hard. No matter how connected you try your hardest to be you are still missing out on so much and it’ll rip your heart out if you sit and think about it long enough. Even still, I am sure of my decision to move because by the time I left I was only a shell of who I could be for my kids through the struggle, pain, and loneliness I experienced up there. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s better for them to have a whole mom even through distance than the sliver of a human they experienced up there. In all reality, I had no choice. I was done spiraling, I hit rock bottom. One day I will be able to explain it all to them. Till then I just want to do everything I can to let them know that I love them so much and they mean the world to me. Distance be damned.

    1. Brittany

      I feel compelled to reach out to you because I also moved out of upstate NY for Florida. I was actually born and raised in NY but it doesn’t make the inhospitable environment any easier. I left my two young boys there with my soon to be ex-husband because he is financially able and willing- rather fought to keep them. It is the best situation for my sons to remain in NY for now, but I had the same thoughts as you regarding being a shell of a person there. I also thought that it is better to have a happy healthy mom in FL where they can come experience something far beyond what NY has to offer. Anyway, I just had to say thank you and I am really right here with you.

    2. Susan molina

      How are you doing now? Your words are exactly what I am feeling. Having to make the decision to get out of a place full of memories of abuse. Afraid to go to a local establishment in fear of running into certain people. My husband was relocated for work to Oregon. I am still in Texas for the past year traveling to see my husband while being here for my kids. I am at the end of my rope. I feel stuck in the mud.

  15. David

    Your story and effort give me so much hope. Thank you for sharing!

  16. SLC

    I’m in a situation where I may leave my girls and I’m terrified of the emotional fallout of that decision. I am considering a move from Illinois to California. And while I will attempt to take my girls with, my ex won’t allow that to happen without a fight and there is no real likelihood a court will rule in my favor. I’m struggling with the selfish aspect of my choice. My fiancé has a slew of business opportunities there and I am looking to go back to school for medicine. I am worried about how my daughter will view the choice and I fear they will see it as something or someone else taking priority over them – because they are always priority. Always. But, I have struggled with my mental health for years and I need to get myself healthy and happy so I can be my best self. I have always feared that I was disillusioned to think that my needs mattered as much as my kiddos. Or that my explanations for why I needed to make such a big move would be viewed as excuses to validate a selfish choice. Honestly, it’s really nice to find a community of people who struggle with, and in some cases, have found some peace, in their decision to be a long distant parent.

  17. Lisa

    Clarice… it was so good to read your post. I have been struggling with being a long distance mom to my daughter, then I read you are in Colorado and that’s where I moved home too!! I was searching for support for long distance moms when I came across your post. Do you think we could visit over phone or meet up? I really think there should be a support group for moms in our situation. It would be so helpful and encouraging for us to have other moms in similar situations.

    1. Carrie

      Hi Lisa! There is a really great supportive group here : The group centers the experience of the ldp and everyone there is intimately familiar with the stigma (which is not perpetuated there). We would love to have you!

  18. Lisa

    Thank you so much!!! My membership is pending!!

  19. Janet Tate

    I just came across this site tonight while pondering the question.. are there other parents out there going through what I’ve gone through and if so how are they doing. Wow.. I had no idea that there were articles on this, much less Facebook group. I have been a long distance mom since 2017. I sat tonight by a fire before finding this article, asking myself what was wrong with me that I would’ve have moved away from my two young sons. As I read the articles and comments, I realized the pain and despair I felt after a 25 yrs of marriage relationship ended, was not just a made up set of emotions. I’m a Believer ( Christian) and my Faith in the Lord and directing my path have always been of utmost importance to me. Gosh, so much to share. So much in emotions of grief, loss of being with them, seeing them only every other weekend and summers. I’m so grateful to have this, my heart aches for those moms that have greater distances. We’ve been co parenting since 2016 and have worked through a lot of resentment on both our behalfs. We’re both remarried and I honestly can say our sons are doing well. ( they do miss me very much and I them, daily) it has been SO hard, the judgment by other Christian moms is non verbal, but very clear. That hurts tremendously, but no one will ever understand what life situation I lived in, because they will have never walked in my shoes. I truly believe that my boys have a greater life, both physically and spiritually ( my new husband is the Godly husband I prayed for, for years) the impact he has made on my/ our boys will go with them for the rest of their lives. We stay connected twice a week on FaceTime and snuggle as much as possible when were together. I’m a better woman, healing more each year, and their dad had to grow up snd stop being Disney dad. We both have wonderful spouses that love our kids. I’m grateful for where we are, my heart misses them daily, but I see God’s hand at work. I hope you can too…

  20. Lindsy

    Moments ago I received the official dismissal of my petition for relocation to Florida from New York with my seven year old son. I am now looking down the barrel of accepting a holiday summer schedule with him. This is a huge adjustment from our current 7 on 7 off schedule in which I am his primary caregiver and homeschooling parent. My ex and I have a more than contentious relationship. But I have been blessed with my current spouse. He and I have a 4 month old son and while he resides in Florida he came to New York for the birth of our son and stayed and paid for the entire custody proceeding of my first son. Now the clock has run out and it’s time to move to Florida so that we can become a family. Unfortunately I feel like I am abandoning my son. As a mother I can not explain how comforting it is to know I’m not alone. It’s 2:23am and this is the only thing keeping me from loosing my mind. The judgment I have received can only be explained as bullets. Bullets into my soul and the fabric of my bleeding mothers heart. I feel for everyone on this thread. One million times thank you to Clarice for leading this discussion. Being a mother is the most difficult and frequently judged role on the planet. As such we all feel like we are failing and succeeding at one moment or another almost every single day. It is wonderful to hear from others in my situation and know that moving away doesn’t make me a “bad mom”.

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