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Ever considered doing this? Why there are more walk-away moms: Brenda Heist case.

Posted by on May. 5, 2013 at 8:38 AM
  • 93 Replies

Why there are more walk-away moms

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Sat May 4, 2013
Watch this video

Son to mom: We did well after you left

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • After disappearing for more than a decade, Brenda Heist turned up in Florida
  • Peggy Drexler: Reports show the number of moms who run away is on the rise
  • She says our increasingly me-first narcissistic tendencies might have something to do with it
  • Drexler: Mothers who abandon their children are still judged more harshly by society

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- Eleven years ago, Brenda Heist dropped off her young kids at school -- and never returned. Not to pick them up later, and not to their Pennsylvania home. The family thought she was dead. That something terrible had happened to her. What else could explain the sudden disappearance of a woman her daughter, then 8, later described as a "great" mom?

But then last week, after more than a decade, Heist turned up in Florida, revealing to police that she hadn't been kidnapped or killed. She had, she said, been stressed.

Most mothers are familiar with the feeling -- for some it's more fleeting than for others -- of total exhaustion, frustration, a sense of being overwhelmed by duty and the responsibility of raising children. Maybe some indulge in a momentary fantasy of running away.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

Though there are no hard numbers, reports would seem to indicate that the number of moms who actually do run away -- or at least walk away -- is increasing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of single fathers has been rising steadily, from more than 600,000 in 1982 to more than 2 million in 2011. Anecdotally, too, we're hearing more from mothers who leave their children due to choice or circumstance. There's Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, who wrote in an essay for Salon.com that she realized, when her sons were 3 and 5 that she didn't want to be a full-time mother anymore. There are even support groups now for women who decide to leave their children.

What is happening?

It's hard to say, but our increasingly me-first world might have something to do with it. According to a study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, clinical narcissism --defined by heightened feelings of entitlement, decreased morality and a dog-eat-dog mentality -- has increased by 30% over the past 20 years. Two out of every three people now measure high for the disorder.

Daughter hopes mom 'rots in hell'

In her book "The Narcissism Epidemic," Jean Twenge argues that we live in a culture that not only tolerates, but also encourages, "being true to ourselves" and "never compromising." This can extend to parenthood, as more and more mothers and fathers resist the notion that parenthood is necessarily life changing -- and perhaps not all it's cracked up to be.

A 2010 New York magazine story titled "All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting," for example, cited a 2004 study by behavioral economic Daniel Kahneman that found that child care ranked 16th in pleasure out of 19 activities among the Texas women surveyed. Except, of course, parenting isn't always supposed to be fun. Whoever said it was?

Mothers who abandon their children tend to be judged far more harshly by society, and by their children, than fathers who do the same -- though not because of outcome. According to various studies, including a 1994 report in the Journal of Family Issues, children raised in single-father homes as a whole fare as well as those in single-mother homes. From an emotional standpoint, there are no studies to show that children of absentee mothers are angrier than those of absentee fathers. But anecdotally, this seems to be the case.

If this is true, it has to do with the fact that although stereotypical gender roles for women have changed, with more men staying home to raise the kids as mom brings home the bacon and father cooks it, societal expectations for mothers remain rooted firmly in the traditional.

Case in point: Although the number of stay-at-home fathers -- about 154,000 according to the 2010 census -- is on the rise, women still carry out more of the domestic work, according to a report by Pew Research Center. American culture, meanwhile, is still conditioned --through the media and pop culture -- to believe that many women's greatest desire is to have a baby. When mothers abandon their children, it's seen as unnatural.

Could this imbalance of responsibility and expectation be another reason more women are abandoning their children? It's possible. As one married mother of two, Janelle, told me, "My husband doesn't do much. I have to do and plan for everything myself." It's easy to see where resentment could come in.

The positive spin: Most experts, myself included, agree that it's better for a child to have an absent parent than a parent who's present but neglectful -- or worse.

And in my experience, children who come to accept the abandonment of a parent, specifically a mother, tend to be more forgiving when they believe that in doing so they were given a better life, whether that was the mother's intent or not.

Of course, every single case is different and there are few generalizations to be made. Brenda Heist's children, for their part, want nothing to do with their mother. The good news is that being raised by a single parent does not condemn a child to a disadvantaged life. These days, the unconventional family is the norm. Thankfully, when it comes to parenting, it's quality over quantity.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Neon Washable Paint

by on May. 5, 2013 at 8:38 AM
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Replies (1-10):
momtoscott
by Platinum Member on May. 5, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Escape fantasies, sure I've had a few.  Some days are harder than others.  But as the kid of a mom who abandoned her family, long before it was trendy, I can't see myself doing something like that to my kid.  I can sympathize with the kids' reaction to her sudden reappearance.  

Seasidegirl
by Gold Member on May. 5, 2013 at 9:35 AM
1 mom liked this

Looks like someone got into meth.

I can understand people getting overwhelmed. Can't understand walking out on your kids. Something is seriously wrong with someone who does that. The ultimate in cold hearted selfishness.

And it's not trendy for moms to abandon their children.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on May. 5, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Wow...I am so sorry that happened to you. My mom is bi-polar and often "runs away"...but she will always get back in contact. It is part of her up and down cycles. She didn't do this when I was a kid, but it has become more pronounced as she gets older.

Quoting momtoscott:

Escape fantasies, sure I've had a few.  Some days are harder than others.  But as the kid of a mom who abandoned her family, long before it was trendy, I can't see myself doing something like that to my kid.  I can sympathize with the kids' reaction to her sudden reappearance.  


Neon Washable Paint

momtoscott
by Platinum Member on May. 5, 2013 at 11:16 AM

That must be painful, too, having a mom who comes in and out of your life.   At one point I was hopeful that when I had a kid, my mom might want to be a bit involved, but that didn't happen.  (She has seen my son, who is now 15, once, for about three hours.)  

Quoting NWP:

Wow...I am so sorry that happened to you. My mom is bi-polar and often "runs away"...but she will always get back in contact. It is part of her up and down cycles. She didn't do this when I was a kid, but it has become more pronounced as she gets older.

Quoting momtoscott:

Escape fantasies, sure I've had a few.  Some days are harder than others.  But as the kid of a mom who abandoned her family, long before it was trendy, I can't see myself doing something like that to my kid.  I can sympathize with the kids' reaction to her sudden reappearance.  



Veni.Vidi.Vici.
by on May. 5, 2013 at 11:27 AM
1 mom liked this

that stinks!

Quoting NWP:

Wow...I am so sorry that happened to you. My mom is bi-polar and often "runs away"...but she will always get back in contact. It is part of her up and down cycles. She didn't do this when I was a kid, but it has become more pronounced as she gets older.

IhartU
by Gold Member on May. 5, 2013 at 11:31 AM

 My grandfather's mother walked away from her family: husband and five children,  and stayed in the same little town. Yep, my grandfather remembers her walking down the street and passing him like he wasn't even there.  She just up and left, pretended they didn't even exist. When they grew up, all the kids but my grandfather forgave her and had a relationship with her before she passed away. I think because he was 12/13 years old when it happened and the memories of how horrible life was after she left never left him, he just could not forgive her.

12hellokitty
by Ruby Member on May. 5, 2013 at 12:03 PM
1 mom liked this



Quoting NWP:


The positive spin: Most experts, myself included, agree that it's better for a child to have an absent parent than a parent who's present but neglectful -- or worse.


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Wouldn't it be better if the neglectful parent changed?  IMO one wrong being promoted as better than another wrong is part of the problem, as it allows someone to justify choosing the better of 2 wrongs.  

Jack_Squat
by Silver Member on May. 5, 2013 at 12:14 PM
My mother did this a few years ago. She decided my children and I no longer exist, and I have not spoken to her in a few years.

Even having this happen as an adult, and despite her toxicness and years of childhood abuse, it still hurts that your own mother can just disown you so completely.

ReadWriteLuv
by Silver Member on May. 5, 2013 at 12:18 PM
4 moms liked this

I once had the keys in my hand, and had a bag packed. I wanted nothing more to do with a difficult baby and a husband who never helped. The shame that I felt for feeling the way I did stopped me, but I can sympathize with the want to get away part. I couldn't do it, apparently others can. I don't think that makes me better or worse, but I get where Moms who run away are coming from. 

lizmarie1975
by Gold Member on May. 5, 2013 at 12:21 PM
1 mom liked this
My mother chose to walk away but it didn't happen until I was older. She remove herself from my & my children's lives due to the color of my husband's skin. She would rather pretend we didn't exist than accept my family.

It hurts sometimes. I don't miss her specifically but there are days when I miss having a mother. And I miss that my kids will only think they have one grandmother.
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