Mauzin Claude was terrified she would “pollute” her kids, ruin their childhood or cause them harm. She left her three children under six with her husband and moved out four years ago.
Krystal Kinsela and her husband were always fighting. Their marriage was at an end. She couldn’t get work in Port Macquarie so four months ago she left her kids with him and headed to Sydney and a job in Aboriginal advocacy.
“Shared custody doesn’t work when there’s lots of conflict between two parents,” she said.
Melissa Collins left her two boys with her lawyer husband four years ago.
She was unhappy in the marriage and the children were suffering. She said her son “blossomed” at school when she left and enjoys being with her now that she’s “not cranky all the time”.
On SBS’ Insight on Tuesday night they – and other women – broke a major taboo. They talked about why they chose to leave their kids behind and pursue another life.
All of them wept as they talked about whether they had done the right thing, about how much they were judged for their choice and stressed how they felt it was in the best interests of their kids. All have continuing access.
Krystal on the effect of conflict on children:
Melissa explained: “It’s hell. I’ve lost friends and my family has questioned me. But I’m offering my children something powerful and significant and better than being with them every day.”
Krystal said she constantly asks: “Have I done the right thing? What will people think of me?”
Mauzin said she will explain to her kids when they ask why she left that “Mummy was sick”. She came very close to ending her life and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
She was saved by a chance phone call from her father, moved home with her parents and has been with them ever since. She dreams of a time they will live with her again full-time.
These were raw, provocative, honest and moving stories made even more fascinating because society judges these women harshly and so we rarely hear them explain.
The discussion was particularly topical in a week where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the subject in an election campaign video about his life.
The mothers were watched by an audience that included the other side of this equation – the kids who were left by their mothers.
Melissa on the backlash she received from friends and family:
Sydney broadcaster Richard Glover’s mother left when he was 15 to be with his English teacher, whom she met at a parent-teacher evening.
When asked by host Jenny Brockie about the impact of her departure, Richard initially joked and laughed, and said his mother always thanked him for finding her new partner. But he eventually broke down when telling the story of how he found papers after she died which talked about how she couldn’t wait for him to be old enough so she could leave.
Others in the audience shared his pain – including dad Adrian Stagg who questioned whether the women’s motives (particularly those of his ex-wife who left him with four children to bring up) were “selfish”.
Melissa was adamant her kids get the best of her when she sees them every second weekend.
“Their father is better at that [full-time care] than I am. I’m there for them in different ways,” she said when asked if she would like to get them back full-time.
The question that was raised is whether we’d ever put men under the same scrutiny, given 81 per cent of Australian single parent families are headed by a woman.
It’s a double standard that’s alive and well and deserves to be aired and explored as it was on Insight.
Krystal said it best: “I wanted to say to those people who have been knocking me, this is where it ends. I’m not going to justify my decision anymore. I’ve backed myself and this is what I’ve chosen to do. I’m not going to talk about it anymore.”
This was television studio discussion at its most powerful and poignant.