Why do some mothers leave their children?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, June 7, 2016 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

Why does a mother choose to leave her children? And what effect does that have?

While mothers who leave are rare, some of Australia’s most high-profile people have had their lives shaped by this event.  Our own Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull was abandoned by his mother at 10 and he, and his closest relatives, say that experience more than any other shaped him as a man.  Actor Hugh Jackman was also left by his mother at age 8 and has said the feeling of abandonment was devastating.  

This week, Insight explores this great parenting taboo.

We investigate the complex reasons that cause women to walk away from family life - mental health issues, ambition, bitter custody battles and personal freedom, to name a few.  We speak to these mothers about their difficult decision, and why they felt it was the best choice for their families. We hear from the children left behind about the pain of abandonment.  And we look at whether the mother/child relationship can be repaired after the trauma of separation.

 

Credits 

 

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, or posting on our Facebook page.

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome everyone, thanks for coming tonight. Kristal, you're divorced, you have two kids, a ten year old daughter and a nine year old son, now you made the decision to leave them with their dad just four months ago? 

KRISTAL:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why? 

KRISTAL:  Because ultimately it's because 50/50 shared care doesn't work and I've been, I guess we tried to do this for a while, and I don't think 50/50 shared care works when you have lots of conflict between two parents. After I had tried to seek relocation of the kids to come to Sydney, back to Sydney to live because we were living in Port Macquarie. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Which is on the north coast? 

KRISTAL:  It is, so it's four and a half hours away, but there's not a lot of employment opportunities and yeah, just didn't have anything more to offer me and I came back to Sydney to work.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why was it you that did the leaving?

KRISTAL: My ex-partner, you know, he's established in Port Macquarie, he's not going to, he's fought this hard, I mean we've both fought for the kids, we both wanted the kids full time but you know, I had to make the call and it's just because I couldn't live in this limbo any more. Like I felt like I'm not fulfilling my life. Like it's, yeah! 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tell me a bit about your background, about your family background, your own? 

KRISTAL:  My mum was a single parent, she had myself and my older sister, we grew up really poor. We didn't have a lot. Mum did her best to provide for us. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So having a career is really important to you?

KRISTAL:  It is, it is. Just, if we stop and take a moment to think about Aboriginal people, you know, we're dying sooner than any other race, higher rates of incarceration, lots of teenage pregnancy, young kids not finishing school, and you know, so for me how I'm going, I've done something with myself, I'm being successful.  I'm, I've broken down the cycle of welfare dependency, I'm trying to do something with my life and you know, I think that that's admirable. I'm trying to teach my kids the right way, that you've got to work hard, you've got to get an education, these are the fundamentals. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how did you weigh up that decision to come here without them?

KRISTAL:  Obviously the kids were my first, what it meant to them was, if you ever asked them to choose they never would ever choose because they love both of us and we are both good parents. Their dad is a great dad. There's nothing do with who's a better parent. But yeah, I had to think about what was best for them ultimately and having them around conflict, is that healthy? No, it's not. I don't want them to see that. I want them to feel safe and secure and stable in one environment and I knew that they would have that with their dad versus still continuing going backwards and forwards from houses. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now this is very recent, it's only four months, yeah? 

KRISTAL:  It is. Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What sorts of things are going through your mind at the moment about that decision you've made?

 KRISTAL:  I wake up every day and I think to myself have I done the right thing? Yeah, and I worry what people think of me as a woman and as a mother and it's hard because I want my kids with me. I want to be there, I want to be making breakfast with them and helping them with their homework and I'm a good mum and yeah, it's just, it's a daily challenge. I have to get up and, you know, I'm in an empty house and there's no little footsteps and I feel like I'm not complete.

But then I have to say to myself, you know, you're strong, you can do this, you've already come so far, you can do this and one day these kids they'll come to me and they'll also see what I'm trying to do. In my work, everything that I do has purpose. I've been trying to create social change with everything that I do. I don't just have a job, it's about, you know, advocating for indigenous rights, it's about enabling, you know, whether it be corporate or government to engage with, you know, successfully with the indigenous community. Like, you know, I just want to be a positive role model. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How have the kids reacted? 

KRISTAL:  It's still early days to kind of understand. I think my son throughout all of this process since 2012, he's never demonstrated or shown any emotion. He's, it's almost like it's just gone over his head, but my daughter it's had the highest impact on. She's very emotional and she gets really upset. You know, she misses me, and I have to watch myself, I have to check myself to make sure that I don't allow my emotions to reflect onto the children, like I don't upset them because I'm upset. I have to be really mindful of that and it gets really, really hard because I just want to tell them I'm trying to make this world a better place for you and I want you to be proud of me and I love them so much. Yeah, it's hard, it's hard. I'm sorry for crying. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Don't apologise for crying. 

KRISTAL:  It is still raw but I mean one of the reasons I wanted to come and talk to people is to help me, to help me feel more better in the decision and to know that I'm not alone. But to speak out, I think this is a really important issue that we're not hearing about. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well, you know, we mostly hear about men leaving? 

KRISTAL:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And that's because most of the people who leave are men.  It's a very small proportion of people who leave who are women but we never talk about why women leave. 

KRISTAL:  No, that is so true and it's like, yeah, when I started to see people talking about it on Facebook, I started to feel oh, my gosh, I'm not alone. There are other women out there, why haven't I met somebody else that's in the same situation as me? Why are people not talking about this?

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well, there are a couple of people beside you who might make you feel a little bit less alone. Melissa, six years ago you also decided that your two sons, aged six and seven at the time, would be better off living with their dad, why? 

MELISSA:   At the time I decided that he's a good man, we were so unhappy and we'd been unhappy for quite some time and we'd had this on again, off again relationship which was really disruptive for the kids and when I told him that I was leaving he begged me not to take them.  And being a lawyer and having his own business and the farm and the life that we were living, which was lovely for them, not for me, it wasn't for me, I was very lonely and isolated and when he said please don't take them it had never occurred to me that I would ever go without them. And yet in that moment I thought I could do this, I can do this, I had no…

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did that moment feel like? 

MELISSA:    Freedom and trauma all wrapped into one. I had, if I had known…

JENNY BROCKIE:  If you'd known what? 

MELISSA:    How utterly debilitating it would be sometimes, I would never have done it.  But at the same time, they're happy, they're really happy. My second son, I have three, the older one lives out of home but my second son I used to like, there was this running gag in the family where I used to have to avoid the teachers because he's such a cheeky kid.

JENNY BROCKIE:   This is the older one and you'd raised him as a single mum? 

MELISSA:    No, I had three. So yeah, I'd raised the eldest one as a single. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   As a single mum, yes. 

MELISSA:    Yep, and so with my middle child, he was seven at the time, when I left, the next school year his behaviour record, his school record was just perfect. He was happy and my youngest son at the time who was six he came to stay with me when I was all set up, and he said to me:  "Oh, God mummy you're so fun when you're not cranky all the time." Because I was this unhappy, resentful woman and I was kind of using the kids and the family life which wasn't happy as an excuse to not do what I wanted with my life and I thought it's okay for me to want to do something more with my life than sit on a farm and live a life that wasn't mine. It wasn't my dream. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why do you say that if you'd known what it was afterwards you wouldn't have done it? 

MELISSA:    It's hell, it's just hell. I've lost friends, I had family members question my sanity, my ability to do it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you feel about the decision now? 

MELISSA:    It was the right thing to do, it was the absolute right thing to do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why do you think it was the right thing to do? 

MELISSA:    Because I, he, I think kids what they really need more than anything, of course they need two parents who love each other, duh, and they're loved, but what they also really need is this kind of like a framework, a structure, a fall back place that says this is home, these are the rules, this is life, I'm here. And I think their dad was able to do that better than me at the time. I think I may be over the time could have done things differently at other times where, you know, dropping them off, every time I would drop them back, meet halfway between the places, I'd be just this bawling wreck and I'd go home and I'd look up rental properties and see if I could just find somewhere and move back there, give it up, don't care, just go, just go.  And I'd have to actually sit on my hands and just wait for the pain of that to finish, the yearning for them, the pain of the everydayness of them that I just, you know? And you know, the everydayness is also something I don't miss, I don't miss having to wash smelly clothes and socks, football socks, they stink. I don't miss, you know, the boring food that you have to feed kids, you know?  God it's traumatic and I don't know, I really don't miss stuff like that. But, and I try to make up for it when I see them with the other things that are fun. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, we'll talk a little bit more about that later. Maz, your kids from two, four and six when you left them with their dad. What led up to that decision, to your decision? 

MAZUIN: I found out that I was actually suffering from bipolar disorder. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You didn't know at the time though? 

MAZUIN: For me it was normal, the doctors said that I'd probably been suffering from it since I was, even before a teenager, probably around nine, ten, and I also got diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder from an event that occurred when I was probably around five or six. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you had three kids under six? 

MAZUIN: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What were you like with them, what were you like in the family home? 

MAZUIN: I - I did the best that I could. I lived sort of day-to-day doing the same thing over and over again without any sort of emotional connection. I was pretty much a robot. I would read books, I would take notes and it never came naturally to me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Take notes about being a mother? 

MAZUIN: Yeah, I would also compare myself to other mothers, maybe on Facebook or maybe my older cousins. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Oh big mistake comparing yourself to other mothers on Facebook, that's bound to end badly. 

MAZUIN: Yes, I did that a lot and I didn't know that was causing me more damage. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Distress, yeah? 

MAZUIN: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You were suicidal at one point? 

MAZUIN: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Before you left? 

MAZUIN:  Before I left. I actually, what happened was, see this is the kind of man that my ex was, he would have moved the earth for me. He knew that I was really, really unhappy but he couldn't figure out why. He urged me to get help a lot and I never did that at the time but…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think you didn't? 

MAZUIN: Oh, shame. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of shame? 

MAZUIN: Just, I don't know, I think cultural shame coming from an Asian background and, you know, mental illness is never discussed in my sort of background. It's a form of weakness to have a mental disorder. So I didn't, I didn't want to admit that to myself. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You didn't want to even find out about it? 

MAZUIN: No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What had your own childhood been like? 

MAZUIN: My own childhood was good. There was an event that took place that wasn't so good and that was never discussed and never brought up, it was swept under the rug. My parents didn't know about it until I was in my early 20s I think, I'm not too sure when I told them, but yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you want to talk about that or not? 

MAZUIN: I was sexually abused. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   By someone you knew? 

MAZUIN: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you? 

MAZUIN: I was probably around five, approaching six. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you got to this point where you were suicidal. What happened then, what happened after that? 

MAZUIN: I was in, I was actually overseas and by myself because my ex bought a ticket for me to go and have holiday because he thought that's what I needed. But that isolated me even more and everything hit me all at once because I was away from the kids, I was away from my family and I was alone with my own thoughts and that was the very first time that I really, really actually wanted to end my own life.

JENNY BROCKIE:   You were actually planning to take your life in a hotel room, weren't you, and your dad rang just as you were planning to do it? 

MAZUIN: Yeah, yeah, he did. Essentially my dad saved my life. He just rang, he decided to give me a call. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And he got you home? 

MAZUIN: Yeah.  And then I stayed there, I stayed with my parents and I've been with them ever since. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what went through your mind then about not going back to the children? 

MAZUIN: Um, I didn't want to cause them any harm. I felt like I was, I was actually going to ruin their childhood if I had stayed with them any longer, I was going to pollute them and I didn't want them turning out like me. That's why, yeah, I left, I was so afraid of ruining their childhood. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what's that decision like for you then? 

MAZUIN: I was torn, of course I was really, really torn, very, very torn, but I knew that I needed help. I was suffering really, really badly. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How long have the kids been with their dad now? 

MAZUIN: Oh, since 2012, yeah, about four years.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about your kids, how have they reacted to you leaving because they were quite little when you left? 

MAZUIN: They were quite little. With my oldest I think it affected him more than the other two because the other two were essentially just toddlers really and the events leading up to me leaving, you know, to them I had already left. It was just mummy went away and she never came back.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what's it like for all of you hearing one another's stories? 

MELISSA:    It's actually - I just want to say everything's going to be okay.  But you know, there is the real quality of life that I never had as a parent, I've been a parent now for 21 years and I don't know when it happened or how it happened but it's like I signed up for this existence.  I followed all the rules, you know, you get married, you do the right things, you have this kind of life, you live with this kind of kitchen, you have this kind of husband, you put on these roles and it's all a lie. It's, none of its real. It's who am I and how do I feel and that's the best thing I have to offer my children. You're offering your children something powerful and significant and that's more important than your presence every day. It really is. My kids know, and I know emphatically that they are deeply loved and they can tell me anything and they're not teenagers yet so you know, but still they see that, you know, a woman is not just an appendage.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kristal, what's it like for you hearing these stories? 

KRISTAL:  Oh, I guess I don't feel alone any more, that there are, you know, I'm not by myself. And it's the daily battle that's - nobody's saying anything to me, it's what I tell myself in my head. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I want to talk a little bit more, I want to ask you a little bit more about community attitudes. I mean how did you view women who left their children before you did it yourselves? 

MAZUIN:  Well I didn't know, I didn't even know that there were women that left children, I really didn't.

MELISSA:  Me neither. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you judge? 

MELISSA:  I think I would have, definitely.

MAZUIN:  I feel like I’m constantly justifying it, like “Oh you don’t have the kids?” and you see this look on people’s faces and it just completely changes and it’s the unspoken stuff and you know, when I was coming to the decision, you know, two of my closest friends, they were pleading with me, you know, they could not understand as mothers – they are mothers themselves – how are you going to do this, you are not going to cope, you’re not going to survive, you can’t do it.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you talked about your sense of your identity, being confused. How is your sense of your identity confused?

MAZUIN:  By not having that role of being the mum and not being able to be there on a daily basis, to be part in that and the cultural fracture of my kids not having that connection to their kin in Sydney, to my extended family.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Who judges you the most do you think?

MAZUIN: Yourself. 

MELISSA:  Yeah.

MAZUIN:  Yeah, I think we are our own critic and our own worst critics. We’re judging ourselves, but I do think that other women judge women, I think.

MELISSA: Oh, very much so.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Richard, you had a mother who left you when you were fifteen. Can you draw a picture for people listening to you, of your mother, the kind of person that she was? 

RICHARD:  Well, she was very self-involved. I think my father was too, I think they were two self- involved people who kinda had this little kid living with them, this sort of lodger, mystifyingly short lodger that lived with them.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay. So why did your mother leave?

RICHARD:  The marriage I think was bad from the beginning.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And she ran off with your English teacher, is that right?

RICHARD:  Who she met at parent-teacher, which somehow makes it worse, I don't know why. I think why it makes it worse is the image, isn’t it of, “yes, Richard's doing very well with his Shakespeare, oh, hello.”  In term two my mother disappeared and so did my English teacher.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Just without warning? 

RICHARD: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   She went? 

RICHARD:  So if you do read my back about this and you find some grammatical mistakes I want you to be sympathetic because if my mother hadn't run off with my English teacher, yes, she disappeared. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now I'm interested in how much you make light of this. I mean 15 year old boy, you know, your mum runs off your with English teacher, thanks you for finding him for her. 

RICHARD:  Yeah, yeah, all the time…

JENNY BROCKIE:  As his student. 

RICHARD: And went on to do that for the rest of her life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   For the rest of her life, yeah.

RICHARD:  Yes, thank you for finding him for me as if I was an agency, as if I was the agent of my own parents' divorce, it was kind of weird. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what was it like for you as a 15 year old boy being left by your mother in that way? 

RICHARD:  Yeah.  Look I think the really weird thing at the time, is my father was so sort of heart broken by the thing he went back to England for a while. So you know, they both left for a while and this is not Angela's Ashes, this story, I mean it was a very nice house in Canberra with a swimming pool so I'm not…

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you were in it by yourself? 

RICHARD:  Yeah, yeah, but you know, my father came back in the end and…

JENNY BROCKIE:   And did she tell you she was going to leave? 

RICHARD:  Yeah, yeah, she told me.  I mean the other weird thing I think when you're as old as me and the parents have died and all that is you then get to go through all the papers which is really weird. After she died there’s filing cabinets of their love letters and I remember sitting in her house in Noosa, you know, on my own trying to clean things out and I'm going through those letters and suddenly there's mentions of me and the kind of, they're kind of slighting mentions of me and they're about her love for this man and how she can't wait to be with him.  It must be my 15th birthday I think, with her and it's all about the misery of having - it's all about the misery she feels of having me because me being there means he can't be there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what was that like when you read that? 

RICHARD:  Well, it was kind of worse than her leaving really, funnily enough. But I think sort of, and you know, there was another thing in the papers that I found very difficult which was, because your eye is sort of going over these papers, you know, there's thousands of these love letters and, and I see her, I see the words, you know, "my boy, my boy, my boy" and after all I realise it's her pet name for him, you know, not for me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how do you think all that affected you? 

RICHARD:  Well, I think…

JENNY BROCKIE:   I mean you talk about people being resilient a lot? 

RICHARD:  I think I was a lucky duck in other ways, you know, I found Debra who's become my life partner and you know, so I found the love elsewhere and I think this is what happens in practice for people.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Teigan, your mum Shelley who is here next to you, she left you and your older sister with your dad when you were four. Do you remember the day she left? 

TEIGAN:  There was a heated argument in the hallway that my sister and I both woke up to and I don't think it ended too well and so mum left.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you remember what it was like for you as a child when your mum left?  What sort of things do you remember?

TEIGAN: Like having to go and stay at her house, there was arrangement for us to go and stay at her house every second weekend and going and seeing her after school. She'd pick us up from school on certain days and I just didn't really feel like I had much of an emotional attachment to her.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened when you were ten? 

TEIGAN:  I had a bit of a mental breakdown because mum ended up moving to the North Island and my two sisters actually went with her and I had made a decision to stay with dad but I was too scared to tell mum that I wanted to stay with dad because she'd asked me if I wanted to go. So I got dad to say to her, you know, she doesn't want to go with you and that sort of thing and that led to quite another heated argument which I sort of felt quite responsible and guilty for. And then after a bit of time passed I was sort of processing everything that was going on and felt quite responsible and didn't understand why she had gone and that sort of thing and why I didn't get to have what all my school friends had with their mothers being there, like not necessarily even having a father there but their mother was always there. So I had a bit of a nervous breakdown, actually multiple times. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did that, what did that mean? 

TEIGAN:  Just a lot of emotions, just not, just almost like a bit of a rage, like a bit of an angry stage but real, real upset but just not knowing where these feelings are coming from or why I'm feeling this way and why this is all happening and why don't I have what all my friends have and that sort of thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did kids at school ask you about your mum?

TEIGAN:  Not probably until high school when they sort of like thought it was quite weird that I was living with dad, especially during like the ages between 13 and 15.  It was quite an odd thing for someone of my age to only be living with dad.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what would you say? 

TEIGAN:  Because I didn't have, I didn't feel like I had a relationship with her, it was just, and because she's wasn't living with me or anything, it was just easier to say that she, she had passed away.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Shelley, what was it like when you found that out, that Teigan had been saying that? 

SHELLEY:  Wow, like, there's no way I could take it out on her. That was another way to punish myself for what I'd done. I deserved her to say that, in a sense, because I'd already...

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why did you leave you’re daughters?

SHELLEY:  One of us had to, quite simply. One of us had to go. We had got to the point where our relationship was so destructive that that final night that Teigan was talking about, there was violence involved.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You'd both been drinking that night.

SHELLEY: Yes, yes. I met him when I was 17 years old, so when I left I was close to 30. I discovered nightclubs, whoah, they stayed open until 3 and that was like whoah, all of the bright lights, I'd never been in a nightclub before, so drinking away with friends. This particular night I walked in with one particular friend, it was Vicky, and laughing, had so much fun, dancing, and I walked in to this wall of anger. I just left. There was no way I was going to stay in a house with a man that angry, so I left with my friend. I was so confused, I was so angry, I left.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How old were they when you left?

SHELLEY:  Teigan was two weeks, by this stage a week shy of your fourth birthday, a week going back and forth. Ashley was sill six years old. This is, like, 21 years ago. So it's 15-16 years that it took before I can even talk about this without just breaking down and literally wanting to kill myself. As I'm leaving, and it's during the day and my two little girls are standing on the veranda and they are screaming, and you don't remember this, and I'm so glad you don’t.

TEIGAN:  I remember it. 

SHELLEY:  They were screaming "Please don't leave, mummy".

TEIGAN:  I do remember it.

SHELLEY:  Okay. I'm turning around and I'm hesitating, and there's so much hatred in his face and so much hurt and there is - I just left.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You remember this, Teigan?

TEIGAN:  Yeah. I remember, I remember you were coming over because you were coming to look after us while dad went to karate and, so, obviously one parent's going and the other one's taking its place, so they are not there at the same time. So my older sister and I were - mum's walking away, so we are saying mum don't go, so dad starts to walk away to go to his training and we are saying dad don't go. We couldn't understand why they couldn't be together at the same time.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So why did you give custody to him?

SHELLEY:  Yeah. He went to a solicitor. It was the family solicitor, so I just grabbed one out of the phone book, you know. So I go along, I speak to the solicitor, he said, well, you need to sign some paperwork. I sign the paperwork, we send everything off. I'm looking to get myself a house, get my children back, and unbeknownst to me I'd signed my children away. I did not know I had signed my children away. I thought I had signed something to say that I was giving permission for him to look after them solo until I got on my feet. But I had signed them away.

JENNY BROCKIE:  I want to ask you about one specific thing. Last year, Teigan, you wrote your mum a letter. Can you tell us the key things you wanted to tell her in that letter?

TEIGAN:  It was more just things that were constantly replaying in my mind about my childhood that sort of, I felt sort of like it was unanswered or I needed a couple of explanations.  Like it wasn't about getting an apology and owning up to this sort of stuff, it was just acknowledge how I was feeling as a kid because I've never told you.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what were the key things you said in that letter, what the key most important things you wanted her to know? 

TEIGAN:  Just how much I didn't need her now but wanted to have her in my life because I've gone so long without having her there. How much Nana played a role in my life, how about it was easier for me to tell people that she had passed away than say that she's gone and left and that sort of stuff. 

JENNY BROCKIE: And Shelley, what was it like getting that letter? 

TEIGAN: Angry. 

SHELLEY:  No, no, I wasn't angry to start with. I was…

PARIS:  Broken? 

SHELLEY:  Yeah, that's the best word and I was broken for days and I had to put it away and then I brought it out again after about three days and read it again and it just broke me all over again. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you have any inkling that Teigan felt the way she felt?  That she felt that you hadn't paid her enough attention? 

SHELLEY:  No, no.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Teigan, what did you feel about the way the letter was received and about the reaction your mum had to it? 

TEIGAN:  Well the first couple of lines it was like read this letter over and over because I want you to understand where I'm coming from, so don't look at it once, like read it multiple times because I know that she's one of those look at it, get angry and all that, whatever, and not want to look at it again. So this is something that's going to make or break our relationship. I was at the point where I was just going to walk away nothing because it just didn't seem like we were going to fight for anything. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And now? 

TEIGAN:  We're in a wicked place. The last time I went to over to Australia in October last year, obviously a couple of months after the letter, and I think it was first time leaving the airport when I was flying home that I actually cried saying goodbye to her. 

RICHARD:  So in retrospect she was brave to write that letter, wasn’t she? 

SHELLEY:  Absolutely, absolutely.  She opened channels of communication because I don't know how to communicate with her. I know who how to with Paris, there's an elder sister as well, Ashley, she's coming up 28 and I know how to communicate with her, but Teigan I didn't.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened with Paris?  You had Paris three years after you left Teigan and Ashley? 

SHELLEY:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what happened with her? 

SHELLEY:  I had Paris living with me till she was maybe two months shy of turning five, and I started to realise that I had to let her go, so I did it again but this time it was with open communication, no signing paperwork that I didn't need to sign.  We've kept communication open. We're still in a wonderful spot. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you feel about it Paris? 

PARIS:  I actually don't remember mum being in my life at all when I was younger until I was about nine, I don't remember her at all. I remember my step mum Hayley who my dad got with after mum. I remember her because she was in my life from nine months. 

SHELLEY:  You were three months old when he met her. 

PARIS:  Three months old when he met her until she moved away at six so she was my mum. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what was that like for you not having your mum around? 

SHELLEY:  Well she did for the first five years. 

PARIS:  Yeah, but I don't remember. 

SHELLEY:  She just doesn't remember. 

PARIS:  It was, it didn't seem like it was any different to me at the time until my step mum, I still call her my step mum, Hayley, she left too and then it was a lot different. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened then for you? 

PARIS:  Well I have a godmother Jo, she actually moved in and took over the mum role. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How did you feel about, how do you feel about mums, about the whole idea of mums? 

PARIS:  I have never felt like I belonged with a mum, even though I've lived with mum and I've lived with many different woman, I have never been able to feel like that was permanent or that I would always be there and that I could get comfortable there because people always say I'm really easy to move around and that's because I never get comfortable because I'm ready to move because I feel like everyone comes in and leaves again. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Zach, your mum left when you were four and you were raised by your dad Adrian sitting here beside you. What's it been like for you? 

ZACH:  Well you know, I haven't really known any different so I suppose it's just normal life.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you see your mum much? 

ZACH:  Now I do and I have for the past ten years or so.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what's that relationship like now that you're 17? 

ZACH:  She's not really part of my life but I think she still makes up something key, I can't really put my finger on it but you know, there's still, you know, some importance there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Adrian, you raised Zach from the age of four on your own? 

ADRIAN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How have other people reacted? 

ADRIAN:  Well it was all the negative side, it was all why did she leave? How could a mother do that? And just listening to the stories, I'm sure, you know, all of the ladies that have spoken, it's the women that actually ask the questions. It's the women that judge. And I got, I got asked so many questions and I didn't really care, I just say well she's gone, she's got another job, she's got another guy, that's it.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why do you think there's such judgment about women leaving their children rather than about men who leave their children far more often? 

ADRIAN:  I think it's the societal thing, I think it's the belief that, you know, there's this maternal bond and so a mother can't leave their children.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Anne, you're a psychiatrist, you specialise in the mental health of mothers and their children. Given the idea of the mother child bond, which is real, you know, women carry the baby for nine months? 

DR ANNE SVED WILLIAMS:   Absolutely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is there actually any evidence that the kids of mothers who leave fare worse than the kids of fathers who leave? 

DR ANNE SVED WILLIAMS:   Absolutely not. I don't believe that there's been any research done on that and what's important to say is that the stories we've heard tonight is that the mothers have left often because they care about their children, not because they don't care and that's been a striking feature I think of what's happening here. That they've left because of perhaps domestic violence, because of mental illness, because of other factors, because terrible disharmony in a marriage and understanding that children brought up in that sort of tension and turmoil, they don't do well with it. There is plenty of evidence about that. But can dads parent? Yeah, they can parent.  I actually think it's a program like this that brings these issues out into the open that shows in our sort multifaceted society that actually there are choices and so long as we understand individual stories, we can actually appreciate the pain and passion that goes with it all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Adrian, what did you want to say? 

ADRIAN:  There is another side to this though and a lot of the stories we've heard have been very, very dramatic in break-ups. So my story is not dramatic in any break-up and so my only comment though is Zach is, Zach has three other siblings and his mum didn't just leave Zach, she left all the kids. And I've got to say though that there's, there's a point where you ask yourself are you being selfish in what you're doing and I can't answer that question. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You ask yourself that question?

ADRIAN:  The person that's leaving and in my situation, and for me what I experienced was a selfishness and a desire for something else, not because it was better for Zach.  So what we've heard is I'm going to leave because it's better for my child. My situation is not that, it was not better or worse. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   It was leaving for another relationship? 

ADRIAN:  It was leaving for something else.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you leave for yourself to some degree Shelley, in what way?

SHELLEY:  I never actually thought about it until this program and some of the interviews they had, and it was, like, I have been thinking about it more and more and there had to have been a certain amount of me and it's about me, for me, to have done it, because I clearly wasn't being sacrificial in any way.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you leave for another relationship

SHELLEY: No.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did anyone else leave for another relationship.

MELISSA:  No, but I think left for me too. And that plagues me, like I still deal with the grief and the guilt on that. 

SHELLEY:  Oh, yeah. 

MELISSA: And the guilt of wanting to have a happier life and it seems like at the expense of my children. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Sarah, you've never known your birth mother or father at all, have you? 

SARAH:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why? 

SARAH:  So I was left in Swan Hill at a toilet block when I was born. Some tourists found me and I still had after birth on me so I wasn't very old, a couple of hours old. And the midwives of Swan Hill Hospital looked after me, they named me Sophie and in the media and stuff I was baby Sophie. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   We've got some clippings here I think from that time when you were found.  Yeah, when did you first see these? 

SARAH:  About when I was thirteen. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You were adopted by then? 

SARAH:  Yeah, I was adopted about five, I was about five months, six months.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And when did you hear the full story of what had happened? 

SARAH:  When I was about thirteen, I was asking questions that mum and dad couldn't answer.

JENNY BROCKIE:   You wanted to know more?  You wanted to know who your birth mother was? 

SARAH:  It was overwhelming and mum and dad just said look, “we know nothing, we know nothing about your mother or your father, your father might not even know that he has a daughter,” yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So eighteen years on, do you know anything about your birth mother at all? 

SARAH:  Not a thing, or my father. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Or your father? 

SARAH:  Yeah, I know it's mothers leading but it is my father as well, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So do you imagine what you, how often do you think about it, how often do you wonder? 

SARAH:  Every day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of things do you think about? 

SARAH:  The one thing that really stands out about what I think is that my mother and father were young and they just could not cope. They couldn't cope with the world judging them like everyone has said tonight, especially mothers, the judgment, it's like hateful judgment and I get that. I get that.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you think about what she might be like, what sort of person she might be like? 

SARAH:  I don't think, I don't think she would have had a good family which fortunately I have the best family. Just it's different in every situation but the fact that she left me in a toilet block says something.  It says she, something was definitely not right about her life and I don't know, if she's alive today, I hope she's coping with it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What impact do you think that story has had on you? 

SARAH:  Just waters run deep in everyone, everyone has a story, you've just got to, you've got to respect people, you've got to have a perspective on life and be grateful for what you've got. Even though you might think my friends have so much more than me, really they don't. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You've got very proud adoptive parents sitting over there listening to you right now. 

VIDEO PLAYED.

 

MAZUIN:  Small one or medium? Big one, OK.

I feel helpless sometimes, I feel like I wish I could just come in and change everything, but I know that I don't have the power to, it's out of my hands now. I'm just grateful for the fact that they have their father that looks after them and he is there and he's such a strong person to be able to take on both roles.

All right, you guys ready to go back to daddy's? Yeah.

I think it's harder each time I do drop them back to their father's because they do realise I'm still mum but I'm not going to be there in the morning. I don't tuck them in at night.

CHILD: Bye mummy.

MAZUIN:  Bye, be good.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Mazuin, how are you managing now? 

MAZUIN: I'm managing a lot better. I've got my own little routines, I get to see them every single day and every second weekend I have them. I'm coping a lot better with treatment and I'm a lot more closer to them than I have ever been, even, even when they were babies, even when I was that full time mum, I'm a lot closer them now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can you imagine a time when you might have them full time again, or not? 

MAZUIN: Absolutely. That's what I want more than anything, despite my illness.  I mean when they're a lot older and they can make the choice hopefully one day I can be with them full time. That's what I would like. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And when they do ask why you left, what will you say to them? 

MAZUIN: Mummy was sick, that I was sick. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Kristal, it is only four months since you made your decision. How are you feeling about it now? 

KRISTAL:  Oh, it's every day a daily challenge because it's still new, we're still trying to, I'm still trying to adjust to my routine in Sydney in an empty house without kids there and being away from them. The kids, the kids are coping because they've got their normal routine, they've got school, they've got their friends, they've got their sports. But for me, yeah, it's a daily challenge, every day asking myself have you made the right decision and going back through that whole process of all the factors that I took into consideration making that choice. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you ever question whether it is selfish? 

KRISTAL:  Of course I do, of course I do, and yeah, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have ambition and I didn't have desires and that there weren't things that I want to achieve, of course. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I'm not saying it is, I'm just asking whether you ask yourself that question? 

KRISTAL:  Oh, I definitely go and I was asking myself that question again when I heard the word selfish come up and that was the sorts of things. And I guess that's why I probably talk to my kids a lot about what I do is it's a sense of justification in trying to get them to understand. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Melissa, what about you, six years on, what do you think about your decision to leave? 

MELISSA:    It was the right one and while I might have had difficult times over the years, it's still the right one.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can you see yourself living with them again? 

MELISSA: I don't know.  You know, then we bring up the word selfish, like it's been six years and they have this life and I kind of don't know that I want to go back to that life again. And I know that sounds awful and I don't feel great about it but I'm also remarried and I'm just living this different life where I'm constantly in contact. I see them every second weekend, I have them for longer periods during the holidays. I'm still a part of their lives, I am still the touchstone of what I think a mother should be but whether they live with me again, I'm not sure and I don't know, I really don't know. I mean you ask any father the same thing, who's left a family or a family environment, or anyone really, it's just…

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you never hear from mothers and there's a whole reason we're doing this is because you actually never hear from mothers about why, when they do it, and the small numbers they do it, when they do it, why they do it. 

MELISSA:    Yeah, especially selfishly I guess, you know, my oldest is 21 and his teen years weren't so bad but, you know, they're not a lot of fun and I think that their father would probably be better at that than I am. But then again my role is to also be there for them in a different way without, you know, the hands on everyday stuff and that's great for me and it's great for them. They're really emotionally aware, intelligent young people and it's really enlightening to see that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay.  Karen, you're the mother of an 18 year old daughter? 

KAREN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Who we've spoken to by the way so she's not going to get a shock hearing this. 

KAREN:  No, she's not. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you say you wish you'd left.  Why? 

KAREN:  Well left is probably not the right way to put it. I wish I had sent her to his father and his family, yeah, and I've said that to her. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why? 

KAREN:  Look, I've done a great job, she's a great kid, but realistically, I was living in Europe when I was married to her father and we came back to Australia and set up in Melbourne, bought a house, I started a business. The marriage wasn't working and he went to live in Sydney, here we are, and it was really hard bringing her up on my own because I don't have family support and we'd been overseas so I didn't have a network of friends and I actually offered to his family and himself to move to Sydney. And they said they wanted to take Adelaide but they didn't want me to come with them, with her.

So I had two things that were difficult for me. One was the stigma that goes with giving up your child and two, I thought if I move to Sydney and relocate, I didn't think that I would be able to get her back into my life like weekends or whatever when I'd set myself up because there is this, um, difficulty for mothers that do leave to get their children back. The Court system can work against you and it can work against fathers too, I realise that. So I sort of dug my heels in, stayed in Melbourne, built up a business and brought my daughter up on her own. I think in doing that I was in a lot of fear and Adelaide sensed that.  I did the best job I could but she…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why do you think her being with her father would have been a better option? 

KAREN:  Because she had, she would have had so much more support. Because I was working up to twelve hours a day, I was, she was in child care till late every night.  She was, I had a baby, a nanny, similar, on Friday nights, it was my night out and she was so clingy and I was her only reference point. She had no family and it was really, really hard on her and I feel bad about it, yeah.  But her father…

JENNY BROCKIE:   What stopped you from doing that? 

KAREN:  I think I was scared that I'd lose her completely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   They're difficult decisions, aren't they?  I mean whenever there's a relationship break-up there are always hugely difficult decisions about children. 

KAREN:  And the guilt. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And where the children are best off. 

KAREN:  So I did the best I could. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah. 

KAREN:  It wasn't perfect. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   There is a lot of judgment around this particular topic.  Why did the three of you decide that you wanted to come on tonight and talk about it? 

MAZUIN: I don't want another mum going through what I did when I was raising my babies. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That silence?  

MAZUIN: The silence, yeah, the feeling that, that you can't speak out because you can and you should go and look for help, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Help for mental illness? 

MAZUIN: Yeah, absolutely 100 percent, even if you feel like you're not coping one day but you're coping the next, go and talk to your doctor. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Melissa, why did you want to talk? 

MELISSA:    Because it's such, it's a contentious issue and I've done this now for some time and the shame, I'm so tired of the shame and I tell you when you do something like this, there's no, you shed light on it. There's this lovely woman here, there's this lovely woman here, there's these amazing people and you just think, you know, I'm not alone and I don't want other women to feel alone either. And I also, you know, think there's so much opportunity for healing and health when you take it out of the shame zone and bring it out in the open.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kristal, why did you want to talk about it tonight?

KRISTAL:  For me, I thought this would be really good for me because it's early days and I thought it's part of that process in trying to cope. I wanted to hear what other people's stories were. And, you know, form a bit of a network so that I'd get some support. But I also think it's such a taboo topic that I have really wanted to put it out there. And I wanted to say to people that have been knocking me, this is where it ends. I'm not going to justify my decision any more. This is it. I have backed myself 100%, and this is what I've chosen to do. And just put it out there. I'm not going to talk about it anymore. That's other people's worries.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  We do have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. Very brave of you I think to come forward and tell your stories and they're complicated stories, thank you very much for that and thank you everyone else too. And that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and on Facebook.