Remarkable highs, difficult lows and a new support group.
Almost a year ago, some women came together to share their experiences on a taboo topic: deciding to leave their children. It was an eye-opening discussion and the show later won a United Nations Australia Media Peace Award, for the Promotion of Women's Rights and Issues. As we look back at the show this week, Insight checks in with some of the women who bravely shared their stories.
It’s been a remarkable year for Jawoyn and Wiradjuri woman Kristal Kinsela, winning both personal and business accolades.
In March, she was named 2017 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year, and she was recognised for her work in strengthening Aboriginal businesses as director of Indigenous Professional Services with the Supply Nation Supplier Diversity Advocate of the Year award.
It’s meant the past 12 months have been exceptionally busy, and she’s changed the way she sees her children so she can spend solid blocks of time with them in their hometown on the NSW north coast.
“It gives them more consistency in their routine, so they’re not getting much interruption,” she says. Being with them during the week also allows her to be more engaged with their school work and daily lives.
When Mothers Who Leave was recorded, her initial arrangement to live away from them was still only a few months old and Kristal expressed doubt about her decision.
“I wake up every day and I think to myself, ‘Have I done the right thing?’” she told Insight’s Jenny Brockie in 2016. “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.”
Now, she feels confident it was the right one to make.
“The kids are settled, and they’re happy,” she says, noting that her relationship with them is “really good and strong.”
“[And] it’s been good to get the recognition for the work I’ve been doing. That’s the testament that I’m on the right path.”
“The awards are not about me; they’re about the things I’m doing,” she adds. “It refocuses me back to my life’s purpose, and that’s about creating change.”
As her children grow up, she hopes they’ll be able to make their own decision about where to live in the future.
“My door is always open.”
For Mazuin Claude, it’s been a difficult year since the show went to air. Not long afterwards, her former partner moved with their kids from WA to Canberra to pursue a career opportunity and fresh start.
Mazuin, who decided to stop being the primary carer of her children while she tackled her mental health conditions, found the move hard to deal with.
“We went from everyday contact – after-school runs and dinner – to Skype contact only,” she says. “It was almost like I was grieving.”
A year on, she’s been able to come to terms with the move.
“I know that they’re going so much better, I can see that in Canberra, so I am supportive of the whole change,” she says. “They seem really happy, but then again it’s really hard to see through Skype. I know that they do miss me, but I think harder on me than on them. They’ve got a new life with their father remarrying. They have this wonderful set up with a new step-mum, who I adore as well.”
Despite the distance, she’s says her relationship with her children is good, particularly with her daughter, who still feels she can talk to her mother about all the issues of growing up.
“I’m in a good place now,” she adds. “I’ve got the freedom to do what I want with my life. It’s in my hands now.”
Mazuin plans to move closer to her children on the east coast as soon as possible.
“Hopefully this positive feeling will remain … I do want to let my kids know that I haven’t forgotten them; that I’m working towards being with them. “
When Mothers Who Leave went to air, it had been six years since Melissa Collins made the decision to live away from her children.
Since then, she says she has “moved on from some of the sadness and depression surrounding the choice to leave my kids with their dad. Mostly I'm pretty good.”
“My kids are awesome, well and happy.”
When Insight spoke with her again, she said she was reluctant to talk more about her personal life after negative comments following the show last year.
A new support group
Despite Melissa’s experience, she is keen to follow through on the original motivation for her to join the show: “To shed light on the issue in a helpful way for other women who are isolated and harshly judged.”
She’s joined an initiative established by Kristal – a Facebook Group, Mothers Together, which aims to support women faced with a similar decision, or who have made the choice to not be their kids’ primary carer.
Kristal says she received much positive feedback after the show, from over 100 different women, ranging from those who were in a similar situation to her and the other guests, to women whose mothers had left them, saying the show helped them understand some of their reasons behind their mothers’ decision.
So far the group is small, and closed: “We’ve kept it private because there was a lot of hate on social media,” says Kristal. But they hope to expand it into a website or blog in the future, and develop resources to help women like them, covering issues like navigating parenting plans, maintaining relationships with children and communication with former partners.
“There’s no information out there that supports women in our situation,” says Kristal.
For Mazuin, who is part of the group too, it’s already been a valuable place of support while she coped with her children moving across the country.
“I know I’ve needed that group in the times when I’ve been really, really sad,” she says. “It’s so good to have that, because they’re the ones who understand. They’re going through it.”
If you are interested in being part of the group, please email Kristal at email@example.com.
Mazuin says being part of the show has been positive.
“Mental Illness can be so isolating,” she says. “I’ve had people reach out, strangers, to tell me to keep going. Little things, like ‘You’re a beautiful mum’; it validates that I’m still a mum. I haven’t lost my children to someone else. They’ll always be my children.”
Melissa believes it’s helped her friends and family understand her circumstances a little better, while Kristal likened it to a “healing process.”
“It gave me confidence,” she says. “I couldn’t hide anymore, or avoid the conversation. Because I’d dealt with it, and made it clear: this is it. I’m not going to take anyone’s bullshit.
“I revealed myself, showed my vulnerability. But it gave me strength and I was able to own it.
“It’s a story that needs to be told.”
Insight: Mothers Who Leave | Catch up online here.