Author of Hiroshima in the Morning, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto admitted feeling “swallowed up” by motherhood. If you have not yet seen her interview on the Today Show, I encourage you to watch it.
When I first stumbled upon this story about a mother seemingly abandoning those she loved and who relied upon her, I was instantly agitated. She and her husband had been married for 20 years and their boys were only 5 and 3 at the time she made the decision to pursue her own happiness.
All I could think about were her boys and what I would have felt like if my mom decided I wasn’t providing the happiness she wanted in life. And then I felt for her husband, the man who urged her to pursue the fellowship in Japan in the first place.
But then I listened to Rizzuto talk on the Today Show about how, when she was in Japan, she was no longer defined by expectations like she had been in the United States. And I understood the point she was trying to make about how denying one’s own happiness (be it mother’s or father’s) many times results in not being the best parent or role model for one’s children.
And let’s be honest. Our judicial system, and society in general, doesn’t exactly treat parental roles evenly. Moms are never expected to leave or supported if they do. And when couples who have children divorce, it is very difficult for the father to obtain sole custody. According to the Today Show interview, less than 4 percent of children live with their father only. (For a man’s take on this, read Al Watts blog on Wednesday).
So I stepped back and wondered if I would have felt my initial anger as strongly had this story been about a husband and father who made the same decision to redefine his life.
Rizzuto freely admits she didn’t want to give up her life for someone else’s. While I can appreciate the point she is trying to make, I keep coming back to the same question in my mind: Isn’t that part of the deal we make when we decide to become parents? Your life does change when you have a child. I realized early on that it’s not about me anymore. I may have to make sacrifices and not achieve everything I could have sans children. But my world has opened up to so many more possibilities because of them.
Today, Rizzuto lives down the street from her ex-husband and shares joint custody of their boys. Here’s an excerpt from her book. I would love to hear your take on her story.
Heidi Woodard is married with three children. She works full-time.