For many parents, it’s unfathomable to even consider leaving their children behind. After all, the majority of moms and dads would never think of abandoning their children or leaving their futures up to chance. But some parents opt to leave their kids behind rather than try and make a life together.
Parents who leave their kids behind are often vilified in the media, and it’s usually moms who fare worse than dads. For some reason, the societal expectation is that moms will always stay and be nurturing caregivers while dads are more likely to jump in and out of their children’s lives on a whim. The thing is, there are stories from both groups of parents, and often, it’s not what it seems on the surface.
Both moms and dads can face difficulties while parenting and trying to maintain a sense of self as they move through life. Some do better than others at keeping their lives on track, but even those who aren’t so great at it tend to hide their worse traits from prying eyes.
These parents though? They’re open and honest about their reasons for leaving without their kids. Whether it’s moms who are aching for a new life of freedom or dads who are drained from fighting in court, plenty of parents have interesting reasons for leaving their children behind. Here are 20 of their stories.
20 Life Was Better At Home
When Sarah Tuttle-Singer’s marriage fell apart, she knew she had to get out. The thing was, she wrote for Kveller, her children were happy where they were. Sarah was an American expat in Israel, living with her husband and two preschool kids. Though she and her husband tried to salvage their marriage, Sarah admitted that she hadn’t truly “tried” so much as given in. So, she packed her bags and moved to a new city, commuting to see her kids three or four days per week. So why did she leave them behind? Because she knew they were happy, settled, and thriving where they were—and she knew transplanting them would be worse than leaving them where they were with their dad.
19 Career Moves Meant A Real Life
While many women pursue careers before “settling down” to have children, Te-Erika Patterson did it the other way around. Writing for XO Jane, Te-Erika wrote about her experiences raising two kids with her college sweetheart, who was quickly working his way to a successful career as an attorney. When the pair split, Te-Erika continued to struggle as an undergrad working part-time. At the time, she wrote, she felt like her ability to financially provide for her two boys was tied to her overall worth as a person. She worked her way toward a writing career, but a move for a new job meant taking the kids from their dad. Instead, she left them there—at her ex’s request—and they’ve thrived ever since.
18 Reluctant Mom Relocates
The thing was, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto never really wanted to have children. Her now-ex had asked—no, begged—her to birth them, and he would handle the rest, he promised. And when her two sons were three and five, Rahna and her husband agreed she should go on a work project to Japan. Her husband and boys would stay behind. But mere months later, their marriage fell apart, Rahna wrote for Salon, and she knew things wouldn’t be the same. Years after, she reflected that she had to leave her children to “find” them again—and to find herself. At that point, her relationship with her children was even better than ever, she confirmed.
17 Stability Stays Behind
Melissa had four kids when she and her husband separated. She told Stuff that to move on from her marriage, she had to leave town. At first, she planned to take their four kids with her, but she soon realized it would be harder on them to move. Her ex asked her to reconsider, and the kids stayed with him—he had a business, a nice home, and plans to send the kids to a good school. She concedes that her ex is an “excellent parent” and that though she felt guilty about the decision, she’s also happy to “reconnect” with who she was before she became a mother.
16 Disruptive Period Healed Depression
Although faced with guilt at the prospect of leaving her kids behind, Natalie knew that to get out of her depression, she had to exit her marriage. She was in and out of the hospital and struggling, she told Stuff, and finally decided to leave when her therapist pointed out that she had the choice to leave. Her son was too young to remember at the time, Natalie noted, but her daughter struggled at first. In the end, though, Natalie was able to get out and get better without impacting her kids’ lives too much. While it was hard, she said, she realizes that she’s a good mom because she acted in her children’s best interests all along.
15 Court Chooses Custody
Mom of three Kate didn’t plan to leave her children behind when she and her husband split. But six months after their separation, her ex called her and said he wanted full custody. He had more money, a home, and support to care for the kids, while Kate would have to resort to welfare and drain her funds to fight him in court. So she chose to “remain actively passive,” Kate told Stuff, and visited the children every other weekend. Her grief was all-consuming, she acknowledged, but about two years later, two of her kids decided to move with mom, and it all came together.
14 Separation Starts With Leaving
When she realized her marriage was over, Lauren Derrett told her husband she wanted to separate. But in response, he told her she’d have to be the one to leave. Their kids were eight, five, and one at the time—and after an internal debate, Lauren decided she would do it, she wrote for Selfish Mother. After all, the children wouldn’t benefit from their parents fighting constantly, and she knew that her ex wouldn’t leave—he was forcing her hand. Of the rumors and gossip and criticism she faced, Lauren wrote, “That does not define us as parents that does not mean that I am the devil and that most defiantly does not mean that he’s the saint.”
13 College Choices Change Everything
A young mom who had her son Oscar at age 18, Rebekah Spicuglia hadn’t yet gone to college or even decided what she wanted to do with her life. So when Oscar was three and she had the opportunity to attend college hours away, Rebekah left her son behind with his father. As Today reported, years later, Oscar would travel via plane to visit his mother on holidays and summers, and Rebekah noted that they were very close and communicated constantly. Of course, critics were quick to say negative things—even her son’s vice principal, who didn’t want the child’s mother listed as an emergency contact.
12 Loss Before Leaving
Maria Housden never thought she’d lose one of her children, but when her oldest child was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away before the age of three, the entire family suffered. She and her then-husband went on to have more children together, Today reported, but their marriage didn’t last. Her ex had more stability, Maria acknowledged, but when he asked to become the primary caregiver, Maria balked at first. She knew what the social repercussions of the decision would be, but years later, she reflected that her relationship with her children was healthy and hadn’t suffered from the change.
11 Not Feeling Guilty For Freedom
She’s probably the last person you’d expect to “abandon” her children and husband, but Marie Cartwright told Daily Mail that she “sacrificed [her] children for Nick,” her new partner. She had felt trapped by motherhood and her marriage, so when she took a university course and met a younger man, she fled to be with him. Her other five kids ranged in age from eighteen months to seventeen years, and most of them feel their mother abandoned them, though the eldest three were then leaving with their father (a different ex-husband than the other two children’s dad). In the end, Marie didn’t want to give up her “freedom,” so she stayed with her new partner, and her sixth child, and let her ex take her other two young children out of state.
10 Never Wanted A Family
An anonymous mom on Reddit shared that she had just left her family after years of struggling as a working mom. She and her husband had married young, she wrote, and they agreed they didn’t want children. But years later, her husband changed his mind, and rather than give up her marriage, the woman agreed to have a baby. She wrote that while she loved her daughter, she couldn’t stand the daily demands of raising a child. At the end of the day, she explained, she missed the relationship she had with her husband, but she didn’t feel bad for leaving at all.
9 Regretful Dad Discovers It Too Late
While many of the stories from parents who left their kids behind are about recent events, one dad on Reddit kept his story a secret for over 20 years. He wrote that he left his girlfriend and baby daughter during a time when he was in heavy debt, couldn’t find a job, was depressed, and began using controlled substances to “cope.” He ultimately decided his family would be better off without him, so he left—and regretted it every day thereafter. Still, he confirmed that his now-grown daughter had lived a good life and was “better off without” him in the long run.
8 Absent From The Start
One self-proclaimed “deadbeat dad” on Reddit wrote that he had only ever seen his daughter one time, and he was fine with it that way. That’s because he was 17 at the time he and his then-girlfriend conceived the child, and from the moment he found out, the dad had “advocated for adoption.” He also had doubts about the child actually being his, so decided to continue on with his own life and not be a father to the child. At the same time, he claims to “love [his] baby girl so much,” but opted to stay away altogether when the baby’s mother told him he couldn’t come in and out of her life on a whim.
7 Unwilling “Dad” Decides To Opt Out
Another Reddit dad admitted to leaving his kids behind, but the way he tells the story, you might just understand his rationale. He was an unwilling participant when it came to his former flame getting pregnant with their child, and he wasn’t sure he was really the father. Still, he showed up to the scheduled C-section and saw his twin children born—paternity tests confirmed it. At the time, this “dad” lived across the country, so he paid child support while the kids were with their mom. But when they turned one, the mom got the kids removed from her care for endangerment. “Dad” transferred child support payments to the new caregivers and still declined to “[step] in as their permanent parent.”
6 Not A Good Enough Dad
One “absent father” explained on Oprah’s Lifeclass the exact reason he left his family, and as Huffington Post reported, it had plenty of involved parents scratching their heads. Dwayne said that he “walked away” from his kids because he didn’t think he was a good enough dad to them. Since he wasn’t the dad he would have wanted for them, he thought it was better to leave. And while most of us would think, why didn’t he just start working on becoming a better man for them, at least he’s being honest about his feelings. In the end, the feelings of inadequacy dad has can’t possibly outweigh the benefits of having a father figure who’s working toward becoming a better man and role model.
5 Adding Insult To Injury
When a Reddit user asked others for honest responses to the question “why did you walk out on your children?”, one dad told a heartbreaking tale. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury at a young age, he wrote, and though he became a husband and father to four kids, he no longer has contact with them. The man explained that he is losing his memory, sometimes speaks gibberish, has sleep disorders, depression, and can’t control his emotions. The result of this was his wife delivered divorce papers to an inpatient facility he was staying at to try and get better. He opted to stay away instead of going back to fight for his kids in his condition, because his wife decided he was a “burden,” he wrote.
4 Waiving Rights To Stop Making Waves
While plenty of parents who wind up splitting up can manage to co-parent effectively, one Reddit user’s ex quickly welcomed a new man into her life, one that her daughter was taught to call “daddy.” The anonymous dad wrote that because of his ex’s not letting him see his daughter until she was two, the little girl started calling him “other daddy,” and that’s when her biological father realized he could never “win.” Rather than fight what he felt was a losing battle against his ex, he gave up fighting for custody and “made the difficult decision to walk away.”
3 Mom Makes Life Miserable
One anonymous dad admitted on Reddit that he effectively walked out on his daughter because her mom was “a terrible person” and kept him from his daughter for the first year or more of her life. And when she did show up, the ex demanded child support but didn’t want to share custody of the little girl. After his ex lodged charges, the dad had to spend a ton of money fighting back in court but still lost all his rights to his child. Feeling like there wasn’t any way left to fight, he continued to pay child support but moved out of state.
2 Debt And Doubled Court Costs
One dad answered a Reddit user’s question about why dads leave their families with an explanation of the events that went down following his split from his ex-wife. The anonymous dad explained that in the first few months of fighting for visitation with his toddler son, he was paying rent on his house and his ex’s, paying court fees, and interim child support—plus he had to pay for his own lawyer while his ex got one for free. Since the dad couldn’t fight for his son without incurring further debt—and couldn’t begin to pay the debt in the first place—he let his son go with his mom.
1 Doctor’s Orders Demand Dad Stays Away
It’s more common for dads to “leave behind” their kids following a split, but it’s no less painful and difficult for everyone involved than if mom leaves. For “Kieran,” a dad of two, when his relationship soured with his children’s mother, his kids began to suffer. The NZ Herald reported that Kieran’s younger daughter began stuttering, lost weight, and regressed in her development. Both parents spoke with a child psychologist separately, and ultimately, the psychologist recommended that Kieran stay away for a few weeks and see what happened. His daughter got better, Kieran wrote, and so he never went back. He hopes to reconnect with them when they’re older and in a more stable place.
References: Kveller, XO Jane, NZ Herald, Salon, Stuff, Selfish Mother, Today, Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Reddit