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September 20th, 2009 by Dr. Phil

The Motherhood Debate

mom1Wow, thanks to all of you who watched the show we did on the realities of motherhood. I have to say, I was so pleased at the huge feedback we got on our Dr. Phil Web site message boards, my Twitter page, as well as on my Facebook page about Maria, one of our guests on the show who gave up physical custody of her three daughters when she and her husband divorced.

Some of you were simply flabbergasted at what Maria did: “What a horrible message that gives to the children,” wrote a viewer named Annette. “I can’t IMAGINE not reading bedtime stories, kissing, hugging, and saying I love u to the moon and back, every single night,” added Alisa. “Nothing replaces a mother’s daily nurturing.”

But others of you were equally dismayed that Maria was getting slammed. “The point was that a mother and father divorced, and they made a decision that worked for their family, that the father had primary custody,” commented fritz1. “The reaction was solely based on a notion that only a mother can parent. Fathers make good parents too and many kids may be better off with their dads, but are awarded to their mothers simply based on this notion.”

Here’s my question for you: Do you think we have a double standard when it comes to who should have custody of children after a divorce and how people in our society judge it? Are we too critical of a woman who gives up custody, yet never raise an eyebrow at a man who does the very same thing? Let’s just get real honest here. If a man had given up custody of his kids so that he could go off and write a book, would we even have done a show?

Are kids necessarily better off being with their moms?

mom3Let me tell you where I come down, and this is just my opinion. If you are a mother or father of a child, then I think you have an implicit contract with that child, and I don’t care whether you are divorced or not.  You involuntarily brought that child into this world, which means you are obligated to nurture and raise that child until that child is up on his or her own two feet.

As someone who regularly deals with the aftermath of broken homes, I know the importance of both parents staying as plugged in as they possibly can with their children. If one of you unplugs, the child pays the price — and there’s just no getting around that fact. I don’t give a pass to either mothers or fathers if they become inactive or toxic in the lives of their children.

If you are a parent who gets divorced in Denver, and you think you want to live in Miami, then you might want to think again. I’m not trying to be unreasonable. If this is a matter of survival — in other words, if the only job you can get is in Miami — then I’d rather you be working and providing for your children than living homeless in Denver.

Let me hear from you about what you think. I know all too well that divorce is a serious fact of life in our country, and this is a debate we have got to have.

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108 Responses to “The Motherhood Debate”

  1. Kori says:

    It’s my opinion that in most cases, children are better off living with their mothers. I wish this was true in my case. I was 18 years old when I was married and had my first son. My ex husband was in the military. A year later I got pregnant with our second son. I couldn’t have been happier. I was a stay at home mother and wife and that was just what I had always wanted. When my youngest son was only six months old, my husband wanted a divorce. He never told me why. He convinced me to go stay with relatives until we figured it out and we would take turns with our children. Once I went over there and realized there was another woman staying at our house, I flipped out. I tried to take my sons and leave the house but he called the police and they wouldn’t let me because he told them I no longer lived there.

    He also had gotten a no contact order and it kept me from seeing my boys for four months. In court, he said I suffered from depression and since I was a stay at home mother and had never had a job, he was awarded temporary custody. On the date of our final hearing, my lawyer had never notified me and I did not show up. My ex husband won custody by default because I was not there that day.

    It breaks my heart that I’m having to pay child support to him and I hear about all these things he can afford to spend money on and I never see my boys in decent clothing or even a haircut. What makes it worse is every other weekend when they are with me, they cry because they do not want to go back to their father’s house. They ask me why they can’t live with me. They were just babies when we divorced and now they are six and four. It’s still too soon for them to choose which parent to live with but there are no doubts in my mind that I would be the best fit parent for them. Their father works nearly two hours away and he leaves our children in the care of his girlfriend. If they are not at school, they are in day care until 6:00 in the evening even if he does not have to work he has them in day care. It makes me sick at how little time he spends with them. I probably spend more quality time with them on weekends than he does in a whole month.

    I wish I had the money for an attorney so I can get them back where they belong. On top of that, he has recently told me he’s getting married in a few months and he’s deploying for the military for six months and he does not want my children staying with me while he’s gone. He wants them to stay with his new wife and that is not fair to me! I don’t know what to do about it. They told me they don’t want to stay with her while their daddy is gone.

    I feel like I was born to be a mother and that was taken away from me. Some mothers have a natural nurturing ability and those are the ones who deserve their children. Others might be better off with their father but not if it’s a liar, cheater and manipulator!

    Too many people take their children for granted. I just want the best for mine and someday hope to God they will come back to me.


  2. StepMom says:

    I am in a situtation in which I wish the mother would just let go of her child. The mother abandoned her children, leaving them with her husband. The oldest child is my boyfriend’s daughter, “Kelly”. She was instructed to lie to both her father and me about her mother’s whereabouts.

    When we learned of the living situation, that “Kelly” was living with her stepfather, we decided that we needed to step in. We started having her come over, she was doing homework at our home, her grades started climbing, and she started opening up about everything that was going on in her life. We filed for full custody, and when that happened, all hell broke loose.

    The mother decided that our filing was saying “she was a bad mother” so she all of a sudden started coming around and was involved in her daughters life. She took “Kelly” away for several months, in which we were not allowed to see her. She also convinced “Kelly” that we were trying to make her never see her mother again, so “Kelly” started lying about abuse that was happening in our home.

    Now, “Kelly” has failed several semesters in high school, she has started taking drugs and drinking (which is readily available at her stepfather’s house). There are also rumors that she is sleeping around! We no longer see “Kelly” on a regular basis as her mother does not believe that it is important for her to see her father, she feeds lies into her daughter’s head.

    Unfortunately, we no longer know what to do. There is so much stress in the house when “Kelly” comes over because of the issues she has caused (with the influence of her mother). “Kelly” would be better off if her mother did leave, she would no longer have a person who doesn’t know how to parent (she doesn’t care about the grades, drugs, drinking or sex…) She would have her father who would encourage her to be better than this, and she would become a positive person in society.

    Now, we are deciding whether or not we should go through the court system again. If we file anything to protect “Kelly”, then we will loose her for several months again, if we don’t file and anything comes up later on, we will look bad for not trying to do anything. So we are weighing our options, for the time being, if she comes over and we have previous plans, then she is going to miss out because of her lack of planning.

  3. Mitzy Roberts says:


    My cousin is going through something very similiar. She too was a stay at home mom and her husband in the army. All of a sudden he wanted a divorce. She had to live with her mother which was not a good idea at all. I think her mother just didn’t want them living with her anymore so she practically kidnaps the boy takes him to hsi aunts who then takes him out of state to be with his dad. She got to see her son i think once every other month and her son was telling her how the babysitter spends the night and the babysitter spanks him. He finally married the baby sitter moved closer to my cousin but the man is a piece of garbage. There house is full of dog crap and roaches the boy keeps telling his mom that he wants to live with her and there is nothing she can do about it right now until she gets money for a lawer. I wish my husband could just beat the crap out of this guy but he doesn’t want to go to jail.

  4. pixi says:

    I know of a woman that left her kids with her ex-husband and has had little contact with them…. yes they have had issues about their mom leaving them… but as a single mom, my sons have issues about their dad leaving them…. I don’t think it is a matter of which sex makes a better parent it is who is suited better as a parent… Yes my ex can afford more (I was a stay at home mom for 22 yrs) for the boys… doesn’t mean that they would be better off with him.. I am home every night that my boys are.. (I only go out when they are gone). I don’t have men coming and going and I hope that I am teaching my boys that women are more then just someone to have sex with… I would have loved to still be married and have a whole family, but I chose (8 yrs ago) that as a single mom my love life would wait until my kids were grown, out of fairness to my children, my self and a man.. you can’t nurture a relationship on a part-time basis with your kids or a partner.

  5. Audrey says:

    Dear Dr. Phil,

    I have been having a hard time dealing with my father and his bad choices. My dad is constantly lying about his actions. He puts his children in impossible situtations just to save himself embarassment or shame and is talking bad about me to my siblings to show them he is right. He has also attempted suicide twice (where I was responsible for his medical treatment), been in a motorcylce accident where he “claims” to have forgotten his past actions, and he is on marriage #5. The motorcylce accident made it worse because he expects us to forget all that has happened and suddenly see him as a father figure.
    My problem is I can’t seem to emotionally detach myself from his problems. I am constantly thinking, “how can he do these things” and can’t seem to let it go. I know that there are others like me who have had to be a “parent” to their own parents and may also be struggling. Any advice or skills you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for listening and for your great work,


  6. Tabitha Warnock says:

    I do beleive that in different situations that the child can be better off with the father. In my situation I have a 5 year old step daughter whom i havent seen since Augest 1 2008. That day her mother showed up at my husbands and I apartment and caused a fight. I was 7months pregnate. She forced her way in here took my step daughter out of the house. She then came in tried to hit me but my husband took her out of the house. This all happened because his father left his mom and got together with my husbands daughters mom. We all went to court and a no contact order was ordered. This will be up on October 19th. We want to fight for coustdy but dont have the money. His father was recents put in prison for 12 years for getting busted with meth. We know that they have told my step daughter that her grandpa is her father and to call him dad. I find this disturbing my self. If we were to be able to go to court we know that it will be a long healing for this 5 year old. We love her and miss her dearly. We have family that keep in touch with them and they tell us whats been going on. Im just hoping that we can one day have some rights to her. This whole situation goes a whole lot deeper, but o firmly beleive that she might be better off here.

  7. Sereena marks says:

    I am shocked at how judgemental the women where and are. I am a stay at home mom but I used to be a good qualified daycare provider. None of the parents that trusted me with their children are any less of a mom or parent than I am being a stay at home mom! Both are extremely hard and challenging we all have the same goal reguardless of how we get there and that is to have loving repectful children the develop into amaZing well adjusted adults. As women whether we work or stay at home we are moms and we should be stocking together and supporting one another and appreciated the challenges we all as mom go through not arguing about who has it harder or has better adjusted children. I believe their are good and bad to both and niether is better or worse for our children it’s kist what is best for each family on an idividual basis.

  8. Jacqui says:

    I should never have been a Mom. I had fertility problems and we waited 5 years after marrying when I was 22 before we started trying for a baby. We had been married 7 years when our daughter was born after fertility intervention. When she was 2.5 we began the fertility process for another and were lucky that it was an easy process the second time around. When I was 5 months pregnant I lost my temper with the oldest one beat my fists up and down on her bed and my husband pulled me off and sat on me. Sounds funny now but it was the beginning of 8 years of hell. I was so depressed and so volatile that I wanted to kill myself to protect the children from me. When I got to th point of suicide I was 5 months pregnant with the third who happened, much to our shock, naturally. Definitely not my plan! I wouldn’t kill the baby as well as myself and by the time the baby was born I had had a big breakthrough in therapy and had begun to believe that there was hope for us.

    When I was 16 I told my mom I didn’t think I wanted to have children. She broke down in tears, it was for her, the worst thing she could imagine for me and she wanted grandchildren. It was pretty much a done deal after that. It was never expected that I would have a career, I was always going to marry and have a family. God and the church insisted that that was what women did. It was a disaster. None of your questions Dr Phil would have helped me avoid this calamity. I was up for the lifetime commitment, believed I would do a good job, thought I was stable etc. I just had no insight into my own emotional make up at all or the impact of my early emotional baggage. I also had no idea of the amount of social and religious pressure I was under.

    We are ok now but all the children have been in therapy and its a constant journey of picking up the pieces. I was not cut out to be a Mom and my kids would DEFINITELY be better off with their father if our relationship were in jeopardy.

    We have only just seen this episode of Dr Phil in our country and I guess this is probably a very cold thread for those of you in the states.

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