Should a mother leave her son with his father to take a far-flung job?

Dear Carolyn:

I immigrated to marry a man I’d dated for four years. It was an incredibly toxic and abusive relationship and I finally managed to leave after 11 years. I was unemployed and without family or friends.

After two years I’ve found an amazing job and have done brilliant work in my community and my new country. I’m literally receiving awards for my work. Our 12-year-old child has not only adjusted but thrived. We co-parent well and actually maintain a very solid friendship. I’m even friends with his new partner. I’m surrounded by loving friends and “found” family. I’m in a loving, supportive relationship.

All in all life is perfect.

But. I’ve been offered my dream job 12 hours away. During our divorce we agreed our child has a say in his living situation should I move. I’m pretty confident he will choose to stay in his hometown, but hopeful he will choose to move with me.

I’ve made peace with it. The logistics aren’t that hard to manage. But I feel guilty. Society judges absent mothers so harshly. I’m worried about him having the support and compassion he needs.

I’m worried I’m abandoning him and he will end up with weird issues.

I feel justified after so many years of abuse and sacrifice that I deserve to chase my own dreams.

But am I being selfish? A bad mother?

— Woman on Hold


But first: Seriously?

You have an amazing job and loving friends and “found” family and your child is thriving and you’re in love and you’re a … “Woman on Hold”?

They’re your feelings to feel, of course, but I see room, as in, pristine acres of rolling landscape for you to reframe your view of your life, if you really wanted to do that.

As you did just a few paragraphs prior, with, “perfect.”

I also don’t think it’s possible to make “peace with it” and “feel guilty” and be “worried,” all about the same move.

And you won’t get a you-go-girl (or, alas, a bad-mother) answer from me, because to treat this as an issue of society and judgments and misogyny, if that’s what you’re implying, sounds like a cynical dodge.

Just facts: The price you pay for a bad decision here won’t be charged to your public-image account. It’ll come straight from your kid’s emotional health. And he didn’t choose to be born or move anywhere or marry badly.

Yet, as you yourself describe your decision, it will take either his mother or his father out of your son’s day-to-day life, because “I deserve to chase my own dreams.”

How is this not selfish?

That’s not a rhetorical question; my advice for you is to answer it.

Especially since the nature of the dream matters. Parents live away from minor children plenty, for reasons “society” accepts and even applauds. Military deployments; diplomatic or political positions; humanitarian aid work; career necessity (astronauts, journalists, mountaineers, ship captains); economic pressure — anything from a job transfer to emigration from an impoverished country.

These have in common some combination of necessity and a higher purpose. And typically an end date. That’s still often wrenching for kids, however, “I wanted to be with you, but I had to protect the world/lead the world/save the world/conquer space/keep us all from starving”? At least it feels important.

If you really are just talking about dream-fulfillment beyond your current perfection, then your decision feels heavily optional. Like, second-cherry-on-a-sundae optional. I’d say this about any dad or mom who has viable and non-soul-crushing local employment options and whose affected child is just 12.

The chances you’ll have other dreamy career opportunities, especially if you’re “brilliant” at it: excellent.

The chances your child will have another crack at childhood: zero.

And I can’t believe I’m only now getting to this (the issue is deceptively complex): You’re also dumping a horrific choice on your child. Who, presumably, has just found stability after being put through a wringer by his parents’ abusive marriage and divorce. “So, which parent can you do without? Take your time, Honey.” Seriously.

The only one whose vote counts is your son. So, again, my advice is to give yourself an honest, non-self-serving answer to the baseline question: Will he grow up to respect your reasons or will he look back and say, “She shook my whole world? For that?”

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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