Nicole Kidman Helps Show Positive Side of Non-Custodial Motherhood

Here’s the type of article we need more of (Forbes, 12/23/10).  Not because it’s about famous actress Nicole Kidman, but because it’s about her take on being a mother to her two children with former husband Tom Cruise.

The kids, Isabella and Connor are now 18 and 15 respectively.  They live by their own choice with Cruise, his wife Katie Holmes and their four year old daughter, Suri.  They’re old enough now that, in every state I know of, family courts are obligated to abide by the child’s choice of residence absent serious extenuating circumstances.

“They live with Tom, which was their choice,’ Kidman admitted. “I”d love them to live with us, but what can you do?’ 

Her resignation reflects the legal reality.  If they choose to live with their dad, there’s not much she can do about it.

There’s a bit more to it than that, though.  They’ve lived with Cruise since 2001 which means they were nine and six and well under the age at which courts are bound to respect their choice of which parent to live with.  So, while their living arrangement now reflects the kids’ own decision, prior to that it was a judge who decided that Cruise would be the primary parent.

To her credit, Kidman speaks not a bad word about Cruise as a dad.

And are the kids alright? Kidman says despite the distance between them, she”s extremely proud of how Cruise, 48, has raised Isabella and Connor in her absence.

“They are healthy and sane and together and are great, great people,’ she told the Associated Press. “So I”m not one of those people that needs to be reminded of what I have.’

And here let me admit that the writer of the Forbespiece, Caroline Howard, is confused.  She’s got one foot in the traditional narrative that reads “a mother without her children is a mother grieving and bereft.”  Therefore, according to the article, that’s what Kidman must be and her new movie, Rabbit Hole, with its theme of maternal loss, is but a reflection of personal tragedy.

The problem is that Kidman isn’t reading from Howard’s script, so the writer chooses another.  Mere sentences later, she refers to Kidman and other high-profile moms as “the new out and proud voluntary non-custodial mother.”  Just how voluntary those situations are could be the subject of another article, but the fact remains that Kidman seems comfortable with her life and the choices her children have made.

And she’s not alone.

Like Kidman. And Maria Housden, Elle Hull and Rebekah Spicuglia. You remember Housden, Hull and Spicuglia, right? They were the three mothers famously profiled last year in Marie Claire under the headline: “What Kind Of Mother Leaves Her Kids?’

Each had personal reasons why they gave up custody. Housden wanted the freedom to write and travel the world. Hull and Spicuglia were seeking a fresh start in a city far from their children”s beds. Kidman, well, take her at her word and she respected her kids” wishes to stay home with Cruise. They all elected to become that kind of mother. As in, “What kind of mother makes that decision?’ in Housden”s words.

What kind of mother?  The article’s answer is clear – mothers like Nicole Kidman.  My guess is that something like 99% of the mothers reading the article would give their right arm to be Nicole Kidman.

That’s why I like the Forbespiece; it encourages women to see non-custodial motherhood in a positive light.  For Kidman and the other mothers mentioned, not having the kids around 24/7 means you have the freedom to pursue other endeavors.  That suggests that women can move away from seeing themselves in strictly maternal terms, from measuring themselves by only a maternal yardstick.

Until they do, fathers will continue to fight hard, often losing battles for even minimal time with their kids post-divorce.  Face it, courts still prefer maternal care of children.  They come up with some truly bizarre ways of excusing that preference, but it’s there for all to see.  That preference stems in part from our culture’s relentless promotion of motherhood as either the only – or the most – legitimate choice for women.  Women accepting different roles will encourage expansion of fatherhood as a legitimate role for men.

The Forbes and Marie Claire pieces portray the flip side of fathers parental rights – that mothers’ playing second fiddle can be not only an acceptable arrangement, but a liberating one.

It’s a necessary part of any move toward equal parenting for dads.

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