Fielding off well-meaning comments from the public is a skill that every outcasted parent needs to learn. We live in a culture where children are at the forefront of everything. When your children are not with you, and you utter to anyone that you have kids, brace yourself. From elderly relatives who don’t understand how monstrous the Family Court has become, to people in the service industry, who look around ask, “Where is your child? Isn’t it summer vacation?” and they have that strange look that says, did she leave her child home alone? – and everyone in between, you will have to have a fine-tuned elevator speech in your toolbox.

My husband, who is mostly alienated from our two oldest boys, made a point to meet all of our neighbors when we bought our home last summer. We proudly stated that we had three boys. To this day, I’m certain our neighbors believe we have our boys locked in the basement. Occasionally, they get a glimpse of my bio son during my infamous “every other weekend” parenting time, playing outside. Parents like us really need to run a TV series parodying the Family Court’s end product. I imagine myself waving at my neighbors (who always seem to be outdoors) and saying, “Yeah, we have to let him out for fresh air four days a month!”

I’ve heard all of it. Most of the time, they are customary, polite questions. My favorite one, to date, was during one Thanksgiving dinner, an elderly Italian woman who was a part of the celebration kept asking question after question about why my son wasn’t with me for Thanksgiving. Normally, I don’t mind. I like talking about myself, as I’m always interested in other peoples’ lives, too. And she was a nice enough lady. After 20 minutes of questions, in which I tried to be as flat as possible with my answers (in an attempt to bore her into looking for someone else to talk to), she stated, “IF A JUDGE DID THAT TO ME, I WOULD HAVE HANDCUFFED MYSELF TO THE COURTHOUSE AND DEMANDED HE RETURN MY CHILD TO ME!!!”

Can I blame her? No. I totally understand the maternal, mammalian brain that makes loving mothers feel this way when their children are stolen from their care. I admit, she got me pondering on whether that strategy may have worked. In a system where nonsense makes all the sense, and common sense is rugswept, she may have been onto something.

So what do moms and dads do with all these remarks and questions? Do we unload every last detail about how we have been bankrupted, brutalized, and disenfranchised? My approach is to have a sense of humor, but be blunt about how the system failed. I like talking to strangers, so I’m naturally going to reveal more. But I have a limit, always. If I get a sense that the person won’t “get it”, I keep my responses boring and generic. If I have time and mental resources, I will answer with, “Yes, it’s unfortunate for children that the Family Court hasn’t made any significant improvements since the 1970’s.” Most people are aware of how Family Court works, with the divorce rate hovering around 50% for decades. What they usually don’t know is that in the past 10 years, mothers and fathers have been equally discriminated against.

I’m proud to be a representative of a fit, non-custodial mom. The bottom line is, never apologize, never over-explain, and never be embarrassed. As non-custodial parents, we need to show the world that we are fit, loving parents. The more we tell our story, at least superficially, the more we can remove the stigma of what a non-custodial parent looks like. The true “deadbeat” parents won’t even mention their children at all. We are not those parents. We are fully involved parents who would be equal parents in a heartbeat, if given the opportunity. Until the Family Court views us as parents, and not visitors who contribute a paycheck to the “favored” parent, we must tell our story in a calm, confident way.