As most parents are preparing to send their children back to school, ESSENCE.com catches up with Andrena Andrews, the 32-year-old mother of 10-year-old Adam.* The divorced mom heads the licensing division of a New York City-based apparel company and has made the unconventional decision to have her son live 850 miles away from her with his father and her ex-husband in Atlanta. Here, Andrews explains how she came to make this difficult choice, why she’s constantly talking on the telephone, and how her friends and family surprised her about this decision.
My ex-husband and I met in college. We are both native New Yorkers attending the University of Maryland, College Park. Even after he transferred to a university in Long Island, New York, we stayed together. We dated for ten years total and then he proposed. We got married and a child, our son, Adam, was born during that union.
We ended up divorcing after two years of marriage. We were both young when we first got together and eventually grew apart. Shortly after we officially divorced, my ex-husband decided to relocate to Atlanta and I stayed in New York. And when my ex left he took our son with him.
Since our breakup was so amicable, it wasn’t really a need for much long discussion early on. We just sorta said, “We’ll figure it out as we go.” It wasn’t like some judge said, “You’ll have him for summers and you’ll have him during Christmas and spring breaks.”It’s not like that at all. My ex-husband and I have a great relationship and share joint custody of Adam. It’s very open and fair.
There were several factors that lead me to make this decision. One was the quality of life in Atlanta. I thought it was important for Adam to experience what it’s like to have a home with grass outside and trees and a dog. I figured he’d have the best of both worlds. He’d experience that suburban life and then he’d come stay with me in New York to do things like ride the subway.
I also love the educational system there. I am quite pleased with his teachers so far. I’m very involved in his academic life. I was extremely unhappy with the public school system in New York City. In addition, my ex-husband’s family–his mother, sister and his father–is in Atlanta. So it’s not like Adam just moved down there with his dad by himself. He still has a strong family structure. His grandmother and I remain close so I know that he’s in excellent hands.
Lastly, it’s important to me for my son to be raised by a man. I don’t think I’ll be able to raise Adam the way his father can. And I trust my ex-husband a thousand percent. He’s going to teach our son how to be a great man. From his discipline tactics to his warmth and openness, he’s a great father…a wonderful father.
I speak to my son about three times a day; sometimes more. And I see him every four to six weeks. We utilize things like Skype and instant message chats often. Modern technology makes it so much easier to communicate from a distance. If I’m not there physically, I’m definitely on the phone for parent-teacher conferences. And I’m always present for graduations and other special events. They [the teachers, school administration] see my face and they understand that even though I’m in New York, I’m still very aware of Adam’s schoolwork, his curriculum, etc. Sometimes we’ll do a school project over the phone and it’s like he never left.
Initially, the time of my divorce was such a difficult period for me that I closed myself off from friends and family. I honestly didn’t care what they thought about my decision to let Adam live with his dad. But having conversations with loved ones after coming back to myself was so surprising. They are like, “We’re so proud of you. You did what we all kinda wanted to do. It was time for you to go and learn and experience yourself as a person and then figure out who you are and what you want.” I was really shocked. I never thought that would have been their reaction.
Some conventional men and women may attempt to question my role as a mother. I happen to have a very demanding career. I am not saying that my child hinders me or my career in any way because he does not. But Adam’s father and I are doing what we feel is best for him. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
*Name has been changed.
The opinions and views expressed here are those of Andrews and not ESSENCE magazine or ESSENCE.com.