AfricanFeminism (AF) brings you the first of a series of HERstories we will be capturing over the next coming weeks. The aim of this specific HERstories series is to document through interviews, African women’s experiences of practicing authentic choice and the related societal/family backlash they have faced for that choice as well as how they have dealt with it.
AF: What conscious choice have you taken in your life which is/was against the dominant tradition in your community, was difficult for you to make and which you experienced a societal backlash for?
Rosie Lore: Leaving my children with their father when I made the decision to walk away from a marriage that no longer served me or our family.
Women in Kenya usually leave with their children in a divorce set up– especially empowered, educated women. I made this choice for two main reasons. Firstly, it was clear that if I left with my children, my ex would use that to spite me and them by never participating in their lives – he verbalized that VERY clearly. I couldn’t reconcile telling my children one day in the future that the decision I made to leave my marriage cost them a relationship with their father. Their father was and continues to be a great dad and to imagine my daughter (especially) not growing up with her father in her life was too much to bear. I couldn’t live with myself for that consequence. It just seemed too selfish a decision to take on behalf of my children.
Secondly, there were other members of the extended family whom I loved and respected and whose involvement in my children’s lives would be greatly diminished or altogether removed had I walked off with my kids – I was relocating to live in another country at this stage so this was a big decision. The most important being their paternal grandfather, whose love and dedication to my kids had never been in question. Taking the kids away would have crushed his spirit – his only grandchildren. I couldn’t bring myself to walk off with them and lose that which he had so lovingly built – there was no middle ground at this point in the negotiation with my ex-husband – it was either I leave with our children and he’d never be involved in their lives or I leave alone. It was the proverbial caught between a rock and a hard place. I agonized over that decision for close to 3 months and eventually did what was right by my kids versus what I really wanted for me. If ever I thought my heart would break it was that moment on Thursday February 1st, 2007, when I hugged my then 12 and 9-year old kids goodbye, jumped on a plane headed South to start what was ostensibly a new season of my life, living alone and working on healing from an emotionally abusive marriage – I had NO game plan for this new season. I was very fragile, closed and angry. I wanted my life back, I wanted to get better. I wanted to be a better mother to my kids – how could I be when I spent all my energy protecting myself from the hurts I received in the marriage? I needed to get away. I was frightened at the prospect of starting out again yet emboldened by what that new season held. I was determined to live more intentionally and regain my life back. I have never regretted that decision. Often times doing the right thing is just so hard emotionally; it truly calls for a courageous act. But doing what is right always pays off. There is a God who rewards His children for taking the path less trodden.
AF: What were the initial reactions to your choice?
Rosie Lore: The reactions were all over the place. Only very few close to me understood and respected my decision because they were privy to the negotiations, trade-offs and the thought and prayer that had gone into making this choice. Overall, most folk were horrified! How does a mother walk away from her children? Walking out of a marriage, yes we get that – happens all the time – but what TYPE of a mother leaves her children behind? And so the judgments flew. And if you know Kenyans like I do, they spend copious amounts of time judging others – I was not spared. Mercifully (and God is so great at shielding us from that which He knows will not build us in our time of fragility), I was too far away and too caught up in a very busy career globe-trotting that I really never heard these judgements for the best part of 2-3 years. God only knew how shallow my anger lurked just beneath the surface of an otherwise calm exterior and that if provoked by hearing those judgements I would have most likely unleashed a “Madea tirade” much like she does in “Diary of a Black Mad Woman” . The challenges of being in an African marriage is that everyone and their mother wants to give their opinion about your marital affairs, mostly when it’s not going well! So I lived through being the ‘terrible mother’ narrative for many years. A good African mother ALWAYS lives with her kids (so goes the script), notwithstanding the quality of maternal care!
AF: How did that make you feel?
Rosie Lore: Just really, really upset overall. The overriding emotions I experienced in this period were upset and frustration. How could something that started off so well end up being perceived as so callous? How could my good intention appear so wrong? Could it be that I had made the biggest mistake of my life? Was it even remotely true that I was a bad mother? Irresponsible? I was just UPSET 24/7 and sad, sad, sad. In the end, what this did for me was really help me internalize the difference between perception and reality in a new way and accept that there will always be dissonance between the two. I made peace with this and held the hope in my heart that, one day in the not so distant future, both my children would come to the understanding of this decision their mother took that would irrevocably change the trajectory of their lives – for the better. I knew that this was near impossible for them to appreciate whilst they lived through this confusing and sad season –being so young and constantly fed a narrative that their mother had abandoned them – yet of this I was sure – the truth would triumph, as it always does!
AF: What price do you think you have paid for making that choice?
Rosie Lore: I think the biggest price I paid was financial – divorce makes one poorer. Period. I walked away with nothing but the clothes on my back, no assets, no children, nothing but my dignity. Added to the financial loss was the emotional toil and angst of communicating with my ex on child related matters and the nonsense that goes with that – the power struggles that played out; the intention by my ex to ensure that I suffer for leaving him; the constant use of the kids as pawns; the reputation tarnishing; all of that – most of all the pain I caused my children by removing myself from the family home thereby being physically absent when they needed their mother – living in another country meant that they only saw me a few times a year on scheduled visits. The societal shame I caused my parents; so much was loaded in that act of leaving children behind with their father that just wasn’t culturally seen as appropriate…it still tickles me that our African communities truly do not recognize that fathers can raise children effectively without a woman. In my case that was a misnomer because my ex was a REALLY hands-on parent, much more than I was, in all honesty.
AF: What gains do you think you have made for making that choice?
Rosie Lore: I think the overriding gain has been GOODWILL in family relationships. One is not an island and the act of marriage is not between two persons. All the difficult conversations and negotiations that ensued amongst the wider family leading up to my leaving the marriage were respectful (even in disagreement). That was an important value for me to uphold as I was clear that divorcing a husband did not necessarily mean divorcing his family. Fact is that we would continue being related as family because of the two children God blessed us with, notwithstanding our non marital status. So, with that in mind, I sought to ensure that I sustained cordial relationships with his family post divorce –with very specific individuals – key being with my father-in-love. What this allowed me was access to the family and a continued development of relationship that enabled raising the children with minimal strife. For me the focus in these past 10 years has always been about fostering an enabling environment to co-parent our children in a way that honours them and demonstrates our commitment to them as parents despite our status apart.
AF: What helped you overcome the backlash?
Rosie Lore: My rock solid faith and belief in God! I am a huge fan and follower of Jesus Christ and believe in the grace and the mercy He extends to humanity to forgive and provide a SECOND CHANCE to make amends. I was surrounded by (very few) close female friends (the sisters I choose for myself) who affirmed me, cried with me, and just held the space for me to work through ‘my stuff’. I must say that my Dad was a rock for me through this season…the ever understanding wise man who at the drop of a hat would give me a listening ear to rant and release my frustration; my Dad always affirmed me by verbalizing how much he loved me and how proud he was of my courage. You can’t beat a Father’s love and support – both heavenly and earthly!
AF: What are three core principles by which you live?
Rosie Lore: I call these principles “what I know for sure…”
- You have to lose to gain – surrender sits at the core of this principle. One cannot expect to gain any good thing whilst their palms are closed and tight fisted. One needs to release open one’s palms to surrender that which they hold onto so tight…in the same action of opening one’s palms whilst still empty, one indicates their willingness to receive that which one truly needs. God always respects a surrendered and open heart.
- No matter how well I plan, ultimately God disrupts my plans –for good! A Yiddish proverb sums it aptly, ‘Man plans and God laughs!’ I have come to really love God’s disruptions and to willing accept them without putting up a fight…because ultimately HE knows best! Interestingly in the past I viewed God’s disruptions as negative and would kick and scream in protest which meant that it took a while for the dust to settle and for me to see the beautiful gift I had just been presented. God is in control of every facet of my life…nothing takes him by surprise, not even divorce.
- I and only I, am responsible for the energies (in the form of people) that I surround myself with. It is within my control to remove myself from energies that do not serve me and in turn surround myself with people whose energies give me life. I cannot any longer be passive about who is in my space. I have perfected the art of ‘giving people the gift of goodbye’.
AF: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Rosie Lore: Hindsight is a beautiful thing! 10 years on and I can see clearly now how much of a gift my divorce was – strange words to string in one sentence I know, but this is my truth: MY DIVORCE WAS A GIFT! I received in that gift total CLARITY OF PURPOSE and out of that truth today I live a BEAUTIFUL, SIMPLE AND MEANINGFUL life beyond anything I imagined. In becoming a Life and Leadership Coach, I have discovered that my most meaningful, fulfilling and impactful work has resulted from using my unique gifting and talents rather than my technical expertise.
As I look forward to celebrating a milestone birthday in December 2017 – my 50th – I look back on the past 10 years, no longer with a tinge of pain, but in triumph for the lessons learned and strength gained. That season is behind me and as I celebrate my 50th birthday, I will be celebrating my personal courage as much as I will celebrate all the individuals who were part of that journey; my adult children, my Dad, my now late father-in-love as well as my close circle of friends whose unwavering support carried me through that season. I will also celebrate my ex husband who did a superb job in almost single-handedly raising our children and who continues to be a devoted father and friend of theirs.
I am no longer a passive participant in writing my life story and take full responsibility for my actions and inactions. I believe in the saving grace of God to give humanity a second chance at writing their life story and I’m committed to supporting the next woman who finds herself journeying through a similarly painful season as I did; I commit to holding the space for her to work through ‘her stuff’ until she can stand on her own and support the next woman.
AF is immensely grateful to Rosie for sharing HERstory with us – powerful, and authentic. And we can’t agree with her more – the truth does always triumph. Rosemary Lore, PhD is currently a Seed Transformation Program Facilitator with the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, Stanford University. She’s also a leadership coach.
If you’re interested in submitting a story of an African woman (you or an interviewee), please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.