10/30/2012 06:00 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2012

I Left My Children In Kansas City

Everywhere I go, I hear this story: "I left my children in Kansas City. In Nebraska. In Texas." I travel to speak at MFA programs and writing conferences and writers talk. Once you meet writers, the stories begin.

I hear the abandoned children story everywhere. I met a woman in Utah this summer who had cancer when the divorce happened. She left the kids with their father while she was undergoing chemo, but then he took her to court for abandonment. She was trying to decide what to do when I saw her -- continue living happily with her new love or try to get the kids back. Then there was the woman I met in Colorado. She had an 8-year-old son she'd left in Texas. She had met the new love of her life and with him, she planned to move to Northern California. She hoped to maintain a relationship with the boy.

Once you decide to be a parent, that's it. You can't step away from it

If your stepkids want to step away from you, you should let them. I have two stepsons, and it's delicate because they have two parents of their own. More clearly, they have a mother, so if they choose to know me, I'm there for them, but if they choose to have their space, that's okay too.

For most of us who divorced with children under eighteen, the primary question is this: How are we going to meet the great love of our lives who is also going to make a good parent for the kids? Can we put our families together? Will this person be a good parent to my kids? My husband and I dated for six years while we decided if our families could come together as one family.

There are parents all over America, women as well as men, who have left their kids. There is some initial break. Maybe you felt the kids needed time with the other parent. You were sick. You were recovering from drug addiction. Your ex had gained most of the custody of the kids. Your kids seemed to not like you any more. They're kids, so of course, they're going to not like you some of the time. But trust me if you actually leave and take off, they will feel abandoned and that's because they will be abandoned.

You were apart from your kids and during that time your ex gained the upper hand, got most of the custody, convinced your kids to hate you, so you think, what the hell? It's my life. Don't I deserve happiness? Yes and no. Once you decided to be a parent, that has to be more important than your own happiness. And the crux is this: unless you're an abnormally empty person, the chance that you will be able to happily move to another state or city and not see your kids any more and be happy simply isn't good. Leaving the primary responsibility of your life will not make for future happiness.

When my ex and I got divorced, we both decided we had made one mistake and we would not make another. We would be good parents, we would both stay in our children's lives and make the parenting happen. And work it we did. That's the deal with parenting -- it's work. It takes work to stick around and stay in their lives when it would be more fun to run off and claim your own personal happiness. It's work to keep hanging out with them while they go through their teenage years, which also might be their temperamental years or their spiteful years. Parenting is not for sissies. It's not for quitters. Parenting is something you have to throw yourself into and stick with. Meeting someone you like is no substitute for being a parent.

The payoff is that you get to have a relationship with a whole wonderful person. If you can't find a great love who understands that being a parent is your life, maybe you haven't found a great love at all. Maybe you're in a trifling relationship, maybe you're not taking any of this seriously. Find the love that allows you to embrace being a great parent even when it's work. Because work is what life is all about. Building character, having challenges -- that's the best part of life, that's the best part of parenting, and that's why you don't want to give up on being a parent. You'll miss who you could have been and you'll miss finding out who your children will be when they grow up, when they spread their wings.