I am a single mom. A non-custodial Mom. This is my story. 

I haven’t lived with my son since June 2021. 

As I write this, I’m feeling the voices of societal shame placed primarily on mothers, especially Black mothers, when they become a non-custodial mom. In heterosexual families, non-custodial fathers and custodial mamas are considered the norm when parents split. Custodial fathers are often showered with praise and custodial mamas are typically the expectation.

I don’t have primary custody of my son, so I’m feeling the desire to defend myself. I’m feeling the desire to share all of the ways I am fully present in his life to justify this amicable decision between myself and my son’s amazing father. I’m feeling the judgment and assumptions that are made about a mother whose child(ren) doesn’t live with her. That there’s something wrong, she made a mistake, her child was in danger, she made bad decisions or there was a breakdown of some sort.

The Non-Custodial Mom Assumptions Are Not My Story

I’m an amazing mother to a dynamic 12-year-old that I don’t live with. I’m not a perfect mother (what the hell is that anyway?), but I’m pretty damn good.


My son’s father and I spent 18 years together, with 11 years cohabitating once I became pregnant. We were both professionals working outside of the home. Over the years, his work life became more demanding with lots of late nights and travel. Though I was the captain of the parenting ship for our son’s first 11 years, I couldn’t have asked for a better father for him, especially being a young Black male. He’s been the number one model for development as a Black boy and young man in America.

Even still, given his father’s schedule, I found myself juggling.

Juggling the daily minutia. Juggling the mental and emotional labor ranging from cooking to caring to knowing exactly how much toilet paper, paper towels and bottled water we had that needed to be replenished. Knowing when our son was nearing his last pair of underwear for washing, and the list goes on and on. Juggling my jobs, creative life (poet, performing artist, writer), cultural responsibilities, community engagement and activism, on top of parenting, being a good partner and home manager. The stress of daily routines where at times, our son simply wasn’t having it and wasn’t going out the door or in the shower, or brushing his teeth or to bed without a fight! Juggling virtual learning at home when The Rona turned our world upside down.

Juggling my identity Juggling my self-care and sanity. Juggling who the hell I was and what I wanted. Did I even know anymore?

These were all balls in the air that I did my best to keep moving. But when you’re doing one thing, your attention is not on the other things , and it was hard to balance. Sometimes, aside from what I had to do, I just let the other balls drop and picked them back up when I could. Some balls, I still haven’t picked back up and I’m not sure when and if I will.

In short, I was burned out. I became lost in it all and had to slowly, methodically, inch by inch and choice by choice, gain myself back (still evolving).

My Co-Parenting Journey As A Non-Custodial Mother

Having a great co-parenting relationship as a non-custodial mother makes the difference for my son.

In 2020, the year we’ll never forget, I worked my ass off from home. In addition to my full-time job, I took on extra projects that I was passionate about and paid me equitably. I stacked my bread with discipline. Outside of tights and camisoles–my Rona uniform, the only things I remembered buying were food and supplies for the house. By the end of the year, I was debt-free with decent savings for the first time in more than 20 years. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had options in life.

In September 2021, my son’s father and I decided to end things. A few months prior, I secured a new space, unsure, but figuring things may go this way. My son’s father has always been adamant that he had no problem being the custodial parent and I trusted in his dedication to continuing being a great father. Because the breakup and moving out process was gradual instead of sudden, our son took the news better than expected. We talked as a family and are still open and honest when he has questions about the nature of things.

We both have different relationships with our son. He loves, respects, cherishes and is connected to me. He gives me the good, bad and ugly and will test me a bit more than his pop. As much as his father reinforced the need for equal treatment, it was just different. I used to be bitter about this behavior, as the person primarily responsible for facilitating the navigation of our son’s daily activities. I was actually frustrated as hell. But in this hour, I decided to accept it, shift my perspective and collaborate in strategically shaping the co-parenting dynamic toward what’s advantageous for everyone with our son’s growth and development as the top priority. 

What would be best for him at this time in his life? Having a Black son within a very pivotal stage of child development (pre-teen), I knew that based on the high-quality father he has, he needed the consistent presence of his father’s knowledge, wisdom and understanding to guide him through this “rite of passage.” So, like Furious Styles and Trey in Boyz in the Hood, we made the decision that our son would primarily live with his father.

The non-custodial mother assumptions are not Medina Jackson's story. How We Do

I chose a house that was my son’s favorite and mine in the list of options, especially since it’s only a few blocks from his father’s house. I love my place! His school bus stop is right in between us. We’re essentially on opposite sides of a park. It took a while for our son to get used to me being in a new place. With all of us being home for the first leg of Covid, he was used to everyone being in the same space all of the time. I resigned myself to taking cues from him and moving more at his pace given the transition of our family. 

I tried different things like letting him choose all the items for his room, but I just had to be patient. Given his hesitation, in the beginning, I went to his father’s house–the space we used to share–to spend time with him. When his father went out of town, I’d spend nights over there versus him staying with me. After a while, he started spending time at my place for dinner, and we watched anime together, bonding over something he loves. When another of his father’s out-of-town trips came up on the calendar, we decided he would stay at my place for the first time. I wanted him to be comfortable with this, while also knowing he would only get used to my place by going ahead and spending the night. Afterward, he said, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” Fair enough.

Now, our son primarily lives with his father and stays overnight with me one or two days a week or as needed. When his father has out-of-town trips, he stays with me for several days or a week with no complaints. It took a while but we finally got there! Our son comes with me on our trips to California to visit family and friends as we’ve done for years. 

We don’t have a set weekly schedule of when he’ll be with me. Either I, our son or his father will request for him to be with me overnight, which typically pans out to a weekday and a weekend day. It works for us for now. I see or connect with our son daily, and I’m still the primary contact and organizer of his school communications, schedule and social activities. I’m still the main person shuttling him around, which gives me the chance to touch base and give him hugs. Of course, he’s welcome in my space any time. 

There’s no financial giving structure, child support or courts involved. We’ve always given equitably toward our son’s needs based on our incomes so we just continue doing that. We make our son’s life decisions together–all three of us. We have family outings, trips and dinners together. His father and I care for each other deeply, and there will always be love between us. We honor and appreciate each other. We’re family.

Medina Jackson shares her personal story on being a non-custodial mother including her Mama reclamation.


I never thought I’d be a mom whose child isn’t living with her a.k.a. a non-custodial mom. I always imagined that regardless of the status of my relationship, my child would primarily be with me. I had to put social conventions and some of the resulting internal dialogue aside and do what worked best for us. It’s a new reality that I had to adjust to. With this shift, I’ve been given the gift of spaciousness.

I have space and time to heal from the relationship and other lifelong, multi-generational patterns.

I have space and time to fully reclaim myself as a person.

I have space and time to develop the practice of creating and holding boundaries.

I have space and time to fully lean into my pleasure principle–what makes me feel good, satisfies me and turns me on about life.

I have space and time to take care of myself and practice community care.

I have space and time to rediscover and surprise myself.

I have space and time to move with more ease and less self-judgment.

I have space and time to reassess my cultural values, social conditioning, and socialization. I can decolonize my mind and body.

I have space and time to rewire my brain and heal my heart.

I have space and time to fill my cup and give from what’s in my saucer.

I have space and time to expand my world mentally, emotionally, energetically and physically.

I have space and time to locate my identity outside of, and including being a mother.

I have space and time to relearn what I want and choose for myself.

I have space and time to rebuild my life. 

In some ways, I’m becoming a different person.

In some ways, I’m evolving into the person I’ve wanted to be, but didn’t allow myself to entertain due to “not enough.”

Not enough energy.

Not enough resources.

Not enough money. 

Not enough childcare.

Not enough thinking it was possible for me.

And at times, not enough courage.

I resigned myself to limitations for a long time, and I’m uprooting and unlearning that in this present and future phase of life.

In the beginning, it wasn’t always easy. I missed the sounds I got used to living with other folks I love. Sometimes, the silence was loud AF!  I missed the joy and validation I’d feel from my household loving my meals when I wasn’t stressed about cooking. I’ve had to get used to the absence of the visceral sound of another pair of keys coming in the door or hearing our son’s sweet voice singing in the shower daily. It can be the little things you miss that you never thought you would. 


Liberation is gonna be hard sometimes. It can be invigorating and exciting. It can be painful and feel like a lonely journey. I’ve had to face some of my worst fears, do things I didn’t think I was capable of doing, and have the honor, pleasure and self-accountability of moving based on my internal knowledge as a woman. It’s beautiful and scary sometimes. Supportive family and friends have been clutch.

I know this is not a reality for all single mamas, defining “single mama” as a woman who is single, raising a child(ren). I am grateful to have chosen someone that turned out to be a wonderful father to our son who is also supportive of my growth. He knows, recognizes and honors all that I’ve done over the years and all I continue to do. He wants me to be happy.

One night, we were on the phone, and I was reflecting on this big lifestyle change for him. He now has to do and think about so many of the things that I held down daily, that may not have been a thought or concern of his. I told him, “You’re a great father, and you’re doing an amazing job.” He replied emphatically, “No, WE are doing an amazing job.”

Life as a non-custodial mother looks different for everyone.What’s the greatest gift?

Our son told me randomly on a car ride home, “You know, I know you and father aren’t together anymore, but I really appreciate both of you as my parents. You don’t try to make me into what you want me to be or do the same things as you and support my goals. I appreciate having both of you.”

At that moment, all of my self-doubt, self-imposed inadequacies about if I was doing enough or not as a mom, and fear about our family transition’s impact on him fell to the wayside.

The kid is alright.


By: Medina Jackson

Feature Photo: Aimee Obidzinski, University of Pittsburgh

Medina Jackson, MSW (also known as I Medina) is the mother of an 12-year-old son, published poet, spoken word and Hip hop artist, community educator, creative spacemaker, writer and vegan cooking culinary enthusiast. Medina holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Community Organization and Social Administration and is currently the Director of Engagement for the P.R.I.D.E. Program (Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education), the new host of P.R.I.D.E.’s In My Skin Podcast and co-facilitator of the Black Transformative Arts Network (BTAN). Find Medina Jackson on Facebook & YouTube