The backstory: In August 2015, Theresa Robbins's 14-year-old son, Jon-Luc, came home from spending the summer at her ex-husband's house and announced, "I want to live with Dad." The request floored her. Though she knew her three sons would benefit from more time with their father, she wasn't prepared to give up her role as their 24/7 mom. At the same time, her fledgling business, a children's book publishing company, was accepted into a program that helps start-ups grow—an opportunity Theresa couldn't imagine taking advantage of while she was also working full-time and raising Jon-Luc, 12-year-old Nicholas and 6-year-old Liam as a single mom. In the end, Theresa and her ex agreed to a temporary solution: The boys—all three—would live with him for a year. But the fact that Theresa helped forge the arrangement doesn't mean she's always felt it was the right move. In part 1 of an ongoing series, relationship expert and life coach Iyanla Vanzant helps her confront her mom guilt. Listen in.

Iyanla Vanzant: Good morning! I'm excited to work with you.

Theresa Robbins: Me too. I appreciate your time. And I could really use your advice.

IV: Then let's get started. Do you want to tell me a little bit about what's going on?

TR: Well, I've been a single mom for four years. Last summer my eldest son told me he wanted to live with his dad. A few weeks earlier, my book publishing company was offered the chance to join a mentorship program for start-ups. I also have a full-time day job working for an investment adviser. My ex-husband and I decided that the boys would live with him, 150 miles away. I've been visiting them every other weekend. But it's very challenging to maintain our relationship.

IV: Okay, let's take a breath. When your son told you he wanted to live with his father, what happened to your heart in that moment?

TR: I can tell you it didn't feel good. It felt like I...failed.

IV: Is that what you told yourself? That you failed?

TR: I did. And then, after a lot of prayer and processing, I told myself that I needed to honor my son's request.

IV: But you still feel guilty?

TR: I feel like I should feel guilty. If I say, "Yes, this was the right decision," it sounds like I'm a terrible mother.

IV: Is that what you've been telling yourself?

TR: Yes, because I'm no longer the primary parent.

IV: You're going to be a mother for a long time. Your children aren't dead, are they?

TR: No, no.

IV: But you're not a mother anymore?

TR: No, I am a mother.

IV: Good, just checking. So tell me: How are things now?

TR: When the boys were living with me, our lives were so busy. Everything was scheduled. We were always running from baseball practice to soccer practice to swim practice. Now when I visit them, I feel like I'm taking them away from what they would rather be doing and that it's an obligation to spend time with Mom. That's what I feel when I call them as well. That's the challenge I'm having: What does my new role as Mom look like? I know how to be the other mom; I don't know how to be this mom.

IV: And how does that feel?

TR: Not good.

IV: You keep telling me what it doesn't feel like, but what does it feel like? You could say, "It feels confusing." "It feels bad." "It feels frustrating." It feels—what?

TR: It feels like I'm not doing a good job. I'm trying my best, but if I don't feel successful, then I feel like a failure. I want to have a good relationship with them, but I don't know what a good relationship should look like. It's not frustration. I don't know what the feeling is.

IV: It's okay. It's not important that I know; it's important that you know. So you went from being a primary caregiver and full-time mom to a weekend mom, and you're not really sure how to do that.

TR: Right.

IV: Do you ever wait for your sons to call you?

TR: No, I don't think they would call.

IV: Why not?

TR: I don't see them needing to call. They don't talk on the phone very much. The two older boys have their own phones, and they text their friends.

IV: Do they text you?

TR: Sometimes—not regularly. Maybe it's a good idea to text them more.

IV: How often do you call?

TR: We do a check-in call every Sunday, and I send messages to Liam throughout the week.

IV: It was Jon-Luc who said, "I want to live with Dad." How did the other two boys get there?

TR: I didn't want to break up the boys. I think their relationships with one another are very important.

IV: Did you ask them if they wanted to go?

TR: No, I don't remember talking to Nicholas or Liam about it directly. My publishing company creates guides to help children cultivate emotional intelligence. When we started discussing the possibility that the boys might move in with their father, I went through the curriculum with Liam. I wanted him to understand that even though things were changing, he could develop skills to make the transition easier. That was the way I addressed it with him. It wasn't direct. And because Nicholas enjoys spending time with his dad, I felt he would be okay with it.

IV: How does it make you feel to know that they enjoy being with their dad?

TR: I feel good about it. I'm happy they have a good relationship with him.

IV: Are they happy?

TR: From what I can observe and what they tell me, yes.

IV: What's your vision for your relationship with your sons?

TR: I thought that after a year we'd go back to our routines—to the way it was. But now Jon-Luc says he doesn't want to come back. That was a daunting thing to hear.

IV: Ah! So this may not be such a temporary thing after all. This could be something long-term, which means the emotions run deeper. Let's pick up here next time.

Next month: Iyanla helps Theresa see her decision as an opportunity instead of a mistake, whether the arrangement proves temporary or more long-term.

Iyanla Vanzant is the host of OWN's Iyanla: Fix My Life and the author of Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts (SmileyBooks).


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