For years, I had heard the whispering of my intuition. My marriage was over.
There was nothing left to save. We were not in love—some days we barely liked each other. But, we had these amazing kids—these kids who deserved to have a good life, who didn’t ask for our problems. They were my reason to stay.
I thought that keeping our marriage together was what my kids needed. Having grown up in a terribly dysfunctional home, I wanted my kids to have all of the safety, security, and love that I had only imagined as a child.
Compared to the home I grew up in, things were not terrible for my kids. They had all the material things they ever wanted. They lived in a nice house where no one went hungry. They had the best schools, tons of activities, and every opportunity to learn and experience new things.
What they didn’t have was a strong, empowered mother, who could model the divine feminine spirit for them.
I had fallen into a pattern of behavior that was passed down generation to generation. I learned it from my mother, who had learned it from her mother. Without even realizing it, I was perpetuating a toxic cycle of people pleasing.
I learned from watching my own mother, that a mother is someone who puts herself last. She makes sacrifices and puts the needs of everyone else above her own. The husband, the kids, the household pets, the neighbors, the elementary school bake sale…everything comes before the needs of the mother.
It took years for me to see that putting others at the top of my priority list left me feeling completely drained. I was exhausted, morbidly obese, stressed, depressed, and felt like my life was completely out of control. The problem wasn’t so much that I was taking care of others, however.
The problem was that I was not taking care of myself.
I had abandoned all my hopes and dreams somewhere along the way, and replaced them with those of my husband and children. My only identity was wife and mother—which admittedly, were noble things to be. But, it made for a shallow existence. I began to realize as my kids got older, that soon they would be gone, and I would cease to exist if they were my only purpose.
I remembered my childhood home, how my mother always seemed so tired and cross. She resented us for all the responsibilities that were piled upon her. She and daddy did not have a healthy relationship—often fighting, name calling, threatening, and belittling one another in front of my sister and I. It created a lot of stress and anxiety for everyone involved.
I never wanted my children to experience those things. But, when I looked at our relationship honestly, I knew that they had to some degree seen all of those things in our home.
I had made up my mind when my children were small that I did not want to repeat the patterns of my parents. Yet, there I sat, right in the middle of them.
I thought that by keeping the peace with their father, and staying in our difficult marriage, I was putting my kids first. What I was actually doing was living in fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of making things harder for them, fear of being alone. It wasn’t until I became aware of my fear that I saw my mother in me. Certainly, it had been fear that kept my parents tied to one another all those years.
If my difficult childhood taught me anything, it taught me that unhappy parents do not raise happy kids. Children learn what they live. When mom and dad are fighting—even if they don’t see or hear it happening—they feel the tension in the house. It creates anxiety, worry, stress, and fear. The anger trickles down through the family, often landing on the kids and staying there. I knew this from my own angry teenage years—the years when I became the most self-destructive.
I made the decision to leave my marriage when I realized that staying for the kids wasn’t doing them any favors. Living in that house with two unhappy parents was not the gift I had imagined I was giving to them. Truly, the greatest gift I could give to my children was a happy, healthy mother.
I’m not going to say that divorce is easy. It’s not. It hurts—for everyone involved. But, it was the only way I could be the woman and mother I was born to be. My children got to watch me struggle through the dark days until I found my way.
I would like to believe that witnessing that process has helped them to see my fortitude, and also theirs.
Becoming a single parent was not without fear, but it was the most loving choice I could make for myself. It was the only way for me to discover my gifts, talents, hopes, and dreams. It was the only way for me to have the space I needed to grow into the mother that they deserved the whole time.
What I have learned from this experience—the greatest lesson, maybe, of my whole lifetime—is this: when we are faced with a choice between love and fear, we must always choose love. Not love of others. Not love of money, or the familiar and safe. But love of self.
To truly love ourselves, we have to be willing to get brutally honest about our lives. It pains me to think about how many years I spent ignoring my intuition and choosing to foster my fear over self-love. I knew in my heart that our relationship was not good for me, and truly, my only regret in the end was that I waited so many years to take care of myself.
Today, my relationship with my kids is incredibly close. Sharing myself authentically with them has added a dimension of honesty that never would have been possible had I stayed in the broken marriage with their father. Knowing myself intimately, and loving myself deeply has allowed for me to become the best version of myself—and therefore, the best mother I can be. Our interactions are peaceful, loving, supportive, and based upon a mutual trust and respect.
I give them my best, and they give it right back to me.
I am forever grateful that in the end, I chose to love myself enough to let go of my fear. It was only in that leap of faith that I could create the life that I truly wanted—for myself and my kids. Choosing to love myself and make the necessary changes to support my health and happiness was the only way I could ever break the cycles of my past. It was the only way that I could become the best version of the woman I was born to be—the woman who knows that love and fear cannot occupy the same space. The woman who knows that everything good in life begins with loving herself.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Chad K/Flickr