Like most people who've been through a divorce, my reasons for staying with and then leaving my husband were complex. I clearly remember the moment I realized I would be a better mom on my own. I walked into my 4-year-old daughter's room at bedtime, only to find her father shouting at her to go to sleep. I could handle him being lazy, dishonest, unfaithful, and cruel to me, but not her. She deserved better. In talking with other moms, I've heard so many stories about mothers realizing they would be better parents if they left their partner, and after each and every one I am in awe of women and their relentless strength.
Content Note: these stories are powerful and important, but may be upsetting or triggering to survivors of abuse or suicide. Please take care of yourself.
Like mine, some of the stories mothers felt comfortable sharing with me were about survival. Recognizing that your partner is abusive and that you (and your kids) deserve better is a harsh realization. It's scary — not just for obvious reasons — but also because, after a while and at least in my experience, you start to truly believe it's not that bad. You, unknowingly, normalize the abuse. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to be honest with yourself about the necessity of leaving, and facing that reality sucks. I laugh a little when I think about how scared I was to leave my husband, mostly because I thought I would fail as a single mom. But it turns out, being a single mom was so much easier than co-parenting with my (now)ex-husband.
Like the moms I've talked with, I realized that my partner was not a good parent and that his actions were negatively impacting our kids. I knew my kids deserved better and, since I had a place to go, I left my husband so I could give them that life. For some of the other mothers I spoke to, it took realizing that caring for their partner was like having another child to care for and, well, parenting is tough enough.
I don't judge other people for staying in abusive or just plain bad relationships, because I know how hard it is to leave (physically, financially, and emotionally). But for me, and so many other moms, life significantly improves after you leave a toxic environment. And for the women below, leaving their partners ultimately helped them become better parents.
"My husband was abusive. He would literally throw our older son off of his lap or open-palm slap our younger son in the face. He would call me a 'vagina' in front of the boys and make them cry by yelling at me and them.
My older son started to have these little tics — he would clench his jaw and neck muscles constantly and would wipe his face and nose constantly. He would also cover his mouth while talking and speak so quietly nobody could really hear him. I realized that my husband's behavior was affecting them negatively.
He also never went to any doctor appointments or sports practices/games. He didn't play with them or clean up after them. If I had a morning appointment, he would feed them candy for breakfast (his secretary even admonished him for it). Since I was carrying the weight of taking care of the children, I knew I could do it on my own and without the mental abuse."
"After discovering my now ex-husband's affair I tried everything I knew to work things out. I thought if I tried, leaving would be more acceptable. My 'aha' moment came when I was writing about the adult I wanted my son to grow up to be. I realized that by staying in the marriage, I was creating the standard of ways to treat a partner. I was creating his foundation of future relationships, and I knew I had to get it right. He will know the right way to treat a partner because of the choices I make, and so I left. I consider this a parenting win."
"I had spent three years with my daughter's dad. We were on again, off again. Every time he would convince me to come back. He would tell me, 'I'll change. I'll get a job, I promise.' Nothing but lies. Then, I got pregnant with my daughter. We didn't have a penny to our name. He wouldn't get a job, and he was always blowing the little bit of money we had. I should have left then. It was those lies that kept me there.
We were living in a camper in the dead of winter outside of his mom's house. I was working 40+ hours a week, while he sat on his butt at his mommy's. When I finally saved enough money to get a place to bring our baby girl home to I was put on bedrest. He stole all the money that I had hidden for bills. We were evicted when my daughter was 2-weeks-old.
I was tired or never getting ahead, never saving money, never having a stable living situation. I was done being mentally abused and controlled. I wanted better for my daughter. So I took my baby and left in the middle of the night. I've never regretted my decision."
"I was in school and realized that I was more productive without him and that I was far less influenced by his negativity when my living wasn't dependent on him. I knew that a happier mama meant a happier kid."
"My husband was an emotionally abusive guy. (He still is, I can just ignore it now). He also was secretly doing and selling drugs. He would come home five minutes before I would leave for work at 5:45 a.m. wasted and pass out when he was supposed to be taking care of our newborn. He was spending $300 a night on drugs, picking [our child] up from the babysitter's drunk, among other things. I almost lost my job from being late or absent so many times. He stressed me out, and made me an angry mom. I left and moved in with my mom when his drug supplier said he owed money came and started to destroy the outside of our house. Moving in with my mom was the best idea. My stress level went way down, and I was a better mama. He actually became a better dad, too, after realizing the danger he had been putting our son in."
"I knew I would be a better parent alone when I came home from the movies one night to find my now ex-husband blacked out on the couch. He was the only adult home with our daughter. I knew he was a drinker, but to my knowledge had never been drunk while caring for her. He didn’t get it. Made every excuse in the book why it was fine: she was sleeping, he only had a few, he waited until bedtime to really start drinking. When I gave him an ultimatum, he swore he would quit drinking. I knew that I had to make changes. The next day, while he was in the shower, I gathered up all the alcohol in the house and put it in my trunk to take to a friend’s house. He came at me in a rage. Literally screaming that I had no right, it was a waste, and he wanted to pour out the bottles. Our daughter was in the next room. Looking back, it was the moment."
"My last partner was emotionally and mentally abusive. He raped me, which is how I got pregnant with my youngest. I hated him. I was scared to leave. Every time I said I was going to, he told me no, and that was that. I hated coming home. I was in a rut. And then one day I was just so frustrated with my life, I was frustrated with him, and I was projecting it on my kids. I just couldn't stop yelling, and they were being just regular kids. There was this flash I could see in them, like a recoil from me. I tried to apologize for being crabby, but it was too late, and I realized I couldn't stay there anymore. I couldn't be the best me, and the best mother, while I was there.
So, I told him I was leaving, for real. He didn't believe me until the actual week that I moved out. We've been out for almost six months now. It's not easy. I work 55-hour weeks, I'm in school full time, and I pretty much have the kids full time. Some days are easier than others, but I'm a better mother now, and I'm teaching my girls not to stay in a crap situation and not to deal with the bullsh*t. My oldest is 10. She understood more than she probably should have, especially while we were there. Now she sees her mom being a strong woman. That's all I want for my kids."
"When he left and took the bed, the phone, emptied the bank account, and had our electricity shut off. There was no way to care for our 3-year-old and infant. I was used to him making me unsafe, but not the kids."
"We were together for four years. The beginning of our relationship was amazing. Once I became pregnant, the fighting started. It got drastically worse after our daughter was born. He has always been an amazing father, but I can no longer remember him being a good partner. Fight after fight, he told me I was lucky he was even with me, because he was so far out of my league, that I was worthless or fat, and that no one would want me if I tried to leave, among countless other things
I felt worthless after hearing it constantly. I went to the closet and tied a noose in my closet, and had it around my neck. My daughter, who was less than 18 months old at this point, woke up. When I went in to console her..it just hit me. I couldn't leave her. She needed me. I couldn't stay. I had to leave, so that I could be the best I could be for her. I left the next day. Things were rough, the breakup was messy, but we are now very close, and he's an amazing father. I think we are both much better parents separated, and in different relationships."
If you are living in an abusive relationship, you aren't alone. As a first step you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
If you struggle with depression or feelings of self-harm, please seek professional help or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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