One the most important lessons I've learned from not only being a mother, but being a mother who chose to leave my husband, the father of my sons, and to remarry, giving them a step father but adding tremendous turmoil into their lives, is that I have got to love them, but I've got to let go.
In my former marriage, the emotional cost of staying for the sake of children was so high that I feared for my own psychological health and, more than happiness, stability, if I didn't leave. It wasn't that I had "no choice," per se, and, looking back, there were certainly things I could have done to try more, to try differently, to try harder to make things work out; but at the time it felt imperative and urgent to get out, like a necessity and not an option, and the chips have fallen where they may.
The result is that for all intents and purposes, life is better now. The children live in an environment which is, I honestly believe, both emotionally and physically more wholesome and healthier for them overall. They are reasonably well-adjusted at this point (my older son has obsessive compulsive disorder and has had lots of therapy), they have friends, they are fairly active, and they do well in school.
But as only a mother can understand, and only a mother who has divorced can understand, the guilt, responsibility and overwhelming self-doubt can be debilitating. I look at every twitch, tear, argument, sign of laziness, over-eating, mean-spirited comment or selfish act of my children as a possible indicator of how terribly damaged they are as a result of what I've put them through as their primary caretaker. I blame myself for every single thing, from wanting to have them in the first place, to bringing them into a less than stellar family unit, to breaking their home lives and trying to find happiness in another way.
And what I've been learning, over the last five years since leaving their father, is that I have to let them go.