Motherhood was always on my checklist: graduate college, marry the acceptable man, buy a home, build a retirement, travel, and, finally, have children and settle into motherhood.
It was what was expected…and because I was “the good girl,” that’s what I did.
What wasn’t on the checklist was divorcing after a 19-year relationship with two children. It was the ignitor for the checklist that was doomed to go up in flames.
When you want out of a marriage, you don’t always anticipate what may be awaiting you on the road ahead. Your only thought is, I can’t do this anymore. It’s called survival—either I decide to stay and be all the things you need me to be and slowly lose myself, or I decide to put the oxygen mask on myself because I realize I am good to no one.
I chose to save myself. Some might think that was a selfish decision, but I knew, in the long run, my kids would benefit from that painful realization, and so would I.
At almost 15 years old, my son dropped a bomb on me, a few years after our divorce was finalized. I still carry so much sadness when I think back on it. What he said to me were the words divorced parents fear the most: “I want to live with my dad.” It was decided in an attempt to strong-arm me because he didn’t like our house rules.
I will never forget the feelings that washed over me in that moment. I went into a rage: “How can this child who was created inside me and was intimately mine for nine months, who was nourished by my body, reject the very core of my being? How can his dad support this decision without so much as a discussion? What does this say about me as a mother? What will people think about me?”
It was a battle I never anticipated having. Pride and ego will make you do the most horrendous things. Hurt people will hurt people, and they do not care who gets burned in the process. I wasn’t ready to surrender the fight just yet.
A mother will go to great lengths to protect her children. He was just a child. He wasn’t capable of making a life-altering decision—but the courts determined otherwise.
A part of me was forever changed. I knew what it felt like to be utterly desperate, to not feel safe in a world that had no regard for me as his mother, and to feel helpless in a system that was designed for winners and losers. I wanted nothing more than for my son and his father to feel my pain. I wanted everyone to feel my pain.
How could he reject me in this way? How could he be so selfish? How could his dad support this? Just weeks before, my son had threatened to move into my home because he didn’t like his dad disciplining him, and I didn’t fall for his manipulation. But now, the shoe was on the other foot, and I wasn’t given the same consideration.
I was angry and I wanted to punish. How could I have a relationship with my son when I had built a wall of resentment so high that we couldn’t see each other anymore?
Withholding my love was my weapon of choice; it’s what many divorced parents do—use kids as currency.
I don’t think there was anything more painful than feeling rejected by my own child. It triggered me to my core. It opened painful wounds that were buried from the past: wounds of not being good enough, wounds of comparison and lack, wounds of not feeling loved unconditionally. It was as if a volcano erupted from decades of buildup.
I wasn’t going to let a child have the power to call the shots in our home. I left my marriage because I decided to never neglect my spirit again, and it was as if the universe was testing to see if I was living that truth. As painful as that was, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any more of myself in order to keep my son in our home.
The courts recommended counseling. My son and I had weeks of therapy together. I became a spectator in his life. He was dropped off at our sessions by my ex’s mother or new wife, as I walked into our sessions like everything was okay. Each session felt like we were in a courtroom, and I was the one on trial. I found myself constantly defending myself and proving myself worthy, all of which sounded too familiar to me. It reached a point where I felt like we were running in circles and getting nowhere.
At the tail end of my marriage, I was seeing my own counsellor. I will never forget this one day when we were having a session and she walked over to her whiteboard and drew a picture of a hamster wheel. She said to me, “Marisa, do you see this hamster wheel? You keep spinning and spinning, and you are getting absolutely nowhere. All you have to do is take yourself out of the hamster wheel and let those people inside continue spinning if they choose to.” I don’t know why, but that visual was so profound, and it continues to be one of the most impactful metaphors in my life.
In therapy with my son, I realized that once again I was spinning in the hamster wheel. I was doing what I have always done: working to prove my self-worth and working for the unconditional love and acceptance that my soul craved.
I was tired of spinning. My soul just couldn’t do it anymore, not even for my own son.
I felt defeated.
Once I took myself out of the hamster wheel, it became clear to me at that moment that my son was teaching me a valuable lesson, one that nobody has ever had the power to teach me. Words were not enough anymore.
What was I teaching my son? That in order to be worthy as his mother, as a woman for that matter, I had to prove it, as if I was on trial?
This is not unconditional love, and it definitely wasn’t me standing in my truth. I finally got it. I finally realized what was missing: surrender. It was time to do what I was most afraid of, and up until that point unwilling to do: let go and accept that I am not the one in control.
It takes massive courage to let go of control and to realize that there is a bigger plan at work, one that you cannot see at the moment. It felt as if I had let go of the steering wheel and allowed my faith to take over and drive. It felt like a baby’s first breath after emerging outside a mother’s womb. It felt like letting go of the rope in a tug-of-war after years of holding on so tight.
It was freedom that my soul craved and longed to experience. It was a freedom that I never knew existed but internally remembered it as my true essence.
Was my son brought here to teach me this? Did he choose me as his mother because he knew my soul longed to know freedom? I believe so. I believe our children are our greatest teachers.
I couldn’t run from this lesson. I could divorce my spouse, I could sever ties with people who no longer served my highest good, but I couldn’t stop being his mother. I am and will always be his mother, because I chose him and he chose me.
It’s amazing what happens when you decide to surrender; you stop allowing fear to take score. Surrendering didn’t mean I didn’t care; it meant I wasn’t willing to negotiate who I was out of fear of losing my son. It meant standing in my truth, rooted so far down in my purpose that nothing was going to tear me down.
What I had to give up was the notion that I was losing my son. I didn’t lose anything. My son gained a mother who was able to stand in her truth and love him unconditionally. Not love him when he met my needs, but love him for who he is and what he needed at that moment, even when I couldn’t understand it. And because of that, we now have a beautiful relationship today.
I am so grateful that through such despair I was able to reconnect to my authentic truth, and I am grateful to him for all the gifts he has given me.