Stop Convincing Moms To Stay In Toxic Relationships For The Kids

No one was willing to encourage this mom to leave her toxic marriage because they felt it was more important to stick it out for the kids.
going through a divorce postpartum

Almost a decade later and I no longer remember what my ex-husband and I were arguing about that made me cry. I was in the NICU in Chattanooga, Tennessee and he was back home in Andrews, North Carolina. 

One-hundred-twenty-five miles through the mountains and along the gorge were the least complicated thing between us at that point, and most of my support system was even further away than that. 

Whatever it was we were arguing about, I felt the tears running down my cheeks as I sat by the beds of my premature daughters. 

One of the twins’ regular nurses asked me if everything was alright, so I poured my heart out and sobbed in the middle of a NICU pod while eight babies slept through it. 

I could hear the NICU alarms around me while we spoke; they were quieter than the alarms I was hearing in my mind. When I told her I felt like my marriage was falling apart, without offering her specifics because they were embarrassing, she offered me what felt like sage advice at the time. 

“Don’t make big relationship decisions until they are at least a year old,” she said. “The first year is hard for new parents because of hormones, exhaustion, and adjusting to a baby. Even when it’s just one baby.” She gestured back and forth between our two incubators. 

Maybe it is just the hormones, I thought, even though the problems we were having were problems we were having before we were even pregnant. 

They were the same arguments before the pregnancy test turned pink. They were the same fights we were having before the twins spent their first, 10th or 115th day in the NICU. They were deal breakers that I was aware of before they learned to smile, clap, sit up or crawl. 

Maybe it is just the exhaustion, I would tell myself. 

But… I knew better. 

I knew our marriage was most likely going to end even as we painted the nursery in the home we shared the most perfect shade of pink. I saved the paint swatch so I could paint their nursery in “our” home the same shade “if” we moved out. 

Tickled Pink. 

I committed it to memory because I didn’t want to forget the name. At the time I was trying so hard to make it work for the kids (all three of them—our twins and his daughter from a previous relationship), but if I had confidence in the marriage, I wouldn’t be picturing what the home without him would look like. I wouldn’t be looking forward to living there. 

Yet, anytime I expressed my desire to leave him to my friends and family, they would ask if it was because I was “just tired” from the twins. They would ask me if it was postpartum depression. They would remind me we almost lost both of them. 

Of course, there was stress in our marriage, they would insinuate. 

They would mention the trauma of having twins born three months early and how scary a week in the hospital with RSV was. Even a few of the friends who knew the details would say things like, “It’s not an excuse… but it sounds like he just didn’t know how to handle the stress of them almost dying.” (Even though the behaviors started before the twins, so the stress of them couldn’t have been the catalyst). 

No matter how many specific reasons I gave for knowing I needed to leave, almost every person I spoke to about it warned me not to make any big life decisions until the twins were a year old because I might “regret it.” 

So I would let myself believe them because staying together had to be what was best for our daughters. Right? At first, even the therapist I was seeing for postpartum depression would ask if I was projecting the stress of high-risk babies onto my marriage. Which, in turn, made me wonder if I was. 

It felt like I was being gaslit by every person I tried to reach out to for support. 

Eventually, she was the first person to tell me to leave and that I wouldn’t find my way back to happiness if I didn’t find a way to get away. To be fair, I was filtering the things I was sharing, because, if I stayed, I didn’t want people to hate him. 

So, I spent the entire first year of their lives convincing myself that their first birthday would be a magical cure for all of the problems we were having. If I could just make it to their first birthday, my kids would have the family I always wanted them to have—one where they shared the same last name with me as they did with their biological dad. 

I would fight the urge to leave and countdown to their first birthday and remind myself that the first year was hard for everyone. I poured so much effort into planning that birthday party. I took photos for vendors on Etsy in exchange for their pink and gold decorations, goodie bags, little onesies (in size six and nine months because they were still so tiny) that said “One,” and invitation suites. 

I let that planning consume me because it was going to be a fresh start. Ironically, their birthday is the day after New Year’s—and I have always been the kind of person to feel like I can start over in a new year. 

I would tell myself that everyone had the struggles we did, because the first year was hard with babies. I would tell myself that everyone had doubts that I did, because of the hormones during the first year and the exhaustion. I would tell myself that we would be fine because everyone around me was telling me that we would be fine. After all, how could everyone I know be wrong?

I didn’t feel fine, though. I felt like I was losing myself. I also felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, because when I tried I just got the “Hang in there,” sentiments. Growing up, our family was a medley of last names from marriages and half-siblings and step-siblings—and as silly as this sounds… I was always envious of families that could buy signs and put things like, “The Smiths,” on them. 

I wanted to buy a sign one day that said, “The So-and-So Family.” Everyone in my household would have that same name. I wanted to break generations of cycles that seemed to curse the women in our family with single motherhood and multiple marriages and the worst luck with men who weren’t what they seemed. 

Their first birthday didn’t turn out to be a reset button for our relationship. It wasn’t a magical fix for our marriage. The hormones weren’t our problem, nor was the exhaustion. The day we filed for divorce—a month after their second birthday—I checked the box that needed to be checked to return my maiden name to me the moment it was finalized. Now I share everything with my girls except a last name (which still makes me sad sometimes). 

My experience is not the norm, even though I tried to convince myself it was. It turns out that, if you are having problems with things like infidelity, financial disagreements or uneven workloads, it doesn’t have anything to do with your post-baby hormones when you react to it. Especially if you had those problems before the babies. 

“Mommy Brain” might be a thing—but so is a mother’s intuition, and I wish more people had convinced me that I should trust mine. 

If I could offer advice to new moms sitting on a couch late at night crying after getting their little one (or ones) to sleep, wondering if their partner is who they should be with, here is the advice I would give them: 

If you had a successful relationship before you became exhausted with a new little one, maybe give it some time and recognize that exhaustion does play a role in stress. Talk about how you are feeling with your partner, and take the changes in your relationship seriously. 

Don’t just hope that a first birthday (or another baby or…) will fix your marriage or your relationship—the only thing that can do that is two people who want to fix it, hard work and effort. That is too much for a single birthday candle (or in our case, two single birthday candles) to do on its own. I would also say that there are worse things than celebrating your child/children’s first birthday as a single mother, truly.

As I’m writing this we are in the thick of planning for Christmas and their 10th birthday party (they are about to be in the double digits) for the week after. I’ve been lucky enough to be their mom for a decade. I’ve celebrated every birthday except that first birthday with them, and without their biological father. With the exception of that one birthday he hasn’t even sent a birthday card to them or acknowledged their birthdays in any way. Or Christmas’. Or their first day of school. Aside from court ordered child support – he hasn’t given them anything except the last name they learned to write on their own in Kindergarten.

But I have been there for all of those things – even though the name I helped them learn to write on their own isn’t mine anymore. Because it turns out, matching last names is the least of what makes someone a good parent. For me, the act of leaving him was the first step I took to becoming a better mom.

I’m thankful for Mila & Jo Media for allowing me to share honest truths about my experience with motherhood, and to read the truths others have shared. 


  • Victoria Grace

    Victoria Grace is a full-time photographer who wishes she was a writer—so when she gets to write she focuses on sharing her personal accomplishments and struggles with authenticity. When she's not working or writing you can find her deep in the trenches of twin motherhood, traveling when she's able, or most likely at a local Mexican restaurant sharing a bowl of queso with her twins and Nick. Follow Victoria on Instagram. and visit her website.

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