I walked out of my house and left my husband and kids

Guest post by Sarah Tuttle-Singer

Sarah is a Los Angeles ex-pat living in Israel — we’ve tried to source any terms most readers may not be familiar with. This post originally appeared on kveller.com.

My daughter and I, whirling together in the darkness.
Five months ago, I took one of our twelve suitcases out of storage, dusted it off, opened it up, and crammed in all my clothes, three photo albums, my mom’s journals, a bag — (ok, fine, three bags) — of assorted hair and makeup products that I had collected before leaving Los Angeles, the soft zebra dress my daughter wore as a baby, and the tiny cotton onesie with the sheep parading up and down the middle that my son wore for the first month after he was born.

And I left the kibbutz.

And while the taxi roared out the big yellow gate and down the winding road lined with fragrant eucalyptus trees, shattering the stillness of the starless night, it occurred to me that I had forgotten something: my family.

My husband B and I tried, but we couldn’t make it work. Our marriage was broken. And over the last several months instead of trying to Krazy Glue the fuck out of the pieces, I ground my high heel boot into them.

Dust to dust.

“Where the hell am I going to go?” I asked myself over and over and over during dark nights while I rode around and around and around the kibbutz on my shiny purple bicycle. “What am I going to do?”

I don’t do well when I feel trapped — I get twitchy and edgy, and I lash out like an angry beast. I hiss. I growl. I bite. And ultimately, I knew the only way out was to get out.

Usually, when a couple splits, they follow the standard protocol: the wife stays in the family house and maintains primary custody of the children, while the husband holes up in a seedy motel until he can find an apartment. The wife has support from her community — her family and the friends who are like family, while the husband has his people who stand behind him.

But what do you do when you’re all alone in a new country, and the only so-called community you have has your husband’s back and not yours?

You build your own community. That’s what you do. In moments large and small, you create a home for yourself, even if you have to start from scratch. And slowly, slowly, slowly, that’s what I’m doing. I have work — a job I love with coworkers who have given me more support than I could ever imagine. I have a few friends scattered around the country — and yes, on the kibbutz as well — who have humbled me with their compassion. And through the internet, I have my family and friends back home.

But still, I wake up in the middle of the night with a jolt, my heart pounding, convinced that through the cloying darkness I can hear my babies crying out for me to take them into my bed. And yet, I know that they’re miles away. The children I nursed through toddlerhood, that I co-slept with until just six months ago, are tucked in safe and snug on the kibbutz with their father while I sleep alone in a new city.

“Why can’t you take them with you,” so many have asked.

Because the kibbutz is kind to my children — it’s Gan Eden — a place they’re free to roam and explore, and over the past year, they’ve blossomed like the red poppies that bloom in the springtime. Yanking them by the roots and taking them out of preschool, and away from their father and grandmother, and their community, and transplanting them into my life in a shabby apartment in a foreign city would be devastating.

And so, three times a week, I take the train or cadge a ride to my children’s home — where they thrive.

And here I thought it was hard being on the kibbutz before I left: you know the pivotal moment in the nature video when the zebras are all chillin’ by the watering hole? It’s all idyllic and peaceful, until out of the shadows, a lion appears. The zebras know what’s up and the get the hell out of Dodge.

Well, when I visit the kibbutz, I am the lion. With leprosy.

I try to avoid being in public on the kibbutz. I pick the kids up from gan and either take them back to their house, or go to a friend’s. (See, it’s kinda hard to hold your head high when you’re ashamed that you couldn’t make it work for the sake of your children.) We recently attended the annual Kibbutz Hanukkah party — where all the families gather together in the Hader Ohel for celebration and song. Last year, we stood as a family and wiped the powdered sugared remnants of sufganiyot from each others’ cheeks. But not this year.

My desire to be at a public event on the kibbutz ranks right up there along with moldering in a cell in Gitmo or having tea with Sarah Palin. But this is Hanukkah — the first Hanukkah where both my daughter and my son will be old enough to remember the festivities, and so I sucked it up and we went. And I watched my strong and sturdy children run pell-mell into the fray, shrieking with laughter, while I thought of creative ways to disappear into the darkness.

But my daughter would have none of it. “Come on, Mama,” she said, grabbing me by the hand. “Dance with me,” and while the loudspeakers played the Hanukkah song “Banu Choshech Legaresh” we twirled in a circle. I couldn’t breathe. I felt about a thousand eyes boring into me while I held my daughter’s hand. What kind of mother leaves her family…

Faster and faster and faster we spun, while my daughter sang the words aloud: “Go away darkness black as night. Go away, make way for light.” And while we danced, the rest of the world disappeared, and all I saw in that moment were my daughter’s eyes shining like twin moons in the light of the menorah as we whirled together out of the darkness.

Comments on I walked out of my house and left my husband and kids

  1. I know exactly where you are in Israel. I was just there. *hugs* to you for expressing your side.

  2. I am currently trying to make this decision in my mind. I have 2 daughters and my ex has now left me without a car while I have just lost my job. I’m in a really hard spot because we are still living in the same house and his verbal abuse is breaking me down more and more everyday. I at first felt awful about leaving my daughters but I’m also not a healthy person right now. And the girls do have stability at home with him. This article gave me some hope that maybe I can do this and I will fix myself and be the best mom I can be. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hey Sarah,
    I feel deeply connected to your story..I am still married, but am very unhappy and feel very much in the same situation as you were. I made aliyah several years ago, and live in a small moshav where my husband grew up..all his family and friends live here, and i feel like they would all have his back….So if we split, and times that I thought of leaving I felt really trapped because I would have nowhere to go..I also thought that my situation was unique because as you said usually the guy moves into the seedy motel and the woman gets the house. This place is also so amazing for my daughter, the open space and all her family and friends, that I was having a moral dilemma of how to ‘yank’ her away from it all…Anyways, in a nutshell, when I was reading your article, I felt like I was reading my own story,,,, also props to you for going to the kibbutz get-togethers…that takes serious bravery..

  4. I read this post because I need support about a possible divorce. I think it is a great post – because the author does follow her own guiddance system – which is what we all come short with. We follow rules put out by society and shut up much too often.
    About leaving children at their home with the dad – I am not having any – I can not judge. I wouldn’t anywise. I wish my mom had left my father with me.

  5. It really takes a special kind of bravery to do the best thing for your children, even if it is much much harder for you. I just want to say “Well done!” for recognizing that your children’s lives would be better living with their father in the community they knew, and for being willing to go through your own heartache and loss to let them have the life they deserve, while still staying involved. We have a family member right now who is unable to see as clearly as you, and it is incredibly frustrating to deal with someone who insists on doing what will make her (the mother) happiest, even if it’s at the expense of her child’s well-being.

    I think the decision you made was incredibly brave, especially because of the stigma in our society (the whole “What kind of mother does that?” issue). And thank you for sharing. This was a beautifully written piece.

  6. Thank you for sharing. As the mother of a 1.5 year old, I feel incredibly grateful that I have a loving and supportive relationship with his father. I could not imagine the heartbreak of having to make a choice between staying in an unhappy or abusive relationship or not living with my son. I applaud you for your bravery and hope that things keep getting better for you.

  7. I am a mom who has walked out of my 18 year old marriage and left a 12 year old son. There was nothing in the marriage for a long time – there was no abuse or anything but the marriage was dead a long time. I tried saving it for the sake of my child but realised I was doing more harm to myself and my kid by being so unhappy. I finally decided to quit, gave up my job, put my kid to a boarding school and moved to a different country. But every day is hell thinking whether my son is fine. I constantly worry that I have scarred him for life by leaving him. He was totally dependent on me for everything. I am constantly in touch with him, reassure him and want to visit him whenever I can.I hope and pray everyday that he will be alright and understand that his mom needed a life for herself too.
    It has been just 6 months since I walked out and a month since I left the country.
    Reading this gave me some hope.

  8. Hi Everyone,,
    Thank You, Thank You , Thank You xxxxx I have been looking for people who know what has been happening to me but in this “ideal” world around me no body truly understands/////
    I left my family home a few months ago with nothing. my little children 10 years and 7 years stayed with there daddy for stability and routine. I see them every day but miss them terribly at night.
    I had to this this due to depression and on going problems x
    would love to here from others who understands xx

  9. I have never been married or had children, so this is admittedly coming from someone with no real life experience. If a wife is being emotionally or physically abused, why not get a divorce? Isn’t that a better way to go if you still love your children? The wife usually gets custody of the children with spousal support (too idealistic?). It seems to me like a woman is running away from the responsibility of raising children if she simply takes off.

  10. Im planning to leave mine because I cant do something about it,My husband is abusive to me and I m in foreign land.I have no money and no one to turn to . I hope my children will search for me when They get older.

  11. My son’s father’s mother left him when he was 13. Then he left my (sorry, can’t bring myself to say “our”) nine week old son and I to go play (mediocre) rock star. I think the effect of his mother leaving made him a kind of narcissist sociopath. There isn’t any good reason to do this and I have no sympathy.

  12. Brave but shameful my wife left due to drugs and an her new boyfriend there is no excuse to leave your kid. My kid now has separation anxiety and constantly asks for her mom we don’t Know where she is at. It’s easy to take this woman’s side without the husbands rebuttal in my opinion she writes this to gain justification and sympathy

  13. I am a sensitive guy that has been married for 16 years and she left for someone older! she has been broken for 10 of these years having endemetrosis. I have stood by her side learning way more then a guy should know about painful periods. Holding her month after month getting heating pad and cuddling to make her pain better. she got a shot and sergery and poof she left and took a bus to some guy she met online. Like seriously to the woman out there that want a good man, you can thank the woman like her who had it, took advantage of it, and made it impossible for the next woman to be loved even a fraction because U have given ur all and changed to be a better person for her

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