MUNICHMost of the time when parents separate, the mother gets custody of the children. But not always. Sometimes the children themselves choose to live with their father.

But where does that leave the mother? What goes through her head when she loses her children? What must she do to reconstruct her life? The following is just one person's account, the personal experience of a mother who has had to struggle with these very questions.

We all have our own, special relationships with our mothers. And every woman, who is a mother, knows of the unique connection she feels for the human being she carried in her womb for nine months. Even if their paths no longer cross any longer, even when the everyday ties are severed, mothers and children are still connected by an invisible bond.

I have been living in a village in the Black Forrest for two years now and for the first time in my life I feel at home and feel life coursing through me. I always wonder how exactly I came by this inner strength that is growing continuously. How did I manage to find myself again after having experienced so much pain, disappointment, contempt and humiliation?

I have been living without my children for five years now. Prior to that, my ex-husband and I managed a small company together for 14 years. During that time I gave birth to two children. For a long time, everything went well. We split our time between work and home. We must have seemed the perfect family. But then everything changed.

Work problems invaded our home and I decided to quit working with my husband in the company. But the problems still remained and we divorced a year later. The consequences, however, were unpredictable.

After our divorce I lived in our home with our children for another year-and-a-half while my husband moved to an apartment in the same town. Our children spent their weekends with him, and we all got used to the new routine, as so many other families must.

Seeing as I was unemployed and could not get work, I decided to move away with our children, who were nine and 12 at the time. I wanted to move back to the area I grew up in. To be fair towards my now very distant and aloof ex-husband, I told him of my plans six months in advance.

Everything seemed to go on normally until I noticed that my children were becoming more and more aggressive towards me. My ex-husband tried to influence them and win them over to prevent them from moving with me. I was insecure but felt unable to talk to them about it.

His actions seemed devious and vengeful. But they were also effective: little by little I was being estranged from my children. It seemed like an endless tug of war. In the end, the estrangement took its toll on me because I simply couldn't let go of my children, no matter how hard I tried.

The father of my children used that to portray me as mentally ill. And who wants to be with a mentally ill mother? It all culminated in court, and in the end, my husband received custody of the children seeing as "the children's wellbeing" would be improved if they stayed in their familiar surroundings and did not move away with their mother.

Photo: Parker Knight

The court ruling was extremely distressing to me. He received custody and right of determination over our children. I broke down but no one cared. I felt that the court ruling questioned my credibility as a mother. I feared that because I did not get custody, they were implying that I had done something horrifying to my children. I felt stigmatized, empty, exhausted, alone, that I'd hit rock bottom — just as my husband had hoped. I'd lost everything. Forever. And I had to come to terms with that.

Before the court hearing, the children were asked by child services whom they preferred to live with. They chose their father instead of me. That was a very painful time. Still, I opted against exercising my right of appeal because I wanted to save my children and myself from having to go through more proceedings.

I looked for an apartment in the town where we had lived as a family. But after a while I realized that I'd never be able to rebuild my life there. I moved away, without my children, and found a job in my new home town.

The time without my children in the new, large apartment with readily furnished children's rooms was horrendous. I slipped into a deep state of crisis and could not find a way out. I felt abandoned. I did have some friends and acquaintances, but my life seemed pointless without my children. I was even being denied my right of access to the children. I was told they didn't like visiting me, that they journey was too long, that they felt bored at my place.

I had less and less contact with my children. For a while I barely saw them at all: My husband limited access to about seven days per year. When we did meet, I could tell my children weren't happy to see me. The scars left by this experience will never heal fully.

So, I decided to change my life again and moved to the Black Forrest with my new partner. Since then I have come to terms with the decision my children made and accepted that my children only visit me if and when they want to. I decided to pull back from my children because I realized that they are able to find their own way and made it my task in life to be there for them whenever they need me.

I have undergone a metamorphosis in the past five years. I realized I had two choices: either I despair and continue to feel crushed by all I'd lost; or I lift myself up and move on. The latter path requires an enormous amount of strength, but the advantage of using that strength is that it can be incorporated into your new life. And it is this strength that enabled my children and me to grow from this.

My new home, job and partner have helped me become a changed woman and I now have regular contact with my children. I have come to terms with the situation. My son is 18 now and he tells me that he loves me. And I believe him and feel loved and understood. But we cannot change the fact that the years we lost are lost forever. My now daughter, 14, had a party a few weeks ago and wanted me to be there and, to my surprise, it was a lovely family fete.

I am proud that I endured. But I also hope that at the end of my life, my children will look back and say: "She was nothing to all the world, but she meant the world to us."