The 3 Immutable Laws of Co-Parenting

WHOLE-jump

You have to release them both, your kids and your ex, and let them fly.

My ex-wife and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. But one thing we’ve kept relatively clear over the last 5 years of divorce is THE KIDS COME FIRST. Always.

We’ve had issues between us, and I think two people in a relationship will always have issues, but we’ve kept them out of our parental relationships. So many divorces before us, I’ve seen angry divorced mom’s trashing their former partner in front of her two kids while waiting on the school bus together. And the incidence of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is also real. I can’t imagine using your kids as a chess piece to get back at your former spouse. Yikes.

Attachment parenting is about letting your kids know, from the moment they are born and for as long as they live, that they are loved and supported regardless of their choices.

But when you’ve agreed to disagree over things like money and custodial vs. non-custodial role, you can still agree to keep the kids clear of any of the disagreements between you. In our case, we used a divorce therapist to help us split the baby, so to speak. And in her office we could talk about things like “in the best interest of the children” while still arguing about our own wants and needs. It’s not about what’s fair, at that point. It’s about what situation would support the kids.

Right, the goal of “less disruption for the kids at this difficult time” was hard to me to argue with. And in typical fashion I was shown the door, given a less-than status and a substantial child support payment, and I said “thank you,” at the end of it. Even today, I’m not happy about the current parenting schedule and financial burden I’ve been given, but I’m not fighting about it either.

Today, “in the best interest of the kids” means something very different than it did five years ago. Today my kids are 13 and 15. They have their own agendas. And we all find our way forward with as little conflict as possible, both the kids and their mom. Even while there are some big issues and big questions in the legal and financial part of our relationship, the devotion to the kids, and their conflict free child hood, remains our guiding principal.

At the core of it, I know we are both doing the best we can. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, even when I’m mad as hell at her, is the only route. And making sure my issues are cleared up before I am with my kids, that is my responsibility.

How easy it would be to spout off the, “well, your mom…” But we don’t. At least I don’t think she does, but it’s never gotten back to me about any snarks about our situation. And we’ve been through some tough scrapes. Money has occasionally been an issue for both of us. “Somehow we just keep working it out. We will get there,” she wrote to me in a text message.

If you can remember the flight and joy of your children as the goal, you can forgive, forget, and move on nearly any personal issue or frustration with your ex-partner.

And you can tell how well you are doing by your kid’s energy and enthusiasm. In the first few years things were a bit moody with all of us. But even in that hard slurry of depression, we, the four of us, kept encouraging each other, in spite of, and through, the hard parts. That’s what we are now. Cheerleaders. We’ve got other responsibilities too, like leadership, morals, and guiding them towards a happy career path, but mostly, at this age, we have the role of cheerleader.

And in someways, I’m also a cheerleader for their mom’s success. In her 2.5 year relationship, regardless of my feelings about the guy, I have to cheer them on. My daughter likes him. And my ex-wife seems a bit more relaxed since they’ve been together. So, sure, I can be a “rah rah” co-parent for them. I’m glad my kids have another adult who cares about their welfare. And he’s a good influence on all three of them.

When your partner’s partner comes to your daughter’s volleyball game at the end of a workday, you’ve got to give them kudos. I’d be just as easy to “work late.” But he shows up. And they sit together. And my daughter makes sure she hugs and says goodbye to both of them. That’s a WIN WIN. A win for my daughter. And a win for my ex-wife.

Let’s find the win in our divorces. Even before we’ve found a win, or a relationship in our lives, it’s important to show our kids how well we still support and champion the other parent.

A reader sent me an email about one of my posts, a week ago. She was concerned that I was going to share my ex-wife’s transgressions with my kids.

I responded, about why I’m writing this blog.

“No, it’s important for me to know, that eventually the whole story will be told. But today, it’s all about positive parenting for me. If they read the book of the divorce in five or ten years, when they are adults themselves, that’s fine, but that’s not my intention.”

Divorce is a bitch. And compartmentalizing your anger and sadness is a difficult process, but an essential one.

She replied. “That’s great to hear, because my parents were real assholes to each other after the divorce. And all it did was make me and my siblings want to get as far away from them as possible when we left the house. None of us are close with my parents.”

And there’s the crux. Attachment parenting is about letting your kids know, from the moment they are born and for as long as they live, that they are loved and supported regardless of their choices. And in divorce you have to keep that objective in mind. If you attack or belittle their other parent, you are breaking one of the fundamental rules of co-parenting.

The Three Immutable Laws of Co-Parenting:

  1. 100% positive
  2. Kids first
  3. Honest feelings

And from that position of strength and cooperation, we can manage anything, together, both the kids and my ex-wife and her boyfriend. And my girlfriend too. (grin)

If you can remember the flight and joy of your children as the goal, you can forgive, forget, and move on nearly any personal issue or frustration with your ex-partner. That’s your responsibility, not your kids, nor your ex-partner’s. You have to release them both, your kids and your ex, and let them fly.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Back to School and Summer’s End for the Single Dad

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NEWS FLASH: Back to school can hurt.

My rebirth or collapse has often happened during the first few weeks of “back to school.” Am I suffering from micro-empty next syndrome? Or am I just sad that summer has come to an end?

One thing that will never change: Parents miss their kids when they are gone. Even when they were tiny I hated to leave them. Going to work for the first 5 years was torture. (And maybe I could’ve done a better job at that, but the post 9-11 world was strange and uncertain in business as in life.)

You go from full-time parent to 31% parent. 3-of-10 school mornings will be awarded to you. Everything else, for everyone else, is pretty much status quo. Except dad isn’t around.

The other day, my son and I were driving past the pre-school where they learned to swim, and read, and begin to become separate tiny humans. Dropping them off some mornings was a sad affair, more for me than for them. After my son entered elementary school, I would still stop by with my daughter, and push her on the swings before heading to work.

“One more push, daddy,” she would yell as I was trying to tear myself away. The staff was supportive. The would frequently come and push her on the swing while I made my quiet and miserable escape.

Dad’s have a different relationship to parenting. We typically don’t get to be the “stay at home” parent. We typically feel more of the financial pressure as the bills and responsibilities become more urgent. And each morning, we’re off to work. And yes, mom deserves all the rest and recovery she can get, but it’s different. Leaving your sleeping child and wife on the bed to dress, make coffee, and head out the door, is difficult. Perhaps this was the massive transformation as a parent that occurs for the dad. Time for work. Sleepy, cuddly, baby-fest is over.

Even as the kids grew older leaving them at school felt like a loss of some sort. And this as a happily married man. Work was a nice distraction when it was engaging. When it was mechanical and dull, being at work and getting a text from your wife about the baby’s first word… Well, you miss a lot as a dad. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it will continue to go. (Don’t talk to me about the joys of being a SAHD. I don’t want to hear it.)

Divorce is like a trial run at the empty nest experience. And dads typically get the lion’s share of the “off” time.

Today, the kids start their next cycle of school. My son enters 9th grade and accelerates up the four-year launch ramp to escape velocity. He will be gone gone.

In divorce, they were both gone gone a lot of the time. Since the divorce (Aug 2010) I’ve missed 5 of 6 back to school mornings. We cobbled some reason for me to bring my ex coffee on that first one. She was feeling magnanimous. And she was probably out of coffee or something. Since then I have not had the joy of packing, preening, and pushing them off to their first day at the start of the new semester. It’s okay. It’s what divorced dads get.

So now, today, I realize that divorce is like a trial run at the empty nest experience. And dads typically get  the lion’s share of the “off” time, and thus the majority of the “empty nest” sadness. When you are making the plans for divorce, and trying to be civil about the schedule, the gap between kid-time can be overwhelming. You go from full-time parent to 31% parent. 3-of-10 school mornings will be awarded to you. Everything else, for everyone else, is pretty much status quo. Except dad isn’t around.

I could blast my way into the first day of school mornings, but what’s the point? They have their routine. They have their process, path, and protocol for making it to school on-time. And they’ve done it 70% of the time over the last 5 years.

As I prepare for my back to school, end of summer, dip I know that I am better prepared for the eventual final departure of our kids. I just wish it hadn’t come so soon in my marriage.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Transcendent Single Father

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Relationships come and go. Breakups and divorces happen. Heck I’ve had two divorces. The real transformation comes when you have children with a partner. Almost by magic, the shift happens. You’re still in love with your partner, but suddenly this other tiny human is sucking up all of your love cycles. You love them both, but push comes to shove, you’re going to go with the kid. It’s human nature. Nurture, I suppose, is the word. You’re going to protect, cuddle, shelter, and encourage this tiny human for the rest of your life.

The basis of that parenting plan was built on the old model of parenting. Dad = breadwinner, Mom = love & nurture. That was simply not true for us.

If the marriage comes to an end, often it is tragic, but survivable. And for me, the children were the shining point of truth for me. Was I going to give in to the depression and financial crash of the divorce, or was I going to get back up and be the dad I needed to be? My choice was clear. My path to recovery and resurgence was less assured.

At the very beginning of the end I had a tough choice to make. Things had been strained and getting worse between my then-wife and I for almost a year. When she snapped and blurted out in couple’s therapy that she had, in fact, gone to see an attorney, I was caught with my proverbial pants down. I knew things were tough. I knew we were more friends and parents than lovers, but D I V O R C E ? What?

In that very session, she asked me to leave the house. “Give me and the kids some relief. Some quiet time. A little cooling off.” Our therapist seemed to agree. Again, another shock. Wait… What?

Time slowed down. My mind flashed back on my parent’s divorce and the bloodshed that followed. I had never contemplated divorce from this woman staring angrily, tearfully, at me from across the therapist’s office. The both awaited my response.

“No way.”

It was early April. Our two children (3rd and 5th graders) had two months left to go in the school year. And these two people were suggesting we tell them, “Daddy had to go on a business trip.” I paused and took a deep breath.

In this collaborative process of divorce I was a bit naive. I trusted that we were negotiating with everyone’s interest at heart. I was misled.

We were not really in couple’s therapy. We *were* in therapy, for sure, but it was a slightly different approach. SCT (Systems Centered Therapy) is about separating what’s real from what are merely feelings and emotions. And while I still respect the therapist deeply for all he was trying to do, he missed the mark on this one. By a long shot.

“Our kids are two months from finishing the school year. We’ve lived as roommates for six months. I’m sure we can be big enough to share the house until Summer break.”

They both looked at me with concern and disapproval. We ran out the clock on the session with us agreeing to disagree about this MAJOR POINT in our marriage and eventual divorce. Mind you, this was the first time I learned that my then-wife had been looking at her “options” with a lawyer.

It was the counselor at the kid’s elementary school who talked some sense into my then-wife about letting the kids finish the year. “They will need the time to regroup. Don’t do it while they still have to come to class every day. Give them some time off in the Summer. I’ve seen this kind of thing really hurt children in the long run.”

Yes. We, as the adults in the room, can take the high road and figure our shit out. Our kids needed to finish the year, and maybe even have a few weeks of Summer before we split the atom.

It was a rough few months. I fluctuated from anger to compassion. I wanted to patch things up but there was no talk of reconciliation. She was still convinced that maybe a separation would give her some perspective. She dangled it out there like some hope. It was a false hope. She was making plans, doing spreadsheets, and outlining her roadmap towards divorce.

Occasionally we’d cross paths in the hallway and I’d extend my arms, almost by instinct, to hug her before I realized what I was doing. I usually mumbled an apology. “Sorry. I’ll figure this out. I’ll do better.”

As the weeks drew on it was harder and harder to make nice. We could easily disguise our frostiness while getting the kids ready for school, because I was usually the one up and making breakfast and corralling everyone, while my then-wife got her hair and makeup done. This was my time, my mastery: joyfully waking, feeding, and delivering my kids to school. The fact that it was our last year as an intact family, was known only to myself and my soon-to-be ex-wife.

All this time, over those two months, we were meeting with our “parenting plan” therapist and our “financial split” accountant. And she was meeting with her attorney. Since we had agreed not to fight over anything I didn’t seek legal advice at that time.

So we examined our combined estate from the three scenarios. 1. she keeps the house and pays me for the equity; 2. I keep the house and pay her for the equity; 3. we sell the house and split the equity. And we began to talk about what was “in the best interest of the children” in the divorce therapist’s office.

In this collaborative process of divorce I was a bit naive. I trusted that we were negotiating with everyone’s interest at heart. I was misled. As it turns out, my then-wife knew, and the divorce therapist knew, but I did not know, that we were going to straight for the divorce-in-Texas package. See, traditionally men have been assholes as well as the primary breadwinner. And traditionally, the mom has been the shelter and love provider, and perhaps even the stay-at-home family hub. And for us, the stay-at-home-mom-plan is sort of how we initially set out on our parenting journey together. However, I was no absent father. That had been how my dad was.

The part that is missing, the heart of my relationship and my agreement with my then-wife, was that we would parent these children 50/50 with all of our love and focus. Everything in our lives revolved around being the best parents we could be. I handled the first half of the day (wakeup, breakfast, and school) and she handled the afternoon. We both wanted the kids to have a parent home when they got off the school bus. And we were 100% successful in that accomplishment. And I believe our kids still show the resilience of that decision. We parented 50/50 because that’s how we believed our kids would become balanced individuals themselves.

In the divorce therapist’s office, however, the story changed. Questions about our parenting responsibilities became much more loaded. And I was challenged on my ability to fix dinner. What? Seriously? I tried to push back, “And what about mornings and breakfast and getting the kids to school? How much of that responsibility have you had in the morning, over the last 5 years?” I was a very conscious and present dad. I was not the absent father with she was not the stay-at-home mom. We *had* been doing parenting 50/50 just as we planed.

I was not the absent father with she was not the stay-at-home mom. We *had* been doing parenting 50/50 just as we planed.

Divorce however, is not about what’s fare, or what’s real. Divorce is a battle. Even in the most positive divorce, with the most friendly parents, things can get messy pretty quickly when you’re talking about the rest of your lives with your children. I’m guessing her maternal instinct kicked in.

The conversation about the schedule and parenting plan changed dramatically. And when things got too heated, the therapist would talk to each of us individually to reset. In one of these cooling periods, she leveled with me, “Here’s what she’s going to get if you guys go to court.”

And it was at this very second, when my heart was shattered and broken, that I gave up. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know what else to do. The toll of the two months of guarded-living had broken my fighting spirit.

Maybe I had done enough. Maybe some of the wisdom about the “mom” and the nurturing was true in our case, even if it didn’t feel as lopsided as the term non-custodial parent indicated. And I was facing my divorce therapist alone. And she was looking at me and saying things like “in the best interest of the kids,” and “most fathers react this way.”

I was NOT most fathers.

We tore up the 50/50 schedule that I brought into the counseling session. We started again with the SPO and the non-custodial rights and responsibilities. And while I gave up a huge piece of my “dad time” that day, I’ve never stopped working to show up for my kids at every opportunity afforded me. That I am afforded that opportunity only 31% of the time, instead of 50% is an issue. But that was not the time to fight. Or if it was, I was not capable of another battle. And the therapist was looking at me, sharing her compassion with me, and telling me, “This is what she’s going to get. Let’s start here.”

Today I’m certain I would try to do it differently, given the chance. And perhaps in the near future I will be given an opportunity to reset the schedule. But the damage was done, the divorce proceeded with all the typical restrictions and legalese. When I did consult a divorce attorney it was only to look over the decree her attorney had drafted. For me it was really about the parenting plan, and we had gone over that with a fine toothed comb.

The basis of that parenting plan was built on the old model of parenting. Dad = breadwinner, Mom = love and nurture. That was simply not true for us. And it is not true now. But now, my kids are in 7th and 9th grades and the time with them is much more sparse and rational. My then-wife and my fancy divorce therapist sold me the old party line about Dads and Moms in divorce. I hope that if you are in this situation you consult a lawyer who can negotiate on your behalf. If you parented 50/50 you should divorce 50/50 as well. The traditional divorce schedules and laws established when my parents were fighting it out, no longer apply for most families.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Dear Non-Custodial Dad: Here’s What You’re Getting

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Instead of access to your kids all the time, you can now only see them 8 – 10 nights a month. For me this was the biggest loss in my life.

There is no way around it. The first time I was given my “options” I cried. I had been pulled kicking and screaming into the divorce counselors office to draft the parenting plan for our upcoming divorce. A divorce which I didn’t want, didn’t ask for, and felt drafted into. There was no hope for repair, once she’d revealed she’d been to see an attorney. She’d been looking into her options long before I knew the marriage was in trouble.

“We see this all the time,” the expensive Ph.D. therapist told me. “Dads who are oblivious to the forthcoming divorce. They tend to be overwhelmed, disoriented, and not ready to prepare themselves for the next chapter.”

While I went to these sessions with the idea that we would spilt the schedule evenly, to allow for both of us to have the same amount of time with our kids, that was not what she wanted. And having consulted with an attorney, that was not what she knew she would get if we went to court. We had decided we were going to leave the financial and legal aspects to our cooperative style. Once I came around to the idea that a marriage was not viable with only one willing partner, I was actively participating in our plan. But the deck was stacked against me.

Today in 2015, I might have a better chance of getting the joint custody and 50/50 schedule I wanted. In 2010 things were a bit different. So as I brought in my half-and-half schedule, and books about co-parenting, I was told I would take the non-custodial role and get the Standard Possession Order (SPO) to start with. Everything else could be negotiated.

They were still struggling in their tiny lives, to understand why their laughing dad wasn’t around all the time to lighten things up.

Well, the way it’s explained to you, when you first hear it, is every other weekend and one week night on the off weeks. There’s some provision about a full-month in the summer to make up some of the imbalance, but that’s not a reality in today’s working parent’s lives. So with the SPO, in my state, I get to see my kids 29% of the time.

The crushing news to me at that moment, and to most newly divorced dads was this: Instead of access to your kids all the time, you can now only see them 8 – 10 nights a month. For me this was the biggest loss in my life.

I could suffer the loss of the relationship. I could suffer the alone time and losing the house and neighborhood. But the loss of those kids, those childhood years, are still painful to me. It should not have gone that way. We should’ve agreed to figure the 50/50 parenting thing out, but I was negotiated into the box of the non-custodial parent and the SPO.

Today, just over five years later, I am still struck by the loss of my children. As I was closing up their rooms this afternoon, I tried to avoid feeling the hurt. I had a great send off this morning. I saw them off happy and well fed. And now they are gone.

As it turns out, we’re modifying the schedule a bit more this coming year. On the off weeks, so the kids don’t have to transfer their things, I’m settling for a dinner rather than a sleep over. And frankly, that’s a pretty good deal for me. Again, it’s not what I would’ve chosen, but it appears to simplify their lives. And in some ways it simplifies mine as well. In the coming year, I will have 2-of-10 school mornings every two weeks. That’s the hardest part of the routine. Getting everyone up, fed, and to school on-time. Giving up two of those mornings a month wasn’t a hard decision.

Still, back then, back when my kids were finishing up 3rd and 5th grade, there was no rational reason for giving up my 50/50 request. I simply got what was coming to me, and agreed to settle for 29% custody and a substantial child support payment. (Those things go together. The non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent.) Back when my kids were younger, this time was so precious. This loss of time was much more painful. I could feel it in my kids hearts when we got together, how they had missed me. How they were still struggling in their tiny lives, to understand why their laughing dad wasn’t around all the time to lighten things up.

There are some discussions about going to a more balanced schedule, but none that have gotten beyond the “what if” stage.

Today, with some guidance, perhaps my then-wife and I would’ve negotiated a more balanced schedule.

So today, dads who are looking at divorce, I’d suggest you consult an attorney. Even if you’re planning on doing a cooperative divorce. You need to look after your own best interests, because your ex won’t be thinking about your needs at all. And your high-paid counselor might not put much importance in the idea of 50/50 parenting after divorce.

My ex is still not sure if that’s what’s best for the kids, five years later. So we’re heading into another grossly imbalanced school year. It’s okay. I’m enjoying the time in my new relationship. So I’m not lonely, or pining away at the empty rooms. But I feel their loss, their absence, every time they leave. And they’ve been leaving for 5 years. I’ve got 6 more years to go until my youngest is gone for good. I’d rather find a way to reach parity, even this late in the game, sooner rather than later. Of course, there are a lot of factors involved. And with school starting next week, it’s easier just to leave things as they are.

Sad but easy. The non-custodial parent is treated a bit like a second-class citizen in the legal system. If you want to go for 50/50 divorce parenting, I think you’ll need an attorney. I also think it’s worth it, if you want to spend as much time as possible with your children. Just a few years ago the fight would’ve been uphill. Today, with some guidance, perhaps my then-wife and I would’ve negotiated a more balanced schedule.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Reference: What Percentage of Custody Do You Have – State of California

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Having A Positive Divorce is Up To You: The Two Levels of Healing

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Divorce hits your life on all levels. There is no escaping the waves of disbelief mixed with relief and terror and joy. It’s a very confusing time. It’s confusing for everyone. There are two levels to healing from divorce if you’ve had children.

As you come out of the state of shock, you will need to put some parameters around your living and health.

The challenge is separating the two levels (divorce as an individual, and divorce as a parent) and addressing them independently. In my case, I got them all mixed up. I let my confusion around being alone again, bleed into my overwhelming joy at seeing my kids again after a week away. I could’ve used some better separation of the two states of being. As I wound my way through the next five years I began to understand the two flip sides of the divorce puzzle. Everything in your life has changed. Now it’s time to pick up the pieces and go for an even happier life. The process won’t be easy, but it is 100% up to you to take care of your own crap and get your life back together as you move on.

You deserve a happy life. And your happy life will inform and support your kids happy lives.

The Newly Single You

The first process is reimagining your life as a single human being. Single happiness. Refinding yourself and what you like to do, regardless of what anyone else needs or wants to do, is the first step towards finding your new cadence. It can be hard step to let go of other’s expectations and follow your desires and needs. The pull to take care of the kids, even when they are not around, is strong. But your new task is to learn to be an independent and joyful human again. Not a mom or dad. Not a partner. You have to reconnect with the single person coming to grips with all the wins and failures thus far in your life.

During the early stages of divorce you might crater a bit. I spent a lot of time binge watching tv shows and going to be early. But as you come out of the state of shock, you will need to put some parameters around your living and health. Here’s what I determined to be essential to getting my life back on track.

  1. Eat well. (less fast food, more veggies, simplify my diet)
  2. Exercise as often as you can (walking the neighborhood or local nature trail was my physical therapy)
  3. Drink plenty of water. (I never had a problem with alcohol, but I know it’s a depressant, so not good for me, personally)
  4. Get the appropriate amount of sleep. (too much and you’re woozy, not enough and you’re edgy and ragged)
  5. Entertainment is good. Laughter can be medicine. Gaming might just release your sad brain from its prison. Whatever it takes. Find joy. Find something that makes you smile.
  6. Self-care starts with ending all negative self talk. (Finding the positive things to say to yourself may be hard. But you need your inner coach to be on your team and not a tyrant or complainer. The negative complaining might be part of what we’re trying to leave behind)
  7. Whenever possible, say YES to friends and opportunities to be with other people.
  8. Reset and Restart every single day.

It doesn’t matter how much queso you ate the night before. Rejoin and recommit to your recovery and health program each morning, regardless of how you feel. Your consistency and continuous commitments can keep you heading in the right direction: UP and OUT of the pit of despair.

The seconds level of divorce recovery with kids is learning how to be a single parent.

Learning How to Be a Whole Parent Again

When you were married, when you decided to have children, when you raised your kids from mere pups, both you and your partner built a system of parenting that no longer exists. The things you might have not learned how to do, the things you distinctly recall asking your partner to take over, and the things you haven’t even thought of, all of the parenting things are now YOURS and YOURS ALONE. When you are the ON parent you have the responsibility to parent at 100%. The parts of your parenting skills that may have atrophied over time now need to be dusted off and beefed up.

Don’t detach when you have opportunities for attachment. This is a hard time for everyone. But you can demonstrate healthy behavior by engaging them in healthy activities and giving them healthy food to eat.

For me, one of those lost skills was cooking and cleaning for the family. I was fine when the kids were away. I could resort to crappy habits, fast food, popcorn for dinner, all the stuff that would be frowned upon as a parent. After divorce, there were times when I craved McDonald’s fries. I went through extended periods when I never thought about “what to cook for dinner.” All of that changed each week when my daughter and son would arrive.

I didn’t have the rhythm. I didn’t have the ideas for “what to cook.” And I was out of practice with planning ahead so we wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store every night they were with me. “Hey kids, what do we want for dinner tonight?” Getting everyone excited to go to the store is asking a lot.

When you’re alone you can let your eating and cleaning slip. But when your kids are around, you need to step up your game. I tried to tidy up the house before “my weekend.” Some weekends I was more successful than others.

The Time With the Kids

Learn again what your kids like to do. If they don’t know (and often that’s what they will say, “I don’t know.”) keep asking, keep trying new things. It might be easier to give up and let everyone watch tv or tune into their iPads/iPhones. But don’t detach when you have opportunities to stay close to them. This is a hard time for everyone. But you can demonstrate healthy behavior by engaging them in healthy activities and giving them healthy food to eat.

Take the time to be alone with each of your kids. It is easier not to talk about stuff, especially divorce. But given the time and openings, your kids may reveal some of what’s going on in their lives and what they are thinking about. By keeping a positive attitude about the divorce (“It was better for all of us. We are happier now.”) and staying engaged with them as little humans, you demonstrate for them that your love and support is unwavering. That’s key. Be consistent. Be as joyful and engaged as you can. There will be times when the screens come up for all of you. That’s okay. But try to set connection and closeness as the default relationship mode.

The Time Without the Kids

For a long time I was surviving between kid visits. I was so lost without them, and without the closeness of a primary relationship, that I isolated and got depressed. I didn’t do anything on my list of healthy activities. I didn’t return phone calls. I made it through, but I didn’t have to be so lonely about it.

Your kids are learning about life from how you behave, not how you tell them to behave. So behave honorably. Be respectful of your former partner.

The day my kids would return to me, and I became Dad again, I lit up like a different person. I knew this was not healthy. I knew that my happiness had become too entwined with theirs. And it was my task to get on with my life, get on with my fitness and wellness programs, and most importantly, get on with my own mental recovery from the divorce.

I knew I needed help and I tried a several different talky therapists before I found someone who could PUSH and NURTURE me at the same time. I didn’t need someone to cuddle me and collude with my depression and divorce sadness. I needed someone who would push me to challenge my own feelings of helplessness. That was my issue: learned helplessness. There were parts of me, when I was alone, that wanted to give up. That wanted to curl up in a tiny ball and vanish. And while it was metaphorical, the suicidal fantasies were like some angry form of giving up.

YOU ARE NOT HELPLESS. YOU ARE NOT A VICTIM.

What you do with your life, as a newly single person, that is the real challenge. Start with the health and recovery list above. Find you rhythm. Find the things that light up your soul. (See Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore) Do more of those things.

Keeping In Touch

Stay in touch with your kids as much as you can, but don’t hang on their responsiveness and involvement. It’s weird for them that you’re gone. But in my case, it was almost as if I had just gone off on an extended business trip. They stayed in the same house. They had the same routine. The main difference is I was not there. Our nightly phone calls often went like this.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Fine.”

“Anything you want to tell me about? Did anything cool happen at school?”

“No.”

“Okay, well, let me talk to your brother. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

At my house, on my own, everything was new. As a family unit we had to learn new routines. We had to find new processes for doing the dishes (I didn’t have a dishwasher in my first D-house.) and doing chores. Allow yourself and your kids time to adjust to things being weird and different. They are resilient. By staying positive and reaching out to them, even when they are with the other parent, you are showing them how important they are in your life. You are making sure your “I love you” is getting in there, even when you can’t say it in person.

The main thing for me, in the off times, was to make contact every night. Just to say goodnight. I rallied from dark moments each night to perk up and call them. The calls were mostly brief and unfulfilling. But that consistent contact, that “I’m here” reassurance, was important to me and to them. I was saying that while I was gone, I was not out of their lives. It’s a small thing, but it’s the best thing you’ve got. And sometimes, just the process of putting on my game voice for them would cheer me up.

Do what you need to do during your off parent days. Take care of your mental and physical health. And in the times when you have your kids, be the best parent you can be. Always looking forward. Always positive.

Your kids are learning about life from how you behave, not how you tell them to behave. So behave honorably. Be respectful of your former partner. And love them with all of your heart when they are with you. Learn to recapture your own self-love when they are not. By staying focused on both aspects of the divorce, you will have a better chance of recovering your happiness and getting on with the next chapter of your life.

Stay positive. Love your kids. Respect your ex.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

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image: last good summer, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

A Single Dad In Love, Again

WHOLE-no-goal

Neither of us are broken, neither of us need fixing.

Yes, it’s happened. I think I’m changing my status from single dad to something else. (Stops for a minute and checks Facebook.) Yep, it’s official, I’m engaged to be married. Married I say. Yes, I’m a dreamer and a believer and an optimist and am no longer a single dad. I’m just a dad. I like it.

Even with all fantasies of that poem, things imagined and dreamed, she, this REAL SHE, has blown away all of my expectations.

I’ve written so many roadmaps and rules, tips and hints for what I was looking for, how to know what I needed in a relationship, how to get my Love Languages stroked in the proper direction, that I’m pretty tired of my own lists. So I need to make a new one.

Here is my outline for how a Single Dad fell in love again, in spite of all the warnings and previous failures.

  1. She is fascinating.
  2. She is driven.
  3. She is self-contained and rational.
  4. She has a crazy, flirty, quirky streak, just like me.
  5. She’s bonkers about me.
  6. She sees the best in me and pushes me to be even better.
  7. She’s got the sense of humor and enthusiasms of a child.
  8. She’s never had kids.
  9. She’s fit.
  10. She’s unafraid to tell me when it sucks.
  11. She makes easy repairs.
  12. She’s got her own agenda, her own projects, and some of them don’t include me.
  13. She is grateful.
  14. She is spiritual.
  15. She wears practical shoes, but she also has flirty and bad girl shoes.
  16. She is ever rub-able. Always game. And rarin to go.
  17. She’s taking on tennis to be with me, doing what I love.
  18. She sets plans and sticks to them.
  19. She’s the most loyal person I’ve met.
  20. My friends love her.

It wasn’t that long ago, I was writing an aspirational love poem to the “SHE” who I was anticipating. And even with all fantasies of that poem, things imagined and dreamed, she, this REAL SHE, has blown away all of my expectations. I know that’s hard to imagine. But she, this woman, my woman, has let me know that I am her man. That she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. And that she thinks I too am the cutest, sexiest, funniest, and smartest person she’s ever met.

If we can keep our business focused on ourselves and our passions focused on each other, we’re on our way to a life-long relationship. How do I know?

Easy. We are both the fighters. We fought for our marriages even when they were failing. We were the one’s who asked for a re-commitment even after the deal had been broken. And if you put two fighters for love in a relationship together… Well, I think, we think, the writing is on the wall.

Today, we have all we need. And what we don’t have or don’t like, we’ve learned to ignore and tend to our own issues.

Sure there are things she does that drive me crazy. Probably they always will. I am anti-OCD, anti-schedule, and freeform. She likes her lists. She likes to ask what I’d like for dinner, days in advance. I still look at her sometimes and say, “What do you mean? Like a menu for next Wednesday? I don’t even know what I want tonight.” The real magic is to laugh at and love the differences. We both appreciate what’s odd about each other.

Quirks are the things you’ve got to learn to love as well. I love that she’s different from me. That her ways are logical and strategic and often seem diametrically opposed to my natural instincts. And then I’ve learned to let those ideas go as well. In my best flexible thinking, I’m learning to love all aspects of this amazing woman. Why? Because I believe in her. I believe that what she says is true, and that when she invites me on a trip to NYC, that it will (and did) happen.

I don’t work the same way at all. And I’m pretty sure that’s some of what she likes about me. I lead with my heart often before I know the direction we are going. I misstep out of passion and vision, when a more measured approach might have worked. But I always do it out of love. I always do it from a place of caring about her more than I care about myself.

My lists were all blown away when the right woman showed up. I like to think that my prep work, the writing and sorting of all of this “relationship” data, is what made our connection so clear to me. We have jumped fearlessly into this love thing. We’re going to get married. We’ve already started wearing our wedding bands. In the eyes of the state we are indeed already married.

But I like the anticipation of the marriage too much just to skip or belittle it. We are going to get married. And our friends want to know the plans, the schedule. And I’m sure she and I are working at odds in our natural patterns as I flippantly say things like, “When it happens.” She on the other hand, in my mind, is ready to make a plan.

But that’s the beauty in the end, of our courtship and partnership. She doesn’t need to force me into a plan. And I don’t need to buck against her plan or freak out when it hasn’t been put forth. We are indeed already married in every way but two.

  1. We need the legal papers to do things like combine health insurance or car insurance.
  2. We need the spiritual ceremony shared with other to celebrate and hold our tribe together now and in the future.

Today, we have all we need. And what we don’t have or don’t like, we’ve learned to ignore and tend to our own issues. Neither of us are broken, neither of us need fixing. In fact, as equals, neither of us has a need to be married. But I think we’re looking forward to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

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Missing the Love Right In Front of Us

WHOLE-zentennis

Occasionally we miss the forest for the trees. We let the details and challenges of our busy lives overrun the joy. We see our own distress and desires as the most important part of our universe. This is where the prayerful pause comes in.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

Here’s an example of how my hyper-type-a focus can keep me lasered in on my goals while overlooking the love of my life.

Tennis has been a life-long passion of mine. Since I was a kid I’ve hustled on the tennis court not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I’ve wanted to compete at the highest levels. And more recently I’ve learned to simply enjoy the game. In fact, the height of my joy in the last ten years has been playing casually with my kids, on the court to “just hit balls.” The time on court with my daughter has been filled with what I call peak moments. Moments in life where you stop and breathe it all in.

“This is a perfect moment.”

I say it as a sort of mantra, affirming my life, my joy, and my gratefulness at being alive. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving.

In my marriage I couldn’t quite get my then-wife to join me on the courts. She tried in the early months of our courtship, before we were married. Taking a few lessons with her girlfriend, they joked about how they were really in it for the skirts. And yes, I suppose, the image of a woman in a tennis skirt causes my inner-enthusiast to jump up and down. But the skirt was to become more of a symbol of what we missed, rather than what we enjoyed and developed together as a couple.

But I never forgot about the skirt. And in my rebuilding process over the last five years I have rediscovered how important tennis, and joyful exercise, is to my health and recovery. One of my happy places is being on the court. Even alone, hitting against a backboard, I can find an inner smile. And it’s not all that goal-driven, these days. Mostly, I really enjoy the feel of the ball “pinging” off my strings and the zip of the well-stroked topspin forehand. I have been focused in the last 18 months on using tennis as a way to improve my fitness and remain social even in times when I would rather stay at home and sulk.

Enter my new relationship. She was reading my posts about tennis and joy and relationships. And when she began chatting with me on Facebook about 8 months ago, one of the first keywords she dropped was “tennis.” We’ve had several discussions about her intention and her prior research into my blogs, but the main thing is… She laid down the offer to play tennis as a first volley in our relationship.

And it wasn’t long before we were actually hitting tennis balls together. And she WAS wearing a pristine white tennis skirt. (As our relationship developed over the next months, this same skirt became a talisman for me when she was traveling.) We made tennis part of our thing. It was an easy request for either of us, “Wanna go hit some tennis balls?” The answer was usually, “Let’s go.”

As my energy and enthusiasm for life continued to build in the presence of such an energetic and positive person, I also began ramping up my tennis game. A month ago I entered a tennis ladder to play competitive singles again. And while my tennis was ON my fitness was not up for the 1 – 2 hours in the Texas Summer heat. I played well, but I was beaten in my first two matches, more because my body could not keep up with the extended match play.

After one of these matches, she said, “We can go hit more balls.”

And here’s where my intention and passion missed the bigger picture.

I responded in a different way. “That’s not really what I need.”

I could see her expression change.

“I mean, I love hitting with you and everything, but it’s not really going to improve my competitive fitness.”

In the moment, I was confused about what to say next. I had caused a fracture between us, but I didn’t yet know how to repair the damage.

Stop. Breathe. Let go of all your distractions. Breathe. Be at peace for 1 minute. Smile. Enjoy.

I did my best over the course of the next few weeks, as I was beaten two more times on the court, to chat about how playing with her was not “competitive” but “fun” and that was always good. But I wasn’t showing her. I was not asking her to play tennis. I was thinking about how to WIN at my singles matches. Oops. I really needed to stop, breathe, and join with her. But I stayed in my pseudo-buddhist revery knowing something was amiss, but unable to see through my own fog to identify it clearly. And if you don’t know what’s wrong, it is very hard join together again with a repair.

Yesterday, I said, “Let’s go hit some balls.” We’ve just moved into a new house with a court down the street.

“When?” she asked.

“Right now.”

“I could go running first,” she replied. “If you have other things to want to do.”

“No. I want to do this now.”

“Awesome. Let’s go.”

And walking over to the court I was struck by a simple fact. THIS WAS MY HEAVEN. My dream in all those years of aloneness, in all the workout-cardio tennis classes, was to get myself in good enough shape to attract a woman and get her on the tennis court. BOOM. In that moment, even before we’d struck a single ball, I GOT IT. This is what I was missing. This act, this moment, just being in connection with this woman, AND getting to hit tennis balls! Wow. I’m pretty sure that’s what nirvana is: becoming aware that this very moment is heaven.

Within 5 minutes of starting two guys came up to the court. Being new to the area, I didn’t know if there was some system for using the court. “No, it’s just first come first serve,” the guy said, envying not only our possession of the court but my sharp fiancé in her white skirt.

Had we waited even five more minutes, the court would’ve been taken.

Breathe and say yes, right now. Do it.

And then it was time for my awareness to be made mutual. I was ready for the repair.

“Honey, I want to tell you something.” She stopped and we sat down. I’m known for these kind of hold-on-a-minute moments.

“I want you to know that playing tennis with you was a 100% high. That is my definition of heaven. And it’s about you and tennis and nothing more.”

“Okay.” She smiled, but she was aware that something else was coming.

“I wanted to let you know that I missed your offers a few weeks ago. I know you were asking to go hit tennis balls as a way of supporting my fitness and my competitive nature.”

She nodded.

“But I was missing the point. I got all wrapped up in getting fit and ready for the competition that I lost sight of the real goal… Fun with you. Tennis with you. Anything with you, but really, tennis with you. That’s my dream come true. And here you are, saying ‘Let’s go.’ and I’m forgetting to ask. I’m focused on some other goal, winning, maybe. But that’s not my goal.

“My goal is to be right here with you. To experience life and love with you in as many moments as I have left on the Earth.”

The smile broke across her face. This was a lovey dovey talk.

“And tennis with you IS THE MOMENT I have been praying for and working for all my life.”

I know that sounds corny or woowoo, but it’s essential for me to explain this. I play tennis. It is my passion. Given options, there are few things I would choose over tennis. Getting to play tennis with my partner, that was a dream I was beginning to give up on. Fighting to remember and get myself back into shape so it *could* happen, but at our age… Now, I see, tennis is the dream. Playing tennis is living the dream. Playing tennis with my sweetheart is heaven on Earth. Nirvana is now.

Never give up on the dream. I dreamed of white skirts and a smiling woman on the opposite site of a tennis net.

I have arrived.

Breathe. Let it all go.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

see the Positive Divorce & Coparenting section

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Oh, and we have a pool in our neighborhood.

off-swimmingfeet

What Am I Doing Here? Ah, Another Divorce Blog

WHOLE-newhome

I do think I’ve grown as a result of this blog. Quite a bit, actually. See, I have this other blog… Well, if you know me, or LIKE the Whole Parent on Facebook, you know about the other one. Anyway, the growth and transformation over the last five years as a divorced dad is much easier to spot on that blog. I was mad, confused, depressed, and going a bit mad, when my ex-wife said she was no longer interested in working on our marriage, but would prefer to work on our life as co-parents, sans marriage.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

I busted out my poison pen on that one. I acted out. I wrote F U letters. I got mad. I got sad. I got ecstatic. I got in touch with my voice. Somewhere in the burning blaze of my divorce and survival from divorce, I became a writer. I’d always been writing. But the D gave me a new vein, opened for me, to mine and hype and explore. And over the last five years that blog has grown and thrived into a successful platform for my less-balanced output. Maybe it’s in the imbalance that I found “my voice.” I  don’t know. But I do know that the words that have come out of me over the years to describe feelings of loss and hopelessness, defining roadmaps back to happiness and even love, those words were healing for me.

And almost two years ago I launched this blog with a new intention. 100% Positive. (That one is still hard.) Kids first. (On my good days, this is a breeze.) and Brutally Honest. My little meme still fits quite well.

donoharm-WHOLE

The transformation happened in my life when I began to look at every parenting decision or situation with the Whole Parent perspective. How could I turn even crappy things into some learning experience. It wasn’t easy at first. You can see in the early posts here, how I was pretty tentative with my criticisms of my ex-wife. But this blog is not supposed to be an apology or positive white washing.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

And it was this question alone that accelerated my transition from a divorced dad into a co-parent. I’m still a divorced dad, but I’m no longer a single dad. I’m engaged to be married to a woman who is ecstatic about me and about my kids. It’s obvious when we’re together, this new electricity-fuel love. She’s from the “positive” school of thought as well. And together we more than double each other’s exuberance. We are exponential together. It’s dangerous sometimes, how happy and lovey dovey we are, but we’re okay with that. LOVE ON!

But there is something that I’ve tried to do with both my divorce blogs from the beginning: be transparently honest about my own failings, hopes, and progress. Even this blog can be seen to trace an arc out of divorce recovery and into relationship building. Today my life is more about my new relationship, rather than the old, broken, relationship I had with my then-wife. I’m not even doing “divorce” much either. I’m really a parenting blogger.

My mission is be the best parent I can be. Everything else is merely story and circumstance. While I tell the stories, and even rehash them, my goal is to hone them down into a fine narrative about a man who fell from the house of marriage, recovered his sanity over time with a lot of work and journaling, and who is now building a new life and relationship for himself and his children.

The cool thing about this new love relationship, is my kids are really getting to see two people who dig each other. What was obvious in the early stages of my marriage to their mom, began to fade and become ragged before we divorced. Even then, my kids were 7 and 9 when I walked out the door for the last time. Today they are 12 and 14. They are experiencing the world in a very different way. And today they are seeing me as happy as I’ve ever been. This has an effect and I believe they are happier as well.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced and soon-to-be-remarried, dad.

What I’m really showing them, however, is just how to be a good man, how to be a considerate and chivalrous gentleman, and how to be the dad they should’ve had their entire lives. But I’ve just recently shown up in my full-power again. It’s exciting to see where we will go from here.

Today we’re settling into a new house as a family. And while the kids will remain on the limited SPO (standard possession order) for a while, everyone seems almost giddy with delight. The time with all four of us in the car, or eating dinner, is as a new and different family, but a real family. Finally, I’m a man and a woman with kids. As a single man I was somewhat limited and damaged in my perspective. While I would say I have been a good dad, my exuberance has only begun to return under the influence and support of this loving partner.

I do relationships really well. I wanted my marriage to continue, but it did not. And that failure has given way to such joy and happiness that it’s hard not to thank my ex-wife for giving me this new opportunity for a joyous life. She deserves to be happy as well. We all deserve to be happy, but sometimes it takes a lot of work as well as a lot of time to get things back in place.

I joke sometimes that life is so good that I might “rapture” if one more good event takes place. The good things keep happening, and I’m happy to say, I’m still here. Everyday is a new opportunity to show up as a better man for my kids, for my new partner, and even for my ex-wife. We ARE actually all in this together. Today, I’m so glad I have someone to contemplate my side of the equation with.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced (soon-to-be-remarried) dad.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

see the Positive Divorce & Coparenting section

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image: the bird house, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

Loving Yourself As Much As You Desire Someone Else

WHOLE-buddhahead

I want my kids, but mainly myself, to be proud of me.

You cannot love someone else unless you fully love yourself. If you are thinking things like “if I lose 15 lbs,” or “if I could get better clothes or a nice haircut,” it’s okay, but it shows a bit of self-acceptance that still needs some attention.

While I was making progress in my fitness, as tracked on my blog, the ultimate transformation took place when I found a partner who was healthy and lived a lean and active lifestyle.

I remember talking to a good friend a few years ago about my weight. I was lamenting how hard it was to get motivated when I was feeling depressed and fat. How could I ever find a woman to love me. His response was swift and direct, “If she doesn’t love you just the way you are, she’s not worthy of you.” I still think about that moment. I heard the words, and though I didn’t believe them at that time, I came to understand the fundamental value in his wisdom.

I wanted to lose 15 pounds. I wanted to play more tennis so that I would be more active and attractive to a woman. I wanted to be with an active and athletic woman, so I’d better not turn into a couch slouch. I wasn’t that at all, but I was overweight due to the depression of the divorce, and my poor food choices. I really didn’t consider myself fat, until I saw photos or videos of myself from birthday parties or something. I didn’t like how I looked. I didn’t see how I could love me as I was. I needed a change.

The change that had to happen was actually in my mind. I decided to begin a fitness and health routine, program, process to discover more about me and my relationship to food and fitness. I started another blog (http://fitbytech.com) to complete the motivation and exploration. As I wrote about myself, I began to discover issues I had yet to resolve.

  1. Fitness has a lot to do with what you eat, not just how much you exercise.
  2. Quantity of calories is very important, but it’s not everything.
  3. Quantity and quality of exercise are important. I could never commit to going to a gym because I hated being in the gym. I could always commit to play tennis, but that required another person, or some group I could join.
  4. My negative self-talk was toxic. As I turned my inner-voice into a Bill-Murray-in-Stripes character, I began to lighten up about failures and resets.
  5. Fitness and health is all about failures, forgiveness and resetting. If you eat ice cream one night, you wake up the next day and say, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over.” And you jump back into the plan. Always back to the plan. Never a failure, but just a temporary setback.
  6. Friend and family seem happy to see you changing, but they’re not always as supportive as you’d like them to be. “Wow, you look great. Here have this piece of cake.”
  7. It was MY IMAGE of MYSELF that was the real issue. By “feeling fat” I didn’t feel attractive. I didn’t project confidence in my physical appearance. I had personality and humor in spades, but I was not happy with the way my pants fit.

My Breakthrough

That’s the key to my fitness and healthy eating. I want to be proud of me. I want to look at myself with a shirt off and get a smile. From me.

While I was making progress in my fitness, as tracked on my blog, the ultimate transformation took place when I found a partner who was healthy and lived a lean and active lifestyle. Sure, I can’t keep up with her, but I can draft behind her in the kitchen and on the running trail. And by being with someone who loved me as I was, I began to love me more, just as I was. Sure she’d like me to be fitter, so would I. But her love for me, like my friend said, was not based on my weight or my fitness level.

I still want to get in better shape. I want my health to be an advantage in my older days. I want my kids to look up to me, and know that they are still several years from being able to beat me on the tennis court, or sprinting across any random field we come upon. I want my kids, but mainly myself, to be proud of me.

Yep, that’s the key to my fitness and healthy eating. I want to be proud of me. I want to look at myself with a shirt off and get a smile. From me. My sweetheart has been singing my praises since the day we met. She’s an amazing cheerleader. And her “Are we going to run today,” texts always produce a “meh” inside, but a “Hell, yes!” on the outside.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

visit: fitybytech – my health and wellbeing blog

more posts of interest:

image: The Last Desire – Tamarama, Ian Burt, creative commons usage

How Faith and Courage Work Together in Love

WHOLE-girlfriend-daughter
Love deeply, before you catch yourself doing it.

If you knew that your next venture, what ever you attempted, would be a success what would you do? What would your first 100% winning project be? Love life? Career? Creative fame?

Part of falling in love is giving up your control of the situation enough to allow the chaos of love to transform your life. If you hold up, clam up, reserve a protective walled-up space deep inside you, the magic might not happen at all. Faith is not the blind commitment to something, faith is expecting you will be successful and then giving everything you have to make your next adventure, next project, next relationship, next everything, a WIN. We’re all looking for the WIN.

As I was entering this relationship with my beloved, I was occasionally fearful. “We’re going too fast,” I would think sometimes. I even said it out loud a few times to her. But as we listened with our hearts instead of our minds, the answer was always, “You are okay. You are falling in love. Allow it to happen. Have faith.”

I trusted, each time, as I was saying goodbye, that something better was still in development.

It’s important that you not take this advice as some form of blind faith, or the idea that by praying about it, the perfect woman was going to show up magically in my life. Nope. I have been working, rebuilding, crafting, and singing my way back to my “most lovable self.” It took awhile. I had some stops and starts. I had a lot of times that I didn’t believe in myself, didn’t love myself, didn’t feel loveable. Divorce will do this to you. So will depression. But I kept the faith to keep on moving forward.

Sometimes I was moving forward without knowing my goal. Sometimes I was trying to force a relationship to be awesome, when it was not awesome. I wanted the relationship in my life, so bad, I was willing to suspend my disbelief and imagine that I could change the other person into being in love with me. I wanted her to want me just as much as I wanted her. I wanted someone to really be able to express love: verbally, physically, and spiritually. It’s a tall order. My first two relationships, post divorce, each had some missing ingredient.

But I learned from each of them. I learned what it felt like to be cared for by someone who spoke the same Love Language. I learned what it was like to pour creativity and joy in to a relationship that was no prepared to open up fully. I learned to move on and let go. I trusted, each time, as I was saying goodbye, that something better was still in development.

When the next woman showed up, she arrived with bells on, a tennis racket in her hand, and an attitude and faith that matched my own. I had met my match. I was no longer trying to push the river, make a relationship out of something that wasn’t working. I was met, stroke for stroke, both on the tennis court and off. And we smiled at each other and asked, “Are we going too fast?” We BOTH asked that question. We still do.

We already knew the answer. We knew it rather early in our dating.

  • This was something different.
  • This person was READY and WILLING TO WORK for a relationship.
  • Their faith was different from mine but equally passionate.
  • Their love language was undeveloped and not yet discovered, but it appeared to be “touch” like mine.
  • This person made an effort to meet me halfway on everything. She was scheduling dates. She was suggesting ideas. She was the first who suggested we might kiss.
In all my poetic longing, I had not even come close to the radiance I was about to experience.

When my beloved showed up, my game could relax. I was no longer seeking, no longer seeking to impress, no longer in pursuit. I was in mutual pursuit. The pursuit of a 100% connection. Keeping it 100% was my overarching goal. Without full disclosure and resonance, I knew I would be wasting my time. This woman showed up with her own glow, and beside mine, we caught fire. (Sounds woo woo, I know, but hear me out.)

There was nothing that prepared me for how she cracked open my heart. All the ideas, roadmaps, plans, I had been writing about, were meaningless. In all my poetic longing, I had not even come close to the radiance I was about to experience. Someone whose energy not only matched mine, but often out paced mine. Up earlier, running faster, eating leaner, laughing and praying more. I was amazed at this vision who showed up. I was not quite sure she was “for real” some of the time, but I stayed close and observed what I could about her and my reaction to her.

As we began to spend time together we both noted how much laughing we did. After a weekend together, we both giggled at the soreness in our ribs. FROM LAUGHING! That is a great sign. We were sore in other places from other things, but it really was the joy and sound of the other person’s laughter that I think unlocked our security systems. It was in the joy of our experience together, doing anything with laughter and connectedness, that we began to flag off the “too fast” warning signs, or questions from our friends.

She would come back from a night out with friends and say, “They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t being taken advantage of.” We both laughed at this one. We know how it looks from the outside. We know our friends (perhaps not the mutual ones, who know us both) are astounded and semi-supportive until they get to meet us together.

Then they spend a little time with us together and even strangers say, “You two guys are like a comedy act. In sync. Hilarious.”

We’re on a roll. Is it a honeymoon phase? We don’t think so. And I have to give this intelligent woman the ability to make up her own mind about this. We’re madly, passionately, in love. We’re a bit hard to take, because we finish each other’s sentences, we jump off into inside jokes like they were stand-up routines. (Like our own little Portlandia, Fred and Carrie can do anything and be funny about it. We feel the same way.)

Your expectations and dreams are actually holding you back. Your faith and love will transcend everything you imagined, when you click with the right person.

What we both appreciate in each other has been our ability to let go of the fear and allow ourselves to FALL IN LOVE. We consciously entered into this relationship. We consciously slowed down at the beginning and then accelerated with each week, as the connection deepened.

Once we were IN we were 100% in.

I have faith in two things:

  • My ability to be honest and express my truth.
  • Her ability to be honest and express her truth.

 

The rest is negotiation, navigation, and nurture. We’ve both got work ahead of us. We are always in a state of becoming. But today, I have my lifetime cheerleader beside me. And I’m always ready joyfully embrace her in all of her flaws and misdirections. We’ve all got them. I’m misdirected as hell sometimes. But together we agreed, early on, that we would embrace even the flaws in the other person, and that was the real key to letting go and falling in love.

Your expectations and dreams are actually holding you back. Allow yourself to see the person in front of you. Your faith and love will transcend everything you imagined, when you click with the right person. It’s a spiritual quest you are on, to find a lasting relationship. Keep spiritual in your focus. And as you love your own flaws you can love the flaws in another.

As she cheers on my creative endeavors, I feel the support that I lacked in all of my previous relationships. So she’s not a writer. And she’s not threatened by my writing. In fact, she wants to read it, wants to push me into being more daring. She even allows me to write about us. That too is a form of faith.

When I finish a particularly hard or lovely post I will read them aloud to her. I would never want to put in something that would hurt her. Ever. And so far, there have been a few copy edits. Together we’ve sailed through the challenges and questions I’ve been asking myself, and us, as we move forward.

Stay tuned. Stay lovely. And love deeply, before you catch yourself doing it.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: my two girls, cc 2015 John McElhenney, creative commons usage