What Am I Doing Here: Ah, Another Divorce Blog

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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.

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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

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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

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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

back to Dating After Divorce

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

Inviting the Dinosaur Into Your Divorce

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You’re heard the metaphor of “the elephant in the room,” right? This a little tale about the dinosaur in the divorce. While I work to keep every post on this blog tilted in the positive direction, there have been moments in my relationship to the mother of my children that have been less than stellar.

“The bad part about her inviting the AG’s office into our financial affairs is that it really doesn’t coerce me into paying more or faster.

When my ex-wife got mad two summers ago she threatened me when I got late on my child support payments. I had just lost a job and was in the process of replacing my income, but it was hard times. I’m sure it was hard times on her side of the equation too, and so I try and give her the benefit of the doubt every time. Even when things were bleak between us, I tried to forgive and move on, just as she was trying to convince herself that I would make good on my promise of payments.

After a few months of job hunting I had not produced a new stream of income for us to base our shared parenting financial obligations, so in a fit of rage or an act of self-preservation, she filed our divorce decree with the attorney general’s office in our great state of Texas. In effect, she was throwing up her hands and saying she was tired of hearing my unfulfilled promises of payment, she’d rather have the state’s attorneys take over the matter of the cash flow. She used the terms “enforcement” and “in the best interests of the kids” a lot. Actually she still uses those concepts today, with different language. She’s still pretty sure the AG’s office is the only reason she’s gotten paid recently.

I had to remind her, “Um, the reason you’ve been getting paid since November is because I had a job. No cash flow, no money for either of us.” She didn’t like that answer a few summers back and she doesn’t like the logic today. Still, we have our divorce decree and we have the AG’s office tracking my every move.

The bad part about her inviting the AG’s office into our financial affairs is that it really doesn’t coerce me into paying more or faster. Sorry, I’ve never defaulted or delayed a payment when I had the money. I even exhausted my retirement account to make payments when my income was not matching my expenses.

“Your ex-wife on the other hand, might have other ideas,” he said. “But the dinosaur is equally hard to push from her side as well.”

It really doesn’t matter now, as it stands we have the AG’s office in bed with us, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, until both our kids are 18 years old.

Today I met with my family attorney and he said, “The AG’s office is like a dinosaur. Once you invite the big beast into your affairs it’s really hard to get rid of them.” I liked the analogy. Yes, that’s what it feels like sometimes, like a great big stegosaurus is sitting on my chest with a dumb smile and a “feed the children” necklace on.

Truth is, my kids have never gone wanting for anything. My ex-wife has never missed a house payment. And my commitment to pay and continued efforts to do so has never wavered. Well, except for that time a few summers ago. When she began to rattle her AG’s saber at me, I pushed back with the only idea I could come up with. I told her (this was a dumb idea) that if she “did in fact file with the AG’s office” I would ask for a recalculation of all that I have paid, and all that I should’ve, paid based on *actual* income rather than *theoretical* (which I had yet to achieve since the divorce). I had agreed to pay child support based on a job that I no longer had, but in the duress of the process I agreed, even before I had the replacement job. Another bad idea.

A few rules in dealing with your co-parent:

  1. Never threaten your ex about anything.
  2. Remain optimistic, but don’t count on a job, or a miracle, or mercy from your ex when they are angry or under stress.
  3. If it’s in the decree you will continue owing the amount until you sue your ex to change the amount of child support . Regardless of your employment status, or the economic climate, your child support bills continue to arrive and your debt, if you can’t pay, will continue to grow.
  4. Once in your lives, the AG’s office will never leave.

Today, my attorney went on with the metaphor. “And getting the dinosaur to change or do something on your behalf is very hard. You can push, yell, ask, write letters, and it’s very likely that if they move at all, the dinosaur will move because of some random reason and not as a result of your request.”

He continued, “The AG’s office is really run by computer programs. When the computer kicks your name and account out because you are behind on your payments, the staff just sends out the letter. What we want to avoid is getting the dinosaur mad. If you keep paying what you can, and keep paying something, when the computer spits out your name, the dinosaur will consider you a friend and not just bite your head off.”

“Your ex-wife on the other hand, might have other ideas. But the dinosaur is equally hard to push from her side as well. You are both just kind of stuck with it, like herpes. Once you have the dinosaur in your divorce, you can never completely get rid of him.”

I’m gearing up to start a new job so that I can get some money, but more importantly, so that my kids will get some money. And yes, the dinosaur will be fed and happy in the next month.

The good news in my case is I got a new job that starts in two weeks. I’ve been paying her 25% of my income since my last corporate job, but it’s never quite equalled the *theoretical* job that I was supposed to land in the first few months after the decree was signed. And I will dutifully contact the AG’s office and they will dutifully withhold the child support payments from my take home pay.

A few things I didn’t know about this process.

  1. Your ex does not pay taxes on any of the child support income. It’s like free money to them. You, however, pay the taxes and lose the money at the same time. (Makes it really seem like a double whammy. I work, I pay taxes, then I give her $XXX.)
  2. The AG’s office will set an additional payment, on top of your support payment, when you are behind. I called to tell them, “I’m just getting back on my feet, can we reduce the extra payments just a little?” I was told in no uncertain terms, by one of the dinosaur’s minions, that I could file a petition to change the support order. So I’d have to sue her? Okay, pass.
  3. The dinosaur randomly sends out letters to beneficiaries and asks, “Would you like us to review your account?” Like a bill collector, on their side, the simple check mark in a box on a return post card sets all kinds of painful examinations in motion.

I’m lucky. I have been employed or working under contract for most of the time since the divorce. And today I’m gearing up to start a new job so that I can get some money, but more importantly so that my kids will get some money. And yes, the dinosaur will be fed and happy in the next month.

One of my main goals is to keep the dinosaur from kicking out a random request to put me in jail. But according to my attorney we’d hear the roar via at least one letter of intent before the patrolmen showed up at my door.

Always, No Matter What, Put Your Children’s Lives Ahead of the Emotional Issues You May Still Have with Your Co-Parent.

And, always love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

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image: how to draw a dinosaur – wikihow, creative commons usage

 

How Love Transforms Us Completely When We Feel the YES

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It has been a long road back to love.

It was a long struggle a. to get free of my own despair and depression; b. to find a balance in my life when 65% of it no longer included my kids or my ex; c. to begin liking myself again and growing into the happy person I had been before the marriage went south; d. actually putting myself out there as available in a real way (beyond online dating). And that’s when she showed up.

My Maps and Hopes

I had been writing a lot of ideas about relationship theory, how to date better, how to relate better, how to let my own inner joy shine so that I might attract another like-minded and happy person. I came up with an idea called a JOY TRIBE. You know joyful people when you see them. And I wanted not only to be a part of a JOY TRIBE, I wanted to create my own.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn’t want to distract you on your first day at the new job.”

I even wrote about how my “maps” and “strategies” were only projections. I knew that when the WOMAN showed up, joy and all, that my planning and ideas would be valuable, but that the maps would be burned up in a fire of passion that was this new adventure, this new adventurous woman. And I believe when you call on all your resources, put your attention where it needs to be, the universe will respond to serve you up in unexpected ways.

What Language Do You Speak?

Part of my re-education has been discovering The 5 Love Languages. Once I read that book, even when my marriage was collapsing, I knew I had stumbled on to a key to happiness. It was clear that my then-wife and I valued very different forms of love and attention. Neither of them are wrong, just different. And while couples can try to accommodate differing love languages, it’s an AMAZING connection when your partner speaks the same language as you do. Absolutely amazing.

I had not experienced a relationship with another person who was TOUCH centered. My first relationship after divorce was with a stellar woman who remains a friend and confidant, and who was 100% touchy-feely, like me. The first weeks with her, two years ago, were transformative for me. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make me feel loved and adored and supported. A simple hug, a single word of encouragement and a smile, and more hugs…

While GF1 and I did not end up being perfectly matched, she had shown me a LOVE-STYLE, the Love Language of Touch, that I knew would be fundamental to my health and happiness. She set the bar pretty high and I used to joke that she ruined any ideas of casual sex or friends with benefits for me. For the first time in my life, when my core love language was being reflected back to me, I was happier and more balanced than I’d ever felt in my life. Even as things didn’t progress with us, we remained cheerleaders and champions for the other’s good fortunes. And we constantly reminded each other how wonderful we both were, and say “You can’t settle for almost. It’s 100% or nothing.”  She got there first, but my new relationship blasted in and transformed my life in even more unexpected ways.

I Fall Down, But I Get Up Again

Freeing myself, even temporarily, from the heat of the hunt, I was able to see myself a bit clearer, as well as the women around me.

When my new woman arrived on the scene, my scene, we’d actually known each other for five years. Our Facebook connection was always warm and casual, as Facebook usually is. And because we worked at the same agency for a period of time, though not together, we had about 20 or so, mutual friends commenting and resurfacing each others posts on our news feeds. I certainly knew who she was. I admired her travel pictures and her marathon training and the physical form that entailed. And she had a wicked sense of humor that you could almost feel in her occasional photographs. Her mischievous smile and laughing eyes seemed to be coming from most of her photos. Even when they were with other men. (frown)

So, last Winter, I was determined to take my dating offline, and even take a break from dating all together. I noticed an immediate shift. I was no long a man in pursuit. I was just a man. The women around me, young and old, were just women, not targets or objectives or honey traps. Freeing myself, even temporarily, from the heat of the hunt, I was able to see myself a bit clearer, as well as the women around me.

And it was in this exact period that a photo on her Facebook wall caught my attention. It was a picture of Laphroaig Scotch, which initially would not have been interesting to me at all, but the caption told a story.

“Silly Ex Boyfriend. Always give a gift you are happy to get back.”

I liked her post (odd move, right, liking some adverse event in someone’s life) and wrote her a Private Message about my sympathies. We had been Facebooking a little bit in December before my band played a gig. She intended to come but fell asleep and missed it. We’d been bantering back and forth in Private Message about that, so a little message to her, saying, “Sorry about your breakup. They suck.”

And The Rest is History

In her immediate response she mentioned Tennis. (A key word for me.) She later admitted to knowing a lot more about me than I knew about her. She had been reading this blog and knew that I was back into tennis in a big way. She laid the bait out and I took it for a full run and we made plans to hit some tennis balls the following weekend. Except the rains came and when she noticed the forecast she suggested a movie instead.

DATING RULE: Both partners have to put in equal amounts of time and energy finding ways to be together.

Sparks, passion, joy, jokes, banter, more sparks, more time in touchy-feely land. We moved rapidly into something beyond dating that first night we kissed.

Even through the movie and a follow-on non-date to see some music, I was being very chill with my emotions and intentions. I was, in fact, playing it cool. I was also, trying to observe her from an objective point of view before I let my heart and libido engage. And at first I wasn’t sure is she was shy, or introverted, or if my touchy-feely thing was going to be overwhelming for her. I kept my closeness but I never went in for a kiss or much beyond a nice hug.

The next day, after our music night out, she sent me a text.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn’t want to distract you on your first day at the new job.”

I replied, “Ah, then my plans are coming together nicely. See you on Friday.”

Sparks, passion, joy, jokes, banter, more sparks, more time in touchy-feely land. We moved rapidly into something beyond dating that first night we kissed. I suppose my trial period, my austerity, ended with a bang. I was revving up inside my heart even before the movie, but after the kiss… I was in FULL JOY MODE.

The beautiful thing is, so was she.

Honeymoon Period

We have pinched each other and ourselves over the last 6 months. Each time something happens and we take a leap of faith into the relationship, we’ve both been surprised by the ease at which we’ve grown to love each other. Today we frequently tell each other, we’ve never been in love like this. Ever. Two marriages for me, and this is simply the best relationship (again, only six months old) I’ve ever been in. There are a lot of factors that might have given us the lightning quick connection.

  1. We have both been married and divorced.
  2. In our failed marriages we had both been the partner fighting FOR the marriage.
  3. We have a very similar sense of humor. (After watching a bit of Portlandia together, we constantly break out in similar character sketches. We’re taking a break from the show so we don’t become Fred and Carry.)
  4. We love athletics. She’s been a tennis player, but she’s becoming a Tennis player. And she’s a runner, so I’m running about 40% of the time now, rather than walking.
  5. We talk.
  6. She’s touchy-feely.
  7. She is fearless about addressing issues and complications as they come up. (See previous posts on this blog. And she’s even suggested I write on certain topics.)
  8. We absolutely adore each other. (While this sounds like honeymoony stuff, we’re also fairly experienced adults, and puppy love can only account for part of the bliss we are feeling.)
  9. We love sex together.
  10. We pray and give thanks and appreciations all the time.

Are We Moving Too Fast

In my first touch-focused relationship I learned what it felt like to be adored by someone else. In this relationship I am feeling that again, but this time I absolutely adore her back. This two-way circuit completes a loop that seems to take us higher and closer than we could imagine. And sometimes, we ask ourselves, “Are we going too fast? Are we making a mistake and letting our joy and connection get ahead of the relationship?

I know that we are not.

With this woman, I have established my new JOY TRIBE. And my two kids are basking in the renewed joy as well. By showing them what a loving and happy relationship looks like, they can begin modeling their future relationships on healthy patterns. There are moments of doubt, silences that don’t get explained, and uncomfortable advice from friends and family, but we’re sailing onward.

And the smile on her face every morning…

Is enough to keep me smiling for the rest of my life. (Or that’s the plan.)

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

[Note: This is the post I’ve wanted to write since I began this blog over two years ago.]

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Drinking Fuzzy Navels and Spending Time Together Doing Nothing

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A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time.”

As you eventually become an adult, there are opportunities for self-regulation that begin to define you. For example, if food is your thing, you might give in frequently to the call of a Big Mac and fries. And for some folks the casual drink is the indulgence that gives them a warm fuzzy feeling. But again, as we evolve as adults we begin to look beyond the buzz and towards other objectives.

I’ve been learning a lot about my relationship to alcohol in the last six months, as I’ve been dating, and now living with, a woman who likes to drink. And  am exploring and dissecting why *any drink* at a certain time of day feels to me like an escape, a withdrawal of some kind. Is it? Is it just me and my projections? Do I set myself above the drinkers because I abstain most of the time?

Today, I don’t plan out my day by deciding if and when I’m going to have ice cream. I don’t think that much about it.

The other day, I got a chance to understand a bit of my own motivation in not drinking. My sweetie was excited about a new bottle of perseco (Italian sparkling wine) and I have to admit it looked delicious. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday. She casually poured two glasses and offered me one.

I didn’t mean to, but in some way I shamed her. I giggled and said, “No thank you honey. I don’t want that.” I was not trying to be mean, but the giggle was an indication that something else, my own issues, was in play. In some ways I thought she was adorable with her two flutes of champagne, and in some other region of my brain my reaction was, “What? I’ve still got things to do, and goals to accomplish.” And in fact, I was at that moment contemplating a late afternoon cup of coffee. I was on my way up and somehow the offer of a cocktail felt like an invitation towards distraction, disconnection, debauchery. WAIT! What?

It wasn’t that I imagined my sweetheart was a drunk or lazy or something distasteful. But it did rub me the wrong way. It made me feel superior in my denial of the diversion. Again, I was not consciously telling her she was bad, but my giggle said something else, and I wanted to look at what this was.

I was saying, “Awww, you’re cute. Look at you with your mid-afternoon cocktail. Not for MEEEEE. I’ve got dreams to accomplish, songs to write, posts to publish. I’ve got aspirations and I’m going to fuel them with caffeine not alcohol.” WOO HOO! But the message was clear, even if unspoken. “I’m better than you for not drinking. I’m stronger, more creative, and obviously more in control of my hedonistic impulses.”

But I was telling myself a lie with this line of reasoning. I was trying to set myself above the person I loved. I was trying to prove my sobriety was a badge of honor.

POINT OF ORDER: Not drinking is not heroic or valiant. Not drinking is a choice.

Okay, when I started trying to look beneath my bravado and self-congratulatory shaming, I wanted to understand what the disconnect was for me as this beautiful and caring woman offered me an invitation to enjoy a tasty beverage with her.

Sometimes that is exactly what is called for in life and in a close relationship. Let go. Let yourself be intoxicated and alone with the mere presence of another person.

A few weeks ago, we were vacationing in New York City and we were spending our afternoons exploring the city on foot. And as we traipsed around the city, I noticed how my attitude about drinking together was different. In New York, “on vacation,” I allowed my own self-judging, self-regulating attitude to relax a bit. A cocktail in the afternoon on vacation might lead to lovemaking and a nap. DELICIOUS.

One evening as we were chilling in the hotel restaurant/bar I suggested tequila shots. (Tequila tends to have some kind of inhibition release for both of us, and it was Saturday night, and we were in New York City, on a vacation we’d planned for months.)

The tequila shots were delicious. And as I went back to get my truffle oil fries, I swung by the bar and got us another round. Something in me was enthusiastic about the alcohol and the warm rush of tequila faires around my chest and neck.

Two things seem to be illuminated by thes different situations and approaches to drinking with my sweet woman.

  1. For me alcohol is an occasional release, a flight into fuzzy navels and potential escape. As a joining activity, the flood of joy and warmth is as intoxicating as the alcohol itself.
  2. A drink together is a way of slowing the world down, letting go of dreams and expectations of the evening, or afternoon, and allowing the infusion of alcohol and proximity to draw you closer.

When I am still mapping out options and ideas for the evening or late afternoon, a drink is almost comical to me. It laughs at the poems and songs I want to write and says, “Ah, come sail away with me.”

Sometimes that is exactly what is called for in life and in a close relationship. Let go. Let yourself be intoxicated and alone with another person. And while a drink is not required for these feelings to be expressed, the liquid lubrication can often loosen expressions of both concern and adoration in a non-threatening way.

A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time.”

For me, if that decision came on a daily basis… “Hm, is it beer-thiry yet?” I think I would constantly be trying to make a choice about “being creative” or “being buzzed.” I have taken a good portion of my life and growing up to get my impulsive nature under control. For example, ice cream might be my kryptonite, but I don’t have to eat it just because it’s in the fridge. Today, I don’t plan out my day by deciding if and when I’m going to have ice cream. I don’t think that much about it. (Disclosure: if there is some tasty ice cream in the fridge I may crave it at all times of the day, but I don’t act on those cravings.) If alcohol had the same craving for me, I’d have to work a lot harder not to have it around, and not to set my objectives and quitting time by when I could have my first cocktail.

[Something about this explanation still feels defensive and superior. I know there is work to be done for me.]

Step one is allowing my sweet woman to manage her own life, her own afternoons, and her own creative, loving, inspirational trajectory. And my goal is not to put expectations on her for what we are doing “later tonight” unless I explicitly make plans with her. Since we are together now, so often, it can be easy to just assume we will be connecting and snuggling every single evening, even when that isn’t feasible or desirable.

Still, there is something in me that feels a pinch of sadness when she waxes poetically about a new malbec in the middle of the afternoon. My options are to smile and say nothing. To offer up plans that might point us both in a different direction. Or, releasing my own self-judgement, and joining her in a celebration of a day well spent and “beer-thirty” and “let’s see where this night takes us, together, no matter what we do.”

It seems to me, some of my resistance (and even repulsion) to alcohol is it’s ability to blunt my senses, to make me a bit more relaxed than I am without it, and to signal an end to my productive, obsessive, always-on, creative narrator. When I was younger I never wanted to miss a detail. I’m still a bit obsessed by being clear-headed and creative at all times. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to illuminate some detail of my past or future live.

Currently my sweetheart and I sail along together. I am learning to say what I want, what my intention are for the afternoon (on a Saturday, for example) and thus set some expectations for her of how I would and would not like to interact. I can only assume that when I suggest drinks it lubricates a fond and familiar togetherness for both of us. I am learning to embrace this idea and indulgence of time and attention.

POINT OF ORDER: A cocktail together cordons off a bit of time where your focus can be exclusively on the other person and the joy at simply being together.

A drink together says, “I’m with you. I am here. We have time. Let’s set off into the sunset and see where this journey takes us.”

Setting aside time to be with another person is a special thing. Allowing that time to have no agenda and no expectations is yet another level of joy and togetherness. For me, a drink can enhance the joy or dull the prospects of the follow-on activity. The choice is more about perspective than what is right or wrong. Navigating a relationship is about expressing your desires and expectations and not letting unspoken agreements or disagreements cause resentment. Love is the number one thing. Time is the ingredient. Stirring in coffee or tequila can have a radically different effect on the course of the evening.

Do I always wish that she would go for a cup of coffee rather than a glass of wine? No. Do I always have some twinge of pain when she pours another glass of wine? No. Am I learning what my relationship to alcohol looks like? Yes. Do I have the answers? Hell no.

Onward and upward, together.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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As a Nice Guy, My Cooperative Divorce Was Not Fair Or Balanced

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I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the way the divorce was going to go, once I agreed to actually get a divorce. We went, eyes wide open, into the negotiations about parenting rights, money, schedules, and I also felt like I had a cooperative soon-to-be wife who was not going to try to destroy me. The first part was true, the second part, well… Let’s see how the story goes.

Cooperative divorce is not for everyone. Some couples will have fights about money, kids, things, houses. Some couples may be able to part as friends. We decided we would put the kid’s needs above ours in every matter. That was the spirit of the start, as we began the road towards getting a divorce.

She had met with an attorney before we began these talks and she wanted what she knew she would get if we went to family court.

It just so happens that a lot of our individual desires can be expressed as being “in the best interest of the kids” when in fact they are just requests and preferences. AND the traditional divorce has always favored the mom-as-caregiver and dad-as-breadwinner and the legal system and precedents have all been set up with this in mind. I did not know this going in to our initial discussions with a divorce therapist, who was engaged to help us through the process of setting up a parenting plan, and staying focused on the kids needs rather than our issues or frustrations.

And again, I was imagining that I had a good perspective on my own feelings and needs. I did not. I knew that I was depressed about the divorce, but I didn’t know how this would affect my negotiations and participation in the process of divorce. I thought I was going to be able to hold my own. I was not.

In the first weeks of our “planning” we started discussing schedules and what each of us wanted. My first mistake was assuming that we both wanted a 50/50 balance in our divorce. We had decided to have children as a balanced decision. We parented them to this point in a very 50/50 style, though I would be the one making the most money to support her time with the kids. But this was a choice we made together, not just a stereotypical marriage.

Since accepting the fact that I was getting a divorce, I had been reading a lot of great books about balanced parenting, and fair divorce. When we were asked to bring in our schedule ideas I lead with a 50/50 split that had been recommended by one of the progressive books I was reading. What I didn’t know was my still-wife had gotten other advice. She had met with an attorney before we began these talks and she wanted what she knew she would get if we went to family court.

She wanted the traditional split in Texas (80% of divorces follow this structure)

  • Mom gets the house (so the kids can stay in their family home
  • Mom gets child support to keep the kids in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to
  • Mom gets primary custody, which awards her some significant rights in the eyes of the state
  • Mom gets a significant amount more time with the kids in the two-week cycle (something known in Texas as the Standard Possession Order, or SPO)

She knew this is what she could expect to be awarded if we were to go to court, so this was her starting point. This was her “best interest of the kids” scenario, as backed up and supported by the State of Texas Attorney General’s Office.

If you are a dad and you really want to be there as much as you can for your kids, FIGHT.

Now, I give my ex-wife a lot of credit for being organized, for planning ahead, and making great decisions both financially and about the kids. In this case I believe she was acting out of her own best interest as well as the kids, and I believe she was well prepped by her lawyer to enter the cooperative negations with this significant advantage on her side: she knew that if things didn’t go as she wanted, at any time, she could pull out and we could go to court and she would get exactly what she wanted.

When our high-paid counselor dismissed my 50/50 dreams with this statement, “That’s what she’s going to get if you guys go to court,” I should’ve been clued in to my mistake. I thought we were negotiating from a balanced perspective. I was sad. I wanted to get out of this “fight” with as little bloodshed as possible. I did not fight when this statement effectively tossed my 50/50 schedule in the trash.

It is at this very moment, if you are going though a divorce, that you should really know your goals. I was too emotionally wrecked to put up much of a fight. Even though I had a lot of good books and experts on my side, my idea of 50/50 parenting was dismissed within three sessions. Again, I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want to give up my time with my kids, and I didn’t want to agree to anything less than 50/50 parenting. But when push came to shove and the counselor started telling me to give up on that idea, I accepted defeat. This moment was the darkest in the entire process of divorce for me. What I feared most was losing time with my kids. And even thought I was paying half of the counselor’s fees I was given my starting point to be a lot less than I wanted.

If you are a dad and you really want to be there as much as you can for your kids, FIGHT. I did not fight because I was depressed, because I was the nice guy, because I wanted to avoid conflict. And while I don’t think my kids have suffered as a result of following the example set by the State of Texas, I do think I have lost a significant amount of time with my kids. Time I should’ve had as part of a more equitable split.

Today’s research about divorce and parenting shows that BOTH mom and dad are equally important in kid’s lives.

It turns out, I’m going to have to go to court now, six years later, and sue for balanced custody and a 50/50 schedule. Turns out that if she’s making more money than me she should be paying me some support. Perhaps this would’ve been a better plan in the beginning. Perhaps this would’ve been better for my kids. It’s not what happened, and I’m not sad about it, but today, knowing what I know, I would’ve stood my ground.

My son would’ve had more of me standing up for him as a young kid. He might now be more courageous to try new things. My daughter would’ve had fewer nights missing me. I would’ve had fewer nights missing them.

Today’s research about divorce and parenting shows that BOTH mom and dad are equally important in kid’s lives. So if you’re heading into divorce, and you parented in a balanced way, please take the time, make the effort to fight for what you know is right. By all means, if you don’t want 50/50, you can relax and let the standard deal get established. I didn’t have all the facts in front of me, and I was at a disadvantage. So I lost.

Today if I want to reestablish a 50/50 plan it’s going to cost me money and necessitate a legal fight, if all goes as planned she’s ready to agree to the 50/50 idea anyway. But you never know with my ex-wife. She’s got plans and ideas of her own. Stay tuned. And if you’re in a divorce planning phase, stay frosty. Don’t miss out on getting the time and closeness you want.

Stay positive. Love your kids. Respect your ex.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Present and Future Perfect Planning In Your Relationship

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We’ve all got stress. We’ve all got moments, Friday afternoons are a great example, when the breaking point is reached, and if we’re lucky, the weekend is ready to open up before us. Ah, the WEEKEND. A time to cut loose, rest, rebuild ourselves and our love lives, and … And then we still find time and need to be distracted. Taken off point. Unplugged from our goals, plans, work, whatever.

I pull my headphones on, engage the noise-canceling function and boom, I’m in a moment of zen, right in my living room. Turns out, sometimes, I’m just looking to be distracted. Even the good things (okay, the great things) are often stressful.

She has a different type of creativity. Her’s is for dreaming up what’s next and then making the dream a reality.

And recently there have been too many good things to even list. But I can tell you the biggest impact has been the woman of my dreams showing up. And even in that blissful honeymoon-ish state, I still need time to disconnect. I guess we call it “alone time,” but sometimes it is just isolation time for me.

Isolation is a funny thing. I can be Facebooking like made, reading 5 articles on 5 tabs in my browser, and taking notes for new post, and I feel like I’m really connected, alive, multitasking. But, if I’m honest, I can see how my social media passion is also an escape from the present.

I was having a similar discussion with my new significant other about the concepts of backwards and forwards time, I first encountered in Time and the Art of Living. Here’s my basic paraphrase.

1. Present Moment. What we’re all striving to stay focused on. Meditation. Awareness. Conscious sex. Honest conversations. Listening. Hitting flow. Whatever you want to call it.

2. Thoughts about the future.

3. Memories of the past.

While I do think that keeping our attention on the present moment is a very powerful tool, there are times when these two other modes of time can be helpful and illuminating as well.

As I was chatting with my woman about the house we are buying next month, and she was working on a lot of details. She was measuring the rooms and comparing them with our current house. “Do you know we’ll have half a foot more width and length in our new house?” she asked, excitedly. At first I was thinking she was over thinking it, and then I remembered this concept of future time.

When we project ourselves into the future, it can be a wonderful exercise. We can begin to set goals and ideas for what we want, what we are looking forward to in the new experience. Setting up a framework for the future plans. And sometimes the projections in themselves can be lovely moments. As I leaned into the dream with my future wife, I enjoyed hearing about her fantasies regarding the new house.

“We can have romantic evenings in front of the fireplace.” And of course, we will. But in this very moment, projecting our ideas,  we could go there together. And everything, absolutely everything could be perfect in our minds. And this positive projecting can have bonding and energizing effects on us. We can find motivation and inspiration for what needs to be done to create the perfect moment we visualized.

And certainly we will live in this new house together. And certainly we will enjoy a glass of wine in front of the fire place. And it’s not as if the longing for that future moment causes us to miss out on some experience of the present moment. Actually, in projecting ourselves into this future-perfect moment we are creating an image of reality that we can actively create. (Did I get too woowoo on you there?) Let me give you a quote from the book.

Fast drivers can see no further than slow drivers, but they must look further down the road to time their reactions safely. Similarly, people with great projects afoot habitually look further and more clearly into the future than people who are mired in day-to-day concerns. These former control the future because by necessity they must project themselves into it; and the upshot is, that like ambitions settlers, they stake out larger plots and homesteads of time than the rest of us. The do not easily grow sad or old; they are seldom intimidated by the alarms and confusions of the present because they have something greater of their own, some sense of their large and coherent motion in time, to compare the present with. – Robert Grudin.

So it is this projection of a great project (in this case the house – and perhaps the house of our relationship) that I am willing to indulge in with my sweet woman. And together we can map out some ideas about what we want to create, not just physically, but emotionally as well.

A relationship is a lot like this. You state ideas and dreams to see if the other person resonates and lights up. Like a trial balloon.

“Wow, this cold night feels like New York City,” I said, some months ago.

“Do you want to go to New York City together?” she asked, clutching my arm against the wind and splinters of mist.

“Yes, that would be awesome. To walk the streets together. Like this.”

We’ve been taking wild flights of fancy into our imaginary future relationship as we give voice to various whimsical and fantastical ideas.

And with that she took several steps over the next week to book a trip together. This was still pretty early on in our relationship. WOW. I remember thinking, “What the heck? New York, so soon?” And what I learned was, she likes to set plans in motion, she likes to have events or travels to look forward to. Almost like my big ideas that pull me along. She has a different type of creativity. Her’s is for dreaming up what’s next and then making the dream a reality.

And here we are. Leaning forward into the next chapter together.

We have both been floating ideas and catching them as the other person tries out a together-dream. The two of us have found very little resistance, and thus the connection and commitment, which might freak some people out, has seemed right and natural. We still ask each other, as we ask ourselves internally, “Are we moving too fast?” The resounding answer is always the same.

“No. And I love you.”

That’s been the path. Present moment work staying focused on our jobs, our projects, my kids (for me), and we’ve allowed the future to unfold before us. Yet, at the same time we’ve been taking wild flights of fancy into our imaginary future relationship as we give voice to various whimsical and fantastical ideas.

Stay focused in the present moment, but do allow yourself to dream and project into the future with your partner. Opening those doors of dreaming together has been a gateway of power for us. So far… We’re batting 100%! Let’s keep heading in that direction.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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A few references for your time as art process.

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Divorcing with Kids: The Golden Rule – It’s About Time Not Money

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[Disclaimer: I am not a divorce attorney or a licensed therapist. The information I provide is my own story and my own experience of divorce. Please consult professionals if you need help negotiating your divorce or parenting plan. I am also not a men’s rights advocate. I believe in equal parenting roles as they best serve the children.]

Divorce was the biggest disruption and reset of my entire life. And because we had kids, I knew the way we handled the separation and business of divorce was going to be of critical importance to them. My Dad’s departure from the scene in my 3rd to 5th grade years, changed everything about my life.

Even though a lot of the divorce process is about money, the focus should really be on the time.

I remember the moment I learned that my then-wife had been to consult with an attorney. I called my long-time mentor and sometimes therapist and asked how soon he could see me. Within hours I was in his office sobbing. It was clear as I began talking about what was happening that I was grieving as a 7 year-old boy. I was crying for the sadness inside me that was really about *my* parent’s divorce.  I could still feel the broken heart as if I was reliving it.

My concern, going into the divorce was how to protect my kids from experiencing the disruption that had blown through all of my childhood family dreams. Later that evening I argued with my then-wife about her request that I simply leave the house. “We can tell them you’re going on a business trip, or something,” she’d said, earlier in the therapy. She said she needed a break from the intensity.

It was April. Our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, two months from completing the year. I flat-out refused. Even as the therapist was telling us he thought we could use some time apart, I disagreed.

“The divorce is going to take a while to figure out,” I demanded. “We’ve been living as roommates for some time. We can make another 6 to 7 weeks until school is out. I’m not disrupting their school year because you want a break.”

It was a very hard close of the school year, but I am proud I stuck to my guns and stayed in the house. Sure, my kids were aware that things weren’t great, but they didn’t have the ground torn out from underneath them either.

I lost over 65% of my kid-time because I was “given” the SPO and the non-custodial parent role.

As we went into the negotiations around separating our two lives, we did a good job keeping the “best interest of the kids” ahead of our own. We paid money to an expensive and fantastic therapist who made her living helping couples build amicable parenting plans to guide the next 5  to 10 years of their kid’s lives. We paid to meet with a divorce accountant who modeled the various scenarios. (She keeps the house. You keep the house. You sell the house.) We did everything right, as far as we could tell.

In this process, I was grieving as we went along. I even caused a pause in the process when the parenting-plan therapist learned that I didn’t want to go through with the divorce. We took and extra week, and a few sessions to see what that might look like, if we didn’t get a divorce. I was trusting in the team we had hired and in my still-wife’s good intentions towards the kids. Everything was about the kids.

Even though a lot of the divorce process is about money, the focus should really be on the time. As I was trying to be the compliant good dad, good guy, good divorcing man, I began to compromise on some of the items I had come to the negotiations with. And as my then-wife was focused and clear on her desires (custodial parent, house, child support) I was a bit disoriented. My only expressed desire was 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting.

The problem was, even the cooperative therapist began to tell me I should settle for what she wanted. And at that time, six years ago, in the state of Texas, she was accurate when she said, “That’s what she will get if you go to court. She knows that. So let’s just start with things we can negotiate.”

Even as I was clear and determined to have a low conflict divorce, and to get as much time as possible with my kids, I was a bit misled by our counselor. It was 50% of my money that we were paying her to stay out of the courts. And she quickly sold me into the bad deal that is offered as the typical divorce in the state of Texas. (And likely in your state.) The phrase Standard Possession Order becomes the law of the land, and in our case, I was asked to accept that *very* unbalanced arrangement so we could move on to the schedule and the money.

The money will come and bite you in the butt if you don’t pay attention, but it was the kids and time with the kids that I was most interested in. And within a few weeks I my 50/50 schedule ideas were tossed out.

You may, in fact, have to sue to get what you want. But if what you want is to be present with your kids as much as possible, you should go for it.

Now, five/six years later, I can tell you this: If you want 50/50 parenting, go for it. Sure, you may have the odds against you, depending on your state and your case, but if that’s how you parented, I think that’s how you should parent after divorce. The old concept that the mom is more essential to keeping the kids happy, simply doesn’t hold true. The attorney I talked to recently about renegotiating my divorce arrangement said, “If you go in looking for 50/50 parenting, and have some reasonable evidence to support your ability to parent, we’re liable to win.”

The tides have shifted somewhat. I believe you will most likely be offered the simple deal. And for some more traditional marriages, the non-custodial/custodial parent plan works. But for the dads who are 100% into their role as DAD as well as their role as breadwinner, I believe the effort well worth it.

I lost over 65% of my kid-time because I was “given” the SPO and the non-custodial parent role. I also ended up paying more than I should’ve, because the theoretical job didn’t materialize to support the decree. By that time, the only option was to sue my ex-wife for a different arrangement, or different financial terms. 1. I didn’t have the money to fight; and 2. I didn’t want to sue anyone, much less the mother of my kids.

You may, in fact, have to sue to get what you want. But if what you want is to be present with your kids as much as possible, you should go for it. I didn’t have the choice, based on the people I put trust in and the system that was setup years ago in favor of the mother. And my regrets are few overall, but with hindsight today, if I knew how much I was giving up, I would have fought for the TIME. The money, even as unbalanced as it was, was less of an issue.

If you put your kids first you may need to fight to get what you want. And by putting your kids first, sometimes you may have to fight their mom. But to be the best dad you can be, you have to be there, you have to spend time with your kids. All of that time that was taken away is now water under the bridge, but today it’s much more clear for me. I take every offer to have the kids an extra night, or to support my ex when she has to work late.

Time is the number one parenting resource.

Stay positive. Love your kids. Respect your ex.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Third Glass is an Anti-Aphrodisiac for Me

WHOLE-winehanger

A wine rack does not an alcoholic make, a wine lover does not a problem reveal, drinking is not the devil’s work, prohibition has never solved anything.

I’ll admit, drinking from time to time is fun. Last night for example, we had a round of margaritas at a nice restaurant. And the happy hour appetizers made the accidental outing more like dinner than the spontaneous happy hour it actually was. And as I was the driver, I waved off the second round for me as I was nodding for my sweetheart to have another. It was a warm fuzzy of an evening at that point. All sparkle ponies and grinning selfies from the comfy couch.

We were both feeling fine when we left before the real dinner crowd arrived. We’d missed the major 5 o’clock traffic jam and arrived home in 20 minutes. In the kitchen we discussed what movie or show we were going to watch.

“Well, I think we’re going to need a short format show,” I said, as she poured a glass of wine. Sure there was a moment of disappointment as I acknowledged her eventual departure, but I was okay with the idea. I had things I could do after she fell asleep.

“I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

And that’s really part of the deal. If the third glass becomes routine we will be spending a lot less quality time, lovey dovey time in bed, a lot less deep explorations of our thoughts, aspirations, and plans. When the third glass enters the equation I begin to clamp down on the inspired discussions about plans, hopes, and dreams. There’s some pause on my part, when the smooth and slippery tone enters her voice. It’s cute. I’m not angry about it. I just begin to plan what else I’m going to do after she falls asleep.

The night before, as she put her empty wine glass on the kitchen table, saying, “Might leave this out for a bit more.” We smiled at each other as we did the dishes and generally cleaned up the kitchen together.

As we were down to the finishing bits I picked up the empty wine glass and said, “Would you like me to wash this?” I smiled. I was not being passive aggressive, she knew exactly what I was asking. She picked up the glass, smiled at me and proceeded to fill it with ice chips. Both options were still available to her. She poured the glass full of bubbly water. A new smile crossed her face. The smile that acknowledged that she would rather stay close, connected, and beside me for the night.

“Because I’m fine either way,” I said, before she had decided. “It’s just that if your going to have another one you’ll probably be pretty sleepy. Maybe we’ll skip the show all together.”

Her decision was towards me. Later in bed we talked a bit more about it.

“I hope my hint wasn’t to over the top or irritating to you,” I said.

“No, it’s good. I want to stay close. You’re a good influence on me.”

“I just don’t want you to miss a minute of this live between us. I’m so enthralled and in love that any distraction takes me away from being 100% aware and present for you.”

“I don’t want to miss any of you either.”

“So I didn’t hurt your feelings?” I asked, reaching out to take her hand. I wanted to get this moment crystal clear between us.

“Nope,” she said. “I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

“Well, not all times,” I said. “It’s okay to imbibe a bit. It’s even okay to go for glass four and five if that’s what you want to do.”

“I like that you don’t really drink that much. It makes me more conscious of my drinking. And I know less is better for me, and better for us to stay close.”

The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face.

I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply. “There isn’t enough time in the rest of our days together for me to tell you and show you how much I love you. I’m going to express it as often as I can, and the more you receive the more we both grow.”

It’s hard, sometimes, being the light drinker. I occasionally feel sorry for myself, wishing I had an easier way to eliminate the drinks for the evening. It has crossed my mind at various times to make some demands, to set a challenge in place, but that’s also my child of an alcoholic talking, rather than a compassionate and loving partner.

Let me get this straight. She’s not an alcoholic. She likes to drink. Occasionally she likes to drink more than she likes to be with me. Together, when we are drinking, there’s a warm fuzzy glow. Most of the time, I turn back to water and clarity of purpose so I can get on with some of my aspirations. I’m not against letting one rip, but I don’t ever aspire to have a hangover. And that’s enough for me. A buzz is fun. Intoxication is not. For me.

The navigation and negotiation around drinking or not drinking is an on-going discussion in many relationships. Often it’s a struggle within an individual to make the choice away from that third glass. But my dry-drunk mentality is no healthier than the alcoholic’s. I am in my own fantasy/nightmare that has very little to do with her and her third or fourth glass.

Had I allowed the knee-jerk asshole to pass judgement on her and *any* drinking, I could’ve easily passed on the love of my life. I believe we have a lasting partnership. I also know we’ll have plenty future conversations about drinking, not drinking, wine or beer, or in my case, more often than not, bubbly water.

Our worlds have collided and in some ways merged. For the better. I’m enjoying a bit more downtime. She’s enjoying a bit more ON time as we head into the evening’s entertainment with clarity of focus and intention. And then we can reverse the mode as well. Alcohol is certainly not the only inebriant. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of healthy food, all produce altered states of mental health. Even a sleeping pill I love has the potential to give me a buzz rather than kicking off a good night’s sleep when I’ve had a bit too much afternoon coffee.

We are on this journey together. She is open to my questions and suggestions  and desire for her to be more present when we make love, for example. She is okay with dancing her dance and meeting me halfway in the discussion about what WE want. The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face. She confronted and accepted my depressive episode. She laughed and applauded my recent job loss from the mean dysfunctional corporate gig.

Here we are.

I may cross over to the realm of the third glass and beyond from time to time, when we don’t have to drive anywhere. But the choice to be come less conscious is conscious. Decide consciously when are about to fill up your third glass. Talk about the evening with your significant other. If your plans have different trajectories, don’t judge or complain about. Take responsibility to say what you want and what makes you happy. Every night is a new conversation. Less and less about alcohol.

We’re just beginning our journey together. I cannot assume my ideas are correct and her’s are flawed. She is not flawed or damaged. She is strong and leaning in to all the aspects of me. I am learning to let go of my own baggage and lean into her, and all her facets as well.

The journey is marvelous and it continues.

This post is a continuation of the Third Glass idea:
The Trouble with Alcohol: She Likes To Drink, I Don’t

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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