10 Things I’ve Learned In the 5 Years Since My Divorce


It’s all about the kids. If you’ve still got a beef with your ex you need to get over it. There’s no point. You might have disagreements about stuff, but those should be handled with the same intensity as a convenience store clerk. “How much for a pumpkin spice latte?” “Four-twenty.” “Great, I’ll take two.” Beyond that, you should get support and counseling elsewhere if you’re still steamed about “issues.

There will issues in the course of parenting children, but the negotiation and consultation should be accomplished without drama or large emotional toll on either one of you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. My kids-time is the most important resource I have.

I cannot get enough of them. The divorce gives me less time. But it also gives me the opportunity to be more present when they are with me. I can parent at 110% when my kids are under my roof. And when they are with their mom, I can also offer help, transportation, and regular check-ins. If you can put your kid’s schedules in front of your own, you’ll be doing yourself and them a favor.

2. The nuclear family relationship never ends.

My ex and I have a lot of business to negotiate over the next 5 – 10 years or so. Our kids are 12 and 14, but the obligation to them and to each other doesn’t end at 18. What ever anger or unrest I have about my divorce or about her life, I need to take that up with my therapist, minister, or friends. My ex is struggling with her own issues, her own life, her own navigation of transportation and counseling required by being the parent of young children. Anything I can do to get my “issues” out of the way, I’m going to do it.

3. Take Some Time Off

Your emotional baggage must be cleared before you begin dating again.You can try jumping into a rebound relationship. You can try online dating as an escape from feeling what you’ve lost. You can try serial dating, or casual sex. You can try to jump straight from “family” to “single and dating” but it won’t work in the long run. The issues that caused your marriage to fail are likely to require some self-examination and recalibration. And any anger that you still hold towards your ex is going to come out in current relationships as sideways outbursts. Those moments when you’re furious about something rather trivial. If you’re experiencing anger sparks do your part and “take them outside.”

4. You Are the Project

Once you depart the family unit you’ve got a lot of time and a lot of questions. The time alone is a big gaping hole for a while. You may need support outside your family to get your alone-needs met. The quiet time, alone, is where you begin to remember what kind of activities make you happy. The first woman I dated asked me, “When you are really happy, what does that look like?” I was stumped. I was also clearly unready for a relationship, until I could answer that question. I needed to find my happiness again.

For me those things that fed me before my marriage and during my marriage were writing, playing music, and playing tennis. In the maelstrom of divorce I lost all perspective of what *my life* was going to be about, if not my marriage and kids. But that’s the key question. It’s another chance at resetting your life towards your ultimate goal. Asking yourself, “What is my life about?”

5. The Journey is the Goal

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your single parenting activities. And while you’re feeling the need to be super-parent, and you’re juggling after school activities, and all the other newly single activities, you also need to learn how slow down the pace and enjoy the steps along the journey. For several years I was actively seeking a relationship. I felt I had done the work on myself and I deserved an awesome relationship. I was in a hurry. I thought I wasn’t, I tried to play it cool, but I was striving a bit too much. I would go after second dates with online connections that were obviously not a match. I was running profiles on OK Cupid, Match.com, and Tinder. (Without much luck, btw.)

I was working too hard. I was too earnest as I looked in my date’s eyes for a clue or a spark. I was self-generating romance and potential where there was none. And as I accepted the frustration of my first two relationship attempts, I decided to stop broadcasting my availability. I decided I was NOT GOING TO DATE. And I was really not going to use online dating sites as an excuse for not engaging people in the real world.

The real switch was falling back in love with my life and orienting my “off” time around passion and joy. I was turning things inward and becoming the person I wanted to present to the world. My idea involved becoming the radiant lover I was looking for, and actively not looking for her. Sure, I was writing love poems and broadcasting them elsewhere, but I was determined that I was going to find the next relationship or I was going to be alone, for a bit.

6. Winning is a Team Sport

Things began to go right for me again, after several breakdowns and derailments. And as I was telling my son the other day, “When things go good for me, I can help with other things in your life as well.” I had given him a $150 pair of sunglasses unexpectedly. “And things are good in my life,” I said. “I’m glad,” he responded.

As I lifted out of the muck again, and continued to work on my positive influence, I noticed how things go easier between me and my ex-wife as well. As I was able to offer my help and support in various ways, she was able to relax her vigilance in other ways.

Yes, the best revenge is living well. But the better revenge is everybody living well and giving up the need for revenge.

7. Love Can Awaken and Nourish Your Soul Again

A new relationship arrived out of the blue. And the realignment of my life didn’t take long. In love, so many of life’s other complications fall off the radar. Magically, my ex-wife’s gesticulations became less overwhelming. It wasn’t that they changed. I changed. I began to glow with my own joy. I began to resonate with another person in a way that I wasn’t sure was possible again.

I had been hoping, praying, and working towards finding a *next* relationship. When the relationship showed up, in the real world, I was ready, willing, and able. That the transformation was mutual had more to do with magic, or prayer, or timing. But really, it had to do with my own relationship with myself and my kids. And as I continue to let go of my ex-wife, and continue to release even the frustrating parts of that relationship, I find even more of my livelihood waking up in my new love life. And my kids can see it.

8. The Ultimate Goal

We alone are responsible for our own happiness. And finding that happiness after divorce is a process of recovery. We must recover what was important in our lives before kids, and reset our our path back towards our larger goals. The journey is the goal, but our own happiness results from finding ourselves along the path. And as we bring that happiness back into the lives of everyone around us, we begin to see positive changes in everyone else.

9. Happiness and love are infectious.

10. Always Love.

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

A few more positive co-parenting posts:

image: dapper dad, cc 2014 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage
(follow john on instagram)

Celebrating 2 Years of Being The Positive Divorce Dad


You never leave the family, you just leave the house.

Two years ago I started this journey, finding the Positive in my divorce. My life was changed by the act of trying to reframe everything in a non-adversarial mode. Even when she would be mean, I would never respond in-kind. Ever. Having this blog, this Positive folder to put stories into made me more aware and more conscious of creating love and connection between myself and my kids. And in not riling up their mom, giving all of us an easier life, post-divorce.

As I have continued to weave my Positive Divorce story in the public eye, I have learned many things.

The angst of divorce is our own. The trauma of divorce is held within all of us. If I can behave in ways that support my kids in every interaction, I can remember to be kind, be slow to react, and be thoughtful of our continuous future as a family unit.

Things started two years ago with this post.

dad's gang

A Return to Wholeness After Divorce

There’s no way sugar coat it. Divorce is the single biggest event that has happened in the lives of my family, ever. As amicable as you want to make it (and we tried) things get rough, sad, hurtful, complicated, and confusing. And while we as adults can only fathom that chaos from our own perspectives, the churn in our kid’s lives will shape them forever. I know my parents divorce, and the subsequent loss of my father’s love and influence, had devastating effects on my life. I’m a survivor. I’m here to talk, write, and grow even more from the experience. But it sucked.


And along the journey to now, I have discovered many things about myself, about my kids, and about this process of divorce and recovery from divorce. The goal, when you separate is to maintain a civil relationship and do what’s best for the kids. It’s a lot easier to say that than it is to actually do it. Your ex will do stuff that baffles your mind. You will want different things. You will do the best you can. And it will be a challenge sometimes, but I learned that when I was able to hold up the positive white flag of surrender, I was able to set the tone for my experience of the divorce.

I also wrote the manifesto for what I was doing. It has been updated several times, but the core mission remains the same.

Becoming The Whole Parent, author, John McElhenney

About Becoming a Whole Parent Again, After Divorce

My unwavering and immutable mission:

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


In the second month I met Arianna Huffington at a tech conference. When she gave out her email and asked for ideas I was typing the message and including my post from earlier that morning.  All Available Light: Positive Parenting Energy Is Never Lost. I think that post really turned a corner for me. I was hitting stride and developing a different voice that would grow stronger the more I wrote. Arianna emailed me back within hours and I became a HuffPo blogger. See my archive: John McElhenney on the Huffington Post.


It was at this point, a good three years into my divorce journey that I hit on my home run post. (Still getting the most reads of any page on my blog.)

What A Single Dad Wants In the *Next* Relationship

Rules for dating a single dad. (I’ve got two kids and a full-time job, but I’d still like to find time to be with someone.)

  1. Let’s not rush into things.
  2. I’m Looking for 100% Pure Connection
  3. I’m Into Moms

There’s more, but you can read it in the post.


And next was the 2nd post divorce relationship and first experience with navigating another person’s resistance and dysfunction. All the while, learning to let it go, take it easy, and keep my focus on the present moment and not wondering and worrying about where we were going.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 7.55.42 AMLearning About Sex and Dating As We Go Along

Dating is not marriage. In fact, dating (which I admittedly don’t know much about) can be shut down by getting too serious or too future-plans oriented. As my schedule and future is quite flexible, I was surprised how quickly my “relationship” concepts changed yesterday when confronted with a challenging dilemma. On one hand I had met and “dated” an amazing woman. One the other she was telling me how our closeness and chemistry was freaking her out.


And then I was able to open up a bit about post-divorce depression, which is common for us empaths.

WHOLE-thekissHow Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness

Today, over four years after my divorce was finalized, I was still struck by a pang of sadness as I was dropping my kids bags off at my ex-wife’s house, the old house, our old house. I wondered, “How long will it take before I feel nothing?” But I immediately knew the answer. I will always feel a loss when dropping my kids bags off at my old house. The rest, what I do with those feelings, is up to me.


Everything seemed to fall into place after I wrote this important post.

WHOLE-prayerPrayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”


And from that point on, this blog became as much about relationship building and dating as it was about divorce and difficulties. Rounding the 5th year after divorce, things began to change for me.

I was invited to do a few interviews:

I began to identify my core relationship needs and decided drop online dating as distraction. I put the intention out there for what I wanted, and started working on myself and my joy rather than pursuing a relationship.


I wrote The Deep Space Divorce Saga which began with

My Little Rocket Ship of Hope and Love WHOLE-rocketship

I am hilariously ashamed, and… Laughing at my situation, because if I didn’t laugh at it, I’m sure I’d be freaking out, depressed, or drinking. Something to escape my current grounded state. Ready to laugh? Me too.


And it was right at this time, January of 2015, that an amazing woman showed up in my life and changed everything.

May I Fall In Love With You?

Do you long for the intoxication of love again, like me? I can feel it in my bones, growing stronger daily, as I grow stronger and more confident. And the more clear I get about 100% or nothing, the easier it is to make decisions about my time and efforts. Dating and a relationship will be a core part of my life again. Today, not so much.


The new non-dating attitude and honest reinvention of myself had called in the perfect woman. I could not have known it at the outset, in January, when I wrote the post above, but within several months there was an entirely different thread being woven on this blog.

whole-bw-coupleAn Amazing Thing Has Happened

She arrived in my life in January of this year.

In February of this year my life fell apart, due to my own emotional tides and I slipped into a depression. I did not see it coming. I was on top of the world, and boom, I was freaking the hell out. And then the most amazing thing happened. She stayed close and connected.


And the rest, as they say…

Thank you for staying on this journey with me. The outpouring of love and support has been vital at times. My positive attitude continues to get stronger and project itself into other’s lives, through this writing. I am learning. I am growing. And I hope, I am becoming a better father, ex-husband, and lover. Let’s see where we go from here.

I think my latest post shows a continuing search for meaning in all of this love stuff. And I’m very excited to be back on that path again. This time for good.


The Care and Feeding of Your Lover

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment.



Always Love,

John McElhenney

Note on the intention behind this post and this blog: Yes, divorce is hard. Trying to whitewash every single detail of a co-parenting relationship in some fantasy land haze would be of benefit to none of us. I am committed to owning my part in the divorce, always. And I am hopefully clear on my self-awareness when it comes to my own struggles with money, depression, communication breakdowns, and disagreements with my ex-wife. What I hope, is that this post doesn’t come across as a humblebrag, but as a celebration of the progress I’ve made in navigating the last two years of being a single parent and co-parent. I always appreciate comments and feedback.

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

The Care and Feeding of Your Lover


Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it how ever it best suits them in the moment.

In the course of a relationship with someone you begin to have a lot of influence on their lifestyle and habits. If you stay in sync with each other there is nearly limitless opportunity for support and encouragement. When things aren’t going so well, there is also the opportunity for resentment and discouragement.

In my marriage, we went through various stages of a connected relationship, but over time we began to fall out of step with each other. And what starts happening, is a form of the higher/lower game. Where one partner feels like they are doing all the work while their partner is slacking off, or even being destructive or worse, self-destructive. When communication breaks down, one of the parts that goes first is our empathy and compassion for the other person’s personal struggles.

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration.

We are all on a solo journey in the end. We come together, we live love and eat together, and then… Well, in the case of divorce, we come apart. But the fractures that create the final breakup have been caused by the smaller injustices that we perceive to have happened over time. We have several ways to get out of the death spiral: 1. we can talk to each other and work through the imbalances; 2. we can talk to a therapist individually about our issues; 3. we can talk to a couple’s therapist; 4. we can opt out of the relationship.


Opting out of the relationship can happen suddenly as in, “Honey, I want a divorce.” or more gradually as we begin to turn away from our partners and towards something/someone else. In my case the transition happened over a number of years and through a slew of hardships. We tried options 1, 2, and 3. And at some point she picked option 4: divorce.

The more challenging approach is to continuously opt back in to your relationship. This does require several fundamental transformations. You have to let go.


  • Your partner’s decisions are about them not you
  • A partner’s issues are also theirs, advice is always a bad idea, unless requested
  • Attacking someone else’s fitness is a form of self-abuse and sabotage
  • Not expressing your own disappointments and complaints is a form of passive aggressive behavior that will bite you in the ass
  • Controlling behaviors never work
  • Unmet expectations are the source of a large percentage of our unhappiness

Give your partner freewill but stay close and in contact — attachment is not the same as codependence.  When you let go of expectations about controlling or influencing your partner’s behavior, when you stop seeing yourself as superior in any way (that’s a hard one), when you can keep your focus on yourself and your issues, you can begin to get the relationship you truly want.


  • A connection based on mutual adoration and support
  • A lifestyle that supports healthy habits and behaviors in both of you
  • A process for releasing and working through issues as they come up between you
  • Some activities that you both find ecstatic.

If you lean in to the relationship and own your issues you can begin to see the other person in a more realistic light. They are human. Their flaws are their own. Their demons are solo projects and a rescue attempt (symbolic or physical) will most likely backfire. They do not need to be rescued. They need to be connected with you.

In my darkest period, right after 911 and after my daughter was born to my own unemployment and fears of survival, my then-wife and I struggled quite a bit. We both struggled with demons as a result of the circumstances. I gained weight and fell ill with a deep depression. She became withdrawn and resentful. As it turns out, I kept working on my own issues and struggling to find answers, solutions, in the hope that I would eventually return to my happy old self. I cannot imagine what she was dealing with or the struggles she faced as she saw me incapacitated at this moment of great need.

I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

We survived that bleak period and went on to raise two healthy children together. But the fracture, the mistrust that was planted during those crushing months, was probably enough to damage our marriage beyond repair. We tried. We were better at (2) talking to our individual therapists and (3) talking to our couple’s therapist than we were at (1) talking to each other. But that weakness, our lack of skills at disagreeing while letting go of the outcome, is also what doomed our repair efforts.

I’ll never forget the flash point several years later. We had just finished doing morning yoga together. And something was deeply troubling her. When I asked she unloaded with a brief burst of passion. “There is no rescue coming, if that’s what you’re waiting on. It’s just us.”

Her statement hit me on two levels. 1. She was terrified that I wasn’t going to snap out of my malaise and get back to work, back to supporting our family; and 2. She was certain that my actions, that my recovery, that my salary, is what she needed to be happy. But the real kicker was that I had not seen any passion out of her for months and this outburst came at a tender time between us when I was feeling loving and safe to reach out and support her. But her issue wasn’t her, her issue in her mind, was me.


I was eventually able to rebound from the loss of my consulting practice after 9-11 and the freak-out depression that followed. I gradually built my “working for the company” resume back up with a series of jobs. And we soldiered on as two responsible adults. But there was a missing element that had bound us together when we started dating. Her joy and playfulness never returned. At some level, the out bursts that began to crop up years later, were similar to this first one. Something I was doing or not doing was causing her to be miserable in her life.

I didn’t buy into that line of thinking, but that seemed to make her more furious and more distant. Sure, she was seeing her therapist and we were seeing our therapist but there was very little emotional connection between us outside of those efforts. As I tried to find my joy elsewhere, I began to write and spend time in my music studio after we put the kids to bed. I’d come to bed in the 1 – 2 range long after she had fallen asleep. I was also working a 9 – 5 job so our time together began to get stretched. My passion and creative thrust needed some outlet. And since our intimate relationship had also grown frosty, I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

At some point, we all have to realise that we can be *with* another person, we can be close and connected and loving, and yet, that person still has to deal with their own issues by themselves.


Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration. I adore my fiancé. But it’s different than when I met my future wife. At our age, we come to any relationship with a more mature attitude and more complex conditions of satisfaction. We have been through the fire with several relationships and seen what didn’t work. So we attempt any new relationship with a more mature perspective, but also a new set of rules.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment.
  • There is no time for passive aggressive behavior – if you’re doing it let’s call it what it is and either cut it out or cut and run
  • I won’t try to control you or work your program for you, whatever that is.
  • Let’s see how many things we align on and how many we differ on and be realistic about our compatibility. If there are things you are polar opposites on, how does that play out? Can you manage those differences without feeling attacked or attacking the other person?
  • What do we love to do together? Can we make the time to do those things?
  • How we hear each other’s requests says a lot about where we are in our lives. Are we feeling self-conscious about our weight? Then even a “hey, let’s go for a walk” can feel like a controlling question. But it’s not. It’s our own issue to reveal and deal with.
  • How do we want to support and cheerlead for our partners every day? If we don’t, if we’re feeling resentment, the spontaneous appreciations begin to drop off.


Make sure you’re living in the appreciation mode. That shows a lot about where you are with your life and how you are with your partner’s life, where ever they may be along their personal path to power/freedom/self-actualization/whatever.

And know that your relationship to each other is also fueled by your own spiritual beliefs. Joining in gratitude, even if you’re praying to different concepts of god, is a fundamental bond that strengthens you both with every joined or individual prayer.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment. If you are supportive and standing by, you will also be included in their journey. Perhaps this is the key to a lifetime of love and acceptance. Acceptance for yourself. Acceptance of your partner. And finally, acceptance of our individual relationship with God.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

related posts:

image: chasing my new lover, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

The Training and Education of a Reluctant Divorcé


It does not matter if you are the parent who says, “I want a divorce,” or the parent who is surprised by the fracturous disclosure, your life and the lives of your children will be forever changed. You can’t walk that one back.

For me there was no mystery that we were in trouble, the admission came during couple’s therapy, but the form and bluntness of the admission was even more devastating. Something she was saying, in response to a question from the therapist gave me a hint that all was not well. I struck with some sort of defensive instinct. I asked, “Have you already been to see a lawyer?”

That second. When she blushed and nodded. That second began my training to become a divorced dad.

In many ways I went under the bus with a quiet gasp. I agreed after several sessions more that working together required both of us wanting to be married. One of us didn’t.

The separation of divorce is not horrible. The divorce may actually be better for all parties involved. It is our reaction and past-history with divorce that becomes the issue.

I cried and wailed, but mostly to my individual therapist. And mostly I was crying about my parents divorce. I did not ever want to inflict that kind of pain on my kids. And at the outset of our divorce planning I was determined not to repeat the bitter struggle that defined my 3rd grader through 8th grader experience of life. Yes, my parents divorced over a long and extended battle. But it wasn’t so much about custody. It was about money.

We didn’t have a lot of money to argue about. We had debt, which would come into play later. And we had two kids, a house, and two cars. What we had from the start, and what we continue to put at the front of any of our discussions is the “best interest of the children.” Now, this phrase may come back to haunt you, but there are ways to get over your own pain and continue to be an awesome divorced parent.

It was early on that we agreed to do our divorce cooperatively. We would focus primarily on the kids and the parenting plan. We’d get a divorce accountant to help us “run the numbers.” And we’d agree to not fight with lawyers. We got through all of those agreements pretty quickly, once I agreed that divorce was the only course of action.

I sometimes try to play the higher/lower game where I blame my ex for the divorce. “It was her idea.” But the reality is, I was just as angry and frustrated by our relationship as she was. It was my parent’s divorce and the devastating aftermath that kept me terrified of divorce.

Newsflash from the present me to the just divorcing me, “It’s actually going to get better after you divorce. It might take a while. You’re going to have to do some work on yourself. But the divorce is the best thing for your situation.”

It’s no mystery that an unhappy marriage and angry parents breeds some pretty unhappy kids. Had my parents stayed married my life would’ve looked a lot differently. And while it’s easy for me to see how their divorce distanced me from my father’s alcoholic demise, I could not understand or cope with the loss when I was 8 years old.

Things are very different now. Most of my kids friends have divorced and remarried parents. It’s not a stigma for them. It’s *us* the parents that have to get out of the way and let the separation not be a horrible, awful, most destructive thing. Let me say that again for emphasis.

The separation of divorce is not horrible. The divorce may actually be better for all parties involved. It is our reaction and past-history with divorce that becomes the issue. I had a hard time with the divorce. I hated the idea. I fought to keep things together. And in the end I fell into a depression over the loss of my 100% parenting role. All these antics and struggles I needed to go through, I suppose, to finally break down enough to let go.

In the end, divorce is about letting go. But we’re letting go of the things that don’t work. We let go of the pain that comes from being in bed with someone you love and feeling more like surfing Facebook than making love. We let go of the fantasy that we had when we started the marriage and parenting journey, where we claimed, “We will be different. We will win. We will never divorce.”

The biggest transition in my life happened when I lost my marriage. The amazing thing is, out of the other side of this wreckage that I became, I also re-emerged as a writer. The plays and novels I had been trying to write, suddenly spilled out in blog posts about divorce and parenting.

What my divorce gave me was the freedom to become who I wanted to be all along. The roles and constraints of my marriage had strapped me into a course of action that was killing me. At my high-paying corporate job I was gaining weight, developing high blood pressure, and feeling pretty crappy about life. Sure, I came home to the picket fence and the smiling kids, but the wife was not so happy, and dinner was rarely in the oven.

Thriving as an artist, even if I don’t make a penny from it, is also part of my gift and my message to my kids.

The parenting dream and the American dream and the artist’s dream are often set up in opposition. If I can’t make a living as a writer or musician, I’ve got to find ways to make a living and hope that I can keep my creative passion alive in the fragments of time I have left. And parenting was the biggest responsibility I had, and have. There is nothing more important that my kids… Wait a minute. Let’s back that one up a minute.

More important than your kids is YOU. In order to be a good parent you have to survive. Depression and soul-crushing workloads are not acceptable. And more than survive you have to show them how to thrive, even under the circumstances that seem dire and depressing. In becoming a stronger person, in showing them how I could roll with the punches and get back up as a man and a father is one of the most important lessons I can transfer to them.

Thriving as an artist, even if I don’t make a penny from it, is also part of my gift and my message to my kids. You need to know what you want. From there you can rebuild from any set back and regroup, reset, restart.

The divorce was a hard reset for me.

The gift that I was given by my then-wife’s admission, was the gift of my creative soul. If I had aligned myself towards corporate work and being the good dad with the nice house in the nice neighborhood, I might have really suffered a death. My own creative death, and ultimately the death of many unhealthy white professionals who struggle along with little joy or passion.

I had the joy and passion in spades. I had a mis-aligned marriage which generated two wonderful kids. Today I have reset myself towards a creatively fulfilling life. I hope that my children learn from my example. That even in the darkest of times we may find the answer we were looking for all along.

My divorce was also my rebirth as a writer and musician.

My new relationship came to being out of an alignment with my dreams and hopes for the future, and hers as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

related posts:

image: father and son, creative commons usage

What You Can’t Tell Your Kids After Divorce


Dad’s tend to have a different experience of it, as we are usually the one’s asked to leave the house. The rest of the crew sails along as if we’re just on an extended business trip.

I’ve never been able to tell the kids how much I miss them. I can give hints and warm hugs when they return to me on my 30%-of-the-time weekends. But I cannot tell them that the divorce was not my idea or that I am sorry at how I didn’t keep it together for them. And maybe some of this is for the better. And certainly, the way things were going in the marriage, we were a long way from pulling ourselves back into the loving couple that asked for these marvelous kids. But still.

There is so much you can’t tell them.

  • How their other parent does these really irritating things to get back at you for something that still stings.
  • How the weekends without them, in the beginning made me question why I was living, oh, and then they’d return and the world would seem okay again, for a few days.
  • How you fought for a 50/50 schedule, but were read the “divorce in Texas” bill of rights and given what was to be expected.
  • How I fought with their mom, who asked me to simply walk out of the house, two months before the end of school, and how I struggled to stay civil and optimistic, and sane during those two months as they finished up 3rd and 5th grades.
  • How I cried when their mom told me she wanted a divorce, not for me, but for them, for the painful look that I knew would cross their faces, as it had mine when my dad left the family.
  • How I’d still like to have a 50/50 schedule, but negotiations with their mom has broken down so many times, I’m beginning to give up on the idea.
  • How I miss them every Monday morning as I’m dropping them off at school and won’t see them again until Thursday night, for a dinner-only date.
  • How closing up their rooms when they are gone is part of my process for keeping those sad feelings inside, where I don’t have to look at their things, or their beds, and feel it all again.

Divorce is huge for everyone. Dad’s tend to have a different experience of it, as we are usually the one’s asked to leave the house. The rest of the crew sails along as if we’re just on an extended business trip. We dads, on the other hand, struggle with finding a new home, a new community of friends, a new job with more money so we can actually afford a place to live and make our child support payments. While they go on without us, we are left to fend for ourselves.

Schools don’t really understand the divorced dad. We struggle to make sure we’re on the mailing lists from the kid’s teachers. We make sure we’re invited to the parent-teacher meetings. We’re seen as the “dad,” a creature who was probably the cause of the divorce, and not very good with kids either. The dad jokes about how the kids are dressed, how the daughter’s hair is done, or not done, about the state of the packed lunches from Dad’s house. It’s a hard bit of single parenting reality. Mom’s are nurtured and supported by their community of women. Men are left out in the cold, to our own devices and failings. And often we fail, just as expected.

My investment and interest in their lives has multiplied even as my time with them has been divided.

I started hitting tennis balls with a new friend a few weeks before my then-wife asked for a divorce. As we were hitting and talking later, I told him she’d asked for a divorce. “Oh, man! You need to talk her out of that shit. You know what’s going to happen, right? She’s gonna get the house and you’re gonna get the payments.”

He was right.

I lost his friendship a month or so later when I moved out of the house and out of the neighborhood with the tennis club. But I still see him around. He’d been through it before. But by the time she told me she was considering options, it was already a done deal in her mind.

I can’t tell my kids much about that time. It was hard for all of us. While they were adjusting to me not being around, I was living at my sister’s house, trying to find a new job that would give me enough money to keep me out of a shabby apartment. And I was depressed almost immediately, at the loss of everything I had worked my entire life to produce. They were the primary loss for me. Every night without them in my life has been a loss.

You can’t replace or redo the lost time. But you can grow back into your full self, into a whole parent, and be even better when they are with you. My investment and interest in their lives has multiplied even as my time with them has been divided. And we, their mom and I, have kept the discord and “adult” discussions out of their purview. That’s the way it is. Adult stuff is for us adults.

Someday, my kids will know how I fought for them and their 3rd and 5th grade Spring semesters. And I’m not sure what they will get from the information, but I know my tenacity has given me a lot of strength throughout this entire path to becoming a happy and hopeful father again. I tried to never let them see the other dad, but you can’t lie. They knew when I was down. But we talked about it, and my sadness, as something I was working on. It had nothing to do with them, or their mom, or the divorce. It might have had a lot to do with all of those things, but those are the parts that you never get to tell them.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

related posts:

Divorce Recovery Journaling: The Life You Write Is the Life You Live


The best revenge is living happy and seeing your family happy.

Journaling your way through your divorce is a great way to gather your thoughts, get your sh*t together, and just reset and re-gather your thoughts. Everything begins coming at you rather quickly the moment your partner says, “I’ve been to see a lawyer…”

It’s not important that you blog (as I did) but writing down your experience can really help you gain some clarity in your mind and confidence in yourself as you move forward. Some questions that are going to haunt you are:

  • Could I have done more to keep my partner interested?
  • Did I stick it out too long? Should I have spoken up sooner?
  • Have I done the right thing?
  • Will my kids hate me?
  • Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?
  • Will I ever be happy again?
  • Am I lovable?
  • After this, how am I ever going to trust again?
  • With everything I have to do now, as a single parent, will I have time to date?
  • Do I want to date?
  • Where have all my friends gone?

Writing about these things, in the moment, as they come up, can help you gain some perspective on what happened and why. But can also give you ideas about what needs fixing in your life, and what you want to leave behind.

I would not have made the full and swift recovery had I not been processing the feelings through my writing.

In my case, I started an anonymous blog almost immediately, after my then-wife said she wanted a divorce. I knew that I would be processing a lot of anger and confusion. So I kept that blog under wraps. Even today, I’d rather my two kids (12 and 14) not stumble upon my anger letters and love poems to new and potential women in my life. But the writing was the thing. I chose to write it out loud, since I already had experience blogging for social media. And that early feedback and support came in handy for me.

You don’t have to do your divorce alone. But most of the experience of it *will* be very alone. All of the processing of the emotions will be alone. But if you journal out the feelings you can become better and quicker at identifying things like negative self-talk, toxic anger, revenge, depression, loneliness. When you can identify and label what’s going on in your heart, you can begin to heal the parts that are broken.

In my process of divorce recovery, I spent the first year confused, sad, and angry. I spent the second year hopeful, depressed, and lonely. In the third year I felt excited, sexy, and optimistic. By the fourth year of my divorce, I had launched this 100% positive single parenting blog, and come a full 360 about my divorce. I would not have made the full and swift recovery had I not been processing the feelings through my writing.

In the emotional recovery from your divorce there are a lot of aspects that you need to identify and actively manage. Here’s my short list of priorities.

Parenting – how can I show up 100% positive and real for my kids?

Self-care – how can I keep away the depression and keep moving forward on my goals and aspirations?

Cash Flow – you’re going to have a lot more bills, and you won’t have a partner to split the bill paying duties.

Health and Fitness – even when depressed you have to move and get out of the house.

Friendships – old friends need to be rekindled, and new friends need to be sought out.

Whatever you do in your emotional recovery process, however you plan to manage the rebuilding of your life, please give yourself some time alone to re-find *your* center.

Dating – how can I possibly be attractive to any one, and when would I ever be interested in letting someone into my life again.

Sex – yep, sorry to say it, sex is a fundamental need, at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. We need it, we want it, but it’s not all that easy to get it and stay clear of potential emotional vampires.

Entertainment – You’re alone a lot. What are you going to do with yourself to stay balanced? (Read, watch movies, go out dancing, have coffee in various breakfast places around town during the week.)

Ex-partner Drama – it’s bound to happen. It happened when you were married, and now there’s less incentive to keep things cordial between the two of you. Take the time to get the care you need around this. Your ex is hurting too, but that won’t prevent them from taking a shot at you to make their pain or their guilt seem less painful.

When I began my other blog I was confused and bitter. But through the years, you can see the transformation in my writing. I wasn’t really writing for anyone but myself, but I did take heart when a reader would say, “me too” or “great job.”

Whatever you do in your emotional recovery process, however you plan to manage the rebuilding of your life, please give yourself some time alone to re-find *your* center. And you need to find your center ALONE before adding someone else into the mix.

Stick with it, your growth and recovery is the most important thing you can do for your kids, yourself, and even your ex-partner. They old saying is the best revenge is living well. Well, I’d re-frame that a bit.

The best revenge is living happy and seeing your family happy.

The life you write is the life you live.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

related posts:

The 3 Immutable Laws of Positive Co-Parenting


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 Positive 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

related posts:

image: sarangkot flight, creative commons usage

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


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

related posts:

image: promotional photo from the movie Boyhood, creative commons usage

The Transcendent Single Father


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

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 5.22.38 AM

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

related posts:

image: session, emiliano horcada, creative commons usage

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


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

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

related posts:

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

image: legoland summer, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage