Category Archives: anger

Staying Positive, Resetting, and Getting Positive Again

I try to stay positive with the mother of my children at all times, I really do. But she continues to do things that would get her divorced in any other relationship. Well, it worked out that way for her and me in the first place, but she doesn’t need to keep being difficult and self-righteous. I do a ton of things to keep the peace, but it’s tiring. When is someone going to offer me the merit badge for good friend and father? Never.

I would’ve thought marrying a man with money (her new husband) would relieve some of her stress, but it seems to have made her even more intolerant of my situation.

I know not to expect anything from my ex-wife. I mean, she really doesn’t owe me anything. In fact, I still owe her. But it’s a contract between us, my child support, and something I would not try to, nor could I ever get out of my obligation to my kids. Full-time employment in my field of social media marketing, can sometimes be a more hit or miss routine. I’m in for 10 months, have a good roster of clients, and then nothing.

About three years ago I hit a “nothing coming in” period and I reached out to her to explain the situation. Three years into the divorce, and still there was only flak and anger coming back at me. I shared my income, my prospects, and my business hunt on a weekly basis, trying to temper her need to press the whole “divorce” thing over the Attorney General’s office. For 45-days it worked. While I wouldn’t call it cordial, she was at least willing to give me a bit of time to figure it all out.

“Meanwhile,” she said, “I still have bills and I’m still forced to pay for things that we should both be paying on.” I was ashamed and motivated to increase my efforts.

She went ahead and filed on me. It’s the equivalent to sending your loved one (former loved one) to a collections agency. Suddenly my credit score fell through the floor, and I became listed as a deadbeat dad. What? How did all that happen? How did we get from coparenting, to answering to case workers and “pressing 2” for non-custodial parent?

And today she’s still certain that the 10% we pay to the AG’s office is some how worth her piece of mind, that she will be paid. I try to remind her that she get’s paid from every dollar I make. She doesn’t want to hear excuses. She wants to hear commitment dates.

I don’t see how having the state’s child support team clamping down on me is going to help. There is nothing they can do but threaten (which they do) and freeze my bank account

She’s always been very spreadsheet oriented, and she’s obviously paying close attention to her balance sheets. And any dip or change in the plan causes unwelcome drama all over her prospects for a better future. I would’ve thought marrying a man with money (her new husband) would relieve some of her stress, but it seems to have made her even more intolerant of my situation.

And, the bottom line, she is entitled to all of the money. And in the best case scenario, my current work search will provide a renewed steady stream of income for her and my kids real soon. But again, I don’t see how having the state’s child support team clamping down on me is going to help. There is nothing they can do but threaten (which they do) and freeze my bank account (which they’ve done twice – causing more than $1,000 added expenses and hardships for me, along the way.)

“But you owe her the money,” the AG representative told me, hours before he froze my account.

“Don’t you see that I’ve just gotten a new job and have registered this new employer with your office?”

“Fine, but what about right now? I’m going to take half the money in your account to go against the debt  you are obligated for.”

“But I need that money for the kid’s health insurance premiums.”

I don’t think she’s ever considered what it’s like on this end of her authority stick. But it didn’t need to go this way, and the 10% she’s giving the AG’s office for staying involved, is money that would be better spent on our kids.

I’ve proposed a few scenarios for securing her debt while removing the AG’s office from my backside. So far, she’s stalled and said she won’t have time to think about that for a few months. Wait, what? “It’s just a conversation I want to have, not a decision.”

She’s in control this time. Much more in control than she was in the marriage. Having the angry hammer over my head, must give her some satisfaction, knowing she could precipitate my financial shut down with one phone call.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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The Half-life of Divorce

Divorce is hard. Often both parents come out of the ordeal with hard feelings and resentment. You are the only one who can deal with your negative feelings. And you’re not going to be able to move on, to find another loving relationship, without dealing with them, so let’s get started.

  1. Anger directed at your ex is anger towards yourself and, if you have kids, the ones you love.
  2. Even the snarky text reply has consequences. Just don’t do it.
  3. Positive energy is often returned. Be positive, always.
  4. If you have kids think of them before every interaction with your coparent.
  5. The anger you have at your ex is equal to the internal anger you have with yourself at the failure of your relationship.
  6. Processing and letting go of anger at you ex is the most productive exercise you can do.
  7. Mental fitness comes before physical fitness, though the two are closely tied. If you are sad or mad, unless you know how to use those feelings for motivation, it is hard to get out there and exercise, especially in the heat of a Texas summer or the cold of a New England winter.
  8. Forgiving yourself comes first. Then you can forgive the other person.
  9. Neither of you is at fault. Even if the other parent initiated the divorce, it’s now water under the bridge and time to get on with the next phase of your life.
  10. No matter how bad you feel about the divorce, the loss of time with your kids, your ultimate responsibility is to heal yourself. Everything else stems from you getting, happier, healthier, and stronger.

In future posts I’m going to take on each one of these points in a separate article. But here is a brief encouragement to get you started.

Pain is an indication that something is unbalanced. Your sadness and pain at the divorce is no longer about your ex. Only you can deal with your frustration and negative feelings. So let’s get going.

  • Exercise (if it’s been a while, just start walking more aisles at the grocery store.
  • Eat good food
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • No matter how you feel, accept all invitations to be with others
  • Use entertainment sparingly
  • Don’t drink (sorry, the depressant effect of alcohol is working against you)
  • Pray or be spiritual in your own way
  • Cultivate gratitude (just count off the things you are grateful for upon waking and before you go to sleep.

You can get happy again. You can forgive your ex. And if you’re willing to work at staying positive you can find joy and love in your life again.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

image: half-life ad: creative commons usage

Custody Should Be a Collaborative Term

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If you are getting a divorce and you have kids, go for 50/50 parenting or nothing at all. FIGHT for 50/50 parenting and JOINT custody. Do not agree to be the non-custodial parent, under any circumstances.

Today custody in divorce w/ children usually means someone loses. Sure, there is joint custody, but the states usually like someone to be listed as primary custodian, otherwise recognized as “the custodial parent.” And for the rest of us, usually men, we are called the “non-custodial parent.” Seems like semantics, but let me assure you, it’s serious as hell.

In my case, even though we share joint custody, my ex-wife has the custodial parent role. While we were negotiating the divorce, this term didn’t mean anything to me. I was assured that the “joint custody” covered me in all issues and decisions related to my kids. That was a lie.

What it really meant, is that the minute I got the slightest bit behind on my child support (the non-custodial parent ALWAYS pays the custodial parent) my wife was able to file our decree with the OAG (office of the attorney general) and put my life into a living hell.

Imagine if you’re struggling already. Imagine asking the co-parent to wait a few months while the work situation settles out, so you can get back on track with payments. Then imagine your significant other saying, “Sorry, I’m filing with the AG’s office today. It’s for the kids, not for me.”

BS.

Once the decree is signed and you (the dad) have agreed to a specific payment each month, the AG’s office becomes a collection agency. They’ve got one of those lovely phone trees that asks before anything else, “If you are the custodial parent press ONE, if you are the non-custodial parent press TWO, if you are an attorney press THREE.”

You don’t want to be the non-custodial parent under any circumstances. Remember all that stuff you learned in couples therapy about power and control? The divorce brings out the worst of the dysfunction. And if your co-parent becomes a custodial parent, you are about to get punched in the balls. (Pardon my assumption that the dad is 80% of the time, the non-custodial parent, in my state of Texas.) If you are the mom who is non-custodial, then you can be prepared to have random titty twisters anytime there is a dispute.

But we weren’t having a dispute. I was telling her exactly what was going on. “My company just lost a big client, we’re struggling as quickly as we can, so if you can be patient…”

She was not patient. She waited exactly one month before sending me threatening emails. Talking about “for the kids,” and “not doing them a favor by letting you continue to not pay.” But here’s the problem with that ill-logic. Once you’ve signed a decree for divorce with kids, the child support agreement goes into law. Not even bankruptcy can wipe away your child support obligations. So if my wife was smart, and she was, she would’ve known this. I’m sure her attorney told her as much.

So if I’m not ever going to be able to skip out on my financial obligation to my ex-wife and my kids, what’s the point of filing against a cooperative parent? Power. And. Control. Now she has 100% of the power. And with the arm of the law she also has compete control over my financial future.

By filing with the AG’s office she effectively prevented me from restructuring my mortgage with Wells Fargo. She also got a lien placed on my credit score that began to damage my financial stability and resources immediately.

HARD AND FAST RULE: If you are getting a divorce and you have kids, go for 50/50 parenting or nothing at all. FIGHT for 50/50 parenting and JOINT custody. Do not agree to be the non-custodial parent, under any circumstances. You will regret giving in on this single point more than any other item in your divorce, so PAY ATTENTION.

In my future, I have my ex-wife to thank for the hardship of used car loan rates in excess of 19%. And she could care less. She claims to be all compassionate and always interested in protecting the kids interests. But suing your coparent is not protecting anyone’s interest. There was no need to attach a debt collector to my account, I was on the hook 100% and willing. But I went through a minor setback for one month in the summer three years ago. And I still can’t get a car loan.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

image: tango creative commons usage

The Big Three Marriage Issues and the Hope of Counseling

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Was it marriage counseling or divorce counseling?

Chores are the root of many arguments and most of the resentment. She always felt she did most of the chores. Even though our agreement tended to validate that premise, it still made her mad.

It’s all in your approach to therapy. In our case we started hitting the couch before we thought there was a deal-breaking problem. We agreed that things were stressful between us and we could use some communication skills to help us work through the hard stuff. Maybe even a moderator while we dug into topics like money, chores, and sex.

Those are the big three. MONEY. CHORES. SEX. And couples therapy can help you unravel the details, but probably won’t fix any of them. Let’s look at them one-by-one.

Money

Either there is enough and you are both negotiating the balance of power, or there’s not enough and you are negotiating who’s going to work more. It’s a hard discussion to have without outside help. Loosely our relationship to money was I would work more she would work less so we could raise the kids with an active parent. For that trade, I would do contribute to the chores, but the lion’s share, during the day, while I was at work, would fall on her to-do list. That was our “spoken” agreement. The reality was a bit more obscure. Often I was being hammered for wanting to nap on the weekend when there were still chores to be done.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: There will always be more chores to be done. Your happiness will be a direct ratio to how okay you are with undone chores. I was okay with them, she was hardly ever okay with them. Money can help, you can hire a maid once a week. But money will not fix the issue. We had a weekly made and money in the bank and still, I was not doing enough to “help.”

CHORES

Sex with two people who are open and feeling is a magical thing. Sex with only one partner in the “open” mode is a different experience all together.

Ah, the root of many arguments and most of the resentment. She always felt she did most of the chores. Even though the spoken agreement tended to validate that premise, it still made her mad. And this imbalance made her mad most of the time. The problem is, she was prone to be mad anyway. She had some-kind of built-in “mad chip” on her shoulder. And chores were one of those things. I could be in trouble even before I knew what was wrong. I’d look around the house on a Saturday morning and think, “Things look great.” She would wake up and give me hell. Oh yes, men and women deal with chores very differently. Perhaps that’s part of the Mar and Venus thing.

SEX

Sex is the unspoken killer of a marriage. Men typically want more. Women typically want to be bothered about it less. Unless they are in pursuit of a baby however, then libido takes a back seat to purpose and intention. When my wife wanted a baby we had sex all the time. Once we had the baby, sex became a negotiation. That’s okay, until the negotiation becomes so lopsided that you’d rather have sex with yourself then approach your partner. And sex was one of the topics we rarely reached in “couple’s therapy.” Because there were always one hundred other issues, from topics 1 and 2, that I was not doing correctly. It was almost like she chose to inflame the first two issues so we didn’t have to look at the underlying distress: intimacy.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: When sex goes the relationship is not far behind.

Sex with two people who are open and feeling is a magical thing. Sex with only one partner in the “open” mode is a different experience all together. I always hoped for open sex, but occasionally settled for “whatever” sex. The sex you could take or leave, even after it’s done. “Meh Sex.”

Towards the end of my marriage I believe my wife was navigating us towards divorce rather than reconciliation.

But boring sex is a symptom of some deeper intimacy issues. When a woman is feeling resentful or unheard she will shut down sexual options. It’s her nature. When a man feels unloved and stressed he might turn to sex for affirmation and affection. When the two competing needs don’t match up, the woman becomes used to not having sex and the man becomes more adept at pleasing himself than his wife. Bummer.

Sex is hard to talk about. So talk about it before and after you’re having sex, but don’t try to cover emotional topics or “new ideas” during sex, unless you are prepared for a quick change, reset, or no. The best discussions about sex happen within the post-coital glow, the few hours after sex where you are both still feeling warm and fuzzy.

“I loved it when you rubbed yourself during sex, and I could feel it too.” Pretty racy statement, but great information for better and more mutually pleasurable sex. Still hard to say. But easier to say when you are both feeling optimistic about the relationship and the sex you just had.

DIVORCE COUNSELING

Towards the end of my marriage I believe my wife was navigating us towards divorce rather than reconciliation. She had completely shut down the sex channel of communication. She was angry 95% of the time. And her single word to describe couple’s therapy was CYNICAL. Yep, she was already dooming the relationship while still agreeing to engage in the negotiations.

As it turns out, we were not in “couple’s” or “marriage therapy.” We were working with a counselor who worked with a system that attempted to get you and your partner communicating on a very clear and simple level. What you attempted to strip away in the therapy was the projections, and regrets and simply deal with the present. It worked so well, that over the course of a few weeks my then-wife went to see an attorney to understand her “options.” Now it would’ve been more helpful had she brought that up IN therapy BEFORE going and meeting with the attorney, but she didn’t.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: Couple’s therapy only works if both partners are honest and genuinely want the relationship to continue. If one partner is opting-out there is little hope that a therapist can repair the damage.

Something in our communication was telling her, “It’s over.” So she planned accordingly. Had she wanted to work on the relationship the only honest thing do to would’ve been to bring in the idea, “I’m thinking of seeing an attorney about a divorce,” BEFORE she actually did it.

Once she met with the lawyer, the divorce strategy was planted in her mind. The encouragement from the attorney who wanted the new business, might be too hard to resist. The fact that she did it before talking about it in therapy… Well, that says, I’m done, and I’m doing this therapy to help you feel better about what’s going to happen.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: 14 months ago at my mom’s house, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

The Dad Bro Show – Podcast Interview

Check it out. The Dad Bro Show interviewed me for their killer podcast. Learn stuff I haven’t already told ya. (grin)

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Give’m a listen. Two funny and articulate guys, who happen to be still married with children. They were a bit surprised to learn some of this stuff about custody and divorce. YUK. Great show. Thanks Bros!

A Good Man in a Storm, Even After Divorce

WHOLE-2015-writer

The irony here is often the storm is me. I’m sorry about that, me and my depression can cause a few problems. But for the most part, about 85% of the time when things are tough and about 95% of the time when things are good, I’m an excellent companion come rain or shine. It’s the rain times that broke apart my marriage.

She no longer believed in the promise of our marriage, and she decided to take her chances, and unfortunately the chances for the rest of us, with other options. Divorce options.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. We tried. We survived. We worked through enormous hurdles and came out of the trials and tribulations with two beautiful and blessed kids. No noticable defects so far. (grin)

But the hardships were unbelievably hard. In my mind that gave us even MORE staying power through the down times. But for my then-wife, something must’ve broken at some point. She no longer believed in the promise of our marriage, and she decided to take her chances, and unfortunately the chances for the rest of us, with other options. Divorce options.

It was sort of sprung on me, even though we’d be in couples therapy on and off for several years. You can’t say we didn’t work it. We were doing the best we could. And we did pretty damn good through the hospital times with our second child. And we did okay in the times when my depression debilitated me for about a year. (I can explain this later, but not excuse it.)

So we’d been going to therapy, not to fix our relationship, specifically, but to help us learn how to communicate better. To stay in the reality of the situation rather than our own projections of what we “thought” was going on. SCT, it was called.

And that aspect of our therapist was grand. He really was helping us break down our own fears and misperceptions and get back to what was actually real, what the other person had intended to say, rather than what we heard. He let us know he was not a couples therapist. He was helping us get centered and clear with one another. And maybe that was exactly what he did.

The problem with SCT, however, is it does not really deal with emotions about the realities. It simply redirects you to what you know and what you are projecting about the future or lamenting about the past. We spend, as humans, a lot of time OUT of the present moment. And that’s a problem. So Rich, wasn’t trying to fix us or fix our marriage, he was trying to get us to tell the other person what we really wanted. What was really bothering us. And keep it 100% real.

Now, it seems to me that this would have been the perfect venue for my still-wife to tell me she was considering life without me, BEFORE going to consult with an attorney. But she didn’t do it that way. I found out in REALITY THERAPY that she’d already been to see a lawyer. Then when the emotions flooded forward from my disbelief and shock, our therapist sort of fell short of the mark. He consciously didn’t jump in the middle of it. Well, actually he did. I’ll get to that in a minute.

“You have a very hard time with honesty. And I don’t trust that things are going to get better. And I don’t have hope for the future of this marriage.”

When my then-wife said exactly what she felt was her truth, it was actually a projection about the future. So in that aspect the therapist should’ve redirected her back to this moment and what was real. He did not.

Here’s what she ultimately said, “You have a very hard time with honesty. And I don’t trust that things are going to get better. And I don’t have hope for the future of this marriage.”

Here’s what I was saying about my reality. “Things have been hard. We’ve done great at working through hardships that have been thrown at us. And at this moment in time I have MORE hope that our future is as bright as it’s ever been. Even this therapy is stripping away our worries and helping us focus on what is real.”

But it wasn’t enough to convince her to stay with me. And I was devastated right there in our our little “emotion free” therapy session. And while Rich allowed her to stay in her projected reality, he also took her side when she asked that I simply walk out of the house that night and tell the kids I was off on a business trip.

Again, bullshit, and again a failing of our therapist who should’ve been helping us communicate rather than siding with one of us. He agreed that she was under such stress that she needed some time off. Some time to recover her center.

“Why doesn’t she leave the house, then?” I asked, point blank.

Neither of them supported that idea. I’m not exactly sure why. And I fought with both of them, again. Not really the right place for an SCT therapist, but that’s what really happened. He was convinced I should leave her and the kids alone for a bit and regroup to see if there was something to salvage. I was in my own reality that THIS WAS THE EXACT TIME TO STAY REAL rather then lie to the kids and run out the door.

So I stood and fought. And we went to two more sessions with Rich, more for closure then progression. At this point he retreated back into SCT and the reality of the situation. The last session was more of an apology between the three of us for not being able to save the marriage. We were saying goodbye to each other and to Rich as our enabler.

Some people have different happy set-points. And I think her’s is very different than mine. A ton of things could make her unhappy. And often she found, still finds, ways to make it about me.

I’m not sure I would’ve gotten better results from a Gottisman couples therapist. I’m not sure I really needed to stay in that marriage. Sure, I can say I’m sad about all the kid years of time I lost to her rash decision and our therapist’s inability to keep himself out of our business, but in the end, today, I’d have to say it was a good thing.

You see, some people have different happy set-points. And I think her’s is different than mine. A ton of things could make her unhappy. And often she found (still finds) ways to make it about me. How I’m not taking care of her in the right way.

Again, SCT would direct her back to the reality of the situation.

  1. You are unhappy.
  2. You think he is causing you to be unhappy.
  3. But the unhappiness is in your thinking and not in his actions. He is not preventing you from changing the situation if it gets that bad.
  4. You can change your thinking at any time.
  5. The house is not too messy. The house is more messy than you would like it. It’s not his responsibility to clean house until you feel better. That’s why you hired a maid.
  6. You’re too focused on what he’s doing or not doing. Focus on yourself.

Those are some pretty good words of advice for any relationship. Oh and this one.

If you’re not having sex with each other, and the disconnect goes on for months at a time, something is out of whack. Even an SCT therapist should key in on this REALITY. But he didn’t.

I hope the best for my ex-wife and the mother of my two kids. I see now, that with her new man, she’s still about the same. She’s not all that happy. He’s probably not doing exactly what she would like either. But that’s the real lesson here. In relationships people need to look after their own realities and the ways those realities intersect with another’s reality.

In the case of my then-wife, she was unhappy about many things. I was happy about many things. It seems to me today we’re pretty much in the same situation, we’re just no longer married, and there have been some real complications put into our court. And she’s pretty convinced that I’m not supporting her correctly. The good part is I am no longer answering to her happiness, I no longer need to do her chores. That was about her. And perhaps more about her lack of desire for sex.

It was a reality I could not manage. In the end it was a reality that should’ve split us up and did. I am now free to have a relationship with a woman who enjoys life, who wakes up laughing, like I do. Sure, she’s got a list of things she’d like me to do differently, and I’m sure I have a few items for her. BUT we’re here by choice. WE love each other, daily, by choice. We don’t even have kids between us. But we love, laugh, and let go.

Love. Laugh. Let go. That’s a much better fit. So, in the end, I guess I’m grateful to both Rich and my ex-wife for releasing me for the next phase of my life.

LOVE.

LAUGH.

LET GO.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to The Positive Divorce

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The Training and Education of a Reluctant Divorcé

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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
@wholeparent

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What You Can’t Tell Your Kids After Divorce

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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
@wholeparent

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

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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
@wholeparent

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The 3 Immutable Laws of Positive Co-Parenting

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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
@wholeparent

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image: sarangkot flight, creative commons usage