Category Archives: parenting plan

Coparenting When the Other Person Wants to Fight

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It’s hard to understand where the anger comes from, so I don’t try. Let’s just say she’s still mad at me, six years after the divorce. Hmm. Am I still doing things that hurt her? I don’t think so. Is she remarried to a lovely and loving man? Yes, as far as I know. So how does it work that my requests for clarification come back as rants at my lack of parenting cooperation? How is it that a simple question becomes a war?

This is no way to coparent. The reason we cooperated in the divorce is to lessen the animosity between us. What then has gotten so corrosive in the six years since the divorce was finalized?

  • Things have not turned out as she’d hoped
  • Leaving me did not immediately make her a happier person
  • There are still financial concerns, and some of them are between us
  • The full-time job commitment is exhausting
  • Kids require a lot of food, transportation, and money

In this morass of what is called parenting, somehow, my ex-wife believes I am no cooperating as much as she would like. Sure, she asked for the custodial parent role, she asked to have the 70/30 split rather than 50/50 as I was requesting. So, there is some reason behind the imbalance. But is it okay for her to now be mad about it?

I guess people will be mad. And it’s certainly not my place to take her inventory. But it does impact me, her anger, all the time. I don’t ask for much variance from the schedule, because I don’t want to upset her, or really get involved in a conversation with her about anything. I avoid her as I’m dropping off the kids bags after a dad-weekend. Again, less is more concerning our interactions.

I guess the good news is she’s getting her new husband to intervene and negotiate on  her behalf. And I have to say he’s less angry. Of course, he’s parroting a lot of the same things she says. He’s asking odd questions that she’s asking him to ask. He doesn’t come across as angry as much as confused. He would probably handle things differently. And as we began discussing how to get the AG out of our relationship, at first he was receptive. But then the message came back, her message, the AG is staying, it’s for the best.

Somehow she believes I’m going to try to skip out on my responsibility to my kids. In six years I have gotten behind in child support.  But I was never unavailable to her or my kids, I was never uncooperative when she was asking for a variance from the schedule, I was never withholding money when I had it. But she felt she should use the state’s attorney’s to enforce the divorce decree.

I guess that’s her right. And, in her mind, common practice when the divorce or child support is contested. But I didn’t contest anything. I even let her have the 70/30 deal she wanted, even as it made me very sad to do so. I’ve relented on all my demands. And as she is now the custodial, primary parent, I am asked to behave a bit like a second-class citizen. Even calling the AG’s office, they give you the old “custodial parent press one, non-custodial parent press two.” Why should they split you before they have even spoken to you? Is it because they are mostly working FOR the custodial parent and AGAINST the non-custodial parent? Or so they can provide better service, or shorter wait times for the custodial parent?

Anyway, today I resolved to live my life, and to support my kid’s lives, in spite of my ex-wife’s anger and uncooperative actions. I’ve placed my demands and frustrations in the same box I placed them in when we were going through the divorce and I was being asked to accept things that I knew were not fair. But, divorce is not fair. Coparenting is not fair. And while cooperation is much easier with two parents that are civil to one another, it can also be done when only one of the parents is committed to the positive side of the street. That’s all it takes.

One positive parent can make 100% of the difference. I’m not perfect, and occasionally I want to lash out when she does something that seems unreasonable. I don’t. I never do. I have learned to put my anger and frustration into a different box, one I can use later to fuel my workout or writing session. She’s still able to get under my skin, but it’s up to me to put that energy to use for positive things. That’s where I live, ever-moving towards the positive in all that I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Going Positive and Growing Stronger

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-6-22-18-amI’m reminded this morning that I have a choice in every interaction with my ex-wife. As I have written before, there are two levels of healing that need to take place after divorce. (Two Levels of Healing) But this morning I see it’s even more simple than that. I wake up, reset my day, and forgive my ex-wife. It’s as easy as letting her go, letting her be as she is, and wishing her well in her day shepherding our kids from school to activities and such. While she has them 70% of the time, against my wishes, she has also been doing a great job at being an uber-single mom.

Today I dance myself awake most mornings, without my kids. But I’ve begun engaging them in new ways.

I resent her time with the kids some days. I wake up wishing I had my kids to rouse, tussle with, and make breakfast for and get to school. It was a ritual that I used to love. It was my ritual when we were married. From the earliest days of parenthood, I was the early bird, I was the breakfast man, I was the song weaver who would start our day with some new band I had discovered. I literally danced everyone awake. Except my then-wife, who liked to sleep in as much as possible.

Today I dance myself awake most mornings, without my kids. But I’ve begun engaging them in new ways. I text them before they ever wake up (yes, they check their phones on waking like most teenagers) and offer to buy them breakfast and give them a ride to school. Their mom doesn’t mind, because it halves her driving load. And my kids love the extra time, and the alone time with me. Well, I get the feeling they do anyway, as they are starting to ask me to take them to school on off days.

I can bring joy into their lives now as I did when they were little.

So as I have begun to offer my joy to them in the mornings, I have begun to form slightly different relationships with them. For example, my 13 yo daughter has begun asking if I will hit tennis balls with her after school on Wednesdays. This was her idea. I’m thrilled. Tennis is my sport and we used to play when she was younger. Today, I suspect it is as much about getting time with me as it is about perfecting her backhand. But the cool thing is, she’s getting good at tennis, without even trying. She’s the sporty one.

As your kids get older, perhaps, you can begin moving on from the divorce and moving into something else. Just relating with your kids on a more-adult level. No, they are still kids. But they are reaching an age where they can decide what they want to do, and they can ask for what they want. If they want more time with me, I’m going to make myself available as best I can.

I can bring joy into their lives now as I did when they were little. Yes, there was a period in the middle that I had much less access to them, but we are past that. And for her part, their mom facilitates our connections. I have to be grateful for that. We’ve always cooperated in regards to our kids.

This morning I give thanks for the flexibility and caring my ex-wife shows me and my kids when they ask for some new connection. We’ve both worked hard to get here. And as we work better together everyone benefits. I can’t wake them with song everyday, but I can wake them with an attentive and happy dad looking to support them in any way they can imagine. All they have to do is ask.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Trying Again to Be 100% Positive

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When I set out on this journey, three years ago, to build a 100% positive divorce parenting blog, well… I knew there would be challenges. I knew that I was starting with a chip on my shoulder and another blog, where I could vent. Today things are much the same, I still blog out of both sides of my mouth, and I’m still confused as to how I can keep pissing my ex-wife off so frequently.

I’ve come close to achieving my goal of 100% positive, even when I’m skirting a difficult subject. But I’ve also failed repeatedly.

I know sometimes people need other people to be mad at. My mom, for example, is a worrier. If I don’t give her something to worry about, she’ll be worrying about someone. It’s fine when it’s not me. But it’s always going to be someone. So, perhaps that’s the deal with my ex-wife. She needs someone to be mad at. Somehow the world has done her wrong, or she’s not living the life she’d really like to be living, and somehow I have something to do with it.

I’ve done my best to pull all punches here on The Whole Parent. And I’ve come close to achieving my goal of 100% positive, even when I’m skirting a difficult subject. But I’ve also failed repeatedly. Most of those posts are sitting unpublished in the “drafts” folder, awaiting some revelation or insight that allows me to approach the subject with a better attitude.

That seems to be the name of the game these days: attitude. I could be mad at my ex-wife. There are certainly things she’s done, things she’s doing, things she will do, that can set me off. My first response, these days, however, is to breathe, relax, and let it go. If I can laugh about it later I can laugh about it now.

Let’s take a recent example of miscommunication that could’ve gone two ways. It went the angry way, but let’s look at what happened and see how I fed into the fury rather than diffused the situation, like I normally do. (To be quite honest, I’m a bit tired of being the good guy divorced dad.)

You see, last week my wife authorized braces (not the inexpensive kind) for both my kids who seem to have great smiles, to me, the non-educated non-dentist father. She agreed to some $5,000 per kid with the dentist and had the Invisalign braces put on my kid’s teeth. She never asked me about it. Never mentioned it. I heard about it from one of my kids complaining about them, not knowing why he had to get braces in the first place.

Wait. What? So my ex-wife incurred a $10,000 medical expense and forgot to ask or tell me about it? That’s a violation of our joint-custody rules. Hmm… I suppose I could go about my response in two ways. 1. Anger. 2. Reasoned response.

I sent her one email on the subject.

“I will only say it once. I do not think either of our kids need braces.”

In an effort to cover herself she didn’t respond to my email, she blasted everything about the last six years that made her angry at me.

That was it. Now, I could’ve done better. I could’ve played, the “you must’ve been too busy to call me…” card, but I was irritated and I let my angry side show a bit. I’d have to say I stayed pretty far away from the ANGRY response. And maybe because I didn’t take a more aggressive approach it gave her an opening to rail against me. She went on in a two page email about how disappointed she was in me, in my questioning her decision about this, about how unsupportive I’ve been in the last six years, since our divorce.

Of course, she was defending by attacking. She didn’t answer my question, until I posed it in a second email. Again, very short and to the point.

“I’m assuming that you want me to pay for half of their expenses, even though you did not ask me about it. Why didn’t you ask me about it?”

Now, I knew this would get her fired up. And another hot letter (too hot to excerpt even) came smoking into my inbox. I didn’t even read the entire letter. She knew she was in violation of our agreement. She was taking the FU approach to responding.

I’m curious how my more tempered email would’ve been received? The problem is she knew she had done something wrong. (Getting $10,000 worth of braces put on our kids without consulting me.) And in an effort to cover herself she didn’t respond to my email, she blasted everything about the last six years that made her angry at me.

Well, I’m doing a pretty good job here of keeping it above-board, but occasionally, like today, I have to let a little of the pain show through. Tomorrow I go back to being 100% positive. And tomorrow I will once again show the fully loving response to her angry missives. It’s all about the kids these days. Our anger, our emotions towards each other, shouldn’t even come into the equation. I do my best. But I can do better.

Have I failed?

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Responsible Separation Is Harder than it Sounds

My ex and I tried to have a low-conflict cooperative divorce. Only problem is, she got an attorney, I didn’t. As cooperative as we were, when it came time to draft the decree we left it up to her attorney to set up the fair separation of our financial and parenting duties. It wasn’t fair and balanced. It was “responsible” for sure, because we agreed not to sue each other, but I was given the SPO (standard possession order) and the child support payments, just like 80% of other men getting a divorce with children in the early 2010s.

What she was doing was going outside the marriage, and outside our therapeutic relationship with our counselor, and consulting a divorce attorney to see what she was going to get should she choose to take further action.

What my then wife did, by seeking counsel before she mentioned it to me, by consulting with an attorney to understand her options, was she loaded the deck in her favor. By the time the “idea” of divorce was broached to me, she already knew what she wanted, she knew how it would likely go down, and she was fine with the consequences of her actions. Regardless of how those actions affected my kids and me, she was prepared for her “best case scenario” and I sort of gave it to her.

Again, let’s step back and take a snapshot of the days before my then-wife let me know she’d consulted with a lawyer to understand her options.

  1. We were not happy.
  2. We were not having sex.
  3. The money coming in from my full-time job was adequate, but we’d really need to discuss both of us working to get ahead.
  4. We focused on the kids as a way to not focus on our relationship.
  5. We were both seeking support and comfort outside the marriage. (Not an affair on either side.)
  6. We were living like roommates.
  7. I was beginning to express my dissatisfaction with the status quo and asking for changes.

And while I was doing my best to be an adoring husband, the lack of intimacy was wearing on my soul and my physical joie d’vivre. We were in couple’s counseling, but it always seemed the focus was on something I’d done wrong, like not tell her about a speeding ticket I got over the summer.  We never got around to talking about the relationship, or the lack of intimacy. Always some crisis of faith, some test of my “trustworthiness” was on the line each week as we meet and attempted a joining of the hearts and minds.

There was no join to be had. The sessions were cold. She was very guarded and withdrawn. She used the word “cynical” to describe our therapy at that time. I’ve never considered it any other way, but perhaps she was using the therapy to let me down easy. Anyway, she didn’t come out and tell me, I had to grill it out of her.

“Are you telling me you’ve been to see an attorney?” I asked during our penultimate session.

“I was just gathering information.”

Actually what she was doing was going outside the marriage, and outside our therapeutic relationship with our counselor, and consulting a divorce attorney to see what she was going to get should she choose to take further action. I was stunned in the session. I was hurt. I was furious.

“How could you not bring that up in here BEFORE going to see a lawyer?”

I was lead to believe that the kids needed their mom more than me, that a mom’s love is somehow superior, or more comforting than a dad’s love.

I pounded her via email over the next few days asking her for a decision. I had been in the cuckold box long enough. This moment of truth was either a time for us to regroup and join together again, or for us to work out the details of our divorce. While I was fighting during those first few days, I believed I was fighting for my marriage. What I didn’t know at the time, is I was fighting against the divorce more than for anything. See, I wasn’t happy either.

Responsible separation in the case of Laura A. Munson meant fighting for her marriage. Fighting against her husband’s depression and mid-life crisis, and fighting FOR the relationship. She simply didn’t buy her husband’s claims of being bored in the marriage. “Nope,” she said. “That’s not good enough.”

I wish I had been stronger. I don’t know that the outcome would’ve been any different. We would probably still be divorced. But I wished I had been able to question her about her motives for breaking up our marriage. Was it greener grass she was seeking? Was she asexual because she was no longer attracted to me? Was there someone else in her life that gave her joy?

What her move did, by going to see an attorney before discussing it in therapy, or talking to me about it, was it put the divorce into action before we had a chance to really map it out. She’d already done her due diligence. She knew what to expect from the court system in Texas. And she knew, like any mom in Texas filing for divorce knew, the mom usually get’s the kids, the child support, and the house. BINGO.

It’s unfortunate that the Bingo, or win for my ex-wife, had to be such a simple open and shut case. In several forums I was told that my ideas of 50/50 parenting were simply not realistic. I was made to question whether I could provide the love and care for my kids half the time. I was lead to believe that the kids needed their mom more than me, that a mom’s love is somehow superior, or more comforting than a dad’s love.

I lost 70% of my kids life in that split second in the therapy session when she said she’d seen an attorney. She knew she’d get the custodial parent role and approximately 70% of the custody. She knew she’d get the house, nearly paid for. And she knew she’d get a healthy monthly stipend that would allow her to keep the house without too much stress. She also knew she had to get a full-time job to divorce me. So she did.

It’s odd how the entire year leading up to the big fail in therapy, she’d been “looking for a job” that suited her sense of self. We’d been down several career changes together. I was supportive even as the bills were threatening our house, because I wanted her to be happy. The last year before we got divorced her income was actually a negative number. She was demanding I get the full-time job again, and she was apparently unable to get a job herself. Until she wanted the divorce.

Responsible separation would be 50/50 parenting, just how we did it when we were together. Responsible separation would mean not attacking the dad for being a second-class parent so the courts would rule in favor of the 70/30 standard possession order that is common in most states.

She knew what she was going to get. She placed her bets and altered the course of all of our lives to meet some new agenda she had cooked up alone. Or, if she had counsel, it wasn’t from me, or our couple’s therapist. He was as shocked as I was that she had seen an attorney.

The business of divorce took place over the next few months. I gave in on most issues. I was too depressed to fight. At that point I wanted to end the fighting and pain and get on with whatever was next in my life. I’m still sorry she chose the course she did. And I’m sorry the state of Texas still rules in mom’s favor 80% of the time, rather than in the favor of the kids by granting 50/50 custody.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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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

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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Focus on Your Kid’s Strengths

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 7.48.28 AMDivorce is hard on everyone, especially the kids. And through the process you’ll do everything you can to put the positive spin on things to keep them from feeling the full burn of the bad feelings between you and their “other” parent.

This morning when my son texted me that the lead guitar solo in a song (Muse – Knights of M…) was inspiring him to think about picking up the guitar, I encouraged him. We’ve been talking about guitar lessons all summer, but he was busy having a summer and taking some online summer school classes. To have him express the desire, out of the blue, was quite a thrill for me. It woke me with a big smile. (He goes to bed at midnight on weeknights, and I’m ALWAYS asleep, since I arise at 6 am.)

Also this morning, my ex-wife sent me an email detailing the current situation with the kid’s teeth. The dentist has got them doing Invisilign and both of them are complaining about pain. WHAT? When did we decide to do braces (even cool high-tech braces) for the kids? She’s taken to making decisions without consulting me. This is not in the spirit of co-parenting. And it defies our agreements about the kids and their management and healthcare.

So I said to her, “Neither kid needs braces. Period!”

So while I’m sure that her motivation is more about them than her or me, I’m pretty sure she made the decision 100% without talking to me about it. GRRR.

And still… I was writing about staying focused on your kids so they can develop their own super powers. I’ll let them take charge of the situation, with my support. After I sent her the email I sent my son and daughter this text.

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In our parenting plan we’re supposed to agree on these time of actions or they don’t happen. So…

Let’s see how this develops. The kids are doing fine with their beautiful teeth just as they are. And you should see their smiles. YES, we’re doing something right. Co-parenting, maybe, not so much.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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Back to School Time as a Divorced Dad

Let’s catchup a bit. I’ve been depressed. Yep, sorry to admit it. And more sorry that I couldn’t keep my promise of blogging through it. Wow, what a summer. And what lessons I learned.

The kids went back to school last week and I’m happier than I’ve been in months. All good. And last night’s “back to school” night for my 8th grader got me thinking about my divorce, my kids, my limited custody arrangement and where I am in my life at this moment.

  1. Divorce – I didn’t want it, and still sometimes find myself angry that my ex decided for all of us to end the marriage. Things might have been different if she knew she was giving up 50% of their time, but she knew she’d get 70/30 as is typical for uncontested divorces in the year 2010.
  2. My kids – how can I complain? They are doing great. While I can see the things that would’ve been different in their lives had we stayed married and had I been able to continue to infuse their life with joy and optimism that is a bit lacking on the other side… but again, water under the bridge.
  3. Custody – Again back in 2010, even if I had gone to court, it would’ve taken unusual circumstances to get 50/50 custody if my ex wanted something else. It just didn’t happen in Texas without extreme justifications. I couldn’t to that to my kids or my ex.
  4. My life now – Happier that ever. I’m engaged to a very different woman. I’m learning so much about being in a committed “no matter what” relationship. I thought that’s where I was in my relationship to my kid’s mother up until the moment she let me know she’d been to see an attorney.

So you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.

I’m sad sometimes about the amount of time I have lost of my kids childhoods. I long some days for them to be 5 and 7 again and be loving, cuddling, little beings. But they are teenagers. They need other things from me: cash, a ride somewhere, cash, a shopping spree. Ho hum. That’s the way it is, sure, but it could have gone gone differently.

What if we’d gotten 50/50? What if my kids had retained my influence in equal measure to their mom’s? It was my intention and my dream but it’s not what happened.

One thing that would be different if I had my kids 50% of the time, or 70% of the time like my ex-wife has… I would not have been able to move as deeply and solidly into this new relationship as I have. (2 years and counting.) I have M-W nights off every week. And every other Th-Sun weekend. So I’ve got a lot of time without my kids.

In the early days of my recovery I was depressed. In the next phase of my divorce I was healing and positive but still alone. In the current moment phase of my life I have been focused more on myself than my kids. (70% of the time) And thus I have lost weight, spent time putting a band back together and playing tennis, biking, and cycling with my new fiance. I would say, I’m okay with those percentages today.

I would gladly take my kids back 50/50 but it’s not something that has been offered without some heavy conditions and ultimately she has backed out of every offer. Okay. So this is my life.

  • Happy
  • Sharing my happiness and self-confidence with my kids
  • Missing them all the time – but going on with my life (perhaps a lesson they have learned, that even though they’ve had most advantages of an upper-middle-class life, things were not always going to go as planned) they lost me too.

In my parent’s divorce it was the single most devastating event in my life. When my dad left the family I was 8 and he began a rapid descent into full-blown alcoholism that ended his life when I was 20. I didn’t get much of my dad’s attention until he was dying of cancer and the meds made him unable to drink. So guess what happened. He sobered up.

He sobered up and realized he had missed his relationship with his 4 cool kids for most of their lives. My two sisters moved back to town to spend time with him, but we only got 9 months of remission and when he went he was gone in weeks. He was lost to us completely.

So I lost a good portion of my kid’s childhood. Okay. There’s nothing I can do to get that back. And there’s nothing I can do to make them not teenagers and not rebelling and acting out in some “normal” way at this time in their lives. And I can’t help but miss them every time I see their picture, or get a text or Snapchat. It’s okay. We all get along. Even the ex and I are talking about getting my son a car in the next 6 months.

And so it goes. Another year begins. My daughter is on to Volleyball, Basketball and Track/Tennis. And we’re all back to our 70/30 routine. And I’ve got nothing to complain about and plenty to be grateful for. So that’s where I am. Happy to be out of the depressing summer and happy to have my kids this long weekend.

And I’m happy and in love.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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1/3 Dad: Most of Your Nights Will Be Alone

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If you’re a dad you’re likely to have your kids half as much time as their mom. Them’s the unfair breaks of divorce in the US. (It could be worse.) But if you’re willing to do the work, I hear things are getting better for dads who want to go 50/50. That’s what I fought for, but in 2010, I lost. (To be honest I never went to court about it, we were doing a cooperative divorce and I gave in to the wisdom of the counselor we were meeting with.)

I wonder, if we balanced out the divorce picture, and assumed 50/50 and no immediate payday for the mom, would we lessen the number of avoidable divorces?

Seven years later, I still miss my kids every night they are not with me. Some nights are better than others. Some nights I have plenty of activities planned and I don’t miss them as much. But the agreement I had with their mom when we decided to have kids was equal parenting. And that’s what we did. Until the divorce, when she decided she could have it all. She met with a lawyer before telling me we were in serious trouble. (I hear this is also often the case, where men are caught unaware.)

I wonder, if we balanced out the divorce picture, and assumed 50/50 and no immediate payday for the mom, would we lessen the number of avoidable divorces? Or is that even a thing? If the divorce was going to happen, should we have tried, should I have tried, to avoid it at all cost? Should I have continued to sublimate my joy and desire in order to keep it together “for the kids?”

Today, looking back, I can easily say, that the divorce was a good thing. It might have been the most painful thing, at the time, but in the end I have been released to find a better relationship (and I have) and she too has been given a new opportunity for love. And this weekend, while she was getting married, I was trekking on a 7 mile walk around the lake with my fiancé. I have to say, I am glad I was in a relationship before she got remarried, it might have been tougher otherwise. But looking back, today I can see the road ahead is much more optimistic than that final year in my marriage.

Still, the loss of so much of my kid’s lives at that tender age really had an effect on them and me. I can’t really point at anything specifically. But I know the effect my dadless years had on me as a young boy. While my brother can cook anything and fix anything mechanical, because he did those things with our dad, I am a bit of a mama’s boy. If my car needs an oil change I go to the quickie place. If something on the house needs repair, I call someone. I lost the opportunity to learn from my father, those essential, manly, skills.

What is an evening with your kids worth? Is there an amount of money or time spent elsewhere that I wouldn’t give to have more time with my kids?

Sure, I got other skills in place of those dad-skills. And I’m grateful that I missed out of most of my dad’s heavy drinking years. But I’m not so sure that my son wouldn’t have benefited from a bit more time with me. And my daughter, I think she still misses me for being away so much. AND… at that same moment, she’s asking to be gone the entire weekend coming up. My weekend.

As teenagers we have a different kind of time together. Those kids of 5 and 7 could’ve used my positive and joyous influence. And I could’ve used more weekends on and more days and nights on. And I can be sad about that, or I can move on to what I have.

Under the traditional SPO (standard possession order) the mom gets the kids about twice as much as the dad. That’s just how the court sees the correct order of things. If you want something different, you’re going to have to fight. Even if you start cooperatively, be warned that as emotions heat up, and push comes to shove, you’re going to have to litigate to get to 50/50 parenting, if that’s what you want. The mom doesn’t have to do anything to get the SPO, that’s how the courts will rule unless you fight.

What is an evening with your kids worth? Is there an amount of money or time spent elsewhere that I wouldn’t give to have more time with my kids? Back then, when they were younger things were different. Today, as teenagers with their own agendas and schedules, it’s much harder to get together time with them, even when they are with me. But it doesn’t make it easier.

And my life has new adventures that don’t involve them. Sort of like an early empty nest. They are going eventually, you might as well begin to build the rest of your life.

Recently I’ve been using SnapChat to keep up with them. I’m meeting them where they live. Sure it’s just a picture that says, “I’m here right now, and thinking of you.” But the return messages are always little warm fuzzies. And today my Snaps get responses about twice as often as my texts.

So we learn to adapt. My kids have done fine with only 1/3 of me. I too have survived and begun to thrive. Today I’m not sure I’d opt for 50/50. I’d have to factor in time with my fiancé, and the real role of parenting at this stage, transportation and food. While I begrudge my ex-wife for fighting me on 50/50, today, as they are older, the win might actually be in my column. Is this bad to say? That I love my time with my kids, but as teenagers my 1/3 time is enough?

I’ll end with the beginning. I miss my kids every day of every week. As we all adapted to the 1/3 dad schedule we became grooved. Today this is our cadence. And my life has new adventures that don’t involve them. Sort of like an early empty nest. They are going eventually, you might as well begin to build the rest of your life.

That’s sort of what divorce and the brutal reality of the SPO did. I’ve had to build a good portion of my life without my kids. It’s not how I would’ve orchestrated it, but that’s how it happened. Today, we’re all okay with the mix.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Seven Strategies for Winning Divorce

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The real win in divorce is more of a judo move. Waring parties are prevented from hurting each other and the negotiations happen with as little bloodshed as possible. So it’s not so much a win as a neutralizing the other person’s anger, entitlement, and narcissism while protecting yourself and your kids. I know that sounds harsh, but the elements of rage and victimization are present in any relationship. Divorce just makes the relationship a lot harder. But divorce does not end the relationship if you have kids.

If you want 50/50 parenting ask for it. If it’s worth going to war for, then fight for it.

Strategy One: Never respond to anger or frustration in-kind. Ever. Just don’t do it. It might feel good to unload a good blast from the furnace, but do it to a therapist or a friend, not to your ex.  Any temporary victory you would feel in belittling, or showing your ex-partner for their trivial issues, is lost in the frustration that will then be spread around to your kids. A swipe at your ex is a swipe at your kids happiness too. Do not do it.

Strategy Two: Come to an agreement around money and then stick to it. Be open if you are having financial trouble. And if you are co-parents, take turns providing the expenses of your kids upbringing. That’s not how legal divorce happens in the US. Here, the woman gets primary custody and a fat paycheck about 80% of the time. And the man, if he chooses to fight, must be prepared to prove his worthiness. Until the laws are changed, live within them. Negotiate your deal, then get out. Lawyers will take more money than you can ever provide to your kids. Give it to your kids.

Strategy Three: If you want 50/50 parenting ask for it. If it’s worth going to war for, then fight for it. I opted for the cooperative divorce and then accepted the 65-35 split offered. It was a bad deal. It was not how we entered the agreement to have kids, but it’s what the ex wanted. So she knew she could get it if we went to court. If you are doing a collaborative divorce “What she would get in court” is NEVER the right response to a 50/50 request.

Strategy Four: Deal with your own shit on your own time. Your kids do not need to be therapists, confidants, or friends during your divorce. They need to be kids. The more you can do to take your issues outside, the better the relationship will be with them and your ex. Never talk bad about you ex. You can say “she does things I don’t agree with,” but her decisions cannot be challenged in-front of your kids. They are not a sounding board.

Now is my chance to get on with MY living as a dad, as a boyfriend, and as an ex-husband.

Strategy Five: Find engaging activities that you love to do with your kids. This is hard one as your kids get older. But your efforts will pay off with huge dividends: their conversation.  My son recently discovered playing cards, so I play with him. And he beats my ass. Cool. But the real winner is me. During the game play, I am just a friend, I am just his dad, I am just an opponent in a game of cards. He talks about all kinds of stuff while we’re playing cards. I’m still looking for the “activity” with my daughter that doesn’t involve shopping at the mall.

Strategy Six: Move on with your life. Too many divorced parents stay in “divorced parent” mode for too long. Get to the business of healing yourself. Certainly stay alone until you’ve worked through some the issues that landed you in the divorce court. (Yes, they were on both sides of the aisle.) And then move along back into the mystery that is modern dating. Try it all. What do you have to lose?

Strategy Seven: Get good at doing what you love. I love tennis and playing music. So I started taking weekend workout sessions. And I reconnected with some friends and started playing music again. Then when you begin to meet interesting people you’ve got a few things to start with. First dates are a lot more interesting if they involve walking around the lake, or hitting a few tennis balls. Bars and coffee shops are not our natural habitat.

You can win at divorce, but only by staying to the high road in all interactions. Sure, things didn’t go the way I wanted, but that is life. Now is my chance to get on with MY living as a dad, as a boyfriend, and as an ex-husband. Let me do the best at all three.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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