Category Archives: positive divorce

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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What I Wish My Ex-wife Knew

I’m not writing this blog to my ex-wife, but there are times when I wish she would read my words. I still love her, because of our connection and history with children, but she makes it difficult to remain objective sometimes. One of my outlets is to work it out, alone, right here. Again, I’m certain she’s NOT reading me, but these posts could help our relationship. Soften her up a bit, perhaps. And then again, I’ve given up imagining that my words or actions can change her in any way. We’d like to think we can make another person happy, or comfortable, or secure. Unfortunately, we cannot.

If I could give my ex-wife a quick list of posts to read, this would be the shortlist.

As it is, we’re supposed to have moved on from the charged feelings towards our significant, but no longer spousal, other. When the anger and defensiveness is quick to surface there may still be some emotional work to do. Somedays I’d really like to send her a link to my prayer for her. I don’t. Again, I’ve learned it’s not for me to change her, but really learn to love and adapt to her as she is today.

She’s remarried. She’s got money again. She seems to be enjoying her job and the job of parenting, but she still complains a bit too much for me to buy the slick surface. I’m not taking her inventory here, I’m releasing her. I just wish my loving words could reach her some days. And I hope, everyday, that my loving actions will soften her heart enough to give her peace.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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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

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

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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Fierce Love – What You’re Looking For

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 5.56.38 AMLove is complex and relationships are a disaster, unless you find someone who can mirror back some of your favorite qualities. What you are looking for (what I was looking for and found) in your next relationship is fierce love. A love that never gives up. NO. MATTER. WHAT.

When you find it you will know. My fiancé and I professed our intentions to be in a relationship, not “date,” early on in our courtship. And one of the qualities we first noticed in the other person was a tenacity, a desire to BE IN A RELATIONSHIP, and one that will last. We’d both been married before. (She without kids, me with two.) And after our first weekend together, aside from the sore muscles, we noticed how our faces and abs were tired from laughing all weekend.

Sure the initial bliss cannot last. After 6 months or so the burning desire was fulfilled and we settled into something more realistic, more like real life. And as we talked about what we wanted we were lucky to be surprised by our similarities. And one similarity stood above all others. In our previous marriages we had both been the partner who fought for the relationship.

Imagine being in a relationship with another person who was going to fight to keep the relationship healthy and moving forward. Imagine.

Nothing is easy in relationships. (After the honeymoon phase the mundane sets in and that’s where you get your real tests.) You take each other for granted. You do things that piss the other person off. You have to compromise in ways you had forgotten were necessary during your “single” period.

Fierce love says, no matter what, I’m IN. I’ve done this before, I know what I’m looking for and you’re it. But you’ve got to let me know you’re in it for the long haul as well.

Well, we’re both fighters. Imagine our optimism when we’re both fierce about fighting for our relationship to work. Sure, we go through out rough patches, a disagreement, an angry word, but we come back stronger and more committed each time. There is no growth without risk. And if you have the risk of your relationship covered up, you can grow and expand the boundaries for both of you.

That’s what we want. Ascendant love. Moving ever higher together. Fearlessly attacking the discord as it arrives unwelcome and unbidden. And we move through it with the other person, knowing they are going to stick around.

Be fierce in your love and fierce in your anger. They are two sides of the same coin. And when you are committed, the fierceness becomes the glue that keeps your relationship together.

Sure, we’ll have challenges tomorrow. And we’ll procrastinate and avoid for a little while, but we’ll come back together with a fire and rage that says, “You’re mine.”

Fierce is good. If love is what you’re looking for, look for the one with fierceness in his/her eyes. Always.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Joy of Young Parents

I saw this couple today with their young child and I was inspired again. What kinds of things were going through our minds when our children were between the ages of 1 and 5? Amazing times! Amazing growth in them and in both parents, rediscovering their own lives. Everything changes when you have kids, that’s a given, but the sheer joy of becoming a mom or dad cannot be understood by those who have decided against having children. (It’s just a choice.)

How do we lose the magic? When do our kids turn into pains-in-the-ass teenagers? When does their great upbringing and nice upper-middle-class lifestyle become a liability rather than a gift? I’m in that place recently, trying to weigh my love of my kids and and temper it with the patience required to keep sane while they are forgetting things at their mom’s house, forgetting to tell you about a “dropoff” that needs to happen. While you ALWAYS love your kids, there are definite levels and plateaus of parenting.

I think we (my kids and me) are just entering into a new phase. Something beyond mere teenager-angst and into something that contains the fascination and joy at simply being a parent. I noticed in this young couple today, the way they had already begun to ignore their girl. And then how they returned to 100% focus on their little jewel. Somehow I had drifted away from the real appreciation of my kids.

It’s subtle. Chores, work, exhaustion… It’s good we feel so much overwelming love at the same time we are facing overwhelming changes in our lives. And somewhere along the way, we think “I got this” and we handle our kids just like we see everyone else handling their kids. Yes, they are a priority, but life goes on, and priorities shift.

In the last three years my kids have drifted in and out of my life. I always get my “every other weekend” but I don’t always appreciate it as I should. I get bogged down in “Jesus, all she wants is a ride somewhere.”

Today, I could appreciate the love and joy and in-and-out focus of these young parents. I could see myself as a new dad. I could feel the change that overcame me in the first hours of my son’s arrival.

And I woke up a little bit. I have a 15 yo boy and a 13 yo girl and sooner than I think they will be away at college. What can I do in the years ahead to

  1. Let them know they are a priority in my life
  2. Give them the confidence to move forward with their dreams
  3. Provide all the advantages in life I can while helping steer them in the direction of gratefulness
  4. Hold strong boundaries and high expectations

I can be present, I can be honest, and I can be vulnerable with them. Today I saw the joy and blessing of a little girl with her mom and dad. I saw myself 10 and 15 years ago. And I woke up.

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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The Kids are All Right: A Dad’s Divorce Reflections

WHOLE-2016-volley

There’s a hard truth I have to swallow. My kids have done okay without me. Not without/without me, but with only 1/3 of me. As the worst happened, divorce, I was really worried about my kids, even more than myself. Everything I did was to support them and even their mom during the transition.

I think most of my devastation was about me and my loneliness. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted the house, wife, and kids back. But that’s not what happened.

Well, the transition, it turns out, was a lot easier for them. See, they stayed in their home and went along with life much like it would’ve been if I had gone on an extended business trip. They kept their rooms, their routines, and their mom. But they lost me. And I’m sort of mixed when I say, “So what.”

So, you’re getting a divorce. In my life it was the worst thing I could’ve imagined. And even as I valiantly fought for 50/50 parenting I was awarded something much less. Something called the Standard Possession Order. (SPO) And in this miraculously skewed document I was given every other weekend (on some odd 1-3-5 schedule) and a single night during the week off. It works out to about half as much time as my now ex-wife. I was devastated.

But I think most of my devastation was about me and my loneliness. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted the house, wife, and kids back. But that’s not what happened. And I’m here to tell the truth about it: my kids are happy and well-adjusted teenagers. Even without my presence for a majority of the last 7 years, they are still stellar kids.

Now, a good chuck of that appreciation goes to the adversary in all this, my then wife who argued against 50/50 parenting. She has worked harder than she would’ve had we stayed together. She’s provided the lion’s share of first aid, doctor’s appointments, and school pickup and delivery. It’s not the way I wanted it, but it actually worked out okay for my kids.

What did I miss?

I’m mostly sad for the things I missed. The events I would’ve liked to have been part of in stead of only getting a phone photo of. The daily grind of being a parent was a privilege. Even if I was tired and distracted, nothing brought me back to life like my kid duties. I lost the routine of “being a dad” that had become my modus operandi. I lost over have of my dadness. And I missed a ton of activities, school projects, and events in my kids life. So what.

And really that’s the answer. So what. They are okay, and that was the big concern. The effect on them was pronounced, they had a lot less of the happy parent in their life and a lot more of the responsible one. Perhaps they will grow up to be responsible adults. And my ex does have a better handle on things like schedules and doctor’s appointments.

But the sadness I feel at the divorce today is more about the loss of their childhood, and the long years I suffered alone.

What I missed is gone. What I miss is the connection when they are away from me. And that was the rub then as it is now. Even as they are troublesome teenagers I miss every day they are not with me. Sure, I have other things to do. I have a fiancé, I have a band, I have my writing. But I’d rather have them. The sad part is, the kids I really long for are the one’s I was asked to walk out on.

Today my kids are much more like little adults. They need us parents, but it’s more for things like “rides to the mall” and “money for a movie.” The parenting roles have changed quite a bit. And in this parenting role I’m actually happy for the SPO. It’s not that I don’t want MORE time with my kids, it’s really that the time with them is very different.

We all lost in the divorce. My son is less like me than he could’ve been. Maybe that’s not all bad. But the sadness I feel at the divorce today is more about the loss of their childhood, and the long years I suffered alone. Their triumphant personalities are the reward of our low-conflict divorce. Sure, she’s done some contra-indicated things in our 7 years, but the proof is in the kids. They are fine. They did good without me. Different, but good.

Taking What You Got

Today I have more energy and joy for them when they are with me. I’m happier in my life than I was in the later years of my marriage. My kids are seeing me living my life to its fullest. And when they are part of my life, I get to rub off on them as much as I can. If joy is my MO then perhaps some of their joy is from me.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Joy of Divorce and the 3 Gifts of Breaking Up

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While we held it all together for our family, it was not all that ideal. But I was convinced that life was not ideal, and that for the comfort and future joy of my kids I would stick it out, no matter what.

As it was happening the divorce was the worst experience of my life. I was the one who wanted to work on things, but was told, “It is over.” I struggled with my own sadness and the imagined sadness that I knew my kids would experience. I tried to entice my still-wife back into the idea of staying together. I tried to bully her into realizing how bad things were going to be without me. I tried to convince her that she was wrong. I did everything I could think of to save the marriage.

Here’s the rub. The marriage was hard. Outside of the first few years of parenting (including the global crisis of 9-11) things in the relationship were not ever easy. We had very different styles of housekeeping, very different ideas about what made up a perfect weekend. And while we held it all together for our family, it was not all that ideal. But I was convinced that life was not ideal, and that for the comfort and future joy of my kids I would stick it out, no matter what.

My then-wife, on the other hand, decided for us both that “no matter what” was over. And though we said, “’til death do us part” we really didn’t mean it. She decided for us that it was over. And all the second person can do at that point is go through some of the Kubler-Ross grief stages.

But the gift of the divorce was bigger than I could imagine. Looking back, now seven years, I can say it was the most transformative event in my life. What cracked with the fracturing of my marriage was my own protective shell. The heart that was suddenly in so much pain burst forth from my chest and I started writing about it. Writing like I’d never written before. Writing, in some ways, to survive the crisis I was in. And I’m still writing.

Even alone, I was happier than I had been for the last few years of my marriage. As I began to discover the activities that gave me joy, I was able to include my kids more regularly in those activities.

The first gift divorce gives you is time and solitude. It’s painful. It was lonely. But in the hours and days of my loneliness I had to search again for the things that gave me joy. I no longer had the family group to mingle and play with, I had to find my own happiness. My alone happiness.

I wrote. I started playing my guitar more regularly. I walked the neighborhood endlessly to get into shape. I rejoined a tennis team. And I allowed the sadness and aloneness to transform me. I began to find happiness outside of being a parent. I got to discover my life’s joy in the times when I could not be with my kids. It was a moment of crisis that turned into a moment of self-discovery.

The second gift divorce gives you is the perspective on love and life. During the throes of divorce I was not able to see how this was ultimately going to be a good transformation. But as time wound on, I was able to reflect, first to myself and then to my kids, about how things were actually better now. I had a conversation with my daughter one morning before school that went like this.

“I know this divorce thing has been hard on all of us, but you do see how somethings have gotten better, right?”

She did not look convinced. “Like what?”

“Like how you and I are playing tennis together now. When I was married to your mom it was harder to find time to do stuff like that.”

“Okay…”

“And you can see how happy I am, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, maybe it wasn’t going to get any happier with your mom. Maybe she was looking for something different. And even if I didn’t know it, maybe I was too. But now, as we’ve all gotten a little time away, can’t you see that we’re all a bit happier?”

“I guess so.”

The biggest gift of my divorce was the release to become a happier, healthier, and more loving partner to a new woman. I bring my joy and my affection, and this time, the rules of engagement are very different.

Granted, she was eight years old then, and not really processing all that I was saying. But the message was this. Even alone, I was happier than I had been for the last few years of my marriage. As I began to discover the activities that gave me joy, I was able to include my kids more regularly in those activities. About six months after that conversation I had standing tennis games with my daughter on the weekends they were with me. It was a peak moment to be on the tennis court hitting balls with someone I loved so much. I had tried to get her mom interested in tennis, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The third gift divorce gives you is the freedom to go forward in your life and find someone to love again. And, if we’re lucky, and if we’ve done our homework on what broke down in the marriage, maybe we will find someone who we can truly love and who can love us back.

The biggest gift of my divorce was the release to become a happier, healthier, and more loving partner to a new woman. I bring my joy and my affection, and this time, the rules of engagement are very different. There’s something about a post-divorce-with-kids relationship that sort of puts things in perspective. The divorce taught me how to be alone and happy. The divorce gave me two great kids that are dependent on me for love, support, and encouragement.

And then the divorce gave me the time back. The time to be myself and discover my core talents again. And this is the me that my new fiancé fell in love with. Independent. Joyous. A dedicated father. And a creative madman. And this creative whirlwind came from the trauma and transformation of my divorce. As I was losing everything I discovered a larger me, a meta man who could rise above the distortion and anger and love in spite of everything else.

What I do best in life is love. And that I have been given a gift for sharing that experience via writing and music, is one of the major wins in my life. This new lease on love is another. May you find what you were looking for. May you find the happiness that comes from within so you can share it with others. The divorce gave me back my joy and freedom and allowed me a second chance to find life-long love.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: with kids at enchanted rock, creative commons usage