Co-Parenting: It Is Mostly About Power and Control

Co-Parenting: It Is Mostly About Power and Control

I didn’t like that title when I wrote it. And I’m certain you will not like this post. Neither do it. Why? Because it is not 100% positive. But sometimes, that’s the way it is. Let’s rush in.

My ex-wife is angry. It is not my fault. It was not my fault when we were married. It is not my fault now, since we’ve been divorced for 8 years, and she’s been remarried to a lovely guy, for 2 years. It can’t be my fault. She was in her happy place a few weeks ago, gardening in front of the house that was ours, that was the start of our “life as parents” journey. And her husband was there, laboring, sweating, speaking in her love language: show me you love me by doing something for me, without me having to ask.

But as she rushed to prevent me from entering the house to retrieve a tennis racket I had loaned my daughter, she was furious. It was not me she was furious with. At least, I don’t think it was. I mean… How could she still be angry with me. She got the divorce she asked for, she got the house and kids and child support. And yet… Oh well, all I can do is speculate about why she would be angry enough with me on that bright and cool Sunday morning to prevent me from entering the house, her house. I cannot understand it. And, I guess, it is best if I don’t even try. Let it go, as the advice goes.

And today, I will write my ex-wife a check for 40+ thousand dollars in back child support. (Here’s the part you’re not going to like.) I know what you are thinking, I was/am, for the next few hours, a deadbeat dad. Except that’s not the way it went down.

I lost my job(s). I struggled with major depression after being ousted from my family and left to fend for myself. And I’ve not fully recovered myself, my inner strength and confidence, until this past February. And I promise you, that she has gotten 50% of every penny I’ve earned since the divorce.

“What’s that supposed to mean, John?” I hear you ask, in my head.

It means that I agreed to a child support payment that was based on a very high-level tech job with Dell Technologies. It means that I lost that job and my then-wife began talking about divorce. It means that I’ve never gotten a similar, high-paying, job since. And it’s not that I haven’t had jobs. It’s not that I haven’t earned an income. It is more that my income has never equaled the amount we agreed to when her lawyers drew up the divorce decree.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried. And it’s not like I’ve been riding high on the hog since the divorce. We’ve all suffered. But I’m not mad at my ex-wife. I’m actually happy for her. When she’s happy, I know my kids benefit.

And yet, the corollary to that is, when she’s mad, and she’s mad at their dad, my kids to not benefit. And her anger, still, eight years later, might be about the money. But I don’t think it’s about the money. I don’t think that this check, written to the Attorney General’s Office of the state of Texas is going to make her happy. It might afford her a new car. It might afford her a lot of new shoes. (She’s kind of got a shoe thing.)

But here’s the part your just going to hate. Here’s the part I’m ashamed to admit.

For the first time in eight years since my divorce, I have a slight bit of control. And I’m a bit sad about giving that up tomorrow. I know it’s the right thing to do. I know it’s the Christian thing to do. I know I will feel much better, after I feel sad about it. I know it’s tied to my resentment for how she’s treated me for 8 years. I know I’m angry. Oh boy, perhaps I am the angry one. (frown)

And I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to cut the check. I’m going to cut her loose and hope for the best. But even in our negotiations for how she might use this windfall of parenting money, she slapped back at me. This is not going to be a victorious celebration. This is not going to forgive the 8 years she feels slighted. Or maybe, the entire marriage to the wrong, unstable, man.

The money is not going to make her happy. Even when I was at Dell, with great health insurance, and a weekly maid to do laundry for us, and she was nearly a stay-at-home mom. Even then, she was not happy and not happy with me.

But I’m beginning to understand, I am not the cause for my ex-wife’s anger. I did not cause her unhappy childhood. I did not give her a dysfunctional mom and a hyper-functional, yet emotionally crippled, father. I did not cause my ex-wife’s anger and depression. And I’m not causing it now. And the money is not going to fix it. You can’t rub money on a lifetime of depression. Sure, the new car will be nice. And, sure, she and her husband won’t have to balance the checkbook as carefully.

Okay, I’ll stop before I start whining or repeating myself.

I still love my ex-wife. She’s the mother of my children. And I know she still loves me in the same way. And I do know that she has done a great job as a parent. And I do know that she will suffer as a result of this post and my blogging and writing and books and podcasts. I am sorry. I simply must tell my story. It’s part of how I maintain my joy. It’s part of how I stay out of depression and fury myself.

Dear ex-wife: May you be safe. Be happy. Be healthy. Live with ease.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: deadbeat moms, creative commons usage

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