The Transformation of Parenting in Marriage and Divorce

Whole Parent: Becoming Parents

Parenting, the act of having kids, changes everything. And I’ve noticed two types of parents.

  1. The parents who are prepared to have their lives transformed and welcome the new kid-centric lifestyle.
  2. The parents who attempt to maintain their pre-parent lifestyle, often at some expense to the kids.

My ex-wife and I gladly gave our nights, weekends, and all available energy to the wondrous transformation. We saw some of our friends choose the other path. It was an odd thing. To see them molding their child to fit into their training schedules, and work routines.

As you continue to grow with your kids, you continue to change with them. As they get older they begin engaging with you in more ways, and it is at this point that I think the two parenting paths reflect in the relationships that form.

Things between us headed down a very functional, but less-than-compassionate, road. We still parented with all our hearts, but we didn’t couple much.

I remember a moment, before kids, when my wife and I were talking about going ahead and trying. “I’m ready to not be the center of my own life,” I said. “I’m a bit tired of my own shit.”

And we agreed. And the love hurricanes entered out lives and everything was torn up and rebuilt around the parenting life. Of course, it transforms parts of your relationship to your spouse as well. As a dad, I was often competing for time with my wife. Not competing really, but negotiating. Trying to find ways to give her more time, more energy, more space so she would want to be intimate again. That’s what I wanted, but often not what she wanted. And that too was okay.

Then, making the decision to have a second child, even after the massive re-org of our lives, was a step even further down the path of transformation. As the new child was born, I was thrust more directly into childcare, both of my son, and of the newborn. We all go very close, and very intimate.

Again, the transformation was good. Nothing that had worked before, now worked with two kids. There were timing issues. One would be sleeping while the other was cranky and inconsolable. One of us parents would take the waking child while the other tried to get a nap in. We worked together, and often marveled when things worked. “One for each of us,” we joked. But there was some truth to the equation.

One-to-one parenting may be the best ratio. You get to give 100% attention to your child. What they play you play, what they want you provide, what they are afraid of you explain, and so on. And our little unit grew in leaps and bounds and things changed again and again in response to their needs and our desires to keep them well fed, well-schooled, and well-parented.

Until the unbelievable happened. In all the work to keep the kids at the center, we lost some of the relationship between me and my wife. We lost some connections that were not easily restored. And as parenting duties continued to mount, we were less and less able to put in the effort to rejoin. Things between us headed down a very functional, but less-than-compassionate, road. We still parented with all our hearts, but we didn’t couple much.

I still love my ex-wife. It’s different, of course, I don’t want to be remarried to her. But she is doing a great job at a difficult task.

So it goes, with so many busy parents, the kids came first and the relationship suffered. There simply was not enough energy and love to go around, and at some point the idea of divorce was introduced.

I don’t think it was an easy decision for either of us. But in the end, when we decided/realised that divorce was probably the best option, we worked together, as we had to create these wonderful kids, to create a positive divorce. And we failed many times over. But we kept coming back to what was most important, the kids.

I believe that our child-centered lifestyle and choices allowed us to let go of the marriage in favor of the kids welfare. Regardless of who blinked first in the marriage, in the end it is a mutual decision. And we have always worked (well, mostly) together to keep our marital and then co-parenting issues out of our kids lives.

We’ve all suffered and we’ve all gained something from this transition. But neither my ex-wife nor I have put anything before our kids welfare. I can thank her every day for the great job she is doing as a single parent. Somedays I wish it hadn’t happened, but I always wish her well. It’s not easy. It’s a challenge when issues come up. But if we both really resolve to do what’s best for our kids, we come around to co-parenting, and loving co-parenting at that.

I still love my ex-wife. It’s different, of course, I don’t want to be remarried to her. But she is doing a great job at a difficult task. It was almost impossible for me to imagine happiness again when the marriage began coming apart. But here we are, both reasonably happy, with super happy and intelligent┬ákids. And for that I give thanks to her and my resilient kids.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: ava and her parents, lenny baker, creative commons usage

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