Tag Archives: becoming a single-dad

Single Dad In Love, a Happy Story

WHOLE-hanks

Love is such a wonderfully ecstatic place to be. And as we enter the relationship that will eventually spawn a family we have to have entered a higher plane of love. (This is about conscious parenting, and not accidental pregnancy, though perhaps the accidental parent experiences the next stage of growth.) And before we become new parents we start preparing the nest and ourselves for the upcoming “love hurricane.” And nothing we prepped for and nothing we read about it could have really gotten us  spiritually prepared for what would happen next.

And this little trio of wonder and worry is launched and everyone is now headed in a new, and collective, direction. You’re all in, and all in it together.

In my case, and for the sake of this story, I’ll assume, for my now-ex-wife as well, all moments in my life pivoted on that first scream and bloody little package that slipped so easily into my hands in the hospital. There are BP and AP realities. In that hospital, at the birth of your first child, you shed your old before-parent lives. And you emerge, together, as a trio of lovers and spiritual beings, together finally, after all that anticipation and loving worship.

And you are in the rush of love and chaos that is new parenting. And all of life is miraculously transformed. Some of the changes are hard: sleep is a bit more of a negotiation and a rare gift, every poop becomes an event worthy of study and discussion and of course clean up, and the tired mom requires several added doses of patience as everything about her body has just shifted in a 180 degree u turn.

And some of the changes, the ones you might have read about, are magical, mystical, transformations that affirm our belief in God. At least that’s how it felt to me. This little soul has entered and torn up the house and every aspect of the life before him (we had a son first) and each parent is forced to come to terms with his/her spiritual beliefs on the spot. There’s an amazing transformation in your wife’s body and even though sex is off for a bit, the glow of her body and her amazing orbs are all gifts from a higher power. And the body-soul connection of the breast-feeding is a fascinating thing to observe. And this little trio of wonder and worry is launched and everyone is now headed in a new, and collective, direction. You’re all in, and all in it together.

We didn’t really start talking about a second child for a while, I mean, we were getting the hang of this parenting thing, and the wonder overwhelmed the stress and struggle of growth required.  But there was a distinct moment when we decided if we wanted a second child, and we did, that NOW would be a good time to begin “trying” again. And there’s a lot of fun associated with the trying.

In our world, the second pregnancy was a replay of the first one for about two months. We started the Bradley classes again, just as a way of bonding and preparing for the process again. We loved the time in the car heading to our “birthing” classes. So reverent. And even the little man started calming down a bit, as if he somehow sensed some new adventure was on the way. We sailed into our second pregnancy with flying colors. Until the first sonogram.

She had a complication. A medical condition was starving our arriving daughter of oxygen. And we were whisked off to a neonatal surgeon’s office for a more accurate assessment. And the world went topsy-turvy for all of us in one visit with our loving and happy OBGYN as we got the referral and insurance information for this new specialist.

We were in it together, but we weren’t exactly sure if we were all going to make it. And I might have been the weakest link.

He was a wonderful doctor, and his attitude probably carried us along. Our case was mild compared to most of the people in his office. But still, every Monday morning for 5 months we would need to visit his office together and see if our little girl was getting enough oxygenated blood. There were a lot of things the surgeon could do, but they all sounded experimental and risky. And they were. He admitted to only doing one prior in-vitro blood transfusion. ACK. He never showed his anxiety, but he was hoping right along with us, that it wouldn’t come to that.

And along the way, the three of us outside the womb began to show signs of stress. My consulting business crashed around our wounded heads with 9-11, and we suddenly didn’t have a clear financial picture of the future. But we marched along. I started a rabid search for full-time work and we showed up at the doctor’s office every Monday morning for a red blood count of our month’s old daughter.

We were in it together, but we weren’t exactly sure if we were all going to make it. And I might have been the weakest link. Something about the combination, parental responsibilities, a crushing job loss, and a weekly medical drama that played out with ever-more wringing of hands and worry on all sides of the sonogram’s monitor.

I cracked. I’m sad to say it now. I fell to pieces and while I did my best to maintain my support, my attention had to turn inward for a bit while I struggled to get my act together. Yes, I admit it, shamefully, I left my wife mentally, for a short period of time during our greatest challenge. There are still some ideas in my head that point back there to our eventual breakup, but that’s a much later story. We rowed along in our little boat of 3.5 and we did the best we could. But for a short period of time, when she needed a boat captain the most, she was both crew and captain.

In the low-moments I showed up. In the crisis moments I was able to pull up my suspenders and dig in as Dad, and Husband, and Protector. But I was wobbly.

Our daughter practically jumped out of the womb when it was her time to arrive. And to everyone’s amazement, she was not only not anemic, she was just a regular old healthy baby. All the emergency options were not needed once she was out of the inhospitable womb. We were all so glad to see her, and she was so glad to have arrived that we hit another love hurricane. And waves rolled in on all of us. Even our son got into the act with his new sister. He was jumping all over the house, wielding spatulas, and yelling, “Ta tai do!” It was as if he had created his own warning and challenge to any of the darkness that was still threatening us.

We hit another period of bliss and wonder. Now 4 of us in the bed, and 4 of us as happy as four well-tucked space travellers could be. Our journey now turned towards ideas of school and plans for redecorated rooms. We had made it through the trial by fire and we were exhausted but still in tact. We enjoyed a few blissful years.

I spent a lot of time after everyone had gone to sleep, standing in my kids room and watching them sleep. It was a quiet little church.

And, in fact, those blissful feelings have never changed when looking at my kids. Our marriage had a few more surprises ahead, but the kids were the focus and the purpose of our journey. We were dedicated to the task. I rejoined the corporate workforce and travelled far from home to provide the job-free time for my wife. We were aligned in our goals and dreams. And as I packed off to my daily commute I was smiling the entire way, even pulling out of the driveway I had a sense of working for something bigger and more important than myself. It was a hard journey, but a good one.

And each night as I got home after dark, often bearing dinner or groceries for the awaiting family, I rejoiced even as I began to show signs of the stressful job. I gained a lot of weight, though I tried to make it to the on-site gym. I walked with my wife, pushing the dual stroller up and down the hills of our neighborhood. And we did yoga together in the morning to support each other’s health and well-being.

And I spent a lot of time after everyone had gone to sleep, standing in my kids room and watching them sleep. It was a quiet little church. With soft lights, warm smells and sounds, and this little magical being who had chosen to come live with us. I was convinced this was the meaning of life, for a while. To serve and love these little creatures into bigger and better creatures. And that is so. But it’s only part of the story. And here our journey departed from the mapped trajectory and the capsule opened up and I stepped out for a space walk alone.

There has never been a second since my kids were born that I did not recognize the gift and suffering my beautiful wife took on to bring these little travelers into the world to join us. And even as they often travel in the same space ship without me, I am still orbiting and loving with all my heart.

And the saddest moment of parenting after divorce is the moment when your kids are suddenly gone from your life for days at a time. It’s the one thing I can’t quite fathom. Those nights when I want to return to the church of children and listen to their tiny snores and sighs… And they are not there.

I used to have nightmares about something happening to them. Perhaps even before my departure was written into the flight plan. And I still suffer minor sadness, that seem to come upon me at random times, with random triggers. Like their cereal bowls the morning after I have dropped them off at school and know I won’t see them for almost a week. (SAD.)

I can only guess that my ex has the same pangs of missing them. And in my early drafts of our strategy at becoming parents I never imagined this was a possibility, this five-day absence, that comes every other week. And we travel on in our separate ships and our passengers move through the air-lock of elementary and middle school as they transfer to mom’s ship or dad’s ship.

I am still in love with my kids and even the woman who brought them. It’s evolved into something very different than I planned.

This is no 3D IMAX movie. This is not Gravity. This is real life after divorce. And the joy I feel at seeing my kids has even gotten stronger. Perhaps the longing when they are not within touching or hearing distance causes me to appreciate them even more. I’m not sure how that could be possible, but I do know that my hours with them are  focused and joyous even when we are doing the most mundane things. And when they are asleep in my house, I am complete again, even as a solo-pilot. And I can check in on their pulses in a different way, touch base with their school work and their frustrations, and hear what’s going on.

I am still in love with my kids and even the woman who brought them. It’s evolved into something very different than I planned. And even as I hope for a co-pilot again, there will never be an astronaut who turned herself so completely inside and out to be a family together. I bless her for them constantly. And I travel along alone for a good percentage of my days. But I’m no Major Tom. I’m more of a Tom Hanks. I’m going to solve the issue and get through this crisis too.

Always Love, and always love your ex for what she gave,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Note: A friend keeps asking when I write these kind of posts if I wanted to get back together with my ex-wife. And loving her is very different from wanting to be with her again. We’re well beyond that. Sure, the kids might secretly hope for their parents to get back together, forever. But that’s not going to happen.

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image: tom hanks press photo for Apollo 13, creative commons usage

The Transformation of Love and 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 kids. 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

A Return to Wholeness After Divorce

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I remember a discussion with my then-wife before we entered the “trying to get pregnant” phase of our sexual relationship. I felt very clear about my intentions.

“I am ready to not be the center of my own universe all the time. I’m kinda sick of my self-absorption. I think we’re both ready to have someone else come in and be the most important thing in our lives.” I was speaking of the journey of becoming parents. And of course, at that time, I was certain this journey would not be interrupted by …

Divorce.

There’s no way sugar coat it. Divorce is the single biggest event that has happened in the lives of my family, ever. As amicable as you want to make it (and we tried) things get rough, sad, hurtful, complicated, and confusing. And while we as adults can only fathom that chaos from our own perspectives, the churn in our kid’s lives will shape them forever. I know my parents divorce, and the subsequent loss of my father’s love and influence, had devastating effects on my life. I’m a survivor. I’m here to talk, write, and grow even more from the experience. But it sucked.

I had become dependant (possibly resentful) on my wife’s strengths and let a few of my habits run amok.

I got the first taste of the “whole parent” concept during the summer after I was asked to leave my own house for the last time. I took the kids, as a single dad, to the beach for a quick display of solidarity and confidence. I was actually quite broken and scared inside, but we made the most of it.

What I remember feeling, that first hour on the beach was a mix of relief and *holy crap* how am I going to do this.

On the relief side, there were going to be no debates between the parents about what should or should not be done next. None. I was devoted to “whatever you guys want.” We made some democratic decisions about when and where to eat, what to watch on the crappy tv, and how long to stay on the beach. Where my ex-wife and I would probably be negotiating and disagreeing on various aspects of the trip, the safety, the best place to eat or stay, I was autonomous for the first time, and I had no complications about what to do, or why to do it. That was the plus side.

On the *holy crap* side was…

How to get everyone sun-screened sufficiently. (We went the sunshirt route) How to do the sand and sun and sea without any nap or relief from the partner. How to take one kid back to the room to use the bathroom without taking everyone. (You can’t.) And what to talk about when the kids were immersed in the sand castle construction. (You talk with your inside voice a lot, “Is this okay? Have we been out here too long? Man, I’d rather be taking a nap right now.”)

And in that moment of pros and cons, in that epiphany on the beach with my kids happily chattering away about how deep to make the hole, I got it:

Things were going to be okay. I was going to be fine. We were going to be fine.

In the divorce, when you lose everything, what you still have is your kids. And while you are deep in recovery of your own feelings, paying attention and parenting from a place of wholeness is critical.

I could learn to take back the things I had depended on my wife for. I could toughen up with one crappy cup of coffee (rather than 2+) and no nap, and I could be awake and enthusiastic for my kids. I could grow above and beyond the hurt I was experiencing at the devastating loss of my partner, and I would be better for it.

What I got on the beach, was the concept for this chapter of my life, The Whole Parent. I had become dependant (possibly resentful) on my wife’s strengths and let a few of my habits run amok. (Napping at the beach is a luxury best afforded without kids, or with an understanding and cooperative partner who will swap supervision duties with you.) I was going to get my first aid skills tested and make sure I had the necessary gear. I was going to learn to refocus my attention on someone other than myself.

In summary I was going to become a holistic parent again. Where I had forgotten or transferred certain necessary parenting skills and kid-guidance duties to another person, I was going to reclaim them for myself and for the love of my kids.

In the divorce, when you lose everything, what you still have is your kids. And while you are deep in recovery of your own feelings, paying attention and parenting from a place of wholeness is critical. I decided I would document my sad feelings, I would client/counsel/complain about my divorce and my ex-wife AWAY from my kids. And I would stand up, at that very sunny moment on the beach, and join them in digging the biggest baddest hole we could manage. I was going to engage with them in new and more invigorated ways. I was going to listen deeper. I was going to put my own pain aside and give them hope to deal with their own pains.

I would repeat, like a mantra, anytime I was asked about the divorce, “I would always love their mother. She was a great person. And though we were no longer together we BOTH loved them very much. ”

And then the biggest part: I WOULD SHOW THEM.

Welcome to my journey at becoming a whole parent again.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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