Tag Archives: co-parenting after divorce

The Benefits of a Happy Ex-Wife (Positive Divorce and CoParenting)

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The only example I’ve had in my life of a contentious divorce was my parents when I was 5 until I was 8! My dad was vindictively out to wreck my mom financially and the soul crushing battle lasted almost three years.

In my divorce my ex and I agreed that the kids were the most important part of our relationship and we would not put them in the middle of any disagreements regarding the divorce. And post-divorce we have kept to our promise. It’s been hard a few times not to spill the beans over something egregious, and I’m sure my ex has felt the same way on several occasions. But we’ve kept the “adult” worries and complaints out of their lives.

There is also a big dichotomy in our life as divorced parents. On one hand you’ve got the child support and family home that usually goes to the mom. In our case both of those agreements were uncontested. But today, almost 6 years later, there’s a bit of frustration at some of the ways we’ve both handled the money. Money was the major stressor on our marriage, and it was most likely a job loss that cause my then-wife to consider what it would be like to be with someone else.

We parent really well together. We are cordial, we support the kids as a team, and we’ve recently started negotiating and strategizing in-person again.

The bigger mistake on her part was filing our divorce agreement with the Attorney Generals off. That’s equivalent to reporting you to the CPS, except its about money. The events that triggered her switch from trust to enforcement were exacerbated on both our sides. The effects of her actions have destroyed my credit, which makes it harder to rent a house, get a job, and forget about getting a car loan. And I while I have never disagreed with the child support and what I owe her, I was expecting our cooperation to extend on into our coparenting relationship

And that’s the flip side of the dichotomy. We parent really well together. We are cordial, we support the kids as a team, and we’ve recently started negotiating and strategizing in-person again.

You see, after the divorce happens you never get to see what the other half (or in the traditional case of mom-as-custodial-parent more than 50%) of your kid’s family life is like. And my kids are very loyal to both of us, so I don’t hear much about their “away” time. Of course, my sad mind was certain they just continued their happy lives without me in the house. I’m sure the reality was much different. Either way, we did not consciously pass on any of the sadness or anger to our kids. They have thrived. And this is a victory for both of us, for our family unit no longer together but still focused on supporting our growing children first.

In a positive divorce no one is to blame. Every action involving your ex should be loving and positive. Think about your kids, let go of the “relationship” with your ex.

Also, with no direct view into their lives, the child support sometimes feels like a tax rather than a loving contribution to the “other half” of our family unit. New dresses, new shoes, and new hairstyles on my ex-wife can make me feel like I’m providing her a $1,500+ monthly luxury support. I KNOW that this is not true, it’s skewed and self-destructive thinking. It goes along with that grass is certainly greener in their lives with my ex. And the money can feel like a punishment at times. But again, this is just my own flawed thinking.

When my ex-said, “I’d like to come over a bit earlier and maybe we can talk for a few minutes without the kids.”

“Um, sure,” I said. It felt a bit like being married again and her saying, “We need to talk.” Something was coming that I wasn’t going to like. She needed something that required a face-to-face meeting to ask for it. In other words, I was in trouble. I brushed away that feeling with some effort, but as I sat in the passenger seat of the Prius, the one we bought together, I was anxious about the discussion.

The conversation was amazing. She wanted to collaborate on how the child support money would be spent and to designate some of it to the kids, so they could have a discretionary clothing budget.

What I learned in the course of the next 10 minutes was how much kids actually cost. Things that I hadn’t really thought of. Lunch money. After school sports activities. Tutoring. Music lessons. And the added expense of having the kids 5 or 7 days of the week. When she showed me the numbers, I got a better picture of how her financial mind works and she revealed her equal contribution to kid stuff. She was showing me how our collective kid money was being spent. The reality was quite sobering. I can’t say I don’t have twinges of anger when the money is withheld from of my paycheck, but now I can see how she is putting in the same amount on her side.

And as we continue to talk a bit more cooperatively about kid-money, I can see a good bit of her tenseness change. I can see how her stress and exhaustion is exacerbated by any angst between us.

So I have worked to give her the benefit of the doubt in all circumstances. Flash of anger on my part, “Nope, take the higher road.” About two years ago, when I started this blog, I opened a new perspective in my life. Positive divorce is about seeing the priorities and shared dreams of the overall family unit and not just your individual, or even your me-and-the-kids unit. When I stopped injecting little jabs of frustration into the system and stopped responding to her angry emails and texts with peace and cooperation, it was me that changed. It was my vitriol that I had to own and take care of. Take care of OUTSIDE of the relationship.

And this money talk we had was another break through for me in this process. Now that I have a picture of where the money goes, and see that she’s putting in the same amount, I have lost my frustration about the money. I still suffer from the AG’s process for enforcing the child support, but I am not resentful of any of the money. Nor do I want to protest or change the deal.

I will be in the process of recalibrating my life in relationship to my ex-wife probably for the rest of my life. Even after the kids are off and doing their own lives, there are always collective contributions that need to be made, adult advice that needs to be given, and we will never fully separate from the relationship. And in that light, I will never stop loving my ex-wife in a deep and profound way. Obviously it’s no longer about passion and connection, it’s about our kids. The kids we created as a couple.

When you have kids and you understand that the collaborative effort on all of you never stops, you can begin to see that any negativity hurts all of you. A sad or stressed out ex-wife makes a sad and stressed out environment for our kids. That’s what we agreed to not do. The release of my anger about the “enforcement” decision she made may continue to take some work and processing on my part. But I have to live in the other world as much as I can. The world that says she is doing the best she can, we are doing the best we can, and we move on from here. Sure, the “deadbeat dad” letters and threats from the state of Texas are hurtful, but that decision is long gone.

I believe it was a vindictive move, to sick the authorities on me. But I couldn’t understand how she could move so far off the compassion and collaboration thread, but I don’t know what she was dealing with at the time. So the lasting effect of the AG’s involvement in our lives is a teaching for me. While I could never see striking against her during a down period, for any reason, I have to forgive and release her from the blame.

In a positive divorce no one is to blame. Every action involving your ex should be loving and positive. Think about your kids, let go of the “relationship” with your ex. That’s all you need to know. It’s not easy, and it’s an ongoing process, but you have to transform your own life by supporting not only your kids, but your ex as well.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Loss of the Proximity Effect as a Divorced Dad

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My children bring such joy in to my life when they are around. Their absence doesn’t make my heart grow fonder, it just reminds me of how much of their lives I’m missing as a divorced dad.

I’m watching my kids grow up from a distance, and it’s painful. Sure, I have the standard possession order, the simple divorce equation for 80% of dads. But we’re getting the raw end of the deal. Actually, divorce is the rawest end of the deal, but once that’s determined, the only thing you can do is hope for maximizing your time with your kids. Still, it’s not enough.

Divorce is like an empty nest trial run that happens every week. My kids are here, we’re laughing, chatting, I’m fixing them food and taking them all over the city to friend’s houses, appointments, movies… It’s a parent’s life. Joy is the theme. Togetherness is the melody. And on the days when my kids are with me I perk up like a… well, like the dad I have always been, the dad I want to be, and the dad I lost in my parent’s divorce when I was 9.

There’s no accounting for the loss in a parent’s life when their kids are gone. Sure, a lot of people are dealing with divorce (and worse PAS) but just because it’s a new normal, does not make it acceptable. But accept it we must. What are the options?

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 6.07.18 PMIn my divorce I went for low-conflict, easy negotiation, and shared responsibility. I also went to the divorce counselor’s office asking for 50/50 time with my kids.  That’s not what I got. Even through we were both paying for our parenting planning, the therapist quickly shut down my 50/50 notions. “If you go to court she’s going to get the SPO.” While I argued that we were seeing her to prevent us from ever having to go to court, I eventually gave in and became a team player. We built our kid’s futures and my limited-fathering contract around the “court’s traditional decision.” I listened to the therapist when she talked about what was “in the best interest of the children.”

Listen very carefully when you hear that phrase. It’s a signal that you are about to be force-fed some wisdom or legal precedent that you’d just as soon accept. And that’s just what I did. The rest of the divorce planning went pretty smoothly after I gave up my dream of being a 50/50 parent.

But it’s how we shared the parenting duties when we were together. Even when I was the primary breadwinner, shipping off to a nearby town for the big bucks, I was holding up more than 50% of the parenting duties. I shopped, cleaned, ran errands, and tried to provide the evolved male version of cooperative parenting. However, the minute we were in the counselor’s office my wife’s intentions became loud and clear. She was always big on the planning and I was usually the one who followed her budgets and plans. Both my wife and the counselor smiled when I showed them my 50/50 parenting calendar. I had been studying the options, reading the psychology, gearing up for the discussion.

Even as I miss them when they are gone, I am learning to celebrate and appreciate them more deeply when I am with them.

I still wonder if they’d had a sidebar and set up their “plan” before we ever started negotiating in her office. They both smiled and politely told me why the kids needed their mother more than their father in the early and young years of divorce. That’s not what my books and research were telling me, but that seemed to be the consensus of our “divorce team” and the typical will of the courts. Mom’s get the time, the house, and dad’s get the time to stay focused on work, because they are now going to be responsible for their ex-wife’s house and whatever shelter they can afford for themselves. That’s just how it was in Texas in 2010.

Today, in 2014 I hear things are beginning to balance out a bit, thanks to the men’s rights movement. And while some of these organizations seem rabid and furious, my attorney said if we wanted to go for 50/50 now, he imagined the court would hear my case and we had a pretty good chance of winning. Hmm.

Would *that* be in the best interest of the children, today? I don’t know. Would I be striking out to fill my own empty nest time with more kid time? Again, I don’t know the answer, I’m still exploring my feelings around this idea.

There are some benefits to being a single dad with the SPO.

  • I have a lot of time off from parenting. (I’m rested and pursuing my dreams again.)
  • I have time to work overtime if I want to. (Mostly I have to, but that’s a different story.)
  • I could spend time dating and looking for another relationship.
  •  I have a lot less school-wakup-morning duties. (During my On-Week I have two school mornings. On my Off-Week I only have one.)

And there are some painful losses.

  • I’m often not clued into my kids school activities. (I have to be vigilant to say on the parent-teacher mailing lists, and make sure I’m available for all meetings.)
  • I miss whole weeks at a time. (As my kids are getting older, I am noticing how much they change between visits.)
  • My house is more of a “hotel” than a home. (Since they are not with me very often they keep 90% of their stuff at their mom’s.)
  • I miss teaching my son how to shave. (His mom let him use one of her razors. When I asked him about it, he was proud that he already knew how.)
  • I miss a lot of the nuance of growing up. (Even subtle changes seem big when you haven’t seen them in a week.)

Basically, I miss a ton of their life experience. I am not involved in 80% of their week night, school work, family dinner routine. And yesterday we stopped at a cafe for breakfast along the route of taking them back to their mom’s house. As my kids sat across from me, joking, poking and prodding at a each other, I felt a pang of loss. So much of life is sitting around the table “living” with each other. And my involvement in this activity was reduced by much more than 50% in the divorce. I’m guessing, because of the structure of the SPO I miss about 80% of my kids daily lives.

They’ve still got two loving parents, we’re just playing our roles alone on some imbalanced schedule that was worked out without much input from me.

As they get older now, they both have a ton of activities and sleep overs. Even on *my weekends* I often see my social daughter only briefly on the weekends. And observing her and her brother yesterday I was even more aware of my loss. Even as they are accelerating towards launch and college, in many ways, the divorce takes a large portion of their lives from me every week. And on off weeks, I notice the gap by how much they have changed when we’re back together. It’s like getting random and sporadic updates from teenagers about their lives, rather than living their lives with them.

Would I want to still be married? No. But should I have fought for 50% of my time with my children? Maybe. Still, that’s not where we are today. We move forward with the standard parenting plan and we do the best we can. Even as I miss them when they are gone, I am learning to celebrate and appreciate them more deeply when I am with them. They’ve still got two loving parents, we’re just playing our roles alone on some imbalanced schedule that was worked out without much input from me.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: a note I wrote to myself, then added to by my daughter, age 6, while we were still married

The Cadence of Co-Parenting; Staying Close Even After Divorce

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There are not fewer things to coordinate when you become a single parent, in fact there are more. The things you once traded equitably, now fall 100% in your lap when it is your parenting time. This new cadence can be jarring, frustrating, and make for some upset campers on all sides, unless you plan ahead and go 100% Positive.

Here’s an example.

When you were married and one of your children woke up sick it could make for a challenging morning, as you juggled timing and sick-kid duty with your spouse. As a co-parent, when then this happens, things can get a little more tense. The goal is the same, get your child a chaperone for the day and a chauffeur to the doctor, if necessary, but the negotiations about who can “afford” to stay home, and who’s got the most important meeting, can foul up the good will.

The trick is to remind yourself, the drill is the same, the requirements are the same, but the cooperation with your ex-spouse needs to be even more careful.

In general, if the kids are with me and one of them is sick in the morning I figure out how to reset my “in-person” obligations so I can provide the care my child needs. I’m lucky to have a virtual-type job in digital marketing.

“Just checking to make sure you’ve got this” from the ex-wife have proven to be, as they were when we were married, a lifesaver.

When my co-parent wakes up with a sick kid, and no babysitter until school lets out, she occasionally has to rely on me. If I thought she was dumping the responsibility on me I might get mad. And I suppose, if it happened all the time, for some reason, I might also begin to suspect foul play. But when I know that she is cooperating as a parent, in the other areas of our kids lives, I extend that faith to these events as well.

By keeping the lines of communication open with my co-parent, I can defuse my own misperceptions and remain focused on the solution.

Our sick kid needs a parent, what can I do to help? It’s the same issue, with a different relationship and balance of trust. As co-parents, we rely on each other, we still talk about our kids, and we hope to continue growing our trust in this cooperative parenting after divorce.

The routines around school always seem to be the most challenging. Who’s taking who to the next cross-country meet? Will both parents be going? And asking questions like, “Are you okay with me signing our daughter up for volleyball?” are all part of the balance of parenting with another person, now no longer your primary partner. And I will admit, the occasional emails, “Just checking to make sure you’ve got this” from the ex-wife have proven to be, as they were when we were married, a lifesaver.

We are certain to hit a few bumps from time to time, but if we can focus on the kids and what the requirement is, we can save ourselves, our kids, and our former spouse a ton of heartache and frustration.

I still smile at her, “Just being a mom,” tag she throws in when she knows she’s sent three or four reminders. And I go above and beyond to let her know I really appreciate her efforts too. She was the more calendar-oriented partner, and when I can give her thanks for alerting me to a looming deadline, I do it.

It doesn’t take much to keep the goodwill flowing between you when you remember the needs of  your kids and leave any emotional content out of the negotiations. In a divorce recovery class, someone said, “Deal with your ex like you do the convenience store clerk. You go in, get what you need and take care of business. You don’t really need to know about the rest of their lives.”

When your kids come first you can find the flexibility to work with your co-parent at solving the complications that arise. And sharing that appreciation with your kids serves to let them know you still value their other parent, and you are working together with them to be the best mom and dad you can be, even in this different configuration.

It wasn’t always easy. And we are certain to hit a few bumps from time to time, but if we can focus on the kids and what the requirement is, we can save ourselves, our kids, and our former spouse a ton of heartache and frustration. This is my fourth year as a co-parent, and while I still have disagreements with the mother of my kids, I never resent her efforts nor take them for granted. And I try to give her support and appreciation as often as I can. Our happy and healthy kids are the result.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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