Tag Archives: forgiveness

Continuing Forgiveness As a Single Parent

WHOLE-sunrise

Yesterday I got an email from the person who purchased all of my worldly possessions at a storage unit auction.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.24.53 PM

And a few days before that, the AG’s office took control of my only bank account by slapping a lien on it for triple the amount owed in late child support payments. I say late, because I have never expressed any intention of skipping the payments, but I have been struggling to replace a job that ended in February.

Finally, I am currently living with my mom.

My journey still has many twists and turns and if I can approach the day with hope, openness, and optimism, I’m sure my joy will continue to bring joy to others.

I know, that’s the one that really stings for me. How can I head out into the world with a brave face? How do I stand proud and tall and tell my kids that better days are on the horizon? They are, but how do I convince them? How do I convince my ex-wife? And most importantly how do I convince myself, that from this low I will reemerge with a new lightness and agility? I can go anywhere from here, because I’m down and out.

And yet… I am happy. I know it seems like such a contradiction, but hear me out.

I am not bitter about the divorce or the loss of my house and 95% of everything in it. My kids already know about the bank account (though they have no idea what “error” caused my -$42,000 balance, my son loves to tease me about it, he’s 13) and my daughter and I were going to the storage unit to retrieve my juicer when we discovered an old car parked inside my space. All of my stuff had been auctioned off two days prior to our visit. I have the notices from the storage unit for my late payment status. None of them said anything about auction.

In the same way I don’t hold my ex-wife responsible for the divorce, I don’t really hold her responsible for turning our affairs over to the AG’s office, nor the havoc that has brought down on my credit and my life. Nope. It’s an ongoing flow of water under the bridge. And this constant flow of patience and forgiveness is required to continue with the joint task of co-parenting. And while we parent at 50/50, I was given the standard dad deal in Texas of the non-custodial parent with the Standard Possession Order and a hefty child support payment. It’s all okay. That is just how divorce goes in this great state.

And again, I state, clearly and for the record, I am happy.

You might think I’m overstating my happiness to cover up my anger and bitterness, but I’m not very good at anger or holding a grudge. And with my kids, I don’t have any pretense of who I am beyond how I show up in the their lives.

As I walked away from my house and into my single dad life, I took up the responsibility for my own happiness in a new way.

I show up in my kids lives at the maximum level I am permitted. And when I went into the divorce negotiations asking for and expecting 50/50 custody, I was not arguing about the child support, I was genuinely certain that we would parent after divorce as we had while married. That’s not what happened, and I was given the script, “if you go to court here is what you’re going to get,” as the reason we took my joint-custody plan off the negotiating table.

I’m no so sure that was the appropriate response from a paid divorce counselor, but it was certainly efficient. We moved through the divorce negotiation process with flying colors and a very small legal bill. Of course, I didn’t get what I wanted, and I am struggling to get back on my feet, even with the additional house payment, that doesn’t include a house for me. But I’m not so sure I got a bad deal. I’ve used my time off to build back areas of my life and passion that were being shutdown in my marriage.

Each day I refocus my attention on my kids. Like a mantra in meditation or a prayer. As I am able to focus on my children, I can release my ex-wife from all blame in the transactions of the past. And even as many of those actions continue to have negative consequences, I am able to look at her with compassion and not resentment.

I am not angry with my ex-wife. I have faith that she is doing the best she can, at all times. And I am aware of how stretched she is with the full-time job and single parenting role. And without the court-ordered child support, right now while I’m essentially unemployed, the burden is even more difficult. I care for my kids more than I care for her, but in loving my kids more I can only hope that her life is happy and fulfilled. Any downturn for her is a downturn for the three of them as they sail on in the house that we built.

In some ways the divorce has been the biggest life challenge I’ve ever hit. At first it was a wall I had to go over, as I struggled with the loss, depression, and frustration of losing so much of my world. But as I recovered my center, as I began to see the light on this side of the wall, the divorced side, I realized that my next journey was just beginning. She hadn’t kicked me out of our marital bed and house, she had set me back on the path of self-discovery, alone.

I have been through almost all of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief since being relieved of my full-time parenting role. And the hardest part of the entire process is losing so much of my kid’s lives and experience. Daily life connections that I am no longer part of. Summer beach vacations and travels that are emailed to me as pictures rather than experiences.

As I walked away from my house and into my single dad life, I took up the responsibility for my own happiness in a new way. Even with the grief and growth that was necessary to recover from the divorce, I knew that at some point I would be happy again. It was the hope that kept me strong. And today it is the hope that keeps me looking at the path ahead rather than at my shuffling feet, or back at the losses of things, and time, and old dreams.

My dream today is a happy one. I am well-fed, healthy, and heading to a late-round job interview. It has been a long summer of job interviews. And it’s the hope of what’s next that keeps me joyful in this state of nothingness. Other than my kids and the positive and loving relationship I am building with them, I have a simple agenda. Find the next job to support them and their mom, rebuild my credit, don’t worry about “things” and move forward with my own life work.

I have nothing but love for my ex-wife as she soldiers on without me beside her. And anything I can do to make our co-parenting experience better for her and the kids, I will do.

That’s the final piece of the puzzle, for me. The writing. I have always envisioned myself as a writer. I got my degree from the university with the imagination that I would write the great American novel. And maybe I have, but it’s not ready for publication. I think my second novel is going to be much better.

Since leaving Dell in 2009 with the collapse of the US economy I have been writing a blog about social marketing. And in that process I developed my voice, my rhythm, my discipline of writing. I can stand proud at this moment and say, “I am a writer.” Or the even more risky, “I am a poet.”

And somewhere down deep, the divorce process uncorked a different vein of writing that I had not anticipated. As I have struggled to find my center again, I used my writing and journaling to share the process with others. Often hard, often angry and defeated, but occasionally triumphant, I have chronicled the entire process of my divorce. Or more, accurately, the process of becoming an awesome single dad.

And my kids are happy. That’s the greatest gift. They are not worried about me or their mom, the are focused on the challenges of 6th and 8th grade. These are high times. And I have nothing but love for my ex-wife as she soldiers on without me beside her. And anything I can do to make our co-parenting experience better for her and the kids, I will do.

Last summer I was pretty sure I had solved the puzzle. I was living in a small house near a bright lake, and I would walk everyday and end my hot journey with a jump into the lake. It was the same lake that I grew up on, that I lived with my parents as their marriage came apart in angry and violent sparks. But as I jumped in every day across the entire summer, I felt like I was being baptized. In some way I was letting go of all the things that were holding me back.

And I was sure that I had solved the work/life/happiness balance thing too. But I was almost to a fork in the road that I had not anticipated. And that massive change has brought me here, to this moment, on the couch at my mother’s house, at 5am.

I am happy. The life ahead for me is grand. And the new school year has just begun and I will do my best to tune-in to my kids as much as they will let me. When they are not here I will text and call and email and show up as often as I am allowed. And beyond that I will tend to my own happiness, my own daily forgiveness, my own meditation and walk. My journey still has many twists and turns and if I can approach the day with hope, openness, and optimism, I’m sure my joy will continue to bring joy to others.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce

related posts:

image: sunrise from the deck of my house last summer, john mcelhenney, (cc) 2014

Forgiveness (guest post by Michelle Roman Higgins)

WHOLE-mom-son

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” ~ Buddha

In this present moment I realize that life is good. Actually, my life is great! How long did it take me to get here…to realize what everyone around me already knows? Forty-five (almost six) years, one marriage, a divorce, and five years “alone.” It’s been an epic journey.

I remember being five years old, alone in my room. I was standing in front of my mirror, brushing my hair when I said aloud, “I’m so ugly.” Since the dawn of (my) time I have struggled with insecurities, demons, and a sense of never being good enough. I grew up thinking everyone was prettier than me, cooler than me, and happier than me. I survived anorexia and bulimia. I survived deep, dark depressions. I resisted plastic surgery even though I had wanted new boobs since the age of 15.

I believe I married for security. I struggled financially even as teenager, foregoing trying out for the dance team because I knew my parents would never fork out the cash for the uniforms. I was attracted to men that were not good for me and ended up marrying a man who was as bad for my self-esteem as my father at the time. I strived so hard to be beautiful and thin but I never gained the praise I so desperately needed. At 35, I had never been so miserable.

In searching for what I thought I needed I found the one thing that brought me true inner peace and, for the first time in my life, unbelievable happiness. I discovered forgiveness.

After my son was born things started to change. Age and a child had begun chipping away at my wounded, stone heart. I drew my family closer and pushed an emotionally abusive husband away. At 40 years old, I was a divorced single mom scared of what my future would hold.

Initially, I was on the husband hunt. I felt so naked and alone out there all by myself. It didn’t help that I was laid off four times in three years. How could I keep surviving? Could I do this all by myself? I felt I needed a man, a partner, to support and take care of me. I dated…and dated…and dated. And then one day, I stopped.

In searching for what I thought I needed I found the one thing that brought me true inner peace and, for the first time in my life, unbelievable happiness. I discovered forgiveness. It washed over me like a hot, viscous liquid penetrating every crevice of my heart and mind. The anger I felt towards the men in my life, past and present, disappeared. I wrote my ex-husband a letter apologizing for everything I did that caused him pain during our marriage. He, in return, apologized too. I made peace with my father and enjoy a relationship with him to this day. I dug deep into my inner psyche through yoga and meditation and confronted the demons and the pain I had been carrying around my entire life; and then, I let it go. It felt like a two-ton weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The days became brighter and the air, crisp and refreshing.

I became present. Present in every minute of every day, accepting and honoring how and what my life was at each and every moment. I stopped asking and began being grateful for what I have. I became present as a mom, turning out the rest of the world and technology during our evenings together to learn with each passing moment how to be there for my son…how to treasure each tick of time. I immersed myself even deeper into yoga and meditation. I read. I took time to be alone. I learned to be my friend.

I finally realize that I am pretty enough…that we’re all pretty enough in our own unique and amazing ways. I am happy.

All this took time – forty years after the first day I told myself how ugly I was and five years after my divorce. But what I found radiates from me; it has made me truly beautiful. I now look in the mirror at my less than perfect self and realize that I am beautiful. This is me right now, in this moment and it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m the perfect me; a kind, patient and giving person. I feel proud of my journey and where it has brought me.

Now, I’m okay with being single. I don’t “need” a man. I can do this on my own and I’m doing a damn good job! I do desire a partner one day, but my standards are much higher along with my patience. I love my life just as it is and I’m relishing this moment.

I finally realize that I am pretty enough…that we’re all pretty enough in our own unique and amazing ways. I am happy. And the toxic, drama-filled people that used to take up residence in my life have been evicted. There is no drama in my life whatsoever, just peace and tranquility. I have achieved a state of equanimity.

I do it all. Alone. As a single mom. But, of course, I’m not really alone. I have my family, my friends, and all of you. We have each other and we must love, forgive, and support each other. Because without those things, life just isn’t what it should (and can) be.

Check out Michelle’s blog Scarlet Mom for more stories and insights.

image: distant distance, rennett stowe, creative commons usage

Prayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

WHOLE-prayer

“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.”

I haven’t always been able to bless my ex-wife. And for times in our marriage neither of us were blessing anyone. It was hard. We tried. We worked at it. We raised kids and grew together and then apart in the process. But we never stopped trying. And I can see that we are still trying today.

I know that my ex-partner is doing the best she can under the circumstances. She always has. And though we have both had periods of struggle and doubt, we seem to be on the upswing of our co-parenting transition. I do believe that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to make our kid’s lives better. And I have to believe that she is always looking out for their best interest, even when I can’t see it.

Somedays, I pine for being a core family again. Somedays, I look back and wonder what I could’ve, we could’ve, done to preserve the respect and love that we once had. And other days I can get so mad, wishing things were different, right now. Wishing I had the next relationship under way, like she does. But that’s not what this is about.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about.

This is about our kids. Two wonderful kids. The supreme focus of my life. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. To keep them safe, to protect them from unnecessary drama and hurt, to help them grow into strong independent adults. And I have to know that she has the same intention in mind, even when I think things aren’t going as they should. It’s okay. We still have our differences. And my “way” is not the right way, it’s just my way. She has her own connection with the kids. She has her own path. And now we no longer share that path.

Communication is the key. The less we communicate… The more we communicate… It can be hard. And it is often the cause for friction in this co-parenting dance. So we need to take it more carefully. Answer with some thought to how the other person may react. Breathe when we are upset and want to react. It is never a good idea to fire back with anger. Never.

My anger is my own. My ex-wife does not deserve any of it. (Man that is even hard to say.) But it’s true. We tried, we negotiated a truce and separation, and now we are separate countries with shared resources. We still operate with some of the same interdependent budgets, but we’ve got a new autonomy. And what makes me angry is mainly my own unmet expectations. This is not the way I wanted it to work out. But guess what? It’s not the way she wanted it either. So we’re even. And we’re in this together.

Anger is a funny beast. At first I was afraid to express my anger. And I was almost a pacifist. But pacifists get run over. And over time I learned to speak up for my own needs. And indeed, I got mad as we entered the late stages of our marriage, when things were not going well, I spoke up. And again, today, I can feel my anger, but I can use it to change things about MY life and not hers. And anger is not an influencer for her, it’s only an irritant.

It’s ironic, that when she’s frustrated with me, I can tell. And I sort of take offense. AND… I’d like to respond in-kind. But I’ve learned, that I get NO RESULTS and NO SATISFACTION from being an asshole. In fact, being angry back at her, usually causes me to feel sad. That is not to say I should swallow my anger. This is how I gained 15 pounds during the height of our dysfunction. But I should own my anger. It is mine.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about. And keeping it inside is not the healthy answer, so what is the way through the anger? For me, anger is energy. When I am angry, I can tap that charge and redirect it towards something constructive or creative. It’s one of the reasons writing has become such a release. It’s important not to bury it or squelch it. Anger is power, use it, but use it towards something you want.

As a single parent, there are many new challenges, things that were easier to coordinate as a couple. Now, when the kids are “with me” I have 100% of the transportation duties, 100% of the entertainment, and 100% of the feeding and handling. It’s a lot. And when I’m in a bind, I can often ask for help from my ex. You can see how my friendliness and flexibility makes things easier for her. Well, when I’m in need that “friendship” is what keeps things balanced between us. When we were in the earlier months of divorce, it was much less easy to ask for anything. Today, we are still learning, and still making adjustments, but for the most part, we negotiate support for one another.

Support for our kids is support for our ex. There is no way around it. Anger towards our ex is anger that ends up in our kid’s world. I can take that shit elsewhere, as I do when they are with me. It’s no different. My anger is my own, and it is my responsibility to leave it elsewhere, and deal with it outside of my relationship to my kids, and even my ex. Yep, it sucks, but there it is.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to  you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support. So a prayer. Our kids are a gift. My ex is blameless in her journey forward, and it is in my best interest to support her and the kids with everything I’ve got. And that’s what I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

image: yemanja, vince alongi, creative commons usage