Tag Archives: loving your kids

The Joy of Young Parents

I saw this couple today with their young child and I was inspired again. What kinds of things were going through our minds when our children were between the ages of 1 and 5? Amazing times! Amazing growth in them and in both parents, rediscovering their own lives. Everything changes when you have kids, that’s a given, but the sheer joy of becoming a mom or dad cannot be understood by those who have decided against having children. (It’s just a choice.)

How do we lose the magic? When do our kids turn into pains-in-the-ass teenagers? When does their great upbringing and nice upper-middle-class lifestyle become a liability rather than a gift? I’m in that place recently, trying to weigh my love of my kids and and temper it with the patience required to keep sane while they are forgetting things at their mom’s house, forgetting to tell you about a “dropoff” that needs to happen. While you ALWAYS love your kids, there are definite levels and plateaus of parenting.

I think we (my kids and me) are just entering into a new phase. Something beyond mere teenager-angst and into something that contains the fascination and joy at simply being a parent. I noticed in this young couple today, the way they had already begun to ignore their girl. And then how they returned to 100% focus on their little jewel. Somehow I had drifted away from the real appreciation of my kids.

It’s subtle. Chores, work, exhaustion… It’s good we feel so much overwelming love at the same time we are facing overwhelming changes in our lives. And somewhere along the way, we think “I got this” and we handle our kids just like we see everyone else handling their kids. Yes, they are a priority, but life goes on, and priorities shift.

In the last three years my kids have drifted in and out of my life. I always get my “every other weekend” but I don’t always appreciate it as I should. I get bogged down in “Jesus, all she wants is a ride somewhere.”

Today, I could appreciate the love and joy and in-and-out focus of these young parents. I could see myself as a new dad. I could feel the change that overcame me in the first hours of my son’s arrival.

And I woke up a little bit. I have a 15 yo boy and a 13 yo girl and sooner than I think they will be away at college. What can I do in the years ahead to

  1. Let them know they are a priority in my life
  2. Give them the confidence to move forward with their dreams
  3. Provide all the advantages in life I can while helping steer them in the direction of gratefulness
  4. Hold strong boundaries and high expectations

I can be present, I can be honest, and I can be vulnerable with them. Today I saw the joy and blessing of a little girl with her mom and dad. I saw myself 10 and 15 years ago. And I woke up.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: young family, orginal random photo, cc reuse

Loving Again as a Single Parent is an Ongoing Leap of Faith

whole-leap

Loving someone is a leap of faith. A continuous renewal of your intention and energy to cherish and support your partner. Loving again after divorce or a painful break up is a process of releasing your previous experience and allowing for the new experience to be different. But there are always echoes. And with kids those echoes can create barriers to fully loving again.

We constantly say “Wow” to each other and to ourselves. It’s a bit like a prayer.

As you begin any new relationship there are moments when you have to decide to move towards the YES or away from it. The YES is that pull towards partnership, entwinement, entanglement, and committing to that path, that person, is a risk. You have to be willing to  challenge and rebuke all of those old tapes. You have to take a leap of faith well before you can be sure of anything. Falling in love is a process of allowing yourself to jump into the arms of this new person, into their lives, without too much concern or fear of the future relationship.

As you begin joining in this new love life with a new partner it is important to recognize the strings from the old pain and old patterns of your relationships in the past. When you feel that fear or sadness, it is a renewed committment to seek the new partner, that becomes the YES that allows your heart to reopen and re-feel the exhilaration of loving again. A friend once talked about “Writing over the old tapes with the new ones.” She was talking about reformatting your brain and putting new and good experiences over the old painful ones. It is important that you not run from the echoes, but that you open to the full experience of what is happening in your life.

The love pushes up the fears. The love with a new person will retrigger old hurts. As you spend more time with this person the little shocks of, “Oh hell, I remember doing this before with another person” will lessen and you can begin saying, “I have never experienced anything so free and loving.” That’s what you want to listen for. That’s the message you want to confirm with your new lover.

My significant other and I call it the “WOW.” And we constantly say “Wow” to each other and to ourselves. It’s a bit like a prayer.

In my mind, “Wow,” says:

  • Thank you
  • You are amazing
  • I can’t believe how much I love you
  • This is the moment
  • I’ve never felt so much love
  • Amen

However you think about divine intervention or higher powers or your religious touchstone, love is the most powerful force in our lives. It is through love of ourselves, love of our children, and love of another adult, that we find meaning and fulfillment in our lives.

Before children I was extremely self-focused. I was intense and focused on success. And then I fell in love with the woman who would become my wife and suddenly all the possibilities were open. And through the opening of our relationship we were both able to make the massive leap of faith to consciously bring another human into our lives. The moment we looked at each other and communicated that we were ready to go from practice (using birth control) to live ammo our lives were transformed. The leap of faith we took that morning in France, would burn away all of our ideas of self-actualization and striving. We said YES to our spiritual guides and asked to be given the opportunity to become parents.

As our story went, the marriage ended up not continuing, but we spent 11 years together leaping into the unknown, first in our relationship, second in our marriage, third in becoming parents. In divorce you must take that final leap, the fourth, into celebrating and supporting your previous partner in spite of the fracture and distance that comes as a result of dissolving the marriage and undoing the vows you made to one another.

But you never undo the vows to your children. And as you move through the years as co-parents rather than cohabitants and lovers, you will be stripped down to the bare essentials. In my case, over the last five years, I lost everything. Jobs, money, possessions. In some dark moments I contemplated losing myself. Amazing, that sadness that overwhelms completely enough for someone to consider an easy escape into death. I am ashamed to admit this moment, as if it’s some weakness in my character. But it’s a fact. A fact that I didn’t follow through on, but a fact that I contemplated, ruminated, on the idea that I could escape this pain and loss by escaping my own life.

As you move through the years as co-parents rather than cohabitants and lovers, you will be stripped down to the bare essentials.

My father must’ve felt the same despair as he made choices that led to his divorce from my mom. His choice was towards alcohol rather than towards us and our mom. He “chose” to deny his drinking problem and chose to marry another woman with a love of the distilled spirits as well. The descent was quick and horrifying to watch. But as he occasionally reached out to me, at 10 and 14 years old, to come live with them in the new fantastic house, I was clear that I would be taking a significantly different route.

As I have begun this new relationship in 2015 I have been shocked at times by the frictionless momentum we have developed while saying “Wow” to each other. But the bumps have been nonexistent, and the timing seems to have allowed both of us to make the repeated leaps necessary to join and rejoin regardless of the fear or differences. The YES has been much more powerful than any of our objections, and often more powerful than either of our individual ideas or expectations. We’ve blown through all of our expectations and are in an ongoing process of including our leap towards each other as we say “Wow,” and revel in the bursts of good fortune that continue to rain down on our lives as a couple.

And as we radiate and recommit, as we lean in towards one another and take the leap of faith towards life-transforming love, we can see the effect our joy is having on our friends and family. And the kids, while still readjusting to our new configuration, are already showing warmth and enthusiasm around our together unit, which now includes a new partner for me.

I can’t predict what will happen, but I can declare my commitment to staying in the YES mode and continuously transforming my fears into prayers as I turn towards this amazing new woman in *our* lives.

The leap of faith is strong and consistent on both our sides. As we hold hands and travel together and say “Yes” and “Wow” and “Thank you,”  we are creating love. You build love one leap at a time. And as long as both of you continue to leap towards one another, you’re future may be unpredictable, but the core energy will be solid and the core sound will be “Yes.”

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: kids leap into summer, june 2014, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

How Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness

WHOLE-thekiss

Today, over four years after my divorce was finalized, I was still struck by a pang of sadness as I was dropping my kids bags off at my ex-wife’s house, the old house, our old house. I wondered, “How long will it take before I feel nothing?” But I immediately knew the answer. I will always feel a loss when dropping my kids bags off at my old house. The rest, what I do with those feelings, is up to me.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process.

I can sink, as I did in the early years, or I can rise and draw power from the emotional impact and love the sadness indicates. Even sadness is energy. If we let it sink us we can spend days or weeks in a fog of sadness and self pity. And I have to admit, I spent some time there after my divorce. And it’s never quite so difficult as the time you are dropping the kids back at school when you know you won’t see them again for nearly a week. What? That was not in any of my marriage advice books, I didn’t know this was a potential outcome.

Getting over the loss of my kids is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in divorce. I thrive on their presence. I cajole, support, nurture, and laugh with them a lot. When they are gone, I don’t have near as much opportunity for that connective joy. And of course, with teen aged children, the off-time communication is less critical to them. It’s still massively important to me, but they are more preoccupied with school, sports, and going steady.

For me, the time I have spent, not getting back into a relationship has been invaluable. I believe my inner resolve has been strenghtened. I know my innate joy and passion has returned, and it’s not dependant on anyone else. In fact, that’s the rub. You can’t count on any one else to do the work after your divorce. Sympathy from friends and counselors is fine and helpful, but the “work” is completely up to you.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process. You might be trading in the old failed relationship for a “next” relationship that is built on the same unstable foundation. I think that’s a mistake.

I tried dating again, I jumped on match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid almost immediately after I was asked to leave the house. It was a miserable experience. There were a few cute women, but nobody that caught my attention expressed any interest in me. Bummer. But I know now, that I was in no condition to date. For me it was about sex, touch, cuddling, nurturing. And those things, in the real world, come with a lot more entanglement than we might imagine.

I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me.

I know now, having had two serious relationships since divorce, that there is no such thing as casual sex FOR ME. Friends with benefits sounds like an interesting concept, but in practice, I always get attached. From that “cheating site” the advice for a hookup-type relationship is to make it 100% about the sex. Don’t date. Don’t go out. Just do it and move on with the rest of your life. Um, that’s not what I’m after.

So here at four years and counting, I’ve had two relationships that lasted 3 months and 4 months respectively. And while neither ended up being the “next” relationship for me, they both taught me valuable lessons.

FIRST RELATIONSHIP

I had read The 5 Languages of Love during my divorce, but it was a bit too late to figure out how to bridge the gap between us with some philosophy. But the information was vital to my recovery from the divorce. What I learned in my first serious dating experience was how it felt to be in relationship with someone who spoke the same love language: touch. She changed my life. I won’t ever settle for anything less than “touch.” Because it is possible to be in relationship with someone who has a different primary love languages, but it’s always a compromise. My first relationship showed me what was possible and it blew the mystery off what had gone wrong in my marriage.

SECOND RELATIONSHIP

This woman taught me that no matter how much you want it, when the other person is not ready, or is unwilling to build up a committed relationship, it’s not going to work. There was no amount of flexibility or compromise I could provide to keep my second girlfriend from breaking up with me every other week. She would tell me she didn’t want a relationship. She would tell me we weren’t going to work out. And I would dive right back in at the first opportunity. Perhaps the physical attraction was just that high. Perhaps it was that she shared my love of tennis, and the cute tennis skirt. Either way, I learned, that no matter how fantastic I think the person is, and not matter how hard I’m willing to try, push, encourage, nurture, if they are not ready, they are not going to be convinced that they are ready. It’s not our job to get the other person ready. Either they are or they are not.

MOVING FORWARD

I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me. I am as transparent as I can be. And so far, I’ve had one near miss. This time it appeared we had a YES on both sides. And then after three fascinating days, she went dark. Again, I couldn’t pushed, I could’ve worked my romance. Instead I listened and responded. I asked about what was going on. She said it was a timing thing, and her life had just turned topsy turvy.

I had to accept her word for it and move on. As excited as we both seemed on day two, when the connection goes from 50-50 to 90-10 it’s time to back off and reconsider. It’s in those moments of reconsideration that we can have the greatest clarity. When we stop and ask again, “What do I want?” we have an opportunity to refine and redirect our energy towards what is most important in our lives.

For me, most of the time and energy has been redirected towards being a great dad, and being present for my kids above all else. I’d like a relationship, and I’m still casually working the online dating options, but I’m not in a hurry. The first YES woman, the most recent near miss, had me just a tad nervous. I think that’s healthy. What will happen when SHE shows up?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. Patient to make sure it’s a solid relationship, but I’m ready. I’m asking the universe to “bring it on.”

So, in answer to the original question, “How long will it hurt?” I think the answer is always. But the next part is the critical work for your divorce recovery. What are  you going to do with that hurt? Get over it by sublimating your feelings with another relationship? Or are you prepared to dig in a bit, pause, and explore what went wrong? And then by building back yourself, while you are alone, you can re-find your own priorities and joys in life. When you’ve got someone who’s ready to join you in those, and who speaks the same love language, well… I don’t know, but then perhaps the hurt will be nothing more than a mosquito bite.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: the kiss, the prophet, creative commons usage