Tag Archives: parenting

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

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

related posts:

image: young family, orginal random photo, cc reuse

Loss of the Proximity Effect as a Divorced Dad

WHOLE-repoop

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

back to Positive Divorce

related posts:

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

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

related posts:

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