Tag Archives: positive coparenting

Going Positive and Growing Stronger

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-6-22-18-amI’m reminded this morning that I have a choice in every interaction with my ex-wife. As I have written before, there are two levels of healing that need to take place after divorce. (Two Levels of Healing) But this morning I see it’s even more simple than that. I wake up, reset my day, and forgive my ex-wife. It’s as easy as letting her go, letting her be as she is, and wishing her well in her day shepherding our kids from school to activities and such. While she has them 70% of the time, against my wishes, she has also been doing a great job at being an uber-single mom.

Today I dance myself awake most mornings, without my kids. But I’ve begun engaging them in new ways.

I resent her time with the kids some days. I wake up wishing I had my kids to rouse, tussle with, and make breakfast for and get to school. It was a ritual that I used to love. It was my ritual when we were married. From the earliest days of parenthood, I was the early bird, I was the breakfast man, I was the song weaver who would start our day with some new band I had discovered. I literally danced everyone awake. Except my then-wife, who liked to sleep in as much as possible.

Today I dance myself awake most mornings, without my kids. But I’ve begun engaging them in new ways. I text them before they ever wake up (yes, they check their phones on waking like most teenagers) and offer to buy them breakfast and give them a ride to school. Their mom doesn’t mind, because it halves her driving load. And my kids love the extra time, and the alone time with me. Well, I get the feeling they do anyway, as they are starting to ask me to take them to school on off days.

I can bring joy into their lives now as I did when they were little.

So as I have begun to offer my joy to them in the mornings, I have begun to form slightly different relationships with them. For example, my 13 yo daughter has begun asking if I will hit tennis balls with her after school on Wednesdays. This was her idea. I’m thrilled. Tennis is my sport and we used to play when she was younger. Today, I suspect it is as much about getting time with me as it is about perfecting her backhand. But the cool thing is, she’s getting good at tennis, without even trying. She’s the sporty one.

As your kids get older, perhaps, you can begin moving on from the divorce and moving into something else. Just relating with your kids on a more-adult level. No, they are still kids. But they are reaching an age where they can decide what they want to do, and they can ask for what they want. If they want more time with me, I’m going to make myself available as best I can.

I can bring joy into their lives now as I did when they were little. Yes, there was a period in the middle that I had much less access to them, but we are past that. And for her part, their mom facilitates our connections. I have to be grateful for that. We’ve always cooperated in regards to our kids.

This morning I give thanks for the flexibility and caring my ex-wife shows me and my kids when they ask for some new connection. We’ve both worked hard to get here. And as we work better together everyone benefits. I can’t wake them with song everyday, but I can wake them with an attentive and happy dad looking to support them in any way they can imagine. All they have to do is ask.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Trying Again to Be 100% Positive

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When I set out on this journey, three years ago, to build a 100% positive divorce parenting blog, well… I knew there would be challenges. I knew that I was starting with a chip on my shoulder and another blog, where I could vent. Today things are much the same, I still blog out of both sides of my mouth, and I’m still confused as to how I can keep pissing my ex-wife off so frequently.

I’ve come close to achieving my goal of 100% positive, even when I’m skirting a difficult subject. But I’ve also failed repeatedly.

I know sometimes people need other people to be mad at. My mom, for example, is a worrier. If I don’t give her something to worry about, she’ll be worrying about someone. It’s fine when it’s not me. But it’s always going to be someone. So, perhaps that’s the deal with my ex-wife. She needs someone to be mad at. Somehow the world has done her wrong, or she’s not living the life she’d really like to be living, and somehow I have something to do with it.

I’ve done my best to pull all punches here on The Whole Parent. And I’ve come close to achieving my goal of 100% positive, even when I’m skirting a difficult subject. But I’ve also failed repeatedly. Most of those posts are sitting unpublished in the “drafts” folder, awaiting some revelation or insight that allows me to approach the subject with a better attitude.

That seems to be the name of the game these days: attitude. I could be mad at my ex-wife. There are certainly things she’s done, things she’s doing, things she will do, that can set me off. My first response, these days, however, is to breathe, relax, and let it go. If I can laugh about it later I can laugh about it now.

Let’s take a recent example of miscommunication that could’ve gone two ways. It went the angry way, but let’s look at what happened and see how I fed into the fury rather than diffused the situation, like I normally do. (To be quite honest, I’m a bit tired of being the good guy divorced dad.)

You see, last week my wife authorized braces (not the inexpensive kind) for both my kids who seem to have great smiles, to me, the non-educated non-dentist father. She agreed to some $5,000 per kid with the dentist and had the Invisalign braces put on my kid’s teeth. She never asked me about it. Never mentioned it. I heard about it from one of my kids complaining about them, not knowing why he had to get braces in the first place.

Wait. What? So my ex-wife incurred a $10,000 medical expense and forgot to ask or tell me about it? That’s a violation of our joint-custody rules. Hmm… I suppose I could go about my response in two ways. 1. Anger. 2. Reasoned response.

I sent her one email on the subject.

“I will only say it once. I do not think either of our kids need braces.”

In an effort to cover herself she didn’t respond to my email, she blasted everything about the last six years that made her angry at me.

That was it. Now, I could’ve done better. I could’ve played, the “you must’ve been too busy to call me…” card, but I was irritated and I let my angry side show a bit. I’d have to say I stayed pretty far away from the ANGRY response. And maybe because I didn’t take a more aggressive approach it gave her an opening to rail against me. She went on in a two page email about how disappointed she was in me, in my questioning her decision about this, about how unsupportive I’ve been in the last six years, since our divorce.

Of course, she was defending by attacking. She didn’t answer my question, until I posed it in a second email. Again, very short and to the point.

“I’m assuming that you want me to pay for half of their expenses, even though you did not ask me about it. Why didn’t you ask me about it?”

Now, I knew this would get her fired up. And another hot letter (too hot to excerpt even) came smoking into my inbox. I didn’t even read the entire letter. She knew she was in violation of our agreement. She was taking the FU approach to responding.

I’m curious how my more tempered email would’ve been received? The problem is she knew she had done something wrong. (Getting $10,000 worth of braces put on our kids without consulting me.) And in an effort to cover herself she didn’t respond to my email, she blasted everything about the last six years that made her angry at me.

Well, I’m doing a pretty good job here of keeping it above-board, but occasionally, like today, I have to let a little of the pain show through. Tomorrow I go back to being 100% positive. And tomorrow I will once again show the fully loving response to her angry missives. It’s all about the kids these days. Our anger, our emotions towards each other, shouldn’t even come into the equation. I do my best. But I can do better.

Have I failed?

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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10 Things I’ve Learned In the 5 Years Since My Divorce

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It’s all about the kids. If you’ve still got a beef with your ex you need to get over it. There’s no point. You might have disagreements about stuff, but those should be handled with the same intensity as a convenience store clerk. “How much for a pumpkin spice latte?” “Four-twenty.” “Great, I’ll take two.” Beyond that, you should get support and counseling elsewhere if you’re still steamed about “issues.

There will issues in the course of parenting children, but the negotiation and consultation should be accomplished without drama or large emotional toll on either one of you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. My kids-time is the most important resource I have.

I cannot get enough of them. The divorce gives me less time. But it also gives me the opportunity to be more present when they are with me. I can parent at 110% when my kids are under my roof. And when they are with their mom, I can also offer help, transportation, and regular check-ins. If you can put your kid’s schedules in front of your own, you’ll be doing yourself and them a favor.

2. The nuclear family relationship never ends.

My ex and I have a lot of business to negotiate over the next 5 – 10 years or so. Our kids are 12 and 14, but the obligation to them and to each other doesn’t end at 18. What ever anger or unrest I have about my divorce or about her life, I need to take that up with my therapist, minister, or friends. My ex is struggling with her own issues, her own life, her own navigation of transportation and counseling required by being the parent of young children. Anything I can do to get my “issues” out of the way, I’m going to do it.

3. Take Some Time Off

Your emotional baggage must be cleared before you begin dating again.You can try jumping into a rebound relationship. You can try online dating as an escape from feeling what you’ve lost. You can try serial dating, or casual sex. You can try to jump straight from “family” to “single and dating” but it won’t work in the long run. The issues that caused your marriage to fail are likely to require some self-examination and recalibration. And any anger that you still hold towards your ex is going to come out in current relationships as sideways outbursts. Those moments when you’re furious about something rather trivial. If you’re experiencing anger sparks do your part and “take them outside.”

4. You Are the Project

Once you depart the family unit you’ve got a lot of time and a lot of questions. The time alone is a big gaping hole for a while. You may need support outside your family to get your alone-needs met. The quiet time, alone, is where you begin to remember what kind of activities make you happy. The first woman I dated asked me, “When you are really happy, what does that look like?” I was stumped. I was also clearly unready for a relationship, until I could answer that question. I needed to find my happiness again.

For me those things that fed me before my marriage and during my marriage were writing, playing music, and playing tennis. In the maelstrom of divorce I lost all perspective of what *my life* was going to be about, if not my marriage and kids. But that’s the key question. It’s another chance at resetting your life towards your ultimate goal. Asking yourself, “What is my life about?”

5. The Journey is the Goal

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your single parenting activities. And while you’re feeling the need to be super-parent, and you’re juggling after school activities, and all the other newly single activities, you also need to learn how slow down the pace and enjoy the steps along the journey. For several years I was actively seeking a relationship. I felt I had done the work on myself and I deserved an awesome relationship. I was in a hurry. I thought I wasn’t, I tried to play it cool, but I was striving a bit too much. I would go after second dates with online connections that were obviously not a match. I was running profiles on OK Cupid, Match.com, and Tinder. (Without much luck, btw.)

I was working too hard. I was too earnest as I looked in my date’s eyes for a clue or a spark. I was self-generating romance and potential where there was none. And as I accepted the frustration of my first two relationship attempts, I decided to stop broadcasting my availability. I decided I was NOT GOING TO DATE. And I was really not going to use online dating sites as an excuse for not engaging people in the real world.

The real switch was falling back in love with my life and orienting my “off” time around passion and joy. I was turning things inward and becoming the person I wanted to present to the world. My idea involved becoming the radiant lover I was looking for, and actively not looking for her. Sure, I was writing love poems and broadcasting them elsewhere, but I was determined that I was going to find the next relationship or I was going to be alone, for a bit.

6. Winning is a Team Sport

Things began to go right for me again, after several breakdowns and derailments. And as I was telling my son the other day, “When things go good for me, I can help with other things in your life as well.” I had given him a $150 pair of sunglasses unexpectedly. “And things are good in my life,” I said. “I’m glad,” he responded.

As I lifted out of the muck again, and continued to work on my positive influence, I noticed how things go easier between me and my ex-wife as well. As I was able to offer my help and support in various ways, she was able to relax her vigilance in other ways.

Yes, the best revenge is living well. But the better revenge is everybody living well and giving up the need for revenge.

7. Love Can Awaken and Nourish Your Soul Again

A new relationship arrived out of the blue. And the realignment of my life didn’t take long. In love, so many of life’s other complications fall off the radar. Magically, my ex-wife’s gesticulations became less overwhelming. It wasn’t that they changed. I changed. I began to glow with my own joy. I began to resonate with another person in a way that I wasn’t sure was possible again.

I had been hoping, praying, and working towards finding a *next* relationship. When the relationship showed up, in the real world, I was ready, willing, and able. That the transformation was mutual had more to do with magic, or prayer, or timing. But really, it had to do with my own relationship with myself and my kids. And as I continue to let go of my ex-wife, and continue to release even the frustrating parts of that relationship, I find even more of my livelihood waking up in my new love life. And my kids can see it.

8. The Ultimate Goal

We alone are responsible for our own happiness. And finding that happiness after divorce is a process of recovery. We must recover what was important in our lives before kids, and reset our our path back towards our larger goals. The journey is the goal, but our own happiness results from finding ourselves along the path. And as we bring that happiness back into the lives of everyone around us, we begin to see positive changes in everyone else.

9. Happiness and love are infectious.

10. Always Love.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The 3 Immutable Laws of Positive Co-Parenting

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You have to release them both, your kids and your ex, and let them fly.

My ex-wife and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. But one thing we’ve kept relatively clear over the last 5 years of divorce is THE KIDS COME FIRST. Always.

We’ve had issues between us, and I think two people in a relationship will always have issues, but we’ve kept them out of our parental relationships. So many divorces before us, I’ve seen angry divorced mom’s trashing their former partner in front of her two kids while waiting on the school bus together. And the incidence of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is also real. I can’t imagine using your kids as a chess piece to get back at your former spouse. Yikes.

Attachment parenting is about letting your kids know, from the moment they are born and for as long as they live, that they are loved and supported regardless of their choices.

But when you’ve agreed to disagree over things like money and custodial vs. non-custodial role, you can still agree to keep the kids clear of any of the disagreements between you. In our case, we used a divorce therapist to help us split the baby, so to speak. And in her office we could talk about things like “in the best interest of the children” while still arguing about our own wants and needs. It’s not about what’s fair, at that point. It’s about what situation would support the kids.

Right, the goal of “less disruption for the kids at this difficult time” was hard to me to argue with. And in typical fashion I was shown the door, given a less-than status and a substantial child support payment, and I said “thank you,” at the end of it. Even today, I’m not happy about the current parenting schedule and financial burden I’ve been given, but I’m not fighting about it either.

Today, “in the best interest of the kids” means something very different than it did five years ago. Today my kids are 13 and 15. They have their own agendas. And we all find our way forward with as little conflict as possible, both the kids and their mom. Even while there are some big issues and big questions in the legal and financial part of our relationship, the devotion to the kids, and their conflict free child hood, remains our guiding principal.

At the core of it, I know we are both doing the best we can. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, even when I’m mad as hell at her, is the only route. And making sure my issues are cleared up before I am with my kids, that is my responsibility.

How easy it would be to spout off the, “well, your mom…” But we don’t. At least I don’t think she does, but it’s never gotten back to me about any snarks about our situation. And we’ve been through some tough scrapes. Money has occasionally been an issue for both of us. “Somehow we just keep working it out. We will get there,” she wrote to me in a text message.

If you can remember the flight and joy of your children as the goal, you can forgive, forget, and move on nearly any personal issue or frustration with your ex-partner.

And you can tell how well you are doing by your kid’s energy and enthusiasm. In the first few years things were a bit moody with all of us. But even in that hard slurry of depression, we, the four of us, kept encouraging each other, in spite of, and through, the hard parts. That’s what we are now. Cheerleaders. We’ve got other responsibilities too, like leadership, morals, and guiding them towards a happy career path, but mostly, at this age, we have the role of cheerleader.

And in someways, I’m also a cheerleader for their mom’s success. In her 2.5 year relationship, regardless of my feelings about the guy, I have to cheer them on. My daughter likes him. And my ex-wife seems a bit more relaxed since they’ve been together. So, sure, I can be a “rah rah” co-parent for them. I’m glad my kids have another adult who cares about their welfare. And he’s a good influence on all three of them.

When your partner’s partner comes to your daughter’s volleyball game at the end of a workday, you’ve got to give them kudos. I’d be just as easy to “work late.” But he shows up. And they sit together. And my daughter makes sure she hugs and says goodbye to both of them. That’s a WIN WIN. A win for my daughter. And a win for my ex-wife.

Let’s find the win in our divorces. Even before we’ve found a win, or a relationship in our lives, it’s important to show our kids how well we still support and champion the other parent.

A reader sent me an email about one of my posts, a week ago. She was concerned that I was going to share my ex-wife’s transgressions with my kids.

I responded, about why I’m writing this blog.

“No, it’s important for me to know, that eventually the whole story will be told. But today, it’s all about positive parenting for me. If they read the book of the divorce in five or ten years, when they are adults themselves, that’s fine, but that’s not my intention.”

Divorce is a bitch. And compartmentalizing your anger and sadness is a difficult process, but an essential one.

She replied. “That’s great to hear, because my parents were real assholes to each other after the divorce. And all it did was make me and my siblings want to get as far away from them as possible when we left the house. None of us are close with my parents.”

And there’s the crux. Attachment parenting is about letting your kids know, from the moment they are born and for as long as they live, that they are loved and supported regardless of their choices. And in divorce you have to keep that objective in mind. If you attack or belittle their other parent, you are breaking one of the fundamental rules of co-parenting.

The Three Immutable Laws of Positive Co-Parenting:

  1. 100% positive
  2. Kids first
  3. Honest feelings

And from that position of strength and cooperation, we can manage anything, together, both the kids and my ex-wife and her boyfriend. And my girlfriend too. (grin)

If you can remember the flight and joy of your children as the goal, you can forgive, forget, and move on nearly any personal issue or frustration with your ex-partner. That’s your responsibility, not your kids, nor your ex-partner’s. You have to release them both, your kids and your ex, and let them fly.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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As a Nice Guy, My Cooperative Divorce Was Not Fair Or Balanced

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I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the way the divorce was going to go, once I agreed to actually get a divorce. We went, eyes wide open, into the negotiations about parenting rights, money, schedules, and I also felt like I had a cooperative soon-to-be wife who was not going to try to destroy me. The first part was true, the second part, well… Let’s see how the story goes.

Cooperative divorce is not for everyone. Some couples will have fights about money, kids, things, houses. Some couples may be able to part as friends. We decided we would put the kid’s needs above ours in every matter. That was the spirit of the start, as we began the road towards getting a divorce.

She had met with an attorney before we began these talks and she wanted what she knew she would get if we went to family court.

It just so happens that a lot of our individual desires can be expressed as being “in the best interest of the kids” when in fact they are just requests and preferences. AND the traditional divorce has always favored the mom-as-caregiver and dad-as-breadwinner and the legal system and precedents have all been set up with this in mind. I did not know this going in to our initial discussions with a divorce therapist, who was engaged to help us through the process of setting up a parenting plan, and staying focused on the kids needs rather than our issues or frustrations.

And again, I was imagining that I had a good perspective on my own feelings and needs. I did not. I knew that I was depressed about the divorce, but I didn’t know how this would affect my negotiations and participation in the process of divorce. I thought I was going to be able to hold my own. I was not.

In the first weeks of our “planning” we started discussing schedules and what each of us wanted. My first mistake was assuming that we both wanted a 50/50 balance in our divorce. We had decided to have children as a balanced decision. We parented them to this point in a very 50/50 style, though I would be the one making the most money to support her time with the kids. But this was a choice we made together, not just a stereotypical marriage.

Since accepting the fact that I was getting a divorce, I had been reading a lot of great books about balanced parenting, and fair divorce. When we were asked to bring in our schedule ideas I lead with a 50/50 split that had been recommended by one of the progressive books I was reading. What I didn’t know was my still-wife had gotten other advice. She had met with an attorney before we began these talks and she wanted what she knew she would get if we went to family court.

She wanted the traditional split in Texas (80% of divorces follow this structure)

  • Mom gets the house (so the kids can stay in their family home
  • Mom gets child support to keep the kids in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to
  • Mom gets primary custody, which awards her some significant rights in the eyes of the state
  • Mom gets a significant amount more time with the kids in the two-week cycle (something known in Texas as the Standard Possession Order, or SPO)

She knew this is what she could expect to be awarded if we were to go to court, so this was her starting point. This was her “best interest of the kids” scenario, as backed up and supported by the State of Texas Attorney General’s Office.

If you are a dad and you really want to be there as much as you can for your kids, FIGHT.

Now, I give my ex-wife a lot of credit for being organized, for planning ahead, and making great decisions both financially and about the kids. In this case I believe she was acting out of her own best interest as well as the kids, and I believe she was well prepped by her lawyer to enter the cooperative negations with this significant advantage on her side: she knew that if things didn’t go as she wanted, at any time, she could pull out and we could go to court and she would get exactly what she wanted.

When our high-paid counselor dismissed my 50/50 dreams with this statement, “That’s what she’s going to get if you guys go to court,” I should’ve been clued in to my mistake. I thought we were negotiating from a balanced perspective. I was sad. I wanted to get out of this “fight” with as little bloodshed as possible. I did not fight when this statement effectively tossed my 50/50 schedule in the trash.

It is at this very moment, if you are going though a divorce, that you should really know your goals. I was too emotionally wrecked to put up much of a fight. Even though I had a lot of good books and experts on my side, my idea of 50/50 parenting was dismissed within three sessions. Again, I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want to give up my time with my kids, and I didn’t want to agree to anything less than 50/50 parenting. But when push came to shove and the counselor started telling me to give up on that idea, I accepted defeat. This moment was the darkest in the entire process of divorce for me. What I feared most was losing time with my kids. And even thought I was paying half of the counselor’s fees I was given my starting point to be a lot less than I wanted.

If you are a dad and you really want to be there as much as you can for your kids, FIGHT. I did not fight because I was depressed, because I was the nice guy, because I wanted to avoid conflict. And while I don’t think my kids have suffered as a result of following the example set by the State of Texas, I do think I have lost a significant amount of time with my kids. Time I should’ve had as part of a more equitable split.

Today’s research about divorce and parenting shows that BOTH mom and dad are equally important in kid’s lives.

It turns out, I’m going to have to go to court now, six years later, and sue for balanced custody and a 50/50 schedule. Turns out that if she’s making more money than me she should be paying me some support. Perhaps this would’ve been a better plan in the beginning. Perhaps this would’ve been better for my kids. It’s not what happened, and I’m not sad about it, but today, knowing what I know, I would’ve stood my ground.

My son would’ve had more of me standing up for him as a young kid. He might now be more courageous to try new things. My daughter would’ve had fewer nights missing me. I would’ve had fewer nights missing them.

Today’s research about divorce and parenting shows that BOTH mom and dad are equally important in kid’s lives. So if you’re heading into divorce, and you parented in a balanced way, please take the time, make the effort to fight for what you know is right. By all means, if you don’t want 50/50, you can relax and let the standard deal get established. I didn’t have all the facts in front of me, and I was at a disadvantage. So I lost.

Today if I want to reestablish a 50/50 plan it’s going to cost me money and necessitate a legal fight, if all goes as planned she’s ready to agree to the 50/50 idea anyway. But you never know with my ex-wife. She’s got plans and ideas of her own. Stay tuned. And if you’re in a divorce planning phase, stay frosty. Don’t miss out on getting the time and closeness you want.

Stay positive. Love your kids. Respect your ex.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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