Tag Archives: single-parenting

The WholeParent Mission: Positive Single Parenting Year Four

Here’s the starting mission statement written back in Sept. 2013.

My unwavering and immutable mission:

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

I thought I would give pause and reflect, update, muse, on what’s been going on here and in my single-parenting life.

One way I’ve wavered from the original missions, is the 100% positive part. I realised that not letting any of the anger, conflict, and struggles out was not painting a very accurate picture of being a single dad. So, while I try to keep the focus on myself and not others, I am sure I have let a zinger or two fly here. I think it’s more important to be real.

I do believe that my kids come first. The marriage is over, but my parenting never ends. If I can stay focused on their wellbeing I can get over any frustrations I have with their mom. I am committed to being the best dad I can be, in spite of troubles, depression, anger, flights of fancy.

And the final mission, “honest feelings” is the glue that makes this entire adventure work. I think that’s what keeps this blog going even when I’m not contributing to it. I went on a year or more hiatus from writing here and the blog was still getting 100 – 200 reads per day. That’s pretty exciting. So, it seems like my voice is resonating with some folks. I’ll do my best to continue, even in the hard times, even in the blissful times when I don’t feel like writing. Most of all I will continue to be the best single dad I can be. And if I can give you a glimpse of what my life is like, struggles and all, then I have done my best for you as well.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  recent pic of me, creative commons usage allowed

What I Wish My Ex-wife Knew

I’m not writing this blog to my ex-wife, but there are times when I wish she would read my words. I still love her, because of our connection and history with children, but she makes it difficult to remain objective sometimes. One of my outlets is to work it out, alone, right here. Again, I’m certain she’s NOT reading me, but these posts could help our relationship. Soften her up a bit, perhaps. And then again, I’ve given up imagining that my words or actions can change her in any way. We’d like to think we can make another person happy, or comfortable, or secure. Unfortunately, we cannot.

If I could give my ex-wife a quick list of posts to read, this would be the shortlist.

As it is, we’re supposed to have moved on from the charged feelings towards our significant, but no longer spousal, other. When the anger and defensiveness is quick to surface there may still be some emotional work to do. Somedays I’d really like to send her a link to my prayer for her. I don’t. Again, I’ve learned it’s not for me to change her, but really learn to love and adapt to her as she is today.

She’s remarried. She’s got money again. She seems to be enjoying her job and the job of parenting, but she still complains a bit too much for me to buy the slick surface. I’m not taking her inventory here, I’m releasing her. I just wish my loving words could reach her some days. And I hope, everyday, that my loving actions will soften her heart enough to give her peace.

“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.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Focus on Your Kid’s Strengths

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 7.48.28 AMDivorce is hard on everyone, especially the kids. And through the process you’ll do everything you can to put the positive spin on things to keep them from feeling the full burn of the bad feelings between you and their “other” parent.

This morning when my son texted me that the lead guitar solo in a song (Muse – Knights of M…) was inspiring him to think about picking up the guitar, I encouraged him. We’ve been talking about guitar lessons all summer, but he was busy having a summer and taking some online summer school classes. To have him express the desire, out of the blue, was quite a thrill for me. It woke me with a big smile. (He goes to bed at midnight on weeknights, and I’m ALWAYS asleep, since I arise at 6 am.)

Also this morning, my ex-wife sent me an email detailing the current situation with the kid’s teeth. The dentist has got them doing Invisilign and both of them are complaining about pain. WHAT? When did we decide to do braces (even cool high-tech braces) for the kids? She’s taken to making decisions without consulting me. This is not in the spirit of co-parenting. And it defies our agreements about the kids and their management and healthcare.

So I said to her, “Neither kid needs braces. Period!”

So while I’m sure that her motivation is more about them than her or me, I’m pretty sure she made the decision 100% without talking to me about it. GRRR.

And still… I was writing about staying focused on your kids so they can develop their own super powers. I’ll let them take charge of the situation, with my support. After I sent her the email I sent my son and daughter this text.

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In our parenting plan we’re supposed to agree on these time of actions or they don’t happen. So…

Let’s see how this develops. The kids are doing fine with their beautiful teeth just as they are. And you should see their smiles. YES, we’re doing something right. Co-parenting, maybe, not so much.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

The Kids are All Right: A Dad’s Divorce Reflections

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There’s a hard truth I have to swallow. My kids have done okay without me. Not without/without me, but with only 1/3 of me. As the worst happened, divorce, I was really worried about my kids, even more than myself. Everything I did was to support them and even their mom during the transition.

I think most of my devastation was about me and my loneliness. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted the house, wife, and kids back. But that’s not what happened.

Well, the transition, it turns out, was a lot easier for them. See, they stayed in their home and went along with life much like it would’ve been if I had gone on an extended business trip. They kept their rooms, their routines, and their mom. But they lost me. And I’m sort of mixed when I say, “So what.”

So, you’re getting a divorce. In my life it was the worst thing I could’ve imagined. And even as I valiantly fought for 50/50 parenting I was awarded something much less. Something called the Standard Possession Order. (SPO) And in this miraculously skewed document I was given every other weekend (on some odd 1-3-5 schedule) and a single night during the week off. It works out to about half as much time as my now ex-wife. I was devastated.

But I think most of my devastation was about me and my loneliness. I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted the house, wife, and kids back. But that’s not what happened. And I’m here to tell the truth about it: my kids are happy and well-adjusted teenagers. Even without my presence for a majority of the last 7 years, they are still stellar kids.

Now, a good chuck of that appreciation goes to the adversary in all this, my then wife who argued against 50/50 parenting. She has worked harder than she would’ve had we stayed together. She’s provided the lion’s share of first aid, doctor’s appointments, and school pickup and delivery. It’s not the way I wanted it, but it actually worked out okay for my kids.

What did I miss?

I’m mostly sad for the things I missed. The events I would’ve liked to have been part of in stead of only getting a phone photo of. The daily grind of being a parent was a privilege. Even if I was tired and distracted, nothing brought me back to life like my kid duties. I lost the routine of “being a dad” that had become my modus operandi. I lost over have of my dadness. And I missed a ton of activities, school projects, and events in my kids life. So what.

And really that’s the answer. So what. They are okay, and that was the big concern. The effect on them was pronounced, they had a lot less of the happy parent in their life and a lot more of the responsible one. Perhaps they will grow up to be responsible adults. And my ex does have a better handle on things like schedules and doctor’s appointments.

But the sadness I feel at the divorce today is more about the loss of their childhood, and the long years I suffered alone.

What I missed is gone. What I miss is the connection when they are away from me. And that was the rub then as it is now. Even as they are troublesome teenagers I miss every day they are not with me. Sure, I have other things to do. I have a fiancé, I have a band, I have my writing. But I’d rather have them. The sad part is, the kids I really long for are the one’s I was asked to walk out on.

Today my kids are much more like little adults. They need us parents, but it’s more for things like “rides to the mall” and “money for a movie.” The parenting roles have changed quite a bit. And in this parenting role I’m actually happy for the SPO. It’s not that I don’t want MORE time with my kids, it’s really that the time with them is very different.

We all lost in the divorce. My son is less like me than he could’ve been. Maybe that’s not all bad. But the sadness I feel at the divorce today is more about the loss of their childhood, and the long years I suffered alone. Their triumphant personalities are the reward of our low-conflict divorce. Sure, she’s done some contra-indicated things in our 7 years, but the proof is in the kids. They are fine. They did good without me. Different, but good.

Taking What You Got

Today I have more energy and joy for them when they are with me. I’m happier in my life than I was in the later years of my marriage. My kids are seeing me living my life to its fullest. And when they are part of my life, I get to rub off on them as much as I can. If joy is my MO then perhaps some of their joy is from me.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Transformational Divorce

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Everything that happened from the moment my then-wife said she’d been to see a lawyer, has delivered me up to be healed in a way that would not have been possible had we stayed together.

I wouldn’t have wished for it, but I now see, looking back, that my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My entire world (kids, wife, house, work, neighborhood, sports, money, creative life, play) exploded into tiny pieces. When the business of divorce had been done I got what 90% of divorcing dads in America get: 35% of the time with their kids, the non-custodial parent role and a big child support obligation, and no house. It’s as if I went from Pleasantville to homeless in a matter of weeks. And the homelessness is no joke. The financial and psychological drains on a father in the midst of divorce are immense. I was barely able to stay afloat. And more than once I wondered if I was going to be able to stay alive. Perhaps my large life insurance policy would be better for my kids than me. WOW.

I’ve been working on selling my “Whole Parent” story as The Positive Divorce, but maybe that’s too tame. What happened after my divorce was life altering for me, my ex-wife, and my kids. And the Phoenix from the Flames has been my creative power caught fire, my writing found a deeper voice, and my audience, here and on several other blogs began to grow. I wouldn’t have wished for it, but I now see, looking back, that my divorce was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sure we were making the best of it, but we weren’t happy. We had very different ideas about what the other person “should” be doing. Well, I’d say she liked to “should” on me all the time. I liked to “should” on myself, but was primarily a pretty happy-go-lucky man. I liked my kids, I liked my job (except when I hated it) and I did my best to support my loving and beautiful wife through every aspect of our relationship. But something was always wrong. Something never met her expectations. I couldn’t figure it out, but I learned that I couldn’t fix it either.

Lesson #1 before the transformation: I could not make her happy. I could not fix her. I could only keep myself focused on myself. (An old AA concept: never take another person’s inventory. You can only manage your own.)

Lesson #2 before the transformation: I am responsible for my happiness and the support and caring of those around me. But no one else can make me happy. If I struggled with depression, it was only me who was going to be able to bootstrap my way back to joy.

Lesson #3 before the transformation: Kids are the center of the universe, but kids will not save your marriage or make your life worth living. Kids are a lot of work. The most amazing and rewarding work of all, but still… The stress of having kids really toppled some balance my then-wife had kept together for our entire courtship. She went from happy and self-satisfied to exhausted and angry. That wasn’t really the kids, it was a tendency in her, that only she could deal with.

If you minimize the war with your ex-partner, you can give the kids a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life, even when things don’t work out as planned.

Lesson #4 before the transformation: therapists can be good or bad. A bad therapist can enable and encourage poor behavior. A bad therapist can coddle a depression. A bad therapist may do more damage to your relationship than no therapist. My then-wife has a personal therapist who allowed her to bury her feelings and not deal with issues until they became HUGE. My therapist allowed me to let her go even when I knew it was the hardest thing I would ever do.

Lesson #5 before the transformation: before the divorce you have no idea how you are going to survive. The time without your kids. The depression and loneliness. All the darkness of the divorce, brought me to my knees. And that’s when I learned to pick myself and my needs back up off the floor, dust them off by myself, and put a plan together to get what I wanted next.

Lesson #6 before the transformation: love seems like a long shot when you are losing the love of your life and your kids. But the transformation will burn away the sorrow at some point. The love you are letting go of will transform into power, direction, and clarity as you reach out for what you really want, now that you know.

Lesson #7 before the transformation: the kids seem to suffer, but they will be okay as well. My two children were 5 and 7 when the transformation happened. Today they are 13 and 15 and they are two of the happiest, most well-adjusted kids I know. While they know the price we all paid in away time, they seem happy and well-directed in their own lives. While I didn’t know if I could survive divorce, I was more worried about my kids.

If you minimize the war with your ex-partner, you can give the kids a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life, even when things don’t work out as planned. None of us would’ve wanted the divorce to happen. But as I talk with my kids today, we all agree that things are better now. I’m happier. I’m with a woman who makes me happier. Their mom seems to be happier. That’s the goal, happier and more centered in life, for all of us.

The transformation took about 4+ years for me. I have mapped it out.

transformational-recovery

YEAR ONE: It’s time to let your guard down and grieve. You’ve just gotten a divorce. Let that sink in. Miss your kids and allow that longing to penetrate your ego. Get angry. Find new things to do with your energy. Find new hobbies and activities.

YEAR TWO: As your life stabilizes a little you begin to refocus your priorities around the kids. Without the marriage as a focus you can pour your energy into your children. You will also need to begin your own healing process. Start a martial arts class, join a divorce recovery group, begin journaling. It’s time to work on YOUR recovery.

YEAR THREE: You begin grasping terms like co-parenting. You are now working more as a team. You may not agree with your former spouse, but you can agree on what’s best for the kids. As you begin feeling stronger and more yourself, you might begin to date again. Don’t start dating too soon, you’re liable to end up in another failed relationship.

YEAR FOUR: As your life begins coming together you can leave relationships that don’t serve your future goals. It’s easy to make your kids a priority, but you’d like to have a companion along for the journey too. You realize the job is a means to an end, not the meaning of your life. The “off parent” hours are spent doing things you love and perhaps finding another person to love.

In four short years my life went from shambles to aspirational. I learned that I was not going to settle for half-ass again. I had overlooked some early warning signs at the beginning of our relationship and marriage. I won’t make those same mistakes again. After the transformation you can reset your priorities.  You are being giving another chance to do it better, to get it right.

My divorce was the transformation I needed in my life to get back on track. I learned what made me happy. I learned I really needed to be with someone who shared the same sense of joy and wonder at the world, that I could wake up with every morning and say thanks to the universe for. I was looking for a WE that made my life bigger and better. My marriage provided a lot of growth, two wonderful kids, and the transformational experience that reoriented my life completely.

I give thanks to my ex-wife for releasing me back into the universe. I needed to grow and re-find myself and what made me happy. Then I was able to seek out a more like-minded partner and setup our long-term relationship on mutual goals and mutual adoration.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Dad Bro Show – Podcast Interview

Check it out. The Dad Bro Show interviewed me for their killer podcast. Learn stuff I haven’t already told ya. (grin)

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Give’m a listen. Two funny and articulate guys, who happen to be still married with children. They were a bit surprised to learn some of this stuff about custody and divorce. YUK. Great show. Thanks Bros!

We Almost Lost the Ship

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Things in the new ship have been a bit rocky. Fun, but we’re talkin bare metal and exposed wiring. For starters the old farty dog has a bad leg so when he poops or pees he simply walks back and forth in the filth until you clean it up. You often need to wash him as well. And the cat, though he has a clean and available litter box prefers to find his own places to poop and pee. We’ve been through this on the other ship. Not sure what his problem is…

And a few things have already broken down. But that’s par for the course, as this is a nice house, but not a very modern house. After the first use the dishwasher spilled it’s soapy warm contents all over the floor of the kitchen. The repairmen arrived and almost laughed as they opened the old GE. It took them 3 minutes to report back, “This one’s too far gone to repair. We’ll get back to you. This landlord is usually pretty good about getting back to us on these. We’ll get you another unit. That was last week. The new dishwasher was approved, but has not been installed.

“I think we should take a little bit of time getting stuff for the house this time and not just get crap because we need something cheap. It might take us a bit longer to furnish everything, but we’ll get nice stuff.”

As the kids arrived we’ve been enjoying the proximity to their mother’s place. They keep dropping by for stuff. It’s always nice to see them. A bonus! And they can walk or run between our houses in about 10 minutes.

I dreamt this set up back as we were in the earliest phases of the divorce process. I was still living in the house. I was committed to finishing out the school year before leaving the house. And in these strained times, I often made conversation with my soon-to-be ex about “maybe we should reconsider.” She would have none of the idea, but I chatted along anyway. So, in this dream I suggested we not get a divorce at all. I’d just move out and get another house, a little bit away. The kids could circulate easily between either house. We could all benefit from the proximity of each other.

And today, I think I’m just about there. My dream, five years ago, of having a house near my kids and their mom is now a reality. We’re divorced. But we could be entering the closest time in our relationship. We’re not there yet. The child support payments have just kicked back in at 120%. And I wanted to text her today, “A rising tide benefits all boats.” While things have been tense and rough from time to time, we’re still really only looking out for our kids. We’re both invested in their great lives. We have our own struggles to deal with, but our kids are what’s next. They carry our ambitions and our fears. My ex-wife and I are both doing our best to give them confidence and resilience in all areas of their lives: emotional, mental, physical.

And the journey has had some unexpected twists and turns. The little blind dog has recovered much of his bounce when he’s roaming free in the back yard. He no longer has to fend off the big pitbull mix. He can’t see or hear, but he can smell. And as he wanders around you can tell he is looking and smelling hard.

Then we hit a cold snap and he had to be kept inside. It was a near complete disaster. He pooped and peed and walked around in it. It was not working. He was stinky, cranky, and probably humiliated in his shameful place. But even in his disgrace, he shows his old spirit.  He’s trooping along with us. Maybe not as full crew member, but a member emeritus that we all love and hug on as best we can.

And it seems to me, a lot of the time, as a divorced family, that’s what we are doing. Our best. For everyone involved. Even the exes deserve happiness. I still root for my ex-wife. I do hope her relationship is the one and that he speaks a love languages that makes hers resonate.

We’re still a bed down. But I told the kids as we were getting ready to load into the ship for the first time. “I think we should take a little bit of time getting stuff for the house this time and not just get crap because we need something cheap. It might take us a bit longer to furnish everything, but we’ll get nice stuff.” They agreed. And the first run to Ikea for a bed was a complete null sum gain.

Any ice at all usually shuts down the schools and then you’ve got to take a kid day. Well, I don’t have my kids, but if it ices over, they can sled all the way down the hill from my ex-wife’s house and get hot cider her, with us.

The funniest part: We drove out in my 4-door coupe. (Ikea’s always seem to be on the other side of the earth.) I needed to borrow a car for the run, and I’d just forgotten and driven there with not possible way to pack in a bed. I laughed. “So this is more of a shopping run.”

And, in fact, we walked all over the store and didn’t see a single bed that was interesting to my daughter. And we were going to buy some new sheets but the lines for check-out were insane, so we bought cinnamon rolls instead. The kids ate them, I only got one bit. Even my daughter is interest in my fitness.

But probably the most spectacular part of this opening montage of our new journey, the co-pilot seems to have arrived. And when she says, “I’m planning on sticking around.” I get the idea that she’s serious.

The last time I moved into my own place, I did not have any help. The new ship is filled with her things. Wow. Her energy is here even when she is not. I know, it’s still early, but she’s got a great attitude and approach to getting stuff done.

So while the crew has had good and bad days, we’ve all come through them. We’re rounding the corner on the third week.

Captain’s Log: Monday February 24, 2015. Daughter arrives at doorstep knocking loudly. She wants her hair flattening iron. “I’ll go get it,” she says, unsuspecting. (We’ve got both cars in the garage tonight, because a deep freeze is expected.)

“I’ll get it,” I say, heading up the stairs. Laughing as I open the master bedroom door on said copilot put my fingers to lips. “Shhh.” At this point in the story, copilot is a “known friend” to the kids. But that’s as far as it goes.

I return to my daughter and give her the iron. “Love you sweetie.”

“Good night dad.”

Back to more strategic planning and chart mapping with my copilot. The air is good and a bit chilly tonight. But I’m hoping for us to get iced in so I can snuggle a bit late. A few of Texas’s nice features. Any ice at all usually shuts down the schools and then you’ve got to take a kid day. Well, I don’t have my kids tonight, but if it ices over in the future at some point, they can sled down the hill from my ex-wife’s house and get hot cider here.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Have you read the entire series? Click below for more exciting episodes.

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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

Continuing Forgiveness As a Single Parent

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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

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

Building the Perfect Lover: 13 Touch Points On the Path to Relationship

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If I had the lover I imagine, I’m sure my head would explode in a shower of sparks. I dream, I write, I pray, and I search for the right woman. But mostly I imagine her in crazy-amazing projections and poems and flights of fancy. I know that they are my fantasies, and somehow that keeps me safe. But in building the perfect lover for the next relationship, I do have touch points that are essential for me. I wanted to capture a few of them, for myself, and for gaining a deeper understanding of the core wants and desires of my heart. (Your needs and dreams may vary.)

13 Touch Points On the Path to Relationship

1. The Spark of Desire

Something in the way she moves… The spark is an initial reaction to the other person’s entire presence. We call it chemistry, lust, passion, sexual desire. But I know what it is when I feel it, and I can tell very quickly when I don’t. For all the work ahead to actually build a friendship and relationship, the spark has got to be genuine. The chemistry does not grow over time, in my experience. Either you know it or you don’t. She will have that magical element for me, something I can’t name, something that’s not about hair, or clothes, or fitness. She will have moves that draw me in even as she’s merely crossing the coffee shop to say hello for the first time.

2. A Temple of Worship

Yes, the physical body is a temple. And for the long haul, I believe that my worship of the feminine body is part of my energy, gift, power, drive. I love women. I have loved very few women. I know that my next full-on love is out there. And I will be patient and honest in my quest to identify and seek her out. But there is not one perfect body. In fact, I’m learning more recently how younger and uber-fit women are no longer turn-ons for me. They remind me of my daughter more than a potential partner. I love watching them run by, all abs and legs and glowing skin. But that’s not what I’m looking for. And I think my architectural requirements for that woman are fairly flexible. I know that the combined ingredients outweigh any flash of beauty and brilliance of hip or smile. Still, there is something I want, and all the many ways that I can pay respects to their beauty, the more deeply I will bond. I do have to admit, I am somewhat selective in what I consider beautiful, but it’s not the typical hottie. And while this aspect is 100% critical, once I’ve imprinted on her, she will know I am done, settled, satisfied, as I will tell her all the time, and show her in my actions and support.

3. Hopes, Dreams, and Desires

What does she want? How is she expressing her vibrance in the world? Can she articulate her wants and desires? Does she know what she’s looking for in a relationship and can she express those ideas to me? Clarity of purpose is one of life’s true missions. If she is on her own mission I am much more likely to want to nuzzle up beside her and explore her wants and dreams and how they might or might not dovetail into mine.

4. Holistic Intelligence

There is no such thing as just-in-time intelligence. If she is smart it will show. If she is fascinated by learning and growing, it is easy to see. There are some key indicators that I listen for early in the first coffee date. Is TV a thing for her? If so, we’re probably not a match. Doe she have other things to talk about besides work and working out? Can she listen and engage in subjects as we jump quickly from topic to topic. You can even tell, when you begin the opening communications via texts or emails. Is there poetry in her words, in how she expresses herself?

5. Brilliant Wit

While I love to make a woman laugh, and it maybe one of my gifts, I am more interested in how she might make me laugh. Can she engage in rapid fire banter? If she jokes about something deep, does she get hurt when you joke back? What are the little things that tickle her? Does she laugh easily and often? Laughter might bring me closer to a woman faster than anything else.

6. Eyes That Shine Like Diamonds

Intensity and desire is radiated out of the eyes. You can see excitement, lust, sadness, joy. The women I meet who are alive and radiant are broadcasting on all channels with their eyes. And often makeup can be a distraction, camouflage. On dating profiles it’s the eyes and the smile that draw me in past the initial “curb appeal” profile photo. You can see it even in photos. She’s either on fire inside or she’s not.

7. Affection

How easily does she show affection? Can she tell you early on what she wants, what she likes, how she likes it? Can she tell you, “Wow, you’re cute.” Or “Man, you are sexy right now.” Not in the first few minutes. But if there is an arm brush, or a light pat on the shoulder during the first date, then we might have a match with our love language. This woman is going to be my next long-term cheerleader, she needs to be able to share her enthusiasms and ecstasies.

8. Joy that Radiates

You can see it, can’t you? When someone shines with joy, their beauty is amplified ten-fold. A joyous partner is critical if that’s your normal state as well. I’ve been in two marriages that had an imbalance in the joy d’ vivre, in the simple love of waking up in the morning to see what comes next. I am listening for her joy. I am tuning into the way she expresses herself in all types of situations. We can’t always be love and light, but it’s easy to notice when someone deals with adversity from a place of security and inner joy and when they are less centered.

9. High Intensity/Low Drama

I’m a type-a personality. And while I’m not only attracted to other “driven” people, that might be an unconscious requirement. Certainly drama is the biggest turn off there is. We had enough drama in our previous relationships. We might’ve stayed in that stressful situation for longer than we should’ve. But as newly released adults we should have very low tolerance for drama. It’s simply not a necessary tool to communicate wants and needs. In my experience, most drama comes from unmet expectations. And in our busy, two-family lives, expectations are going to be shifted and disappointments are going to happen. If there’s a fiery response to a missed date opportunity due to family obligations, well… perhaps our priorities aren’t in sync. Let’s put our kid’s priorities ahead of our “dating” priorities and our expectations can come back to reality. I expect an honest and intense woman who doesn’t need to freak out to get her way. I am most-likely doing my best to accommodate and appreciate all of the opportunities with her, but things come up. How she responds says a lot about how she will respond in the future.

10. Silent Affection

The in-between times. Silences together, and silences apart. Are you both okay with a bit of silence? The quiet moments are often the closest. Breathe together and quit trying so hard to figure it out. If she can do that, we’re a long way towards compatibility. And her silences just make her that much more mysterious and alluring to me.

11. Love Language = Touch

I show my affection by touching you. A pat on the shoulder, a hand on your back, holding hands, are all high forms of affection for me. I have been married twice to women who had other requirements to feel loved. (See The 5 Love Languages  – a book on love styles by Gary Chapman) And while the relationship is possible with someone who requires a different language, there is sure to be a lot more negotiation and compromise. I have dated a woman once, who also spoke “touch.” Her open expression of affection for me brought me a new meaning for feeling loved. I could tell she was in love. She let me know, even early on, that she was crazy about me. It felt so different from my last 20 years in adult relationships that I was surprised by how good it made me feel. I have seen what that feels like. A woman with the same love language (touch) is essential for me. (Back when I got married, both times, this knowledge hadn’t been articulated. Today we have the book, the concept, and we’d better listen to the language of our hearts, because it’s going to drive a good portion of our relationship.

12. Spiritual Heights

Spiritual and religious are two different things in my mind. One revolves around church, dogma, and some concept of “their god” who is different from the other gods of the world. Christianity is a great example. I was raised Presbyterian. I am a member of a Methodist church. But I rarely go to church. And while I believe Christ was a man, and the Bible does it’s best to relate his mystical relationship to god and his followers, I don’t believe that Christ is the only path to my personal connection to god, or GOD.

I love the people in my church, some of them are my closest friends. And I am deeply moved by the minister nearly everytime I hear him speak. But somewhere deep inside of me, I don’t need church to feel right with god. My GOD, may be different from your GOD, but I believe we’re talking about the same deity. Spirituality to me, is a form of modern day mysticism. (See Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality – by Matthew Fox) I believe, like many of the ancient mystics, that our relationship to god, or the beloved, or great spirit, is much more about my personal faith and my relationship to that idea of wholeness. I believe I am communing with my god when I am walking in nature. I believe that a poem is as good as any prayer. So I pray, I write poems, I worship directly through acts of service and appreciations and gratefulness. I often don’t go to church.

13. Flexible Body and Mind

Every item above are ideas of what I want in a relationship. And everyone of them are like maps that are ready to be set on fire. When SHE shows up, and we begin to explore our connections, the items on my list will magically fade away. While I believe the maps are important to help me identify my priorities, the fulfillment of those ideals will probably come in a form very different from what I imagine. Can this woman be flexible in her ideas and concepts of what she’s looking for as well? If she has a construct of: no kids, six-pack abs, and radiant smile, we’re a non-starter anyway. But in the more subtle ways can she bring up and let go of dreams, fantasies, hopes, plans? I can, to some degree, and it’s this flexibility that keeps me growing and learning even through setbacks, dashed dreams, and disappointments. Those things are going to happen. The potential for conflict is going to happen. But the flexible person can see both sides of an issue and let go of their argument when it no longer serves as a request for change.

Epilogue

I believe in order to find our lover we need a fairly clear picture of what they might be. Way beyond looks, the construction or destruction happens over the course of the initial weeks of “dating.” What forms beyond the initial chemistry is what will remain beyond the heat of the sexual newness. If you’re addicted to the “next lover” you may pass up the opportunity to explore and educate yourself on ways your maps and strategies are wrong.

In this end this is more of a prayer than a map. My desires are a bit more abstract, more driven by the heart, less like tactics or requirements. Every “map” I’ve created has been torn to shreds by the woman who shows up. That’s the idea. But the visualization and wish list are critical structures to understanding your own heart. If you have a map, at least you will know when you’ve gone off plan, or if you are forging new territories.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: hands, korinne m jackman, creative commons usage

Wallflowers – How Good It Can Get

You won’t believe
Just how good it can get
We’ll make a lover
Out of you yet