Tag Archives: single-parenting

Divorced with Children: It Does Get Better

I’m pretty sure I thought I was going to die when I found out my wife had been to see a divorce attorney. The worst possible outcome for my life was coming at me like a freight train down a one-lane tunnel. I was afraid, I was sad, I was angry. But most of all I was scared to death of what my life would look like alone. Truly alone again, for the first time in 13 years.

And it was hard. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I survived. And on the other side of that loneliness was me. Learning again that I am happy when I’m by myself. I don’t need someone to complete me. Sure, I love being in a relationship, but I don’t need one. Well, I kinda do, but you get what I’m saying. I learned, again, that I can be perfectly happy by myself.

I have my own time schedule. I can go out with friends at any hour for lunch, drinks, or breakfast tacos. I don’t have to check-in with anyone. I just go. And for sure, that’s something I’ve been doing is getting together with lots of friends. Friends I might have neglected a bit in my last relationship.

Well, I’m back to being single again. And I’m discovering a new angle as well. My kids are more important to me than any other relationship. I let that one get away from me in the last 3 years. I was putting my desire and devotion to this new woman, above time with my kids. And it wasn’t really a conscious decision. But I kept opting towards my girlfriend and away from being dad. Of course, as teenagers, mostly what your kids want is transportation. And they are busy making friends and being teenagers, so they “need” us a lot less. But I was not actively showing up, not actively asking for “dates” with them.

I’ve changed that since this last break up. I now have regular tennis dates with my daughter. I call her for lunch randomly. And while we haven’t made it yet, I’ve been talking to her about going to my favorite church on Sunday. As I am alone again, I have a lot of time to reprioritize my life. And my kids come first. I forgot that idea for a while, that was my fault. But I won’t forget it again.

A year ago I exchanged this text with my daughter while she was at her mom’s. house.


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She was letting me know she saw my activity on her Netflix account. I was sharing with her until my ex-wife found out. Oops.screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-12-38-amAnd as we begin to exchange more notes and texts she is reaching out for rides and coffees. I’m happier now than I have been since the divorce. My current living situation is not ideal, but my mental, physical, and spiritual programs are running in high gear.

So, what I’ve learned in the last seven years since my divorce, is that yes, things get better. My last relationship really showed me what authentic, non-judgemental love felt like. And while it didn’t work out, she gave me a new benchmark for what a good relationship looks like.

I am blessed with two great kids. It’s up to me to make dates, set boundaries, and show up as a fully empowered dad. I’m working my program, and life is about as good as it gets.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: dad with kids, creative commons usage

Teenaged Kids? Hard to Reach or Open to New Opportunities?

My daughter is 14 and entering high school today. My son is 16 and has his own car. Trying to get them to a sit down dinner once every two weeks can be tough. They’ve got so many things going on, and things, that to them, are more important than seeing me. But it’s my opportunity to let them know there is nothing more important to me than them. And I’m forced to do a better job of expressing this as we all grow older and more independent.

Today they are going back to school. And I’m taking them Starbucks to mom’s house for the launch. It’s a fun and big event. And they roll their eyes. But they will appreciate the photos later in life.

But as teenagers, they are going through a very specific development staged: separation. They don’t need to be with me. They don’t really need me for much, my money flows through their mom into their wallets. They don’t need my home-cooked meals every other week. They are in the process of individuation. They are becoming their own little humans, with agendas and circles that don’t involve me. It’s okay. I hear they come back to you as the grow a bit older.

I’m not waiting around for them to get it. I’m making dates with both of them to do engaging things. With my daughter it’s easy, we’re playing tennis. My son is a bit more of a challenge. His girlfriend is older and is going to a local college this year. So he’s always got something he’d rather be doing. And that’s the way it should be. Dear old dad is second priority. And still I miss them.

In fact, I’ve missed more of them since they were 4 and 6 when my then wife decided for all of us that a separate future would be better for us all around. The unfortunate thing is, in divorce only one partner has to make the decision to leave and there’s not much that can be done to stop it. I’m sure we both lost a lot. But she only lost two weekends a month. She got them 100% of the rest of the time. And their relationship with their mom is much closer. It’s more complete. She’s done everything for them. I’m a little sad about this abscense. But there’s not much I could’ve done about it. I got what I got in the settlement even though I asked and fought for 50/50 parenting. She knew what she would get if we went to court, so she asked for that.

Dads do get the short end of the deal most of the time in divorce. Wives get the house, the kids, and the lion’s share of the money. Dad’s… Well, we get a hefty child-support payment and if we’re successful, we can afford a small enough place that can still hold our kids and ourselves. But it’s been a hard 7 years for me. I’m still struggling to get above the debt that has incurred while I’ve been looking for work. And that debt, owed, for sure, is now enforced by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Texas. Woohoo. Yep, she went there. And unapologetically keeps the boot of their “enforcement” on my neck everyday. And that’s a challenge. I wake up and have to forgive her for being so mean. It’s not like I wasn’t paying her from every paycheck I got. I was, am, and will.

If you can avoid divorce and keep from destroying your life, I would advise to try to work things out. I still think I could love her. Well, not like being in a relationship again, after all that has happened, but in the divorce I did not want out. I was still the hopeful one ready to fight for my family. But you can’t fight alone. She was gone. She’d been gone for over a year.

Today as I bring coffee to my kids at my old house, I’ll have feelings of regret and feelings of pride, side by side. And I’ll see my ex-wife and wish her well. And for a few minutes we’ll be that family we could’ve been. And we’re not. And the kids are not “kids” any more. They’ve moved on. And in many ways, so have I. But in missing them now, as teenagers I have to take action to make sure I’m still a big part of their lives. It’s up to me. No one else is concerned with getting together.

Single parenting is hard. But the good thing is you get to do it 100% your own way.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: back to school, creative commons usage

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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image: red flower, creative commons usage

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

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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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

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: daughter playing volleyball, creative commons usage

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

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: tango, creative commons usage

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

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image: Spaceship, frank mccarthy, n.d., creative commons usage

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

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