Tag Archives: to hold blameless

Prayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

WHOLE-prayer

“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.”

I haven’t always been able to bless my ex-wife. And for times in our marriage neither of us were blessing anyone. It was hard. We tried. We worked at it. We raised kids and grew together and then apart in the process. But we never stopped trying. And I can see that we are still trying today.

I know that my ex-partner is doing the best she can under the circumstances. She always has. And though we have both had periods of struggle and doubt, we seem to be on the upswing of our co-parenting transition. I do believe that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to make our kid’s lives better. And I have to believe that she is always looking out for their best interest, even when I can’t see it.

Somedays, I pine for being a core family again. Somedays, I look back and wonder what I could’ve, we could’ve, done to preserve the respect and love that we once had. And other days I can get so mad, wishing things were different, right now. Wishing I had the next relationship under way, like she does. But that’s not what this is about.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about.

This is about our kids. Two wonderful kids. The supreme focus of my life. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. To keep them safe, to protect them from unnecessary drama and hurt, to help them grow into strong independent adults. And I have to know that she has the same intention in mind, even when I think things aren’t going as they should. It’s okay. We still have our differences. And my “way” is not the right way, it’s just my way. She has her own connection with the kids. She has her own path. And now we no longer share that path.

Communication is the key. The less we communicate… The more we communicate… It can be hard. And it is often the cause for friction in this co-parenting dance. So we need to take it more carefully. Answer with some thought to how the other person may react. Breathe when we are upset and want to react. It is never a good idea to fire back with anger. Never.

My anger is my own. My ex-wife does not deserve any of it. (Man that is even hard to say.) But it’s true. We tried, we negotiated a truce and separation, and now we are separate countries with shared resources. We still operate with some of the same interdependent budgets, but we’ve got a new autonomy. And what makes me angry is mainly my own unmet expectations. This is not the way I wanted it to work out. But guess what? It’s not the way she wanted it either. So we’re even. And we’re in this together.

Anger is a funny beast. At first I was afraid to express my anger. And I was almost a pacifist. But pacifists get run over. And over time I learned to speak up for my own needs. And indeed, I got mad as we entered the late stages of our marriage, when things were not going well, I spoke up. And again, today, I can feel my anger, but I can use it to change things about MY life and not hers. And anger is not an influencer for her, it’s only an irritant.

It’s ironic, that when she’s frustrated with me, I can tell. And I sort of take offense. AND… I’d like to respond in-kind. But I’ve learned, that I get NO RESULTS and NO SATISFACTION from being an asshole. In fact, being angry back at her, usually causes me to feel sad. That is not to say I should swallow my anger. This is how I gained 15 pounds during the height of our dysfunction. But I should own my anger. It is mine.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about. And keeping it inside is not the healthy answer, so what is the way through the anger? For me, anger is energy. When I am angry, I can tap that charge and redirect it towards something constructive or creative. It’s one of the reasons writing has become such a release. It’s important not to bury it or squelch it. Anger is power, use it, but use it towards something you want.

As a single parent, there are many new challenges, things that were easier to coordinate as a couple. Now, when the kids are “with me” I have 100% of the transportation duties, 100% of the entertainment, and 100% of the feeding and handling. It’s a lot. And when I’m in a bind, I can often ask for help from my ex. You can see how my friendliness and flexibility makes things easier for her. Well, when I’m in need that “friendship” is what keeps things balanced between us. When we were in the earlier months of divorce, it was much less easy to ask for anything. Today, we are still learning, and still making adjustments, but for the most part, we negotiate support for one another.

Support for our kids is support for our ex. There is no way around it. Anger towards our ex is anger that ends up in our kid’s world. I can take that shit elsewhere, as I do when they are with me. It’s no different. My anger is my own, and it is my responsibility to leave it elsewhere, and deal with it outside of my relationship to my kids, and even my ex. Yep, it sucks, but there it is.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to  you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support. So a prayer. Our kids are a gift. My ex is blameless in her journey forward, and it is in my best interest to support her and the kids with everything I’ve got. And that’s what I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: yemanja, vince alongi, creative commons usage

Pause and Reset After Divorce

getting over divorceI have plenty of work to do, even three-years-out from my divorce, to reset myself, my priorities, my relationship to my children, and even my relationship to my ex. But before moving into yet another relationship, I am still trying to take stock of what happened, what I don’t want to happen again, and most importantly, what I do want to happen this next time.

I’ve recently started the path to full forgiveness of my ex-wife, but it’s not always an easy road. Still, even in disagreements, I try to see her as “doing her best.” And occasionally I will use those tired old wedding vows and transform them into a kind of mantra.

“To have and to hold blameless till death do you part.”

Or course the hold, after divorce, takes on new meaning, but the vow can remain unbroken, even in divorce. The seeds of what ripped us apart were there at the outset of our relationship. If I had been in a less damaged place from my previous marriage, I might have been able to identify them, “might” have been able to resist the magnetic pull I felt towards this beautiful high school classmate, and I might have made a different decision. But I didn’t.

While changing my past with my ex-wife is not possible. Gratitude and appreciation for our children is infinitely possible.

Part of my work in recovery from this divorce has been to take my own inventory and understand the emotional mechanics that were at play during my courtship and marriage to my last wife. And as I try and use that information to move forward with a new healthier relationship, next time, I can sometimes get caught up in the “if I’d have known…” what-ifs. And of course, the logical conclusion after I churn a bit on these tidbits, is BUT I HAVE THESE GREAT KIDS.

While changing my past with my ex-wife is not possible. Gratitude and appreciation for our children is infinitely possible. And the love of those children is the gateway to forgiving your ex. At least, it is for me.

Of all the emotions so far, anger has been the toughest for me to grapple with. Initially I was too complacent, compliant, depressed, hurt to really access my anger. It’s okay to be angry. It’s really okay to be angry. The anger can be an energy source for the work ahead. In my case, with a raging alcoholic father, my access to anger has always been difficult. And maybe in my marriage, my passivity, or lack of anger, allowed our relationship careen off into places that were not healthy.

In my family of origin my father’s anger dominated everything. His rage was legendary. There was no room in my father’s house for anyone else’s anger. We all learned to comply. We all sublimated our own anger and hurt at being dominated in such an unjust manner. But we shut up. No good ever came of getting angry back. We saw that demonstrated first hand by my oldest sister, who was a lightning rod, during the emerging sixties, for my father’s horrific tirades.

I learned that anger was bad. And after my father exited the scene around my 6th birthday I was raised by three women who had become skilled in the art of manipulation though indirect subversion. Even today, I suffer occasionally from not being able to access my anger about an injustice that I would like to stand up to, but don’t.

And this happened in my marriage. I didn’t stand up for my own essential needs. I avoided conflict to the point of lying about silly little things, that would later undermine my partner’s trust. (Example: getting a speeding ticket and not telling her or paying it.)

Fortunately, this pause has given me time to rediscover healthy anger. And my ex-wife, naturally, has given me opportunities to access it. Divorce might be cooperative and collaborative, but there are going to be frictions.

And one of the things I’m grateful for in this pause is my rediscovery of healthy anger.

And in the next relationship, if I can learn from this pause and reset, I will build healthier structures for communication and meeting my own needs as well as the needs of my partner.

And this is where my newly found anger skills are a double-edged sword. On the one side, I am standing up after divorce, for things I should have stood up for while still married. The converse edge is trying to understand how my anger is my own, and that she is not to blame for my disappointments or resentments.

To have and to hold blameless. It’s a big task.

But if I move into my next relationship before figuring it out, don’t you think I would soon begin repeating the same behaviors that got me divorced in the first place?

There are a number of lessons from Alcoholics Anonymous that I started learning when I began going to ACOA and Al-Anon meetings. The first was not taking another person’s inventory. We can only be responsible for our own actions and responses. If we begin to focus on the other person’s faults and problems we quickly find ourselves back at blame and shame, first of the other person, but ultimately of ourselves.

So in walking away from my marriage, I am continuing to learn, that this is MY SHIT. Whatever it is I’m dealing with at the moment, she is not the cause nor the cure of the situation. I am the only one who can take action on my behalf. So letting go of her requires me to let go of the blame I can still try and pin on her. Things like, it was her idea, it was her distrust, it was…

It was me.

That’s the only real answer. And in the next relationship, if I can learn from this pause and reset, I will build healthier structures for communication and meeting my own needs as well as the needs of my partner.

Another part of the AA program that I use almost daily, is the serenity prayer. Each line holds a key to our release from whatever it is that is keeping us unhappy. (For alcoholics it’s alcohol, for me it’s emotional depression.) And if we listen to each line as we say it to ourselves, we can allow the reset to happen in our lives.

God, grant me
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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