Upward and Onward After Splitting Up

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Things are never going to be the same after divorce. Everyone knows this. But the feelings following the fracturing of the family unit take a while to be fully felt and dealt with. After the hurt and healing begins to take place, it’s up to the adults in the family to move upward from the ashes and into the new new life ahead. Easier said than done, I know, but here are some ideas that might help that transition.

From this side of my divorce, 4 years later, I can easily say my life is better. Not how I expected it, but better in some unexpected ways. There is loss. I miss my kids terribly when they are away, when I don’t have immediate and continuous access to them. The off-time phone calls are all very similar. “Hi.” “How are you?” “Fine.” “Anything new at school today?” “No.” “Okay. Love you.” “Love you too.”

As a divorced parent you now have time alone. What are you going to do with your new life? Who do you want to become?

It’s like a telegraph. And often it is just a few text messages at night, that carry the same words. But the message beneath the words is “I am here, I love you, and I am available for you, when you need me. Always.”

Even when you feel like you’re not getting through to them, you are. The support they feel just from your check-ins cannot be underestimated. Letting them know you love them. Making sure they hear it from you as often as they will tolerate it.

As adults, according to Brené Brown, we show our kids how to behave in difficult situations. Rather than trying to parent correctly, what we need to show our kids is how to live correctly. So as you are suffering from the damage of divorce, it is critical that you take your “work” outside the relationship with your kids. You can let them know you are working through stuff, but your issues cannot be processed with them. They are still kids. Let them remain kids and go do your adult work with other adults.

Too many times I’ve heard angry parents railing about their ex-partners in front of their kids. This is awful. There is no complaint that your kids can make better. There is no situation with your ex that they can help resolve. Keep the adult conversations and conflicts between the adults. And do your best at parenting by showing your kids how to live and forgive with compassion.

Know that your loneliness is your issue, and that it also cannot be solved by your kids. It’s not about more or less time with your kids. The loneliness is something deeper, that probably has roots in your family of origin. Sure the pain of the separation and divorce have triggered your loneliness again, but it’s not something that can be solved with or through your kids.

As a divorced parent you now have time alone. What are you going to do with your new life? Who do you want to become? What parts of yourself did you let drop in your marriage, that now have space to grow and flourish again?

I was talking to my daughter in the kitchen several months ago, processing the positive effects of the divorce with her. “There are some things that are definitely better for me,” I said. “And I know when I’m happier, I’m a better dad to you guys, as well.” She nodded. “And you know I wouldn’t have been able to play music again as much as I am, when I was still married. But now I have this time, when you guys are not with me. And I’m playing a lot of tennis again and that makes me happy too.”

It’s not that I was trying to justify or explain the divorce to her. I was trying to show her how my life has transitioned because of the divorce, and how I’ve made the most of my time. I have recovered my joyous self, and it’s important that I show up as that same joyous parent in their lives.

And part of my joy is losing the anger at their mom. Getting over the loss of time with them. Getting on with what I need to work on in my life, as a single man.

I can drop the drama from my life, completely. When drama occurs I can observe it, name it, and step away. I no longer have to live in the drama.

I have stayed pretty focused on my own healing and the well-being of my kids. I haven’t put the energy or time into finding and building a new relationship. That has been my choice. And I’ve grown a lot from allowing the loneliness to inform my soul of what things are important in my life and what things that I can drop.

I can drop the drama from my life, completely. When drama occurs I can observe it, name it, and step away. I no longer have to live in the drama. When it’s an issue with their mom I can give myself the space and time I need to respond with kindness. Again, what I am showing my kids is how to respond to all types of losses and frustrations with kindness and hopefulness.

I’m not always happy, but I’m always hopeful. And I can show both sides of that coin to my kids. They’ve seen me struggle, but they’ve always known I was strong enough to come back and keep coming back to be 100% available to them.

I’ve seen both of my kids deal with some pretty major setbacks since the divorce. And I’ve seen them roll on with calm, optimism, and their own brand of hope. They both have their own internal languages and healing patterns for coping, and the tumble of the divorce gave them some practice at dealing with things not working out. That’s a great life lesson. Things are not always going to work out. When things fall apart, it is the optimism and hope that pulls our lives back together.

Neither of my kids harbors any bitterness about the divorce. They’ve got their sadnesses, we all do. There are times when it is clear they are missing the inclusion of the entire unit. But my ex has been with her boyfriend for over 2.5 years now, and he is also a solid figure in their lives. He comes to volleyball games even when their mom can’t. I love him for that.

We’re all just doing the best we can. That my ex-wife has found new love is a wonderful thing for her, and for my kids. She deserves to be happy. And the happier she is the happier my kids are, and tangentially, the happier I am as well. We’re all still in this together, ’til death do us part.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: kids tandem, richard masoner, creative commons usage

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