What You Can’t Tell Your Kids After Divorce

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Dad’s tend to have a different experience of it, as we are usually the one’s asked to leave the house. The rest of the crew sails along as if we’re just on an extended business trip.

I’ve never been able to tell the kids how much I miss them. I can give hints and warm hugs when they return to me on my 30%-of-the-time weekends. But I cannot tell them that the divorce was not my idea or that I am sorry at how I didn’t keep it together for them. And maybe some of this is for the better. And certainly, the way things were going in the marriage, we were a long way from pulling ourselves back into the loving couple that asked for these marvelous kids. But still.

There is so much you can’t tell them.

  • How their other parent does these really irritating things to get back at you for something that still stings.
  • How the weekends without them, in the beginning made me question why I was living, oh, and then they’d return and the world would seem okay again, for a few days.
  • How you fought for a 50/50 schedule, but were read the “divorce in Texas” bill of rights and given what was to be expected.
  • How I fought with their mom, who asked me to simply walk out of the house, two months before the end of school, and how I struggled to stay civil and optimistic, and sane during those two months as they finished up 3rd and 5th grades.
  • How I cried when their mom told me she wanted a divorce, not for me, but for them, for the painful look that I knew would cross their faces, as it had mine when my dad left the family.
  • How I’d still like to have a 50/50 schedule, but negotiations with their mom has broken down so many times, I’m beginning to give up on the idea.
  • How I miss them every Monday morning as I’m dropping them off at school and won’t see them again until Thursday night, for a dinner-only date.
  • How closing up their rooms when they are gone is part of my process for keeping those sad feelings inside, where I don’t have to look at their things, or their beds, and feel it all again.

Divorce is huge for everyone. Dad’s tend to have a different experience of it, as we are usually the one’s asked to leave the house. The rest of the crew sails along as if we’re just on an extended business trip. We dads, on the other hand, struggle with finding a new home, a new community of friends, a new job with more money so we can actually afford a place to live and make our child support payments. While they go on without us, we are left to fend for ourselves.

Schools don’t really understand the divorced dad. We struggle to make sure we’re on the mailing lists from the kid’s teachers. We make sure we’re invited to the parent-teacher meetings. We’re seen as the “dad,” a creature who was probably the cause of the divorce, and not very good with kids either. The dad jokes about how the kids are dressed, how the daughter’s hair is done, or not done, about the state of the packed lunches from Dad’s house. It’s a hard bit of single parenting reality. Mom’s are nurtured and supported by their community of women. Men are left out in the cold, to our own devices and failings. And often we fail, just as expected.

My investment and interest in their lives has multiplied even as my time with them has been divided.

I started hitting tennis balls with a new friend a few weeks before my then-wife asked for a divorce. As we were hitting and talking later, I told him she’d asked for a divorce. “Oh, man! You need to talk her out of that shit. You know what’s going to happen, right? She’s gonna get the house and you’re gonna get the payments.”

He was right.

I lost his friendship a month or so later when I moved out of the house and out of the neighborhood with the tennis club. But I still see him around. He’d been through it before. But by the time she told me she was considering options, it was already a done deal in her mind.

I can’t tell my kids much about that time. It was hard for all of us. While they were adjusting to me not being around, I was living at my sister’s house, trying to find a new job that would give me enough money to keep me out of a shabby apartment. And I was depressed almost immediately, at the loss of everything I had worked my entire life to produce. They were the primary loss for me. Every night without them in my life has been a loss.

You can’t replace or redo the lost time. But you can grow back into your full self, into a whole parent, and be even better when they are with you. My investment and interest in their lives has multiplied even as my time with them has been divided. And we, their mom and I, have kept the discord and “adult” discussions out of their purview. That’s the way it is. Adult stuff is for us adults.

Someday, my kids will know how I fought for them and their 3rd and 5th grade Spring semesters. And I’m not sure what they will get from the information, but I know my tenacity has given me a lot of strength throughout this entire path to becoming a happy and hopeful father again. I tried to never let them see the other dad, but you can’t lie. They knew when I was down. But we talked about it, and my sadness, as something I was working on. It had nothing to do with them, or their mom, or the divorce. It might have had a lot to do with all of those things, but those are the parts that you never get to tell them.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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  1. Really well written.
    Thank you for this post and I wish you only the best in your healing.
    You seem like an awesome father and your kids are blessed.