I was not prepared for my divorce and the pain that was heading my way. Oh, I understood immediately when my wife revealed she’d been to see an attorney that my future was heading into more pain than being with her. At that point, the marriage was about the kids and not about our mutual adoration.
Parenting Is Hard
We were a little late to the parenting game. Both of us were recently out of failed first marriages. And we wanted kids. She was beautiful. I was willing and able. So we set about blooming our relationship into a family.
During the first years with kids, everything is about them and their entertaining ways. Even changing a diaper in the early years is an amazing experience. Transformative. You’re going to put your hands in places and see things you never really imagined and you were too young to remember when you were a baby. And through that experience, parents usually bond both with the kids and with each other in this shared responsibility.
I was a fully-engaged dad. I kept the full-time job so she could stay home until they were in school. That was the plan, that’s how we rolled. And for the most part, the early parenting years were great. Sure, we suffered through 9-11 (all of us did) and the complete loss of income. At the time, all of my clients were real estate companies. Most of them paused all marketing for years. My world collapsed along with everyone else’s. Somehow, we decided to go ahead with plans for a second child. In the face of the disaster, we felt it was important to focus on what was good and positive in our lives. Our son was amazing, what if we could have a daughter too?
Divorce Is Harder
But as our two children (our daughter arrived) grew the stress in our household grew. My wife began working part-time, mostly to get out of the house. We had a housekeeper, a babysitter, and money in the bank, and she wanted to get back to being more than a mom. It was during this time that our relationship began to falter. She seemed to run in a high-stress mode a lot of the time. She worried, micromanaged, and began to fray at the edges when her work actually demanded her time. I did my best to pick up the slack. She became increasingly unhappy. I didn’t worry, we were all stressed. Parenting was hard. At least we had each other and two beautiful kids.
As sex became a distant memory and the excuses of chores, money, and time became less viable, she just got more angry and distant. Somewhere, somehow, she was under the impression that I was the reason she was unhappy. So, she laid out plans to divorce me, and did.
In her anger, however, she lost her soul. She blamed me for her anger and depression. She somehow imagined that getting rid of me was going to bring her the happiness and rest she deserved. Turns out, she had to go back to work full-time immediately in order to qualify for keeping the house and the kids in the house, even with a generous child support payment. I believe she got even more angry. Now, she not only didn’t have me to help with *everything,* she no longer had me to blame for her stress. Well, she could try and blame me, and did, but it was pretty obvious she was just mad, tired, and vindictive.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming loss and depression that came from losing EVERY SINGLE ROUTINE IN MY LIFE. I was the breakfast and get-to-school dad. I was the bedtime routine dad. And in one terrible moment I was only going to see my kids on alternating weekends! I was crushed.
In a divorce, dads typically lose everything:
- the house
- the kid-time
- a substantial monthly payment (mine was $2,300 per month, including healthcare for both kids)
- the companion (this part was already damaged due to her year and a half of isolating rage)
As a highly emotional and attached parent, I lost my soul. My purpose, greater than any goals I had for myself, was to be a GREAT DAD. Now, I was not given this opportunity. And when she renigged on our 50/50 shared parenting agreement and decided to go for the Texas-typical 70/30 split, I was fkd. There was no amount of therapy and no amount of antidepressants (or drinks or drugs) that were going to help with the loss of my children. It was unfair. It was not what we agreed to. And I could go fk myself, at this point, she had her decree and her house and her new job. I should be able to survive just fine.
Antagonistic Co-parenting Is Abusive
As her anger continued to grow rather than dissipate, she pulled back from our co-parenting agreement. Yes, she would abide by the holiday and weekday schedule, but she would not include me in anything else, unless I fought for it. I had to go to our kids elementary school and demand that I be added to the parent mailing list, even when the school’s system only had a space for ONE email and ONE phone number. “Nope, that’s not good enough.” I had to go to each teacher at the beginning of the school year for the next several years and ask to be included in any parent/teacher conferences. I may not get to participate in homework each night (which I loved, btw) but I was not going to be ignored in their elementary, middle school, or high school. It was a fight.
She continued to do whatever the fk she wanted. I would often find out about stuff after the fact. “Oh, yeah,” my daughter said, “I’m no longer in AP English. Mom thought it would be better if…” She just did whatever she wanted. And, in my opinion, she did not make great decisions. But, as the custodial parent, she had 100% of the power. I could sue her for violating our parenting agreement, but that would cost money that I didn’t have. The monthly child support bill was crushing my ability to pay for much of anything for myself. Did she care about my living situation? Hell no, she had more important things to worry about. Just like in the decision to “go for it” in the divorce, she felt she deserved more of the kids time, because she was the mom.
What I Wish My Ex-wife Understood
Every single blow against me is felt by our children. When she filed with the AG’s office, maybe she wasn’t trying to kill my refinance options with the bank, but she knew that would be the result. And from that point on, after the collection agency of the Attorney General’s office was involved, she had a jackboot on my neck. My credit report was crushed. There was even a point, when I was applying for jobs, I had to get a “note from my ex-wife” explaining the AG note on my accounts. I had to get a letter saying I was a good father and we were working out the financial situation amicably. Therefore, give him the job, we all need more money.
How does she still think, 13 years later, that throwing bullshit into my kids’ lives about me does not damage them as well? A blow struck at your co-parent is a blow at your kids. There’s no way around it. To be dramatic: if you kill your ex it’s going to be bad for everyone.
I cannot take responsibility for her actions. She saw the divorce as her chance to “finally” be happy again. I don’t think it’s worked out that way for her. (smirk) I’m still rebuilding myself, but I come through this entire narrative as the dad who tried, who flexed, who cooperated, who paid, who almost crashed and burned, but he persevered. In spite of her continuing rage, I have solid relationships with both of my kids. It got a lot better once they were out from under her house. She still maintains or tries, control of their financial lives, but I’m encouraging them both to get back accounts that she’s not part of.
If I could tell my ex-wife anything, I’d say, “Can you be nice? Can you understand that our kids are better with both of us? Even today, their lives are better with me alive and included. All of your bullshit is eating you up inside. It’s obvious. Try a new approach. Understand that I’m an ally and not the devil who is still making you miserable.
Side note: It was never me. Happiness or unhappiness is an inside job.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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