It’s good that some of my friends never had kids. You know, make a shitshow out of your life if you want, but bringing little kids along for the ride is a bad deal for everyone involved. They are happy as kidless kids. I am happy as a kid-friendly adult. And as I live my life, I am showing my son and my daughter the behaviors and responsibilities I value. I don’t tell them how to live as much as show them how I live. Your kids learn the most by watching how you behave in difficult situations. And the same holds true for addictions and narcissistic behavior.
How Are You Living Your Life?
When I was a teenager, both in high school and in the early years of college, I was convinced that the secret to a happy life was to party hard. I tried my fair share of illegal and legal substances. And I learned that while they mask the anger and pain underneath temporarily, the buzz would wear off, and I would be left in my pool of unhappiness yet again. I see this same behavior in my kids, today. They experiment with drugs and booze. They stay up all night and look like young zombies. And they march on, trying to do the best they can given the circumstances of their lives. And from my perspective, as a single dad, they are doing pretty well. Troubled by the ennui of youth, the uncertainty of what their future holds (work, relationships, money, love). And doing what they can to enjoy the weekends and slog through the rest of the days.
As I became an adult, and then became a parent, I learned that the alcohol and other substances actually slowed me down more than they perked me up. Sure, Adderall sounds like a win-win until you come down off the high. The same holds true for me with all of the mind-emotion-altering substances. As I have led my life, my kids know that I rarely drink, that I don’t do drugs (but I did), and that I’m okay with them experimenting on their own with their preferences. I mean, you can’t stop them from trying, right? And when I was in high school… Well, we don’t need to go there.
What Is Holding You Back?
The divorce, nine years ago, set me back quite a bit, but I believe my kids got to see me cope and struggle without ever checking out of their lives. I had my dark days, but I always made the effort to connect and spend time with them. Even if that meant being with their dad who was in a “quiet period.” That’s how my depression manifests itself. I go from boisterous to quiet. The conversation that’s going on in my head is so CRAZY, that my best approach is to “keep that shit to myself.” So I get quiet.
But my divorce did not hold me back. In fact, my divorce set me free. My free fall and separation from my family fractured me in a way that I knew none of my old coping mechanisms were going to work. There was no top-shelf margarita that was going to take away my sadness, loneliness, and isolation after divorce. I had to find something different. What I found was WRITING ABOUT MY PAIN. I discovered, by starting an anonymous blog on the day my wife asked for the divorce and writing out my pain. I wrote about the joys of being single and on the sexual market again. I wrote about how that first idea was bs, and what I really wanted was another long-term relationship. I wrote about how I was screwed in the divorce that was supposed to be collaborative and cooperative but was not. I wrote about missing my kids. I wrote about longing for touch. I wrote out of my pain and out of my ecstasy. I wrote.
And I began to experiment with not drinking or drugging at all.
“What is holding you back?” Is still a great question for me when I try to get in touch with what is hard or not working in my life. Today, my answer is, “Nothing.” I am not being held back. I am living my intentional life. I believe I am serving my greatest good by trying to explore my own divorce, parenting, longing, pain. And in the end, I hope that my story gives hope to future divorced parents, as they try to figure out how to remain positive even when things suck.
When Things Suck, Parents Still Have To Show Up
There were moments during my single parenting journey that felt like the darkest moments of my life. My song, Disappear, comes from that dark place. But the good news is this. The man who was ready to cash it all in due to depression and the loneliness of being a single dad is also the man who is typing this post, at this very second. Something beautiful has come out of my dark journey of depression and divorce. I am here to spread the good news. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s you.
Even as my divorce shattered my life as a man, as a father, as a co-parent, my life kept going on. My kids still needed me on “my weekends.” And my ex-wife, continued to be angry and bitter, even after she was given exactly what she asked for. And guess what? That HAD TO BE OKAY, because there was NO OTHER CHOICE. (Sorry for my shouting.) But there is no other option as a parent. There was no way I was going to kill myself. I learned that seeing the faces of my children, imagining their pain, was enough to stop any self-destructive tendencies that resembled jumping off a bridge or driving off an overpass.
I learned that my kids’ lives were more precious than mine. I gave in to the idea that their priorities would sometimes trump my own. And I learned to be happy with the fractional role I had been given by my ex-wife and the family courts. I had no other choice, but to show up at 110% for all the time I was given. And I’m still in that mode.
My friends who don’t have kids tend to focus only on themselves. When it’s good it’s all fun and games. When it’s not good, it is utter darkness and despair. I’m not sure it’s the kids that give me this inner-resolve, but I’ve certainly been around the friends who did not share the parenting mission. And many of them (an ex-girlfriend included) tended to use alcohol and drugs as an escape from their lives. The pain, the sadness, the isolation is too much to be tolerated sober. So they escape via the vice of their choice.
Making Better Choices Going Forward
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a start to a great 2020. And my hope is if you are hurting you continue to ask yourself, “What is holding me back.” Then, go directly at that block and start working towards your best life. Otherwise, you might find yourself at this time next year, wondering again about “What is holding me back?” I suppose you could just hammer down a few shots of your favorite tequila and say, “Fk it.” But that’s not going to work out in the long run. Let’s move towards our goals with everything we have. Drink and drug if you want to, but eventually, understand what you are trying to cover up with those intoxicants. You may not need them when you get moving in the right direction.
It’s a bit odd that we celebrate everything with a drink. How about we celebrate it with a piece of fantastic chocolate? We’ve got to learn other ways to celebrate our victories and process our hurts. And by showing up in our own lives in a big way, we demonstrate for our kids how to recover from difficult situations and thrive in spite of the setbacks. I have shown my kids how to make better choices with their frustrations and disappointments. And they are teenagers. So, it is also part of their journey to discover these ideas for themselves. And I’ll be offering them a place at the Christmas dinner table for the rest of my life. (The wine is optional.)
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your post-divorce challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
- Divorce Zero: How the Pre-Natal Agreement Was Born
- The War on Divorcing Fathers: Deadbeat Dad Accusations Are Abusive
- Dads Are Equal Parents, But Only If They Step Up to the Challenge
- The Pre-Natal Agreement from The Whole Parent
- A Rebirth of the Compassionate Parent & Divorced Dad Advocate
- What Makes a Great Dad? 5 Things I Learned From My Divorce
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
Here’s a little video I made to show the disparity of typical 70/30 custody agreements.