Here are a few things you need to recall if you’re headed for a divorce with kids.
- You will always be their dad
- How you behave now is more important than ever
- Attacking the other parent (even sly slurs) hurts everyone
- Putting your kids first, always
- Learn what makes you happy when alone
- Lean into your pain and create something from it
- This high-growth period will evolve
- You can find great love again
- Show your kids how a healthy relationship feels
What Doesn’t Kill You
But here’s the hard news: divorce is like death. Some will recover only limited use of their heart and mind. Some will die. Some will cope and thrive again. And some may get stuck in the sadness and loss.
In fact, you’ll go through all the stages of grief. What has died is your dream. The dream you created with your spouse as you were planning and trying to have kids. Congratulations. You were successful. You Have Kids.
What comes next is the most important part.
Focus on your kids’ happiness. Let your ex-partner go. Find your own outlet for joy, sadness, comfort, and aspiration. Focus on yourself and what you can control, change, or let go of. And then do your best.
The final two commandments of divorce with kids.
- Hurtful actions, words, and texts will harm everyone. Nothing is lost on your kids. Be kind. Respect the end of the marriage, and love your kids even more than you hate your ex.
- Lead with love and positive action, always. Even when you can’t respond with love, respond with silence. Sometimes, no response to an angry text from an ex is the best response.
Learn Your Own Happiness Setpoint
What I learned well after my divorce is that my ex-wife and I were not very compatible at all. We loved each other, yes, but our terms of affection were very different. And once the children had arrived, her desire for sex vanished. It could’ve been Zoloft too, but it was gone. And she was not in the mood to address it. She would create problems, and issues, in couple’s therapy so we would never get to our sex life.
I have come to accept that my ex-wife is not a very happy person. Her Love Language (which didn’t come out until after our divorce) would’ve been acts of service. Mine (like most males I know) is touch. So when she was getting pissed off that I didn’t notice the burned-out lightbulb in the hallway, I was worried about why she rarely showed affection. Some portion of this disconnect comes from my understanding that I am responsible for my own happiness. Me alone. I believe my ex-wife felt I was the cause of her unhappiness. I think she still coddles that notion, 13 years later. She’s mad and she believes someone else is responsible for her being so mad.
We were always going to be in conflict on how clean the house must be, how much money was in the bank account, and how I should be doing more, always more, to help around the house. You might think, “Obviously, she’s right. He was probably a lazy slob.” But, you’d be wrong. Yes, I could go to be with dishes in the sink. That didn’t make me a bad person. My ex-wife, on the other hand, felt that leaving dishes in the sink was irresponsible and lazy. I don’t know if they get any cleaner or dirtier by waiting overnight. It was a “principle” thing. And that was her jam, she would argue on the principle of the thing more than the thing.
So, me and my ex-wife lived in different realities. She believed I owed her a happy life. I knew that I owed myself and my kids a happy life, by doing the best I could to provide it. My ex-wife was not the cause of my unhappiness. Well, until she filed for divorce and negated our 50/50 parenting agreement, then I was unhappy and it was her fault. But in terms of the marriage, and our relationship, I was certain we would work it out. She was certain we never would because she was so unhappy all the time.
Now, 13 years later, it’s easier to see that her unhappiness is self-fulfilling. It always is.
A Happy Single Dad
I came out of the divorce wounded and financially crippled. I also lost 70% of my time with my kids. 2/3 of the nights that we would’ve been together, they are going to be away. Yes, you lose a partner, but losing your kids and time with them, that’s the real tragedy. It would’ve been hard enough at 50/50. The imbalanced SPO (standard possession order) does not serve the kids. In fact, it makes it much harder on the mom too.
Moms often go for the gold when filing for divorce. They want the money, the house, and the bulk of the time with the kids. But this is not what’s best for the children. Children need BOTH parents equally. And if you’re heading for divorce, please consider a no-conflict 50/50 shared parenting divorce. Let your kids have equal access to both parents.
Finding the balance in your life after divorce is a process. You need to rediscover the things that make you happy. When you are alone for most of the week, what activities are going to float your boat? Working out? Great. Learning a new skill? Good idea. Getting back into a sport? Good on several fronts. What you need to remember is this: your kids want to see you happy. The most important person you can take care of after a divorce is yourself. If you’re depressed, with low energy and you don’t want to go outside to jump with your kids on the new trampoline, well, check in on yourself.
Make the most of the time you do have your kids. Prioritize their activities and lives. Give them 110% when they are with you. And repair and rebuild yourself in the time in between. As a newly single dad, everything has changed. You might have a new neighborhood. You’ve got a lot of kid-free time on your hands. Learn to heal and use your energy wisely. And don’t think about dating until you get your own emotional and spiritual house in order.
- Focus on yourself and your health
- Give your kids 110% of your available attention
- Shutdown the angry communications with your ex
Your kids are watching what you do in this difficult time. Show them how to be a good man in a storm.
the complete single dad story with John’s new book: Single Dad Seeks (available in all formats)
The Dating a Divorced Dad series continues: