my son

Becoming a Parent for the First Time: Everything Changes

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Nothing prepares you. Nothing.

Finding Your New Soul As a Parent

Long before our first child arrived we were making the plans and preparations for his arrival. Even in committing to unprotected sex, we were giving our lives and our wills over to the care of a higher power for the great transformation. Compared with our second child, my son was a breeze. We did Bradley(tm) classes. We moved to a new house and prepared his landing pad, a cosleeper unit attached to our bed. We gave ourselves 100% to the rebirth of ourselves as new parents.

There are two kinds of parents:

  1. Allows the magic of life to burn down all that existed before – gives over to attachment parenting
  2. Tries to fit the new baby into the couple’s pre-parent lifestyle – share the child-rearing roles with a host of assistants, nannies, and safety gates.

At the outset of our journey, their mother and I leaned into our new roles. We changed everything about our lives. We had little desire beyond hanging out together and playing as a new team of three. Earlier than I wanted, I was pushed back to work. I wanted to stay in the family bed too.

How Parenting Changes Your Relationship

One amazing thing that happens to new parents who are committed to the hurricane of love is they lose most outside interests. Our entertainment, every single night, was to get together and admire our magical son. Every other action required detachment and distance. On the weekends we basked in our good fortune, playing together in our new playgroup.

It was not hard to decide what to do. We simply coexisted and played at becoming parents with a real live baby. Our relationship skills, our relationship joys, became less important. In some ways, we mapped our love and joy onto this new nest of activities and responsibilities. Somewhere along that path, my then-wife began to lose herself in the mom burn. Yes, we want our children to become the center of our lives, but not at the expense of our own individual drives and creative urges.

Our kids became my then-wife’s purpose in life. As she continued to write and paint her creativity become an extension of her motherhood. It was lovely. She was entirely MOM at this point in our relationship. I went to work. She spent a good amount of time with the babies and ultimately with them as toddlers and young school kids. She volunteered at the school. She hosted events. She shepherded our kids into a great beginning. It was her reason for living.

As we continued down our divergent paths, she doubled down on the mom-thing and I continued to work out of the home. I could only find my creative time in the after hours and weekends. Thus, I needed a nap from time to time. The naps became a huge point of contention. I think it was her lack of creativity that took aim at my continued independence. While everything in her world, including her art, was son, mother, and daughter-related. There were not a lot of romantic paintings or poems coming out of her. I was writing my ass off, songs, stories, poems: love, dad, mom, son, daughter, yes.

Love Poems Are Not Enough

In the end, I could not convince my later wife that I too was worth an investment of time and energy. I dragged her to couple’s therapy twice. I wanted to work it out. I wanted to continue to work the day job, continue to write and play a night, and continue to find new ways to communicate and love my wife. She wanted something different. She wanted something more for herself than the MOMNESS she had become.

The miss, in my opinion, was that she aimed her depression and anger at me. In her story, I was the problem. I was the reason she was so unhappy.

The real story is, she didn’t want to go back to work. But the economics of our nice home in a nice neighborhood could not be maintained on my big job salary. When Dell laid off 50% of my Global Online group in January 2010, it only took three months for her to decide she wanted a divorce. It wasn’t a simple decision, I’m sure. She had many cells and formulas to work out in the excel spreadsheet of single mom economics 101. But, it was clear, the 2nd therapy series was not about staying together. She went to see a divorce attorney within the first three sessions. She forgot to mention this IN couples therapy.

Her historical family of origin had some mental illness and stoicism. Both of which came out in spades as she made her exit plans. Once I gave in to the idea of a divorce I was adamant that we do it cooperatively and with 50/50 co-parenting as the goal. She appeased me, but only until the moment was right for her ultimate betrail. She wanted a divorce: okay. You can’t maintain a marriage if only one parent wants to continue. She wanted it to be fair and low conflict: okay.

At the very end of the process, she changed her mind. She would very much like the custodial role alone and the Standard Possession Order. Those things would be great. And if I could also, pay for the house I was leaving, in child support. That too would be “in the best interest of the children.”

Dads Are Often Discounted

There was no fight in me when the therapist we’d engaged to help us build a parenting plan said, “She knows this is what she’ll get if you guys go to court.”

“Yes, but…”

In my ex-wife’s mind, she deserved the larger role in the kids’ life. The non-custodial parent gets about 30% of the time with the kids. Slice and dice it, however, you’d like, there is no balance in the SPO that is most common in most states in the US. If you want shared custody (the real thing when BOTH parents are custodial) you’re going to have to lawyer up and fight. Even the best-intentioned partners may turn into dark adversaries when they see the benefits of entitlement.

Once my then-wife understood that she could get 70% of the time without two kids, get enough money to pay the mortgage, and a couple of weekends a month free, it was a no-brainer for her. But it wasn’t really honest, now was it?

She knew I was a great parent. She knew I was the emotional heart of the family. She knew I was the parent that go everyone up for breakfast and off to school. She had to lie somewhere deep inside herself to rationalize that the kids needed her 2/3 more than they needed me. It’s bullshit. She knew it. The court knows it. But that’s the way it is in 2010. I would’ve lost if I had gone to court. I was not going to play dirty politics. So, she got what she asked for. I complied.

Today, We Know Dads Are Critical

No matter what the old stories tell, dads are just as important as moms in the parenting and co-parenting relationship. Dads give their kids different qualities. Dads play differently. Dads love differently. But the assumption that the mom is the emotional center of the family and the dad is the financial engine is outdated and unfair to both the kids and the dad.

If my then-wife had been honest she would’ve accepted our 50/50 parenting agreement from the earliest days of our decision to become CO-PARENTS. She went for the gold and the lion’s share of the parenting of our two lovely kids. I lost 70% of my time, love, and influence.

I hope we can continue to uncover the bullshit lies of the family court bias. We need to start divorce at 50/50 shared parenting and move from there, based on extenuating circumstances. As a single dad, I work with men and women to achieve better outcomes for them and their kids. We need dads in our lives. If you can’t see that, you might need to seek guidance somewhere else.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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*photo of my son

You can find all of my books on AMAZON. 

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