dad with the headlight

Dads vs. Moms: We’re All #Parents or #SingleParents

There’s this odd phenomenon that we’re all a part of on social media. Memes tend to be supporting MOMS or DADS but rarely PARENTS. I’m not sure where this divide came from. Divorce, perhaps? Or just some instinct we have to celebrate our tribe. I suppose, it’s not at the expense of the other parent, but it often feels like it’s a statement that says, “Moms rock, dads are lazy.”

The Great Divide Between Moms and Dads

So what is it about moms and dads that feels so different to all of us? Is it our experience with our dads or moms? My dad, being a raging alcoholic was not a very loveable or empathetic parent. My mom, being a codependent and wailing of her victimization, was also not the most healthy role model heading into my own marriage with kids.

But, we have an opportunity to change the trajectory right from the start. As an expectant father, I changed everything about my life to prepare for our first child. We were both 100% committed to being the best parents we could be, especially given our fkd up family of origin. We agreed to 100% cooperation and 50/50 shared parenting. And all was fine for the young years. We were blessed with two kids, a boy and then a girl. And life was good while we were hyper-focused on our kids. It gave our life, and perhaps our fractured relationship, purpose. We love our kids with all our might. We may have neglected the partnership with each other a bit. A lot, actually.

And as things began to fall apart between us, we still agreed to 50/50 responsibility for everything. Of course we did. That’s every parent’s wish. (Perhaps. I understand there are bad parents out there, resentful parents, wounded parents, and dysfunctional parents.) As we began to negotiate the divorce that my wife asserted into our lives, we discussed our 50/50 commitment and how it would continue even if we did divorce. That was the plan before we had kids, it was the plan after we got divorced.

But something went haywire. At some point, my soon-to-be-ex-wife got a different message. The lawyers assured her that the custodial role was hers. And perhaps the voices in her head also began to tell her, “I’m the better parent. I’m the mom. Moms are better and more important to their young children.” She knew it was a lie, but she needed some rationalization for her 180 on the parenting plan. The day I brought in some sample 50/50 calendars, my then-wife just looked sadly at the therapist that was helping us negotiate and shook her head. The change of plan crushed me. We had negotiated EVERYTHING with 50/50 shared parenting in mind. At least, that’s what I understood about our UNIVERSAL PARENTING RULE.

When Moms and Dads Become Adversarys

I can understand how my ex-wife had to convince herself that it was a good idea to go for 70/30 custody rather than 50/50 custody. She would’ve had to imagine that she was the better parent, and that time with her was somehow more valuable than time with me. It was a lie that was supported (is supported) by the courts. The therapist took me aside when I became upset.

“If you go to court, that’s what she’s going to get, and she knows it,” she said. And she was right, BUT…

The family laws that start divorce negotiations with the moms getting the custodial role (for more time with the kids and child support) and the dads getting the diminished non-custodial role (less time with the kids and a hefty monthly support payment) are unjustified in our modern understanding of parenting and child’s needs. Here’s the truth: kids need BOTH moms and dads equally. Yes, I said it. Go Google it, I don’t have time to give you all the various research studies and post-divorce evidence that suggests when dads are removed from their kids’ lives everyone loses.

So, somewhere along the way, my ex-wife began to believe the idea that she was the more responsible and better-suited parent. It simply was not true. Of course, the loss of my kid time, and the violation of our original PARENTING AGREEMENT was hard on my emotional and spiritual life. I lost everything. I moved out of my house and moved in with my sister. I could not afford to pay for her (the kids) house and get a place of my own. (That’s the case for most dads in this circumstance.) I hit a depression that rocked my foundational belief in myself for a bit.

As I began to recover my own bearings, at my sister’s house, I began to understand the loss. At first, I started an angry blog (The Off Parent) and ranted and raved about the injustice. But in a couple of years I made a powerful discovery: I did not have to engage in the angry texts or emails from my ex-wife. I learned that if I NEVER returned fire with my own angry texts, she would not get the satisfaction of knowing she upset me. I think that was the “connection” she was still looking for. Hurting me gave her some satisfaction. I’m not sure why, given that the divorce and the 70/30 split was entirely her idea. I mean, what did she have to be angry about?

The Whole Parent

As I began to understand that my reactions were 100% up to me, I launched The Whole Parent. I proudly put my name on the posts I began writing about learning to cope as a single dad with a less than cooperative co-parent. Thus my life changed for the better as I embraced my new motto: Choosing the Positive.

Welcome to my divorce story. I’ve still got a long way to go. I still have anger and resentment. And, of course, I’ve still got love for the mother of my children. She no longer gets a free pass on this blog either, but my intention is to understand rather than tear her down. Yes, I was crushed by her violation of our 50/50 parenting agreement, but even that can be forgiven. I’ll never forget it. But in somewhat, this blog, this transformation of my writing, and my purpose would have not happened had we stayed married. She released us and unleashed my impassioned writer. Thank you.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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a good dad's guide to divorce

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