emotional intelligence in co-parents

Emotional Intelligence In Kids and Ex-Wives and Their *New* Husbands

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If your wife divorces you because she feels you are the problem, that’s a tragedy. And when she’s not happy ten years later, that’s no longer a mystery or your problem. If your wife also withdrew from the 50/50 parenting schedule you were crafting together. She went to see an attorney while we were still in couples therapy. Um… Okay. So, we’ve established that she might have some issues.

And then, when the divorce has awarded her 70% of the kids’ time and enough money to live rent-free in the house your money paid for. And, just a few months ago, she sold that same house for over a million dollars. Good investment. Good divorce. Good for her. Yet, not so good for the kids.

As I departed the family house my children were 7 and 9. They were losing the morning jester and breakfast king. I would rouse the house each school day with music, jokes, laughter, and a freshly cooked breakfast. That was my passion. I was a morning person. I would wake hours early and write or read in the quiet ticking house. Then roam from room to room with kisses songs and good morning prayers. I don’t have any reliable reporting about how things went after I was asked to exit stage left.

Kids of Angry and Entitled Parents

It’s no secret that my ex-wife’s husband came from both money and intellectualism. He followed his famous father into mathematics and innovation. At that early age, let’s say my son was 11 and my daughter was 9, my ex-wife had already been withdrawing me from the parenting discussions. I literally had to go to the elementary school and demand they add a second phone number and email for family contact. The system was set for one parent. And with individual parents, each year, I would have to attend the back-to-school events and be a bit of an asshole demanding she take my information down as well.

In support of the children, my ex-wife was decent to me. In emails and texts she was awful. She tosses drama bombs in with glee. At first, I would respond with my own creative slapback. It was a stupid response. It only lit a fuse in her already simmering mind. Any action I would take to respond in kind would only ignite the entire household. Why would I create more heat and anguish for my kids? I stopped responding to the drama and brimstone curses. I began this blog, with my name on it, as a way of bringing my responses toward the positive side of parenting.

I learned that my positive influence and rejection of acts of war was one of the protections I could offer my kids. I could not manage their mom. I could not really provide air cover while they were at her house. 22 days out of each month they were on their own in a home with an unhappy person flicking their unhappiness on everyone else. I tell you now, over ten years later, her disappointments and temper tantrums were not caused by me. I tried, but I also learned that I could not cure her foul moods and irrational bursts of meanness.

Later In the Divorced Family Life

My kids are both in college and (for the most part) out of their mom’s house. I have been able to establish a warm and private channel of honesty with my daughter. My son is still struggling under the weight of making his mom happy. She’s not going to be happy. And my son is not the cause of my ex-wife’s unhappiness. Heck, I don’t think I am either. I would venture that someone who stays angry and frustrated about the world and the unfairness of their situation, have more to learn about self-soothing and self-responsibility.

The problem is, that for the last 9 years or so, that other guy, the odd OCD one, has been the primary father figure in my kids’ lives. Ick. How he matches up with my ex-wife in terms of controlling and passive-aggressive behaviors is uncanny. My kids have grown up with two emotionally crippled and self-medicating parents. I have been relegated to the “single dad schedule.” I saw my kids for two weekends a month and two one-night (pickup from school, feed, take to school) overnights. That’s not enough time to maintain anything but a cheerleader’s influence.

I worked to stay close. I was frequently thwarted by the poor behavior of my ex-wife. So many responses in the early years:

“Oh, I’m sorry they didn’t call you back last night we were out late.”

“John, sorry you didn’t get to say goodnight to the kids, my phone died.”

“I never saw your message.”

“Just now seeing this, sorry, we were already in the bedtime routine.”

Each action a conscious slap of my face and my heart. She knew all I had was nightly phonecalls, to console me for missing them. I could pretend in my mind that I was on a long business trip. I could not show them my sadness and disappointment. I could not tell them I blamed their mom for not letting me talk to them. Did she do some of them on purpose? Absolutely.

My kids grew up after I left and the dad-troll entered the picture that parents were unreliable, erratic, and if you asked the wrong question could raise to “really pissed off” rather quickly. I’m guessing, much like today, they learned to NOT ASK. The message given to both of my kids over the last 9 years is, “I’m too busy to answer the phone. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I can.” My kids were forced to leave voicemails for their parents in the same damn house. No wonder voicemails became a source of pain for them. That explains why they might not listen to my messages later when they got phones of their own.

You don’t parent by voicemail and texts. You don’t rule by command and authority.

Here’s What I Wish For Divorcing Families

Keep your kids close to both parents. Moms and dads are equally important for their emotional growth and maturity. If my kids were raised by two introverted and compulsive parents, I’m not sure where they were supposed to get a picture of healthy interactions or relationships. Conflict is frequent in the house of teenagers. Parents can use either of these two approaches:

  1. Attachment parenting – keeping a warm and healthy relationship by exhibiting love, consistency, and fairness.
  2. Authoritarian parenting – i’m the parent, this is what you’ll do, and this is why your complaints, tears, and anger are invalid.

I know we started as attachment-parenting parents. Once I left the scene, the attachment that I provided dissolved like a vapor. I was the loving connector, the jester, the “here we go” part of the family. At 7 and 9 years old, my kids lost most of their potential time with me. The light of my influence was dimmed. My direct influence (hugs, words, interactions) was limited to 4 real days a month. SATURDAY and SUNDAY became my domain. With my added energy and attention (since I had not seen them for days) I was able to mitigate my own issues of sadness and depression, and pull together “dad time.” I got a trampoline (that had been forbidden by my ex-wife) and we jumped together for two years without incident.

“Get up and jump,” was the phrase my young kids used to get me on the trampoline with them. Even when I was dog-tired and cranky, I would go double-bounce them on the trampoline.

If there is a path forward in divorce to agree to a 50/50 shared parenting schedule, your kids will benefit from the balance. I’m very different from my ex-wife. The yin/yang made for better balance. After my departure, the damp and sad yin energy pervaded my kids’ lives. Today they have sad yin mixed with substance abuse and isolation. It’s not a happy house my ex and her husband have created. Perhaps that’s how they like it. Maybe that’s their glue. Not my business. But, as it affected my kids, I’ve been unraveling the damage of narcissistic parents with OCD tendencies.

I want parents to consider 50/50 shared parenting before they have kids. I want parents to learn attachment parenting and be good partners together, sharing responsibility for chores and for fun equally. I really want parents who are heading toward divorce to get one simple message: YOUR KIDS NEED BOTH PARENTS EQUALLY.

However my ex-wife felt when she renigged on our shared parenting agreement and went for the 70/30 split (so common in most divorces), her motivations were `100% about her and very little about what was “in the best interest of the children.” That’s a legal lie phrase they use when they’re trying to cram something unfair down your throat.

In the best interest of my kids would’ve been for them to have equal and unfettered access to me as well as their mom. The current system is broken and needs to be addressed state by state until a national shared-parenting amendment is put in the outdated and flawed family law process. The federal government pays 65% of the AG’s office budget in Texas. The more money Texas can get into the child support system, the more they get paid, and the more staff the government pays for. Ultimately, it’s a federal law issue. But the fight is happening on a state level. And, unfortunately for most dads, the fight starts with a need to educate the court and the other party that a father’s love is essential and beneficial to the children.

Respect Both Parents’ Rights

It’s not a war or a race. It’s a dance. We are meant to lead as parents. Our actions will be much more influential than our words. When our words and actions are out of integrity our kids begin to learn to lie and isolate from our love. I’m still trying to crack open my son, who over-bonded to his single mom (just as I did with mine). I’m optimistic. I’m happy with life. I do wish things would’ve been different for my kids in divorce. I’m working with a number of organizations to help balance divorce law to start at 50/50 shared parenting.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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