Empty Nest Syndrome: How a Typical Divorce Affects Fathers Differently

Empty Nest Syndrome: How a Typical Divorce Affects Fathers Differently

The Divorce Brochure fails to mention is that once you’ve crossed over this bridge you can never turn back.

This morning it will be 10 days since I saw my daughter and 21 days since I saw my son. When we married and agreed to have children, we also agreed to parent them cooperatively, and 50/50 was the language we used. The moment my then-wife said she had gone to see an attorney about “her options,” I knew I was about to lose MOST OF MY TIME WITH MY KIDS.

I am an empty nest dad. I’ve been dealing with weeks at a time with little or no contact with my kids for years. And it’s not like their mom has been helpful. Far from it. She’s been downright antagonistic in many situations. She learned in that first divorce lesson from her new attorney that she could and would get 70% of the kid’s time, as well as controlling interest in their custody. Sure, we’re called joint custodians, but when your ex-wife decides to get nasty, you also learn you are the non-custodial parent. When a mom is shown the Divorce Brochure she gets a package deal that doesn’t sound all that bad.

  • Give the dad 30% of the time. (That’s easy. It’ll be like having every-other-weekend off.)
  • Receive a monthly payment equal to about $2ooo of earned income, tax-free, to help you reset and rebuild your life, and keep your kid’s lifestyle at the same level as they’ve come to expect
  • Possession of the house is probably in your favor. (Sure, you can sell it and split the proceeds, but what dad would want to kick their kids out of their family home?)

I guess the one thing the Divorce Brochure fails to mention is that once you’ve crossed over this bridge you can never turn back. Accepting this bargain will forever change the lives of your entire family. And what is your complaint again? Oh, you’re not ecstatically happy. Hmm… Maybe you should look at what’s going on inside of yourself and not at your husband as the reason your unhappy.

And you will carry the guilt for the divorce.

At some point, my kids will learn that their mom simply decided she wanted a divorce. There was no affair, no alcoholism, no real reason. Well, I guess her unhappiness was the reason, but the marriage might not have been the cause of her lack of joy.

What I was given was the Standard Possession Order. The 70 – 30 deal. I had asked for the balanced parenting plan. 50/50 was how we parented, why were we changing that up here at the end? We were changing that up because the Divorce Brochure painted a rosy post-divorce picture of how good her life could be without the burden of her husband. Didn’t work. She’s still unhappy.

And, while I would not want to be married to her again, what she took away from me was 2/3 of the time with my kids. And this is the law in our great state of Texas, as well as many states in the union. Dads are the breadwinners (aka: child support, non-custodial) and moms are the golden parents.

Moms are supposedly the primary nurturer in the family. That’s the 1930’s – 1990’s thinking. The kids need the mom more than they need the dad. And perhaps, there were plenty of divorces where the dad saw the breakup as a release from a dead end relationship. And perhaps, there are plenty of dads who are just fine with paying money and not seeing their kids except on every-other-weekend. Perhaps there are those kinds of dads. And I’m sure there are deadbeat dads too, who want nothing to do with their kids once the divorce is over. I’ve seen those problems.

I ask them all the time to interact with me. It’s the only chance I get to connect with them in any way. It’s as if they have already gone off to college and we have a long-distance relationship.

I was not that kind of dad. I was the consummate 50/50 parent. Yes, I worked out of the home, because that’s the arrangement we agreed to. Yes, I wanted her to be a SAHM for the first few years of our kids’ lives, with nannies and maids. That was the dream and we lived it for a number of years. And then something changed.

And as my wife sailed on in our family home with the kids, I was sent out in the wild to forage for a more income (if I was going to be able to afford a place to live) and new meaning for my life outside of being a great dad. For a good portion of my life, I was going to be a single man and my family was going to be purring along without me. As teenagers, today, the pain is a bit less pronounced. I’ve become used to the loss of time with my kids. I’ve become resigned to accepting whatever relationship my kids want to have with me.

Meanwhile, they wake up every morning in her house. The go to bed every night in her house. In the same house, I put the down payment on so we could have room to have kids. When my kids were younger the distance and time without them was excruciating. I got depressed right after the divorce, sure, but I good bit of the upset was the loss of my time with my kids.

As a parent, you never imagine not being able to kiss the forehead of your young kids at night. Every night. Every single night, until they go away to college. That’s part of the joy and transformation of becoming a parent. Suddenly, your life and your goals are a bit less important than your time with your kids and your support of their goals.

Today I support my kids’ goals as part of my parenting role. And I text and encourage them as best I can, from this distance. I ask them to dinner, movies, lunch, breakfast, sporting events. I ask them all the time to interact with me. It’s the only chance I get to connect with them in any way. It’s as if they have already gone off to college and we have a long-distance relationship. But they are just up the street 3 miles. And the divorce was unbalanced and unfair, and my ex-wife got the big win. She got the time with the kids. Oh, yes, she got the money and house too, but that’s secondary.

I’m coming back to life, today. I’m working all of my creative paths towards transformation into a fuller and happier life. But I’m pretty darned happy right now. The sad part is my kids don’t get much of me and my happiness. They get something less than joyful, most of the time. I can see it and feel it in them. But there’s no amount of money or grief that can bring back those lost years. Today, there is only “Where do I go from here as a good dad?”

That’s where I live.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

Empty Nest Syndrome – Tips for Coping from the Mayo Clinic

 

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