do not go gentle

Finding the Kindness In All of Life

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Even people who hurt us deserve kindness.

Loving Your Attacker

There’s a wonderful concept in Aikido (which I trained in for a few years) of loving your attacker. Let me unpack that for you a bit. In a “hard” martial art like Karate, you spend time learning kill strikes. In an unexpected real-world encounter, say of a drunk man harassing some women, a mid-belt karate student is going to hesitate before poking out the guy’s eyes. You are trained to kill. But are you prepared to sweep the leg?

In Aikido your compassion encompasses even the dumbass attacking you. Rather than mame or kill them, in Aikido, the goal is to neutralize the threat, and… (here’s the shift in mindset) keep your attacker from hurting you, others, or themselves. You actually “love” the attacker by protecting them from their own misguided actions. You love your attacker into submission. No one is hurt. Only ego is bruised. And everyone goes on about their lives.

In my coaching work, I often meet with couples who are struggling, or perhaps, going through a divorce. My first boundary is KINDNESS. It’s often my first task, refocusing the couple on what’s important and kind, versus what is hurtful and an attack. Even positive-sounding advice can be passive-aggressive. We shutdown all of the unkind bickering that can spin out of control in troubled relationships. We just shut that shit down.

In a recent session, I said, “These are the topics we are taking off the table. If you want to vent about this and this you need to contact me about it. It no longer serves any purpose to bring that up with your partner again. We are beyond that. We are working on ‘what’s next.’ Let’s not get stuck in angry arguments that have no bearing on your future.”

And, if it works, the couple begins to think more kindly about their partner. Even if they are divorcing, kindness is king. Attacking in an unkind way becomes part of the process we don’t allow. You can come at me (the coach) with that rage, but it no longer has any place in your relationship. As we transition from parents to divorced co-parents, one of my primary responsibilities is to minimize the damage during the contentious phase of the process. The early breakup period, I call stage 1.

Defending Yourself

In Aikido you do learn how to protect yourself from the attack as well as disabling the attacker. You learn to train on both sides of the tussle. It’s a rapid back-and-forth, practicing of techniques. You attack, I disarm. Then we get up. And I attack and you defend. This is called “getting on the mat.” Practice.

It’s a great example for life. It’s important that I understand both partner’s must-haves as well as their objections. I need to understand their goals. From there I can help both of them craft a plan that works for everyone. My goal is “everyone is smiling.” We often go through a lot of hard work, but in the end, success is when an agreement is reached that both parents (or soon-to-be co-parents) are happy.

Using myself as an example, if I had been able to work with someone to help me articulate how and why a 50/50 shared parenting divorce was my only goal, I might have gotten somewhere. Of course, the full thing depends on both partners. In my case, even with a cooperative plan and an agreement, my ex-wife pulled a sword at the end and chopped off my head. She was afraid. She was losing a good bit of her kids’ time. And she went for the kill.

At that time, I had no Aikido training. I was crushed. I did not lawyer up to fight for what we’d been agreeing to for months. I would’ve lost in 2010. Today, however, I work with couples to reach joint agreements. They may not meet every need. (I did not want a divorce, for example.) But they keep the honest communication open between the couple, even in the most heated negotiations. I would’ve liked a divorce coach.

I would’ve liked a mediator who supported both of us. Our “parenting plan” therapist was awful. She said to me, “She knows that’s what she’s going to get (the divorce package) if you go to court. You might as well start there.”

No. No. No. No. NO!

I did not defend myself adequately. I didn’t want the divorce. In the end, I think my kids would’ve done better with a 50% dad. I have more empathy, and better communication skills, and I was the biggest love influencer in the family. Why moms often get MORE THAN TWICE as much time with the kids, as a rule, is one of the things I’m hoping to change.

And if I can’t change it at the governmental level (It’s really state law that governs our divorces) I can work with willing couples to reach agreements in a more open and compassionate way. Oh, and it’s a lot cheaper than litigating it. Heck, if we could fly to Paris and do a two-day session there, and save thousands of dollars by not engaging the lawyers. It doesn’t always work out that way. But, what is consistent, both parents have equal value and equal rights in my world.

Going For The Win

When my ex-wife pulled out the katana she knew she was striking a death blow. She was not trained in martial arts or swordplay. She was blinded by her own fear and desire. She took the “deal” knowing that 50/50 parenting is what we had always promised. She took the deal to decrease the possibility of loneliness. She took the deal because somewhere she believed she was the better and more deserving parent.

I can call *bs* on that now. As I called *bs* on it back then.

Moms and dads are equally important in their children’s lives. When the dad is eliminated by giving more that 2X as much time to the mom, when the child support is awarded and enforced even when both partners make similar salaries, when dads are not valued as important, there a significantly more problems in the kids lives. It’s science. Google it.

Don’t go for YOUR win. Go for your KIDS win. Give them both parents, equally. Agree to split expenses. Don’t engage the state’s AG’s “collections agency” on your co-parent.  Most of all,

Refrain from attacking the other parent under all circumstances.

Striking out at your co-parent will always involve collateral damage. You may not be aware in the moment, how your negative comments, or negative actions are seen by your kids. But if they are over 8 years old, they are going to remember how you treated the other parent.

[Sure, there are deadbeat dads. And there are deadbeat moms too. In my work, I usually work with educated, semi-affluent, and dedicated parents. Their goal in coming to me is to lessen the impact on their kids. That’s job one. Do no harm.

Going For Balance

Part of Aikido training that is so important is taking the fall as many times as you execute the attack. You learn the balance from both sides. Attacked. Defended. And flat on your back asking for mercy. It’s a great metaphor for life.

In my life I have strived for balance. As a co-parent to a narcissistic is has not been easy. In most of the negotiations, I was given no chance to be on top. When she brought her backup squad, in the form of the “enforcement division” of the attorney general’s office, she was effectively cutting off my head for the next 10+ years.

Today, I find the balance in knowing I never attacked their mom. Ever. I have always tried to remain positive and supportive of her efforts. And while her negative actions hurt her as well as our kids, she’s still hoppin mad about something. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t focus on me anymore. I think she’s just unhappy. And I couldn’t change it in the marriage, I certainly can’t change it now. So we work with what we have.

Even when she comes at me or my kids with stupid attacks, I have learned to respond in kindness or silence. No response can be a powerful defense.


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

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