I don’t want to talk about it too much, but there was a moment back in 2017…
The World Gone Dark
I was not prepared when my wife asked for a divorce. This is a common response for many men. Things might have been bad, but not “that” bad. Upon finding out that my then-wife had gone to see a divorce attorney to understand her options, I was devastated. The pain and sorrow of my childhood, when my mom and dad began fighting about his alcoholism came rushing into my life. I was scared. But mostly I was sad for my kids, who I knew were going to miss a lot of time with me in the divorced future.
I did not imagine that my then-wife would change her mind at the last minute about 50/50 shared parenting. I did not understand that I would be losing more than 70% of my kid-time. I couldn’t have imagined her asking for a divorce, and now I was grieving over losing 2/3 of my kids’ lives. I don’t think I’ve ever been suicidal in an “action plan” way, but this coup d grace was enough to push me into the freefall of a depression that took me nearly a year to recover from.
I stayed in the house for the last two months of elementary school (3rd grader and 5th grader) to keep some semblance of their lives in order before the verdict was pronounced. But my then-wife wanted me to just move out and tell the kids I was traveling for business. Yes, that’s great for her, not so great for me.
Moving Out of the Family Home
I negotiated with my then-wife to keep our kids IN the house. I also negotiated a fair split of our money. And, at the time, a fair split of their time. At some point, nearing the court date, my then-wife took her lawyer’s advice and went for the divorce package.
It would be almost like she requested. I would simply leave the house to her and the kids. And she would get two weekends a month off. The rest of their lives was fairly undisturbed by the divorce. Dad was simply gone. Mom was the authority, the heart, and the primary custodial parent. I was a part-time dad. My house, once I was able to financially afford a place to live, was never going to be their home, their bedroom, their neighborhood. Dad’s would always be more like a hotel for two weekends a month. Sad.
The day I left the house in the nice neighborhood I could only imagine how hard things were going to get for me. I didn’t anticipate my deep depression. I really didn’t anticipate my ex-wife’s vindictive behaviors. I assume she was (still is) trying to punish me for being happy in my life and in my relationship with our kids. To this day she still throws Molotov cocktails into our relationships. Not sure what it gets her. I can only assume she’s still mad about something. This blog? The divorce and money she asked for? Her current life and marriage? No idea.
Shuffling Along As a Single Dad
A lot of the work post-divorce for me was personal. I had to rebuild everything. My career. My living quarters. My limited relationship with two young children. My own self-worth. I struggled with depression from the moment my then-wife asked for the divorce.
“Do you think I’m going to walk out the door, and you’re going to be happy,” I asked her before things had been finalized. She didn’t have a good answer. But she had been unhappy for over a year. Well, she’s still unhappy, 11-years later. Probably not about me at this point. Right?
Some of the hardships that hit me early on as a newly single dad with two kids:
- keeping in the loop with their teachers and their school activities and homework
- finding a new place to live
- needing to change my self-employment to make 2X my salary so I could afford a place to live, and a place to have my kids on my two weekends a month.
- keeping in the loop about my kids’ personal lives
- being given the information about school decisions, medical decisions, and even relationship (dating) decisions even through high school
- lack of co-parenting goodwill and transparency
Letting Go of Co-Parenting Expectations
For the first year or so, my ex-wife did include me in discussions about school and sports, and about personal issues related to our children. As our son entered middle school, things go a bit more slippery. She would make decisions without looping me in. Often I would learn of some change of plan from my kids when they were with me on the weekend. My daughter would say, “I’m changing from Advanced English to regular English because mom says it’s too hard for me.”
When you are the non-custodial parent you have very little leverage when your co-parent does not abide by the parenting plan of the divorce. You can sue them. You can ask for them to return to the agreed rules. You can beg them to include you in parenting discussions. But if they don’t want to, and my ex-wife made a choice that she didn’t care to include me, then you are sh*t out of luck. There is nothing you can do. The custodial parent has all the power after a divorce.
Keeping Your Sanity as a Single Parent
In my lowest moment, post-divorce, I found myself living with an alcoholic that didn’t really like my kids. We were sort of trapped in her house together. I was in transition work-wise, looking to find a new consulting contract since mine had been completed. There was a moment, a dark and lonely moment, that I won’t go into much detail here about, where I was contemplating jumping off a bridge or worse.
The moment that I was actually implementing some action towards the end goal of murdering myself, I saw my daughter’s face. I knew how hard things had been for them, in spite of all I tried to do. It was her face, her sadness, that brought me out of my darkest hour. I could not inflict any more pain on her. EVER. I reset my life, moved out of the house, and left the alcoholic.
There are a lot of hurdles for single parents. One of the biggest is the emotional hole you are left with when your kids are stripped from your care and affection. I never imagined that I would not be tucking my son and daughter into bed each night until they left home for college. But, the minute my then-wife indicated she was seeking her divorce deal, I was crushed with my own guilt, my own sadness, and some chemical imbalances that came roaring back into my damaged energetic system.
We’re all okay now. Both kids are in college. And while my ex is still angry and unreachable, I can report that both kids are doing well. While we are still rebuilding trust and connections that were lost between the ages of 5 and 19, we are all doing good.
When divorce with children is your path be prepared for a lot of highs and lows. You can do it. And your efforts will be rewarded later. Your kids will never know what you went through to stay in their lives, but they will appreciate your presence and loving guidance well into adulthood.
Perhaps the best parenting years a still ahead of me.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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