choosing the positive in all our relationships

Our Response to Someone Else is 100% Up to Us: Choose the Positive

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I can only be responsible for my part of the equation.

I learned this lesson in the hard reality of divorce and negotiating with a co-parent who doesn’t try to be civil or caring. Actually, it was the launch of this blog on September 21, 2013, with this post (A Return to Wholeness After Divorce) that put my entire co-parenting journey on the “choosing the positive” path. I don’t always get there, these days. But I do my best, in any upsetting situation, to reframe MY RESPONSE on the outcome I would like to work towards.

Starting the Off Parent

In the opening moments of my divorce journey, on May 1, 2010, I began writing about my experience. Here is my first post on The Off Parent, a few weeks after my then-wife revealed she’d consulted with a divorce attorney. (Wisdom from the trenches – “responsible separation”)

The blog was anonymous until several months ago. I was writing to process my howling pain, my false hope, and my ambitious plan to find a new relationship (eventually) with someone who could embrace all of me. You can see from the timeline that I was hurting. My divorce was finalized in August of 2010. And my real journey of survival and recovery began. I came up with the idea of the “off” parent to represent not only the time when I would not have my children, but to denote both my madness and my ex-wife’s madness in the aftermath of an emotionally traumatic divorce.

A little over three years after starting The Off Parent, I had an idea for this blog. I laid out this vision statement for what The Whole Parent would be and how it would be different.

I’m on this journey and I’d like to bring you along.

My unwavering and immutable mission:

1. 100% positive
2. Kids first
3. Honest feelings

I have been a single-parent for eight years now, and I am finally getting the hang of it. There are plenty more bumps in the road, but I’m at peace with the life-changing event, and the now-I-can-see-this-is-better reflection of these past years. My goal is to uncover the WINS and work to remove the MISSES and share those stories so that others who follow this difficult journey will have some illumination, from a previous sojourner.

My hope is to write the dad’s side of this story and gather contributing single-mom writers to tell the other half. My mantra will always be: lead with love and you will be heading in the right direction.

(You can read the entire opening testament here: About Becoming a Whole Parent Again, After Divorce.

Everything Depends On My Response

What I learned rather early on in my Whole Parent journey, was that “my response” was all that I could control about my relationship with my difficult co-parent. My side of the story was up to me. Sure, I did not get the 50/50 shared parenting plan we had promised each other, and of course, I was a bit upset at getting so much less time with my kids. (Less than 1/3 of my kid’s future lives). AND… I had to decide what my voice was going to be. Was I going to remain the OFF (upset) parent, or was I going to step up my spiritual program a bit, and reframe my single parenting journey as the best dad I could be? Divorce is not fair. My response to divorce is mine and mine alone.

It wasn’t easy. My ex-wife would send an awful email and I would pause in the moment and contemplate my response. The two blogs became a metaphor. Either this can go in the BAD and ANGRY pocket (The Off Parent) or I could figure out how to learn from my experience and my anger, and transform that sucky message into something that could provide hope and wisdom.

And by the 5th post, I had gained my stride. (Co-parenting Is Not Always Easy, But We Have a Choice) Here’s a quote from that article that ultimately earned me a place as an author on The Huffington Post for divorce and families.

I don’t benefit at all from firing off a knee-jerk reaction to an angry email from my ex-wife. I don’t have to respond in-kind. I can take the higher road and do my best at giving an honest response, and if possible a solution.

So much of co-parenting is about negotiation and compromise. We no longer have the same loving emotional ties to our former partners. We no longer have to make their urgency and priorities our own. But we owe the considered response to the parenting relationship. By taking our anger elsewhere, we can keep the focus on the REQUEST from our ex and try and keep the response to an ANSWER.

Sometimes I have to parse out the request. And sometimes I don’t have the answer. But the tone and method of my response is up to me.

Choosing the Positive In All Our Relationships

Today, after six-and-a-half years, I have begun to embody the positive approach without working at it. In every transaction with another human being, I have an opportunity to be positive and loving. Even if that person is wounded and not very loving to themselves. My response is 100% up to me.

My ex, today, remains an enigma. But she and her husband are a rubric I no longer have to figure out. I have to be civil. I still have to give them both the benefit of the doubt, even when they are being mean. And then I have to let them go, and I have to surrender the outcome to a higher power. In the case of my teenage daughter, who suffers from migraines, I cannot force my way into their home and care for my daughter in a way I find appropriate. I cannot fight them for leaving her alone to struggle with her own food and comfort needs. (It’s not about working, btw.) I know I sound judgemental right now. And that’s also something I get to work on.

I have to let go of what I wanted the divorce to look like. I have to let go of the part of me that wanted to remain close as co-parents and celebrate our children’s victories and rally around them in their discomforts. Today, I cannot do this. I can reach out to my daughter until she awakens from her painful slumber, but I have no other channels, no loving parent’s channel to find out the best way to support her. I have an angry ex-wife and an angrier new husband. And I have my response.

Today, I choose the positive. I will continue to ping my daughter’s phone until she is able to respond. It should’ve been so much easier than this. But I can only be responsible for my part of the equation.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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