my kids before the divorce

Present Tense: Co-Parenting Disconnected

I’ll not beat around the bush here, co-parenting after divorce is hard. It was hard while we were married too, but now there are less reasons for your ex-spouse to be nice, considerate, and empathetic. In fact, you might find your ex is actually throwing Molotov cocktails into your parent-child relationship. Why? What’s the benefit to the children? What’s the payoff for the angry co-parent?

When Co-Parenting Goes Dark

I did not want the divorce. I fought against the divorce for the two months before our kids finished up 3rd and 5th grade. But I failed to bring my then-wife back into the fold. She was already out the door. She asked me to move out immediately when she made the unilateral decision to split up our family. I knew that my kids would suffer, so I insisted we wait the two months until school was out. The school counselor convinced my then-wife to wait as well. She was no longer listening to me or taking my advice. She never would again.

So, we divorced. And for the first year, things were okay. It was difficult, but at least we were both engaged in supporting our kids without obsessing on any of our own hurt or issues. We stuck to that agreement until my child support payments came under pressure because of my employer losing a large client. But something else happened at this moment, as I was asking my ex-wife to be patient, “I will get caught up before the end of the summer.”

Turns out, at this time I was also trying to refinance my house. I was in negotiations with Wells Fargo, and she knew this. And with a single stroke of WTF? she filed our child support account with the Attorney General’s office. Essentially, she turned me into a collections agency that would attach a black mark to my credit for the next 20+ years of my life. Our life. I think that was the part she didn’t consider. Her kids were going to be hurt by her adverse actions against me.

Going for Your Pound of Flesh

I was a week late on my child support when my ex-wife turned me in as a deadbeat dad. There’s no easy way to digest this. She knew exactly what she was doing. She responded to one of my texts regarding my plan to get caught up.

“I know the timing is not great. But I turned our decree over to the AG’s office.”

What was wrapped up in this short text were a number of messages. I did not directly understand the depth of her betrayal, and how it cut to the heart of our divorce in general. At first, I was just overwhelmed by her cruelty. She was not at risk financially. She knew I would get the money. I was being open with my situation, not trying to hide anything. And I was being a fully-responsible father.

Here’s what I think was encoded in her text to me.

  • The timing is not great – I know you are trying to stay on your feet financially, and trying to keep a house over your head, where our kids can stay with you, every other weekend.
  • I know you are trying to refinance the house.
  • I know that this action is going to fuck up your hope about keeping your house.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office because I hate you more than I care about the blowback that will hit our children.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office so you would suffer.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office knowing the “deadbeat dad” account would hurt you.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office even though you were being truthful and transparent about your work and your finances.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office even though you were trying to be a responsible and involved dad.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office to show everyone you were not a great dad, as you kept writing about in your blog.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office with little or no consideration for the damage to your parenting relationship.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office, in the same way, I asked for the divorce: thinking only about myself.
  • I turned you into the AG’s office without remorse or guilt, because I had to land a blow.
  • I asked for the divorce because I was trying to escape some deep sadness of my own. (It was about me.)
  • I turned you into the AG’s office because I hated seeing you happy and thriving.

Of course, all of this is my mind reading. I’d love her to tell me sometime, how she rationalized the AG coup d gråce. But I don’t need to ask, her actions, eleven years later, continue to amaze me with their unconscious exposure. She’s still acting out of anger, resentment, and some sense of entitlement that didn’t turn out the way she wanted.

Present Tense: Co-Parenting Disconnected

This year, my daughter moved away to college and our relationship has started to flourish again. My ex has not been happy about this development. It’s not that she talks to be at all, but it’s obvious by her actions and words that she’s still harboring a vindictive approach to not co-parenting with me. Here’s the most recent example.

For Thanksgiving, and my daughter’s birthday celebration, I took us both to NYC for a long weekend. My daughter told me she’d had a phone call with her mom and her brother while we were in the city. Some part of the conversation came around to why my son had not been invited on the trip. And with some form of subterfuge, my ex-wife wondered out loud, “It’s not really fair.”

WHAT?

Immediately, my daughter had to defend our trip to both her mom and her brother. Her mom shouldn’t have weighed in at all. STFU if all you have to contribute is another Molotov cocktail.

I had to text my son later, “This trip is her birthday present. I gave you two nice presents this year. She wanted to go to NYC.”

“It’s all good,” he said back. But, it was not “all good.” His mom had weighed in on his sadness and frustration by adding a bit of her own vitriol. Again, she needed to STFU.

When You Can’t Say Anything Nice

Here’s the rub. Co-parenting continues for the rest of our lives. And my ex-wife’s BS is toxic for all of us. As she was lobbing her flaming pile of angst into my daughter’s birthday trip with her father, she was also poisoning her son, sitting right there. Why would she inject any of her darkness into the situation unless she was invested in harming my relationship with my daughter and my son? You cannot attack the other parent without damaging your kids. NEVER. It always creates blowback that ripples through all of their lives.

BUT, you will be held accountable. At some point, my son will also come out from under your wing to discover that I was not the reason for my “distance” after the divorce. My availability during his early years was limited by your anger and your attitude towards me. At first, you were able to keep the words to yourself, but as your venom poisoned you, it became easier to attack me “with” them.

Sure, you can lean into your kids’ anger about the divorce. But your role as a parent is to help them separate their emotions from your emotions. Your anger has infused their entire lives. They have some warped ideas about my presence in their lives. It’s a shame.

But, just as I’ve recovered the clarity of my love and support of my daughter, I know my son will also break free of your dark and enmeshed story of betrayal. How you have been wronged. How you have been betrayed. How you are somehow wronged in this divorce and post-divorce life. You still feel like you are the victim of the divorce you asked for. The divorce where you got EXACTLY what you asked for. Not what I asked for, 50/50 shared parenting.

Dear Ex-Wife,

STFU. Keep your own bullshit with me to yourself. You are still poisoning our kids against me. It hurts us all. Stop.

Sincerely,

The Father of our two kids.

Namasté,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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How I Can Help

I am a relationship coach and a dating coach. I coach women in 1 x 1 zoom or facetime calls. I work in monthly blocks (4 sessions). We establish a relationship. I become your wingman in navigating and sorting through the bullshit of dating and relationships. If you are here, you’ve probably already read some of my opinions. If we’re a fit, we will both know on our first call.

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