Tag Archives: coparenting

The 3 Immutable Laws of Positive Co-Parenting


You have to release them both, your kids and your ex, and let them fly.

My ex-wife and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. But one thing we’ve kept relatively clear over the last 5 years of divorce is THE KIDS COME FIRST. Always.

We’ve had issues between us, and I think two people in a relationship will always have issues, but we’ve kept them out of our parental relationships. So many divorces before us, I’ve seen angry divorced mom’s trashing their former partner in front of her two kids while waiting on the school bus together. And the incidence of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is also real. I can’t imagine using your kids as a chess piece to get back at your former spouse. Yikes.

Attachment parenting is about letting your kids know, from the moment they are born and for as long as they live, that they are loved and supported regardless of their choices.

But when you’ve agreed to disagree over things like money and custodial vs. non-custodial role, you can still agree to keep the kids clear of any of the disagreements between you. In our case, we used a divorce therapist to help us split the baby, so to speak. And in her office we could talk about things like “in the best interest of the children” while still arguing about our own wants and needs. It’s not about what’s fair, at that point. It’s about what situation would support the kids.

Right, the goal of “less disruption for the kids at this difficult time” was hard to me to argue with. And in typical fashion I was shown the door, given a less-than status and a substantial child support payment, and I said “thank you,” at the end of it. Even today, I’m not happy about the current parenting schedule and financial burden I’ve been given, but I’m not fighting about it either.

Today, “in the best interest of the kids” means something very different than it did five years ago. Today my kids are 13 and 15. They have their own agendas. And we all find our way forward with as little conflict as possible, both the kids and their mom. Even while there are some big issues and big questions in the legal and financial part of our relationship, the devotion to the kids, and their conflict free child hood, remains our guiding principal.

At the core of it, I know we are both doing the best we can. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, even when I’m mad as hell at her, is the only route. And making sure my issues are cleared up before I am with my kids, that is my responsibility.

How easy it would be to spout off the, “well, your mom…” But we don’t. At least I don’t think she does, but it’s never gotten back to me about any snarks about our situation. And we’ve been through some tough scrapes. Money has occasionally been an issue for both of us. “Somehow we just keep working it out. We will get there,” she wrote to me in a text message.

If you can remember the flight and joy of your children as the goal, you can forgive, forget, and move on nearly any personal issue or frustration with your ex-partner.

And you can tell how well you are doing by your kid’s energy and enthusiasm. In the first few years things were a bit moody with all of us. But even in that hard slurry of depression, we, the four of us, kept encouraging each other, in spite of, and through, the hard parts. That’s what we are now. Cheerleaders. We’ve got other responsibilities too, like leadership, morals, and guiding them towards a happy career path, but mostly, at this age, we have the role of cheerleader.

And in someways, I’m also a cheerleader for their mom’s success. In her 2.5 year relationship, regardless of my feelings about the guy, I have to cheer them on. My daughter likes him. And my ex-wife seems a bit more relaxed since they’ve been together. So, sure, I can be a “rah rah” co-parent for them. I’m glad my kids have another adult who cares about their welfare. And he’s a good influence on all three of them.

When your partner’s partner comes to your daughter’s volleyball game at the end of a workday, you’ve got to give them kudos. I’d be just as easy to “work late.” But he shows up. And they sit together. And my daughter makes sure she hugs and says goodbye to both of them. That’s a WIN WIN. A win for my daughter. And a win for my ex-wife.

Let’s find the win in our divorces. Even before we’ve found a win, or a relationship in our lives, it’s important to show our kids how well we still support and champion the other parent.

A reader sent me an email about one of my posts, a week ago. She was concerned that I was going to share my ex-wife’s transgressions with my kids.

I responded, about why I’m writing this blog.

“No, it’s important for me to know, that eventually the whole story will be told. But today, it’s all about positive parenting for me. If they read the book of the divorce in five or ten years, when they are adults themselves, that’s fine, but that’s not my intention.”

Divorce is a bitch. And compartmentalizing your anger and sadness is a difficult process, but an essential one.

She replied. “That’s great to hear, because my parents were real assholes to each other after the divorce. And all it did was make me and my siblings want to get as far away from them as possible when we left the house. None of us are close with my parents.”

And there’s the crux. Attachment parenting is about letting your kids know, from the moment they are born and for as long as they live, that they are loved and supported regardless of their choices. And in divorce you have to keep that objective in mind. If you attack or belittle their other parent, you are breaking one of the fundamental rules of co-parenting.

The Three Immutable Laws of Positive Co-Parenting:

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

And from that position of strength and cooperation, we can manage anything, together, both the kids and my ex-wife and her boyfriend. And my girlfriend too. (grin)

If you can remember the flight and joy of your children as the goal, you can forgive, forget, and move on nearly any personal issue or frustration with your ex-partner. That’s your responsibility, not your kids, nor your ex-partner’s. You have to release them both, your kids and your ex, and let them fly.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: sarangkot flight, creative commons usage

Dear Non-Custodial Dad: Here’s What You’re Getting


Instead of access to your kids all the time, you can now only see them 8 – 10 nights a month. For me this was the biggest loss in my life.

There is no way around it. The first time I was given my “options” I cried. I had been pulled kicking and screaming into the divorce counselors office to draft the parenting plan for our upcoming divorce. A divorce which I didn’t want, didn’t ask for, and felt drafted into. There was no hope for repair, once she’d revealed she’d been to see an attorney. She’d been looking into her options long before I knew the marriage was in trouble.

“We see this all the time,” the expensive Ph.D. therapist told me. “Dads who are oblivious to the forthcoming divorce. They tend to be overwhelmed, disoriented, and not ready to prepare themselves for the next chapter.”

While I went to these sessions with the idea that we would spilt the schedule evenly, to allow for both of us to have the same amount of time with our kids, that was not what she wanted. And having consulted with an attorney, that was not what she knew she would get if we went to court. We had decided we were going to leave the financial and legal aspects to our cooperative style. Once I came around to the idea that a marriage was not viable with only one willing partner, I was actively participating in our plan. But the deck was stacked against me.

Today in 2015, I might have a better chance of getting the joint custody and 50/50 schedule I wanted. In 2010 things were a bit different. So as I brought in my half-and-half schedule, and books about co-parenting, I was told I would take the non-custodial role and get the Standard Possession Order (SPO) to start with. Everything else could be negotiated.

They were still struggling in their tiny lives, to understand why their laughing dad wasn’t around all the time to lighten things up.

Well, the way it’s explained to you, when you first hear it, is every other weekend and one week night on the off weeks. There’s some provision about a full-month in the summer to make up some of the imbalance, but that’s not a reality in today’s working parent’s lives. So with the SPO, in my state, I get to see my kids 29% of the time.

The crushing news to me at that moment, and to most newly divorced dads was this: Instead of access to your kids all the time, you can now only see them 8 – 10 nights a month. For me this was the biggest loss in my life.

I could suffer the loss of the relationship. I could suffer the alone time and losing the house and neighborhood. But the loss of those kids, those childhood years, are still painful to me. It should not have gone that way. We should’ve agreed to figure the 50/50 parenting thing out, but I was negotiated into the box of the non-custodial parent and the SPO.

Today, just over five years later, I am still struck by the loss of my children. As I was closing up their rooms this afternoon, I tried to avoid feeling the hurt. I had a great send off this morning. I saw them off happy and well fed. And now they are gone.

As it turns out, we’re modifying the schedule a bit more this coming year. On the off weeks, so the kids don’t have to transfer their things, I’m settling for a dinner rather than a sleep over. And frankly, that’s a pretty good deal for me. Again, it’s not what I would’ve chosen, but it appears to simplify their lives. And in some ways it simplifies mine as well. In the coming year, I will have 2-of-10 school mornings every two weeks. That’s the hardest part of the routine. Getting everyone up, fed, and to school on-time. Giving up two of those mornings a month wasn’t a hard decision.

Still, back then, back when my kids were finishing up 3rd and 5th grade, there was no rational reason for giving up my 50/50 request. I simply got what was coming to me, and agreed to settle for 29% custody and a substantial child support payment. (Those things go together. The non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent.) Back when my kids were younger, this time was so precious. This loss of time was much more painful. I could feel it in my kids hearts when we got together, how they had missed me. How they were still struggling in their tiny lives, to understand why their laughing dad wasn’t around all the time to lighten things up.

There are some discussions about going to a more balanced schedule, but none that have gotten beyond the “what if” stage.

Today, with some guidance, perhaps my then-wife and I would’ve negotiated a more balanced schedule.

So today, dads who are looking at divorce, I’d suggest you consult an attorney. Even if you’re planning on doing a cooperative divorce. You need to look after your own best interests, because your ex won’t be thinking about your needs at all. And your high-paid counselor might not put much importance in the idea of 50/50 parenting after divorce.

My ex is still not sure if that’s what’s best for the kids, five years later. So we’re heading into another grossly imbalanced school year. It’s okay. I’m enjoying the time in my new relationship. So I’m not lonely, or pining away at the empty rooms. But I feel their loss, their absence, every time they leave. And they’ve been leaving for 5 years. I’ve got 6 more years to go until my youngest is gone for good. I’d rather find a way to reach parity, even this late in the game, sooner rather than later. Of course, there are a lot of factors involved. And with school starting next week, it’s easier just to leave things as they are.

Sad but easy. The non-custodial parent is treated a bit like a second-class citizen in the legal system. If you want to go for 50/50 divorce parenting, I think you’ll need an attorney. I also think it’s worth it, if you want to spend as much time as possible with your children. Just a few years ago the fight would’ve been uphill. Today, with some guidance, perhaps my then-wife and I would’ve negotiated a more balanced schedule.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

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Reference: What Percentage of Custody Do You Have – State of California

image: legoland summer, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

What Am I Doing Here? Ah, Another Divorce Blog


I do think I’ve grown as a result of this blog. Quite a bit, actually. See, I have this other blog… Well, if you know me, or LIKE the Whole Parent on Facebook, you know about the other one. Anyway, the growth and transformation over the last five years as a divorced dad is much easier to spot on that blog. I was mad, confused, depressed, and going a bit mad, when my ex-wife said she was no longer interested in working on our marriage, but would prefer to work on our life as co-parents, sans marriage.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

I busted out my poison pen on that one. I acted out. I wrote F U letters. I got mad. I got sad. I got ecstatic. I got in touch with my voice. Somewhere in the burning blaze of my divorce and survival from divorce, I became a writer. I’d always been writing. But the D gave me a new vein, opened for me, to mine and hype and explore. And over the last five years that blog has grown and thrived into a successful platform for my less-balanced output. Maybe it’s in the imbalance that I found “my voice.” I  don’t know. But I do know that the words that have come out of me over the years to describe feelings of loss and hopelessness, defining roadmaps back to happiness and even love, those words were healing for me.

And almost two years ago I launched this blog with a new intention. 100% Positive. (That one is still hard.) Kids first. (On my good days, this is a breeze.) and Brutally Honest. My little meme still fits quite well.


The transformation happened in my life when I began to look at every parenting decision or situation with the Whole Parent perspective. How could I turn even crappy things into some learning experience. It wasn’t easy at first. You can see in the early posts here, how I was pretty tentative with my criticisms of my ex-wife. But this blog is not supposed to be an apology or positive white washing.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

And it was this question alone that accelerated my transition from a divorced dad into a co-parent. I’m still a divorced dad, but I’m no longer a single dad. I’m engaged to be married to a woman who is ecstatic about me and about my kids. It’s obvious when we’re together, this new electricity-fuel love. She’s from the “positive” school of thought as well. And together we more than double each other’s exuberance. We are exponential together. It’s dangerous sometimes, how happy and lovey dovey we are, but we’re okay with that. LOVE ON!

But there is something that I’ve tried to do with both my divorce blogs from the beginning: be transparently honest about my own failings, hopes, and progress. Even this blog can be seen to trace an arc out of divorce recovery and into relationship building. Today my life is more about my new relationship, rather than the old, broken, relationship I had with my then-wife. I’m not even doing “divorce” much either. I’m really a parenting blogger.

My mission is be the best parent I can be. Everything else is merely story and circumstance. While I tell the stories, and even rehash them, my goal is to hone them down into a fine narrative about a man who fell from the house of marriage, recovered his sanity over time with a lot of work and journaling, and who is now building a new life and relationship for himself and his children.

The cool thing about this new love relationship, is my kids are really getting to see two people who dig each other. What was obvious in the early stages of my marriage to their mom, began to fade and become ragged before we divorced. Even then, my kids were 7 and 9 when I walked out the door for the last time. Today they are 12 and 14. They are experiencing the world in a very different way. And today they are seeing me as happy as I’ve ever been. This has an effect and I believe they are happier as well.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced and soon-to-be-remarried, dad.

What I’m really showing them, however, is just how to be a good man, how to be a considerate and chivalrous gentleman, and how to be the dad they should’ve had their entire lives. But I’ve just recently shown up in my full-power again. It’s exciting to see where we will go from here.

Today we’re settling into a new house as a family. And while the kids will remain on the limited SPO (standard possession order) for a while, everyone seems almost giddy with delight. The time with all four of us in the car, or eating dinner, is as a new and different family, but a real family. Finally, I’m a man and a woman with kids. As a single man I was somewhat limited and damaged in my perspective. While I would say I have been a good dad, my exuberance has only begun to return under the influence and support of this loving partner.

I do relationships really well. I wanted my marriage to continue, but it did not. And that failure has given way to such joy and happiness that it’s hard not to thank my ex-wife for giving me this new opportunity for a joyous life. She deserves to be happy as well. We all deserve to be happy, but sometimes it takes a lot of work as well as a lot of time to get things back in place.

I joke sometimes that life is so good that I might “rapture” if one more good event takes place. The good things keep happening, and I’m happy to say, I’m still here. Everyday is a new opportunity to show up as a better man for my kids, for my new partner, and even for my ex-wife. We ARE actually all in this together. Today, I’m so glad I have someone to contemplate my side of the equation with.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced (soon-to-be-remarried) dad.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: the bird house, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

Inviting the Dinosaur Into Your Divorce


You’re heard the metaphor of “the elephant in the room,” right? This a little tale about the dinosaur in the divorce. While I work to keep every post on this blog tilted in the positive direction, there have been moments in my relationship to the mother of my children that have been less than stellar.

“The bad part about her inviting the AG’s office into our financial affairs is that it really doesn’t coerce me into paying more or faster.

When my ex-wife got mad two summers ago she threatened me when I got late on my child support payments. I had just lost a job and was in the process of replacing my income, but it was hard times. I’m sure it was hard times on her side of the equation too, and so I try and give her the benefit of the doubt every time. Even when things were bleak between us, I tried to forgive and move on, just as she was trying to convince herself that I would make good on my promise of payments.

After a few months of job hunting I had not produced a new stream of income for us to base our shared parenting financial obligations, so in a fit of rage or an act of self-preservation, she filed our divorce decree with the attorney general’s office in our great state of Texas. In effect, she was throwing up her hands and saying she was tired of hearing my unfulfilled promises of payment, she’d rather have the state’s attorneys take over the matter of the cash flow. She used the terms “enforcement” and “in the best interests of the kids” a lot. Actually she still uses those concepts today, with different language. She’s still pretty sure the AG’s office is the only reason she’s gotten paid recently.

I had to remind her, “Um, the reason you’ve been getting paid since November is because I had a job. No cash flow, no money for either of us.” She didn’t like that answer a few summers back and she doesn’t like the logic today. Still, we have our divorce decree and we have the AG’s office tracking my every move.

The bad part about her inviting the AG’s office into our financial affairs is that it really doesn’t coerce me into paying more or faster. Sorry, I’ve never defaulted or delayed a payment when I had the money. I even exhausted my retirement account to make payments when my income was not matching my expenses.

“Your ex-wife on the other hand, might have other ideas,” he said. “But the dinosaur is equally hard to push from her side as well.”

It really doesn’t matter now, as it stands we have the AG’s office in bed with us, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, until both our kids are 18 years old.

Today I met with my family attorney and he said, “The AG’s office is like a dinosaur. Once you invite the big beast into your affairs it’s really hard to get rid of them.” I liked the analogy. Yes, that’s what it feels like sometimes, like a great big stegosaurus is sitting on my chest with a dumb smile and a “feed the children” necklace on.

Truth is, my kids have never gone wanting for anything. My ex-wife has never missed a house payment. And my commitment to pay and continued efforts to do so has never wavered. Well, except for that time a few summers ago. When she began to rattle her AG’s saber at me, I pushed back with the only idea I could come up with. I told her (this was a dumb idea) that if she “did in fact file with the AG’s office” I would ask for a recalculation of all that I have paid, and all that I should’ve, paid based on *actual* income rather than *theoretical* (which I had yet to achieve since the divorce). I had agreed to pay child support based on a job that I no longer had, but in the duress of the process I agreed, even before I had the replacement job. Another bad idea.

A few rules in dealing with your co-parent:

  1. Never threaten your ex about anything.
  2. Remain optimistic, but don’t count on a job, or a miracle, or mercy from your ex when they are angry or under stress.
  3. If it’s in the decree you will continue owing the amount until you sue your ex to change the amount of child support . Regardless of your employment status, or the economic climate, your child support bills continue to arrive and your debt, if you can’t pay, will continue to grow.
  4. Once in your lives, the AG’s office will never leave.

Today, my attorney went on with the metaphor. “And getting the dinosaur to change or do something on your behalf is very hard. You can push, yell, ask, write letters, and it’s very likely that if they move at all, the dinosaur will move because of some random reason and not as a result of your request.”

He continued, “The AG’s office is really run by computer programs. When the computer kicks your name and account out because you are behind on your payments, the staff just sends out the letter. What we want to avoid is getting the dinosaur mad. If you keep paying what you can, and keep paying something, when the computer spits out your name, the dinosaur will consider you a friend and not just bite your head off.”

“Your ex-wife on the other hand, might have other ideas. But the dinosaur is equally hard to push from her side as well. You are both just kind of stuck with it, like herpes. Once you have the dinosaur in your divorce, you can never completely get rid of him.”

I’m gearing up to start a new job so that I can get some money, but more importantly, so that my kids will get some money. And yes, the dinosaur will be fed and happy in the next month.

The good news in my case is I got a new job that starts in two weeks. I’ve been paying her 25% of my income since my last corporate job, but it’s never quite equalled the *theoretical* job that I was supposed to land in the first few months after the decree was signed. And I will dutifully contact the AG’s office and they will dutifully withhold the child support payments from my take home pay.

A few things I didn’t know about this process.

  1. Your ex does not pay taxes on any of the child support income. It’s like free money to them. You, however, pay the taxes and lose the money at the same time. (Makes it really seem like a double whammy. I work, I pay taxes, then I give her $XXX.)
  2. The AG’s office will set an additional payment, on top of your support payment, when you are behind. I called to tell them, “I’m just getting back on my feet, can we reduce the extra payments just a little?” I was told in no uncertain terms, by one of the dinosaur’s minions, that I could file a petition to change the support order. So I’d have to sue her? Okay, pass.
  3. The dinosaur randomly sends out letters to beneficiaries and asks, “Would you like us to review your account?” Like a bill collector, on their side, the simple check mark in a box on a return post card sets all kinds of painful examinations in motion.

I’m lucky. I have been employed or working under contract for most of the time since the divorce. And today I’m gearing up to start a new job so that I can get some money, but more importantly so that my kids will get some money. And yes, the dinosaur will be fed and happy in the next month.

One of my main goals is to keep the dinosaur from kicking out a random request to put me in jail. But according to my attorney we’d hear the roar via at least one letter of intent before the patrolmen showed up at my door.

Always, No Matter What, Put Your Children’s Lives Ahead of the Emotional Issues You May Still Have with Your Co-Parent.

And, always love,

John McElhenney

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image: how to draw a dinosaur – wikihow, creative commons usage


As a Nice Guy, My Cooperative Divorce Was Not Fair Or Balanced


I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the way the divorce was going to go, once I agreed to actually get a divorce. We went, eyes wide open, into the negotiations about parenting rights, money, schedules, and I also felt like I had a cooperative soon-to-be wife who was not going to try to destroy me. The first part was true, the second part, well… Let’s see how the story goes.

Cooperative divorce is not for everyone. Some couples will have fights about money, kids, things, houses. Some couples may be able to part as friends. We decided we would put the kid’s needs above ours in every matter. That was the spirit of the start, as we began the road towards getting a divorce.

She had met with an attorney before we began these talks and she wanted what she knew she would get if we went to family court.

It just so happens that a lot of our individual desires can be expressed as being “in the best interest of the kids” when in fact they are just requests and preferences. AND the traditional divorce has always favored the mom-as-caregiver and dad-as-breadwinner and the legal system and precedents have all been set up with this in mind. I did not know this going in to our initial discussions with a divorce therapist, who was engaged to help us through the process of setting up a parenting plan, and staying focused on the kids needs rather than our issues or frustrations.

And again, I was imagining that I had a good perspective on my own feelings and needs. I did not. I knew that I was depressed about the divorce, but I didn’t know how this would affect my negotiations and participation in the process of divorce. I thought I was going to be able to hold my own. I was not.

In the first weeks of our “planning” we started discussing schedules and what each of us wanted. My first mistake was assuming that we both wanted a 50/50 balance in our divorce. We had decided to have children as a balanced decision. We parented them to this point in a very 50/50 style, though I would be the one making the most money to support her time with the kids. But this was a choice we made together, not just a stereotypical marriage.

Since accepting the fact that I was getting a divorce, I had been reading a lot of great books about balanced parenting, and fair divorce. When we were asked to bring in our schedule ideas I lead with a 50/50 split that had been recommended by one of the progressive books I was reading. What I didn’t know was my still-wife had gotten other advice. She had met with an attorney before we began these talks and she wanted what she knew she would get if we went to family court.

She wanted the traditional split in Texas (80% of divorces follow this structure)

  • Mom gets the house (so the kids can stay in their family home
  • Mom gets child support to keep the kids in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to
  • Mom gets primary custody, which awards her some significant rights in the eyes of the state
  • Mom gets a significant amount more time with the kids in the two-week cycle (something known in Texas as the Standard Possession Order, or SPO)

She knew this is what she could expect to be awarded if we were to go to court, so this was her starting point. This was her “best interest of the kids” scenario, as backed up and supported by the State of Texas Attorney General’s Office.

If you are a dad and you really want to be there as much as you can for your kids, FIGHT.

Now, I give my ex-wife a lot of credit for being organized, for planning ahead, and making great decisions both financially and about the kids. In this case I believe she was acting out of her own best interest as well as the kids, and I believe she was well prepped by her lawyer to enter the cooperative negations with this significant advantage on her side: she knew that if things didn’t go as she wanted, at any time, she could pull out and we could go to court and she would get exactly what she wanted.

When our high-paid counselor dismissed my 50/50 dreams with this statement, “That’s what she’s going to get if you guys go to court,” I should’ve been clued in to my mistake. I thought we were negotiating from a balanced perspective. I was sad. I wanted to get out of this “fight” with as little bloodshed as possible. I did not fight when this statement effectively tossed my 50/50 schedule in the trash.

It is at this very moment, if you are going though a divorce, that you should really know your goals. I was too emotionally wrecked to put up much of a fight. Even though I had a lot of good books and experts on my side, my idea of 50/50 parenting was dismissed within three sessions. Again, I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want to give up my time with my kids, and I didn’t want to agree to anything less than 50/50 parenting. But when push came to shove and the counselor started telling me to give up on that idea, I accepted defeat. This moment was the darkest in the entire process of divorce for me. What I feared most was losing time with my kids. And even thought I was paying half of the counselor’s fees I was given my starting point to be a lot less than I wanted.

If you are a dad and you really want to be there as much as you can for your kids, FIGHT. I did not fight because I was depressed, because I was the nice guy, because I wanted to avoid conflict. And while I don’t think my kids have suffered as a result of following the example set by the State of Texas, I do think I have lost a significant amount of time with my kids. Time I should’ve had as part of a more equitable split.

Today’s research about divorce and parenting shows that BOTH mom and dad are equally important in kid’s lives.

It turns out, I’m going to have to go to court now, six years later, and sue for balanced custody and a 50/50 schedule. Turns out that if she’s making more money than me she should be paying me some support. Perhaps this would’ve been a better plan in the beginning. Perhaps this would’ve been better for my kids. It’s not what happened, and I’m not sad about it, but today, knowing what I know, I would’ve stood my ground.

My son would’ve had more of me standing up for him as a young kid. He might now be more courageous to try new things. My daughter would’ve had fewer nights missing me. I would’ve had fewer nights missing them.

Today’s research about divorce and parenting shows that BOTH mom and dad are equally important in kid’s lives. So if you’re heading into divorce, and you parented in a balanced way, please take the time, make the effort to fight for what you know is right. By all means, if you don’t want 50/50, you can relax and let the standard deal get established. I didn’t have all the facts in front of me, and I was at a disadvantage. So I lost.

Today if I want to reestablish a 50/50 plan it’s going to cost me money and necessitate a legal fight, if all goes as planned she’s ready to agree to the 50/50 idea anyway. But you never know with my ex-wife. She’s got plans and ideas of her own. Stay tuned. And if you’re in a divorce planning phase, stay frosty. Don’t miss out on getting the time and closeness you want.

Stay positive. Love your kids. Respect your ex.

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

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image: daughter, best friend, and me, john mcelhenney cc 2015, creative commons usage

Resetting Your Priorities in the New Year as a Single Parent


It’s all too easy to blame your ex-partner for things that aren’t working in your life. I know that I’d like to have the last few years back and do a couple things differently. And I know that seeing my ex refurnish the house, her house, while I’m struggling to find a house again, is painful. But guess what? It’s not her fault. Ever.

I am responsible for my own happiness. Full stop.

That’s a hard line I’ve come to rely on as I’ve been turning everything around about my life, my divorce, and my parenting. It is NEVER about her.

Taking Inventory

When we take our own inventory in life it’s a good thing. (The 12-step programs have given us fantastic resources and frameworks for digging into what’s not working in our lives.) It’s when we take someone else’s inventory that things get a bit more muddled. Their issues, desires, and failings are really none of our business. (Kid’s lives have a slightly different relationship, but we’ve even got to watch our “assessments” of our kids.) My ex-wife and her joys or lows are really none of my concern. And when I pay attention to her life [how’s she doing… wait, she’s got a new living room set… how’s her boyfriend working out…] I’m really doing both of us a disservice.

I could focus on her. I could retrace things about our marriage and divorce that could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been done better.  I could dig into my own issues and seek forgiveness… Except… That time has passed. The only forgiveness I need at this moment is from and for myself. Divorce is ultimately an individual experience. No amount of counseling, friendships, or new relationships can take us our of the sorrows, joys, and struggles of resetting every aspect of our lives. Books, blogs, therapy, friends, exercise, they all help, but the real work is done on a much deeper level.

I’ve been asked on several occasions about this blog. One friend said to me, “It’ll be great when you’re over your divorce. It seems like your still obsessed with it.” I found her statement funny at the time, but now I understand what she was getting at. She was reflecting her own issues. She was sharing about her divorce pain, not mine. Even as she was checking-in with me on some level, she was really talking about herself.

I’m well over my divorce, it’s the parenting part that I won’t ever be over. And that is where my focus has to reside. Not on her, or the divorce, but on myself and my relationship to my kids. (I know I repeat this idea, like a mantra, but I need to hear it.)


And I need to continue to explore the ideas of love and trust for myself. When I pull back the covers a bit on my failed marriage, I am really seeking to understand more about myself. It’s a bit voyeuristic at times, but I’m not that interested in her or her feelings. I really have no way of knowing all the emotional swirlings that were going on in her mind as things broke down between us. I can only account for my own actions, my own feelings in the moment, and my current reflection back on *my* role in the process of loss and separation.

Sure, the pain of being divorced comes up from time to time, but it’s primarily around the loss of time with my kids. She is much less important to my life and well-being than my kids. In fact, other than taking care of my own health (mental, spiritual, and physical) there is nothing more important in my life than the care and feeling of my two kids.

My positive approach to life is how I show up for my kids. They are watching us. They are learning from our actions.

The real kicker comes when I catch myself assessing my ex-wife’s success or failure post-divorce. That type of thinking *would* indicate an obsession and inability to move on from the relationship. These type of thoughts come in minor flashes now, but they used to come in broad strokes that would re-chart the course for an entire day, when I wasn’t vigilant about rejecting them. There is no value, none, in taking someone else’s inventory. This life is not about them, it’s about me. I can be distracted by focusing on others, or circumstances outside my control, but that is a dark path that leads to depression and feelings of despair.

Get this message: I am responsible for my own happiness. Full stop.

As I began writing this blog in 2013 I knew it would not be easy to reframe all of my “work” in a positive light. However, just the act of starting the 100% positive goal began a process that transformed my own experience of live after divorce. When I started I still had resentment, I still felt like I had been wronged, I still had long periods of sadness surrounding the loss.

What emerged as I kept revisiting all of my feelings from this positive perspective is my own positivism. What I learned in the process of writing all of this “divorce” stuff was that it wasn’t about the divorce, it was about me. This blog is about my recovery of joy. Even in these hard times, I worked to see the good. As things began to get worse I doubled my efforts. The positive voice began to become my inner voice. The letting go of negativity towards my ex-wife was the biggest single step in my recovery process. And knowing that my kids were affected by all of our interactions, I saw the positive changes in their lives too.

We can’t imagine what is going on in another person’s life. We try. But we know that our projections are not real. In redirecting that inventory-centered mind on ourselves we can take charge of what we can know, what we can change. The act of writing this blog has allowed me to reclaim my own joy.

I am one of the happiest people I know. I’ve always been this way. A friend on the street a few weeks ago asked me, “Were you this happy as a kid?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve always been the one who shouts across the room to greet someone I care about.” I had just hailed him from 50-yards away.

“A lot of people don’t see themselves that way. A lot of kids I’m teaching these days have no sense of their inner voice. It’s as if they don’t have one. As if they don’t remember themselves as kids.”

Taking the High Road

Here’s what I know. My ex-wife has nothing to do with my happiness or success. My positive approach to life is how I show up for my kids. They are watching us. They are learning from our actions. How we deal with hard times will inform and set their own internal compass for later in life as they run into challenges. In resetting everything in my life on my own experience, I learned that my positive approach to living in the present moment was the most powerful parenting lesson I could give them.

I am someone who claims to be spiritual but not religious. To me, what this means is I take more comfort in the Serenity Pray than I do in the Lord’s Prayer. I prefer friendly company or contemplative solitude to church. And while I’m not sure how spirituality will play out in my kid’s lives, I know that I show them every day what it means to be a self-fulfilled and happy person.

I am joyous. I am alone. And I am always hopeful.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

God, grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

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image: prayer ties, tifanie chaney, creative commons usage

Loss of the Proximity Effect as a Divorced Dad


My children bring such joy in to my life when they are around. Their absence doesn’t make my heart grow fonder, it just reminds me of how much of their lives I’m missing as a divorced dad.

I’m watching my kids grow up from a distance, and it’s painful. Sure, I have the standard possession order, the simple divorce equation for 80% of dads. But we’re getting the raw end of the deal. Actually, divorce is the rawest end of the deal, but once that’s determined, the only thing you can do is hope for maximizing your time with your kids. Still, it’s not enough.

Divorce is like an empty nest trial run that happens every week. My kids are here, we’re laughing, chatting, I’m fixing them food and taking them all over the city to friend’s houses, appointments, movies… It’s a parent’s life. Joy is the theme. Togetherness is the melody. And on the days when my kids are with me I perk up like a… well, like the dad I have always been, the dad I want to be, and the dad I lost in my parent’s divorce when I was 9.

There’s no accounting for the loss in a parent’s life when their kids are gone. Sure, a lot of people are dealing with divorce (and worse PAS) but just because it’s a new normal, does not make it acceptable. But accept it we must. What are the options?

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 6.07.18 PMIn my divorce I went for low-conflict, easy negotiation, and shared responsibility. I also went to the divorce counselor’s office asking for 50/50 time with my kids.  That’s not what I got. Even through we were both paying for our parenting planning, the therapist quickly shut down my 50/50 notions. “If you go to court she’s going to get the SPO.” While I argued that we were seeing her to prevent us from ever having to go to court, I eventually gave in and became a team player. We built our kid’s futures and my limited-fathering contract around the “court’s traditional decision.” I listened to the therapist when she talked about what was “in the best interest of the children.”

Listen very carefully when you hear that phrase. It’s a signal that you are about to be force-fed some wisdom or legal precedent that you’d just as soon accept. And that’s just what I did. The rest of the divorce planning went pretty smoothly after I gave up my dream of being a 50/50 parent.

But it’s how we shared the parenting duties when we were together. Even when I was the primary breadwinner, shipping off to a nearby town for the big bucks, I was holding up more than 50% of the parenting duties. I shopped, cleaned, ran errands, and tried to provide the evolved male version of cooperative parenting. However, the minute we were in the counselor’s office my wife’s intentions became loud and clear. She was always big on the planning and I was usually the one who followed her budgets and plans. Both my wife and the counselor smiled when I showed them my 50/50 parenting calendar. I had been studying the options, reading the psychology, gearing up for the discussion.

Even as I miss them when they are gone, I am learning to celebrate and appreciate them more deeply when I am with them.

I still wonder if they’d had a sidebar and set up their “plan” before we ever started negotiating in her office. They both smiled and politely told me why the kids needed their mother more than their father in the early and young years of divorce. That’s not what my books and research were telling me, but that seemed to be the consensus of our “divorce team” and the typical will of the courts. Mom’s get the time, the house, and dad’s get the time to stay focused on work, because they are now going to be responsible for their ex-wife’s house and whatever shelter they can afford for themselves. That’s just how it was in Texas in 2010.

Today, in 2014 I hear things are beginning to balance out a bit, thanks to the men’s rights movement. And while some of these organizations seem rabid and furious, my attorney said if we wanted to go for 50/50 now, he imagined the court would hear my case and we had a pretty good chance of winning. Hmm.

Would *that* be in the best interest of the children, today? I don’t know. Would I be striking out to fill my own empty nest time with more kid time? Again, I don’t know the answer, I’m still exploring my feelings around this idea.

There are some benefits to being a single dad with the SPO.

  • I have a lot of time off from parenting. (I’m rested and pursuing my dreams again.)
  • I have time to work overtime if I want to. (Mostly I have to, but that’s a different story.)
  • I could spend time dating and looking for another relationship.
  •  I have a lot less school-wakup-morning duties. (During my On-Week I have two school mornings. On my Off-Week I only have one.)

And there are some painful losses.

  • I’m often not clued into my kids school activities. (I have to be vigilant to say on the parent-teacher mailing lists, and make sure I’m available for all meetings.)
  • I miss whole weeks at a time. (As my kids are getting older, I am noticing how much they change between visits.)
  • My house is more of a “hotel” than a home. (Since they are not with me very often they keep 90% of their stuff at their mom’s.)
  • I miss teaching my son how to shave. (His mom let him use one of her razors. When I asked him about it, he was proud that he already knew how.)
  • I miss a lot of the nuance of growing up. (Even subtle changes seem big when you haven’t seen them in a week.)

Basically, I miss a ton of their life experience. I am not involved in 80% of their week night, school work, family dinner routine. And yesterday we stopped at a cafe for breakfast along the route of taking them back to their mom’s house. As my kids sat across from me, joking, poking and prodding at a each other, I felt a pang of loss. So much of life is sitting around the table “living” with each other. And my involvement in this activity was reduced by much more than 50% in the divorce. I’m guessing, because of the structure of the SPO I miss about 80% of my kids daily lives.

They’ve still got two loving parents, we’re just playing our roles alone on some imbalanced schedule that was worked out without much input from me.

As they get older now, they both have a ton of activities and sleep overs. Even on *my weekends* I often see my social daughter only briefly on the weekends. And observing her and her brother yesterday I was even more aware of my loss. Even as they are accelerating towards launch and college, in many ways, the divorce takes a large portion of their lives from me every week. And on off weeks, I notice the gap by how much they have changed when we’re back together. It’s like getting random and sporadic updates from teenagers about their lives, rather than living their lives with them.

Would I want to still be married? No. But should I have fought for 50% of my time with my children? Maybe. Still, that’s not where we are today. We move forward with the standard parenting plan and we do the best we can. Even as I miss them when they are gone, I am learning to celebrate and appreciate them more deeply when I am with them. They’ve still got two loving parents, we’re just playing our roles alone on some imbalanced schedule that was worked out without much input from me.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

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image: a note I wrote to myself, then added to by my daughter, age 6, while we were still married

The Whole Parent Journey – Year One Retrospective

dad's gang

It’s been a year since I started this blog. 80 posts later, one firing, and a ton of growth, I am very happy to have set out on this journey. Today I’d like to celebrate the wins and learnings that have transpired over this first year of publishing. Let’s look at how we began, back on Sept. 21, 2013. [see the Full Index of all posts]

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Here is a gallery of all the cover images once I defined the brand style. I’ve covered a lot of territory. Not all of it easy, but hopefully in keeping with my 100% positive mission statement.

My goal has always been to improve my understanding of co-parenting, and how to keep coming back to the issues with a positive approach. It’s kid’s first. Nothing else matters.

As the divorce issues and parenting issues have gotten resolved the next progression along the path of wholeness is returning to the idea of being in a relationship again. And while this blog did not start out with a “dating” agenda, I believe that “wholeness” will come from finding a long-term romantic relationship again. Along that path I have journeyed back into the dating pool, and here I have attempted to capture some of my self-observations and lessons. Again, these are my observations, your milage may vary.

It’s been a great run so far, my traffic today averages 300 – 500 visitors a day, thanks to my affiliation with The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. And I’ve even been made a contributing editor of the GMP.

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And the monthly growth has been pretty astounding.

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So here’s to the next year. Thank you for joining me on this journey, I hope you stay tuned.

Click here to see the Full Index of all posts.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: team dad, john mcelhenney, cc 2010

Continuing Forgiveness As a Single Parent


Yesterday I got an email from the person who purchased all of my worldly possessions at a storage unit auction.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.24.53 PM

And a few days before that, the AG’s office took control of my only bank account by slapping a lien on it for triple the amount owed in late child support payments. I say late, because I have never expressed any intention of skipping the payments, but I have been struggling to replace a job that ended in February.

Finally, I am currently living with my mom.

My journey still has many twists and turns and if I can approach the day with hope, openness, and optimism, I’m sure my joy will continue to bring joy to others.

I know, that’s the one that really stings for me. How can I head out into the world with a brave face? How do I stand proud and tall and tell my kids that better days are on the horizon? They are, but how do I convince them? How do I convince my ex-wife? And most importantly how do I convince myself, that from this low I will reemerge with a new lightness and agility? I can go anywhere from here, because I’m down and out.

And yet… I am happy. I know it seems like such a contradiction, but hear me out.

I am not bitter about the divorce or the loss of my house and 95% of everything in it. My kids already know about the bank account (though they have no idea what “error” caused my -$42,000 balance, my son loves to tease me about it, he’s 13) and my daughter and I were going to the storage unit to retrieve my juicer when we discovered an old car parked inside my space. All of my stuff had been auctioned off two days prior to our visit. I have the notices from the storage unit for my late payment status. None of them said anything about auction.

In the same way I don’t hold my ex-wife responsible for the divorce, I don’t really hold her responsible for turning our affairs over to the AG’s office, nor the havoc that has brought down on my credit and my life. Nope. It’s an ongoing flow of water under the bridge. And this constant flow of patience and forgiveness is required to continue with the joint task of co-parenting. And while we parent at 50/50, I was given the standard dad deal in Texas of the non-custodial parent with the Standard Possession Order and a hefty child support payment. It’s all okay. That is just how divorce goes in this great state.

And again, I state, clearly and for the record, I am happy.

You might think I’m overstating my happiness to cover up my anger and bitterness, but I’m not very good at anger or holding a grudge. And with my kids, I don’t have any pretense of who I am beyond how I show up in the their lives.

As I walked away from my house and into my single dad life, I took up the responsibility for my own happiness in a new way.

I show up in my kids lives at the maximum level I am permitted. And when I went into the divorce negotiations asking for and expecting 50/50 custody, I was not arguing about the child support, I was genuinely certain that we would parent after divorce as we had while married. That’s not what happened, and I was given the script, “if you go to court here is what you’re going to get,” as the reason we took my joint-custody plan off the negotiating table.

I’m no so sure that was the appropriate response from a paid divorce counselor, but it was certainly efficient. We moved through the divorce negotiation process with flying colors and a very small legal bill. Of course, I didn’t get what I wanted, and I am struggling to get back on my feet, even with the additional house payment, that doesn’t include a house for me. But I’m not so sure I got a bad deal. I’ve used my time off to build back areas of my life and passion that were being shutdown in my marriage.

Each day I refocus my attention on my kids. Like a mantra in meditation or a prayer. As I am able to focus on my children, I can release my ex-wife from all blame in the transactions of the past. And even as many of those actions continue to have negative consequences, I am able to look at her with compassion and not resentment.

I am not angry with my ex-wife. I have faith that she is doing the best she can, at all times. And I am aware of how stretched she is with the full-time job and single parenting role. And without the court-ordered child support, right now while I’m essentially unemployed, the burden is even more difficult. I care for my kids more than I care for her, but in loving my kids more I can only hope that her life is happy and fulfilled. Any downturn for her is a downturn for the three of them as they sail on in the house that we built.

In some ways the divorce has been the biggest life challenge I’ve ever hit. At first it was a wall I had to go over, as I struggled with the loss, depression, and frustration of losing so much of my world. But as I recovered my center, as I began to see the light on this side of the wall, the divorced side, I realized that my next journey was just beginning. She hadn’t kicked me out of our marital bed and house, she had set me back on the path of self-discovery, alone.

I have been through almost all of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief since being relieved of my full-time parenting role. And the hardest part of the entire process is losing so much of my kid’s lives and experience. Daily life connections that I am no longer part of. Summer beach vacations and travels that are emailed to me as pictures rather than experiences.

As I walked away from my house and into my single dad life, I took up the responsibility for my own happiness in a new way. Even with the grief and growth that was necessary to recover from the divorce, I knew that at some point I would be happy again. It was the hope that kept me strong. And today it is the hope that keeps me looking at the path ahead rather than at my shuffling feet, or back at the losses of things, and time, and old dreams.

My dream today is a happy one. I am well-fed, healthy, and heading to a late-round job interview. It has been a long summer of job interviews. And it’s the hope of what’s next that keeps me joyful in this state of nothingness. Other than my kids and the positive and loving relationship I am building with them, I have a simple agenda. Find the next job to support them and their mom, rebuild my credit, don’t worry about “things” and move forward with my own life work.

I have nothing but love for my ex-wife as she soldiers on without me beside her. And anything I can do to make our co-parenting experience better for her and the kids, I will do.

That’s the final piece of the puzzle, for me. The writing. I have always envisioned myself as a writer. I got my degree from the university with the imagination that I would write the great American novel. And maybe I have, but it’s not ready for publication. I think my second novel is going to be much better.

Since leaving Dell in 2009 with the collapse of the US economy I have been writing a blog about social marketing. And in that process I developed my voice, my rhythm, my discipline of writing. I can stand proud at this moment and say, “I am a writer.” Or the even more risky, “I am a poet.”

And somewhere down deep, the divorce process uncorked a different vein of writing that I had not anticipated. As I have struggled to find my center again, I used my writing and journaling to share the process with others. Often hard, often angry and defeated, but occasionally triumphant, I have chronicled the entire process of my divorce. Or more, accurately, the process of becoming an awesome single dad.

And my kids are happy. That’s the greatest gift. They are not worried about me or their mom, the are focused on the challenges of 6th and 8th grade. These are high times. And I have nothing but love for my ex-wife as she soldiers on without me beside her. And anything I can do to make our co-parenting experience better for her and the kids, I will do.

Last summer I was pretty sure I had solved the puzzle. I was living in a small house near a bright lake, and I would walk everyday and end my hot journey with a jump into the lake. It was the same lake that I grew up on, that I lived with my parents as their marriage came apart in angry and violent sparks. But as I jumped in every day across the entire summer, I felt like I was being baptized. In some way I was letting go of all the things that were holding me back.

And I was sure that I had solved the work/life/happiness balance thing too. But I was almost to a fork in the road that I had not anticipated. And that massive change has brought me here, to this moment, on the couch at my mother’s house, at 5am.

I am happy. The life ahead for me is grand. And the new school year has just begun and I will do my best to tune-in to my kids as much as they will let me. When they are not here I will text and call and email and show up as often as I am allowed. And beyond that I will tend to my own happiness, my own daily forgiveness, my own meditation and walk. My journey still has many twists and turns and if I can approach the day with hope, openness, and optimism, I’m sure my joy will continue to bring joy to others.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

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image: sunrise from the deck of my house last summer, john mcelhenney, (cc) 2014

Divorce Lessons: 8 Critical Choices In Making a Positive Split


You’re entering into the first WTF discussions with your partner about divorce. I’m sorry. There are a few things you should know, mom or dad, that will make your transition to a divorced couple more manageable. Again, I’m sorry for your loss, perhaps there is something better on the other side, but right now you need to attend to the details. Maybe I can help. Here are the 8 critical points of maintaining a positive divorce approach in the days, months, and years ahead. Your relationship may be ending, but the road of divorce never ends.

Each parent is responsible to keep their own emotional upset out of the kids lives.

1. Kids. If you’ve got’em, everything you do from this point on should revolve around making their lives a bit less tumultuous over the next few years as your and your ex figure out the routine and cadence of co-parenting. Everything, and I mean, everything should be about the kids. All of your needs come second. Period. (Since this is my situation, most of the rest of this post deals with the kid-first issues of divorce.)

2. Money. A friend told me during my practice divorce, “If you can rub money on it, let it go.” And this is fairly clear. If it’s a material object, there is no sense fighting over it. (Embittered or contested divorces notwithstanding, don’t sweat the little things.) After the kids the money is the main negotiation in divorce. You have assets and you have debts. And as you separate your money issues, you will each get portions of both. If you have a house you are going to have to decide who gets it. Do you keep it? Do you sell it? If the kids would be better served by not being uprooted at this time, maybe you need to consider how you can best keep them in their home. (Notice I said their home. Yes, it’s your asset, as parents, but the home, the feeling of home, the safety, security, and love that was established in this home, is really all about them.

But money doesn’t stop with the house and things. The next issues is the sticky wicket the stalls a lot of divorce negotiations.

3. Child Support and the noncustodial Parent. This is the one I was completely uninformed about when we entered into our divorce planning. It was my hope and intention that we would work out the divorce with the same care we took in planning to become parents. We were a 50/50 family, all the way. But something happened on the way to the counselor’s office where we began drawing up our parenting plan. This is the core schedule that will run your lives and your kids lives over the next 10 – 15 years. It is the most important part of the divorce, but maybe not the most important part of the custodial negotiations.

If you stay on the positive divorce route, you will help your kids keep their positive opinions of both of you.

Back in 2010 when I got divorced, the state of Texas had a pretty clear judicial record on divorce. 85% of all divorced awarded the mom primary custody and the dad noncustodial status. It’s still called joint custody, but don’t be misled by the title. Here’s the part I didn’t quite understand, even as I was reading divorce books and making my own strategies about putting together a fair 50/50 schedule. The noncustodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. No negotiation. The state has a formula based on your income (it works out to approximately 19% of your after-tax take home) and you (the noncustodial parent) will be asked to pay for 100% of the kids healthcare insurance. Okay, so get that straight. If you go the path of least resistance, as I did, and cooperate to the best of your abilities, you are still likely to be given the noncustodial role and the big monthly bill.

This is the major sticking point in a divorce. I didn’t know this. I agreed move on after I was told, in no uncertain terms, that my soon-to-be-ex would get this anyway if I fought in court about it. That wasn’t our deal, that wasn’t what we were doing, we were jointly paying a pricey divorce counselor to help us make these decisions together, but that’s what I was “going to get if I went to court.” So I folded my 50/50 plans, and was politely told my 50/50 schedule was nice, but that’s just not how this cooperative negotiation was going to go.

I should have gotten an attorney at this point. The problem is, back in 2010, I would’ve gotten what I got. So we avoided that pointless fight, and moved on to the plan.

4. Parenting Plan. Here’s where the non-financial work goes. This is the real meat of the divorce, at least as far as the kids are concerned, and remember that’s what we are focusing on here. Kids first, adults and our wants and needs second. So, along with the noncustodial parent role I was shown something called the Standard Possession Order or SPO. In Texas this means the dad gets the kids one night a week, plus every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend. (I’ll get to that 5th weekend in a second as well.) That’s the deal. That’s what’s going to happen “should you go to court” so you’d best be prepared to start there. Again this is the counselor talking. What I was saying is, “Why not 50/50? It looks like the books all say if the parents are cooperative and equally committed to co-parenting, that 50/50 parenting actually works better for the kids.” That’s not what you are likely to get if you end up in court, so “even negotiated” that’s likely what you’re going to end up getting if you try to keep the divorce planning in a cooperative and gitterdun mode.

The parenting plan also covers things like holidays, which Christmases they are with who. How you’re going to divide Spring Break and Summer Vacation. Those are the routine details of the plan.

5. The Dating Clause. One other part of the plan, that I think is essential, is the dating clause. In our plan, any parent who is dating, cannot introduce their dates to the kids until it has been a serious relationship for over 6 months. I think this saved us some real heartache in the early rebound days, and I was glad to have it in place. As it turns out, I still haven’t made it to 6 months with anyone. My ex has been dating for two and a half years, so the kids are familiar with him and like him. The idea is this clause keeps the kids (especially younger kids) from becoming attached or involved in any relationship that might be temporary. It’s a good idea, and I have felt that the way it slows down the pace of dating and moving into a more serious relationship, for me, has been beneficial.

6. Your Attitude. This is the core emotional piece of the divorce that you might spend more time on than you think. If we start with a few assumptions we might see the benefit of positive divorce more clearly.

  • Divorce is painful for everyone.
  • Each parent is responsible to keep their own emotional upset out of the kids lives. It’s fine to let them know or see that you are working through some stuff, but your promise has to be to not work it out in their presence. Get help for yourself outside the walls of your house.
  • Your kids will learn how to respond to this major life event by watching how you cope. You’re the role model that will provide the guides for their future upset navigation. By keeping your attitude positive and keeping your issues about your ex between you and your counselor, you can show your kids how to continue a loving family, even as your ex now lives somewhere else.
  • Anger is part of the grieving and growth process. But anger should not be worked out in front of your kids. Do whatever you need to do, but keep the frustrations and conflicts with your ex, OUT OF THE KIDS LIVES. There is not one angry thing that is appropriate to say about your ex. Not one. Your kids are not your little confidants and they should not be included in your bitching sessions. And take care to notice when you are doing this over the phone, those little ears are *so tuned* to every nuance of what is going on, that your anger, even in another room on a phone call to a friend, should be considered risky. Grieve, get mad, get support, but don’t let off steam in front of your kids.

7. Positive Divorce. If you stay on the positive divorce route, you will help your kids keep their positive opinions of both of you. You will give them healthy examples of how to cope with crisis and difficulty, that will provide a strong framework for them to grow with later in their own lives.

You still have loving kids between the two of you. Keep their loving attitudes in your hearts, and when you’re getting off track, focus on them and their needs.

You may never want to be friends with your ex, but you must maintain friendly relations in front of the kids. Even if money, or schedule conflicts are raging off scene, you’ve got a commitment to your kids that supersedes any and all issues. Yep, it’s hard, but keep that powerful pain out of the family.

Nobody wins in divorce, but we can keep either side from losing, if we stay present and positive in the coming months of negotiation and planning. And keeping things out of court and out of conflict, as much as possible, will go a long way to keeping the coming years on the cooperative side. Believe me, you need your co-parent, sometimes more than you did when you were married. As a co-parent some of their help is voluntary. It is okay to say, “I’m sorry I can’t help with that.” But it is so cool to be able to say, “Hey, I have plans, but let me see if I can move them so I can take the kids for you.”

The second sentence works like magic. You still have loving kids between the two of you. Keep their loving attitudes in your hearts, and when you’re getting off track, focus on them and their needs. That’s what it’s all about.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: yes, peace, mark farlardeau, creative commons usage