Tag Archives: losing my kids

How Long Will it Hurt? Divorce Recovery, the Road Back to Happiness


Today, over four years after my divorce was finalized, I was still struck by a pang of sadness as I was dropping my kids bags off at my ex-wife’s house, the old house, our old house. I wondered, “How long will it take before I feel nothing?” But I immediately knew the answer. I will always feel a loss when dropping my kids bags off at my old house. The rest, what I do with those feelings, is up to me.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process.

I can sink, as I did in the early years, or I can rise and draw power from the emotional impact and love the sadness indicates. Even sadness is energy. If we let it sink us we can spend days or weeks in a fog of sadness and self pity. And I have to admit, I spent some time there after my divorce. And it’s never quite so difficult as the time you are dropping the kids back at school when you know you won’t see them again for nearly a week. What? That was not in any of my marriage advice books, I didn’t know this was a potential outcome.

Getting over the loss of my kids is by far the biggest challenge I have faced in divorce. I thrive on their presence. I cajole, support, nurture, and laugh with them a lot. When they are gone, I don’t have near as much opportunity for that connective joy. And of course, with teen aged children, the off-time communication is less critical to them. It’s still massively important to me, but they are more preoccupied with school, sports, and going steady.

For me, the time I have spent, not getting back into a relationship has been invaluable. I believe my inner resolve has been strenghtened. I know my innate joy and passion has returned, and it’s not dependant on anyone else. In fact, that’s the rub. You can’t count on any one else to do the work after your divorce. Sympathy from friends and counselors is fine and helpful, but the “work” is completely up to you.

If you jump right back into the dating pool and hookup with a new lover, you might be short-changing your grieving and healing process. You might be trading in the old failed relationship for a “next” relationship that is built on the same unstable foundation. I think that’s a mistake.

I tried dating again, I jumped on match.com, eHarmony, and OKCupid almost immediately after I was asked to leave the house. It was a miserable experience. There were a few cute women, but nobody that caught my attention expressed any interest in me. Bummer. But I know now, that I was in no condition to date. For me it was about sex, touch, cuddling, nurturing. And those things, in the real world, come with a lot more entanglement than we might imagine.

I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me.

I know now, having had two serious relationships since divorce, that there is no such thing as casual sex FOR ME. Friends with benefits sounds like an interesting concept, but in practice, I always get attached. From that “cheating site” the advice for a hookup-type relationship is to make it 100% about the sex. Don’t date. Don’t go out. Just do it and move on with the rest of your life. Um, that’s not what I’m after.

So here at four years and counting, I’ve had two relationships that lasted 3 months and 4 months respectively. And while neither ended up being the “next” relationship for me, they both taught me valuable lessons.


I had read The 5 Languages of Love during my divorce, but it was a bit too late to figure out how to bridge the gap between us with some philosophy. But the information was vital to my recovery from the divorce. What I learned in my first serious dating experience was how it felt to be in relationship with someone who spoke the same love language: touch. She changed my life. I won’t ever settle for anything less than “touch.” Because it is possible to be in relationship with someone who has a different primary love languages, but it’s always a compromise. My first relationship showed me what was possible and it blew the mystery off what had gone wrong in my marriage.


This woman taught me that no matter how much you want it, when the other person is not ready, or is unwilling to build up a committed relationship, it’s not going to work. There was no amount of flexibility or compromise I could provide to keep my second girlfriend from breaking up with me every other week. She would tell me she didn’t want a relationship. She would tell me we weren’t going to work out. And I would dive right back in at the first opportunity. Perhaps the physical attraction was just that high. Perhaps it was that she shared my love of tennis, and the cute tennis skirt. Either way, I learned, that no matter how fantastic I think the person is, and not matter how hard I’m willing to try, push, encourage, nurture, if they are not ready, they are not going to be convinced that they are ready. It’s not our job to get the other person ready. Either they are or they are not.


I want a woman who shows up and knows what she wants. I’ve been very clear when the chemistry and mental acuity was a match for me. I am as transparent as I can be. And so far, I’ve had one near miss. This time it appeared we had a YES on both sides. And then after three fascinating days, she went dark. Again, I couldn’t pushed, I could’ve worked my romance. Instead I listened and responded. I asked about what was going on. She said it was a timing thing, and her life had just turned topsy turvy.

I had to accept her word for it and move on. As excited as we both seemed on day two, when the connection goes from 50-50 to 90-10 it’s time to back off and reconsider. It’s in those moments of reconsideration that we can have the greatest clarity. When we stop and ask again, “What do I want?” we have an opportunity to refine and redirect our energy towards what is most important in our lives.

For me, most of the time and energy has been redirected towards being a great dad, and being present for my kids above all else. I’d like a relationship, and I’m still casually working the online dating options, but I’m not in a hurry. The first YES woman, the most recent near miss, had me just a tad nervous. I think that’s healthy. What will happen when SHE shows up?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. Patient to make sure it’s a solid relationship, but I’m ready. I’m asking the universe to “bring it on.”

So, in answer to the original question, “How long will it hurt?” I think the answer is always. But the next part is the critical work for your divorce recovery. What are  you going to do with that hurt? Get over it by sublimating your feelings with another relationship? Or are you prepared to dig in a bit, pause, and explore what went wrong? And then by building back yourself, while you are alone, you can re-find your own priorities and joys in life. When you’ve got someone who’s ready to join you in those, and who speaks the same love language, well… I don’t know, but then perhaps the hurt will be nothing more than a mosquito bite.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Dating After Divorce

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image: the kiss, the prophet, creative commons usage

The Next 100 Coffee Filters: Don’t Be Hasty About Your Divorce


After I was talked into the idea that our marriage was unrecoverable I was asked to leave the house, to give my then-wife some “breathing room.” The stress of the shattering relationship was taking its toll on all of us. But it was March. And while I still wasn’t convinced that separating was the answer, I was certain that leaving the house while our kids were in the last semester of 3rd and 5th grade was an awful idea. I refused.

I made my case to our therapist and my then-wife, “We’ve lived as roommates for a while now, we can do another two months so our kids can reach the summer before we throw their entire world into this.”

So we navigated the last weeks of our kid’s school year as bad roommates, uncomfortable roommates waiting to hit the end of the semester so they could move out.

I lost the war to save my marriage, but I won this battle with the help of our kid’s school counselor. Somehow my then-wife could hear her, “If you can wait until they are out of school it would be a lot easier for them.”

We didn’t agree, but I got my way. I stayed in the house for the next two months. We slept in separate rooms. But for the most part, when we were around the kids, behaved as if things were the same. Unfortunately they had been fairly chilly between us for over a year, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to keep up the appearances for our kids. I still got up early every morning and made breakfasts and roused everyone in the house. However, instead of waking my then-wife with a kiss and a cup of coffee, I simply brought her cup of coffee and left it beside the bed. She had her own alarm.

I remember making the coffee each morning and as I pulled the filters out of the new package, imagining, “By the time I’ve finished these filters I’ll be out of my house and out of my kid’s lives.”  It was a sad thought, but I could look at the thick stack of filters and see that is was still a long way off.

During those last months in the house, I went through some confusing transformations. I don’t know if I was trying to get my then-wife to reconsider, or if I was beginning my own odd process for separation, but awkward moments kept happening through April and May.

Occasionally I’d cross paths with my then-wife in the hall and I’d naturally reach out to hug her, as I would on any other day. It was like seeing a deer in the headlights as I reached out my arms to hug her. “Oops,” I’d say. “I’m sorry.”

And I’d go back to the filters each morning, as some sort of symbol of the countdown of my divorce. Some weeks I would be a total butt. Some how, I imagined, that she would be sorry that she had angered me. That didn’t work at all. And other weeks I’d be a total compliant sweetheart, stopping just short of calling her “dear” all the time. That was fruitless as well. She had already left emotionally, and I was still catching up to the idea.

While the kids were still sleeping in, my stress level was no longer manageable and I left the house with a small bag of clothes and my computer.

So we navigated  the last weeks of our kid’s school year as bad roommates, uncomfortable roommates waiting to hit the end of the semester so they could move out.

On the very last day of school our daughter tripped and fell while going to the bus. She hurt her front teeth and we had to come together and take her to the emergency dental surgeon. We were bound in the trauma and pain of her injury and still having to make decisions as a family.

While my son played on the newly released iPad in the waiting room, my daughter screamed in the treatment room and we put the $1,500 on a credit card because the insurance wasn’t going through. We had to pay before the dentist would do the work. I felt like I might die right there in the office, holding my daughter’s hand and longing to hold my then-wife’s hand as well.

Later that night, as we had gotten everyone to sleep, I spoke to her while we sat in my daughter’s room. “I don’t want this divorce. You are what I want,” I said. “I don’t know if I can do this alone.”

A week later, while the kids were still sleeping in, my stress level was no longer manageable and I left the house with a small bag of clothes and my computer. I left the filters. I no longer had a coffee maker.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

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image: coffee in the morning, chichacha, creative commons usage

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

The Fracture of Divorce: My Dad’s Hand On My Head, Forever


Sometimes I am more struck by how much I miss my kids when they are with me, on Dad’s weekend. Divorce is a bitch. Everyone is pulled apart. And the emotional ripples continue for the rest of our lives. And while I miss them terribly when they are gone, I am often struck by my longing while they are still with me. Last night, watching a movie with my 11 year-old daughter, I was so content. When she fell asleep midway through I turned off the computer and put my hand on the top of her head before I turned off the lights.

I never imagined a time when I would not be able to put my hand on the heads of my sleeping children. You don’t think of divorce when you get married and when you begin spinning up the plans for having children. Their loss is not something you can fathom. And until you are divorced, their potential loss revolves around things like accidents and illness. And then you are divorced, either by your choice or against your choice, and you no longer have access to your children the way you imagined you would.

A non-custodial father (like the other 80% of fathers in my state of Texas) really does not have a fair or balanced schedule. The courts and the counselors will tell you it’s almost 50/50 but they are lying to you. In practice, the non-custodial Standard Possession Order (SPO) at least in my state gives me access to my kids around 1/3 of the time. The little lies come in with things like the “full-month in the summer” that are all but impossible for a working parent. So you’re going to have a lot less access to your kids. Forever.

And still there was nothing more that I could do to keep my family together. There was no drinking or infidelity, but something more difficult to troubleshoot.

That sucks. And it sucked when my parents got divorced. Even though my dad was a tyrant and a yelling, drinking, angry man, he was still my dad. There’s no substitute. And once he was gone from the family home, in my case, he was truly gone from my life. Sure, alcohol played a huge part in his retreat, and even in his death, but for all intents and purposes my mom “won” me in the divorce. My dad often offered to build me a room on top of his fancy new garage on his massive new home. But he offered, he never built it.

And I really didn’t want to live in my father’s house. He yelled. He drank. He got sloppy about boundaries and yelled at us kids a lot. And these yelling-dad memories are still etched in my mind, even though my dad left the house for the last time when I was about six. So don’t ever think your kids won’t remember the bad times. We might get over them, or act like we do, but we’ll be working some of the same issues out in therapy 30 years later. Oh well, it’s better to keep working towards a healthy mental attitude rather than collapse into the ongoing dysfunction of our parents.

And I can’t put more than a cursory framework around my ex-wife’s family of origin drama. And I should really try. We married, we had kids, we did our best, we (she) decided it was time for a change. I went along with it after fighting for a few months. One person cannot keep a marriage together. She was headed out. And with her went my access to my kids.

It’s bigger than you can imagine, this loss of time with your kids. If there was one thing that really crushed me into a depression early on it was the time alone. Truly alone. I was okay with leaving the marriage behind, the anger and unhappiness was worth escaping, but the escape left behind my true happiness, my children.

After divorce you learn how to rebuild your inner-happiness. You’ve got a lot of time for this. Because you are alone for a good portion of that time. And your kids are no longer the buoy of joy in your life. Missing my kids was the part of the divorce that nearly killed me. And how ironic that suicide seems like an option, in the lowest moments, when suicide is the ultimate ALONE. Gross. Needless to say, divorce and suicide go together often. And more often it’s the father who exits both the marriage and the physical plane of existence. Sad.

My dad didn’t kill himself, but he certainly didn’t get well either. He didn’t stop drinking. He didn’t change his lifestyle after his second or third heart attacks. There was a part of my father that wanted to die. He was alone, with a new wife, and a new adopted daughter, but he was probably missing the family and life that he trashed with his drinking and refusal to get help. And he never got help. He drank himself into oblivion every night from then on. As long as I knew my dad, as an adult, he was a drinking alcoholic. There wasn’t much room for emotions and getting reassurances or pats on the head from that father. I made a promise to myself that my kids would never know that absence.

If my plans are moveable, I will always take my time with the kids. That’s my priority. That was apparently not hers.

And still there was nothing more that I could do to keep my family together. There was no drinking or infidelity, but something more difficult to troubleshoot. Ennui, perhaps? Or just greener pastures. But certainly my then-wife’s decision to depart, or force me to depart, was in part fueled by her own parent’s horrible divorce struggles. Again, I’ll skip taking her inventory here, and let rest with the statement that her mother and father were both tortured by their divorce for years, even remarrying at least once over the years of my wife’s elementary years.

So we move along, and we do the best we can. In the non-custodial role I have attempted to pick up more time with my kids whenever possible. But even in that I’ve been less demanding than I could’ve been. In divorce you are *always* trying to compromise with your ex, so that when you might need a favor they will consider your request with a positive attitude. But even in those actions I have lost more time with my kids.

When my ex partnered up again, after about six months, she was quick to ask for an adjustment to our expertly crafted non-custodial parenting plan. She wanted to switch the schedule so that her time synced up with her new boyfriend’s schedule. At first I was belligerent. “Why would I want to make adjustments to lessen my time with my kids to accommodate your new relationships?”

I did. I gave up my 5th weekend gifts. As she asked to go “every other weekend” rather than the ordered 1st, 3rd, and 5th. And while I really struggled with why this was a good idea for me, I still, somehow wanted her to be happy. Yuk. But what I gave up was my double weekends that come around 3 – 5 times a year. She made some overture about giving me the time back, “You can ask for an extra weekend any time you need it.”

And so, even in my already compromised schedule she was asking for me to give up more time so she could be with her boyfriend. Um… Why do I care about her time with her boyfriend? I didn’t. But I did agree to her request. It’s sort of what I do. I compromise and try to avoid conflict.

As a divorced dad, or maybe as a single parent in general, you get a preview of what the empty next syndrome feels like. It hurts.

And in many ways I’m still doing this. She can be an hour late picking the kids up and I’m okay with it. Or ask for me to take the kids at the last-minute, due to some “work crisis” that seems to arrive with about the same frequency as it did when we were married. And most of the time, I take the kids when I can get them. If I don’t have plans, or if my plans are moveable, I will always take my time with the kids. That’s my priority. That was apparently not hers.

I’m not here to take her inventory, however, but to lament the loss of all the evenings with my kids, for the rest of my life. They are growing at an amazing rate. (11 and 13) And I treasure every moment with them. And I haven’t put a priority on finding a relationship. My priority has been on my kids and my own mental and physical health. I’ve struggled. But I’m strong and healthy now. Perhaps a relationship for me is in the cards over the next few years, but I will never put that desire of mine, above the care, love, and feeding of my kids.

Last night as I was resting my hand on my daughter’s head, I was so aware of all the nights I have not been with her. She exhibits the signs of missing me when we get back together. And we are making the most of our time together. My son is a bit more self-contained and advanced in his parental separation process. My daughter and I just enjoy spending time together. And as she has gotten older I have been so delighted by her stories and epiphanies. The things she is excited about, I am excited about.

In the last six months of my father’s life he went through a remission period. And due to the chemo he could no longer drink. So he sobered up, for the first time in my adult life. And when I was 21 I spent some quality weekends with my father, for only times I could remember. Other than those few months, his relationship to me was more about yelling and avoidance, rather than nurturing or pats on the head.

In the last month of his healthy period, my father asked me if I wanted to sleep in the big bed with him. We were at a condo he had purchased. It was a child like request. It was an echo of the times we had spent at the beginning our my parent’s divorce, when we would cuddle. At 21 I was unable to see the poetic moment. “No dad, I’ll see you in the morning.”

We were both hungry for more time, more head pats. And that’s a feeling I still ache with as I watch my children sleeping. Even when they are with me, the knowledge and feeling of the coming loss, just a day or so away, is painful. I don’t show them that side. I put that here. I show them the happy and healthy dad. And I let them know all the time how much I love them, and how they are still THE priority in my life.

Soon they will really be gone. See as a divorced dad, or maybe as a single parent in general, you get a preview of what the empty next syndrome feels like. It hurts. And after 5 or so days, they are back with me. We’re all making it the best we can.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: father and daughter, peter werkman, creative commons usage

A Return to Wholeness After Divorce

dad's gang

I remember a discussion with my then-wife before we entered the “trying to get pregnant” phase of our sexual relationship. I felt very clear about my intentions.

“I am ready to not be the center of my own universe all the time. I’m kinda sick of my self-absorption. I think we’re both ready to have someone else come in and be the most important thing in our lives.” I was speaking of the journey of becoming parents. And of course, at that time, I was certain this journey would not be interrupted by …


There’s no way sugar coat it. Divorce is the single biggest event that has happened in the lives of my family, ever. As amicable as you want to make it (and we tried) things get rough, sad, hurtful, complicated, and confusing. And while we as adults can only fathom that chaos from our own perspectives, the churn in our kid’s lives will shape them forever. I know my parents divorce, and the subsequent loss of my father’s love and influence, had devastating effects on my life. I’m a survivor. I’m here to talk, write, and grow even more from the experience. But it sucked.

I had become dependant (possibly resentful) on my wife’s strengths and let a few of my habits run amok.

I got the first taste of the “whole parent” concept during the summer after I was asked to leave my own house for the last time. I took the kids, as a single dad, to the beach for a quick display of solidarity and confidence. I was actually quite broken and scared inside, but we made the most of it.

What I remember feeling, that first hour on the beach was a mix of relief and *holy crap* how am I going to do this.

On the relief side, there were going to be no debates between the parents about what should or should not be done next. None. I was devoted to “whatever you guys want.” We made some democratic decisions about when and where to eat, what to watch on the crappy tv, and how long to stay on the beach. Where my ex-wife and I would probably be negotiating and disagreeing on various aspects of the trip, the safety, the best place to eat or stay, I was autonomous for the first time, and I had no complications about what to do, or why to do it. That was the plus side.

On the *holy crap* side was…

How to get everyone sun-screened sufficiently. (We went the sunshirt route) How to do the sand and sun and sea without any nap or relief from the partner. How to take one kid back to the room to use the bathroom without taking everyone. (You can’t.) And what to talk about when the kids were immersed in the sand castle construction. (You talk with your inside voice a lot, “Is this okay? Have we been out here too long? Man, I’d rather be taking a nap right now.”)

And in that moment of pros and cons, in that epiphany on the beach with my kids happily chattering away about how deep to make the hole, I got it:

Things were going to be okay. I was going to be fine. We were going to be fine.

In the divorce, when you lose everything, what you still have is your kids. And while you are deep in recovery of your own feelings, paying attention and parenting from a place of wholeness is critical.

I could learn to take back the things I had depended on my wife for. I could toughen up with one crappy cup of coffee (rather than 2+) and no nap, and I could be awake and enthusiastic for my kids. I could grow above and beyond the hurt I was experiencing at the devastating loss of my partner, and I would be better for it.

What I got on the beach, was the concept for this chapter of my life, The Whole Parent. I had become dependant (possibly resentful) on my wife’s strengths and let a few of my habits run amok. (Napping at the beach is a luxury best afforded without kids, or with an understanding and cooperative partner who will swap supervision duties with you.) I was going to get my first aid skills tested and make sure I had the necessary gear. I was going to learn to refocus my attention on someone other than myself.

In summary I was going to become a holistic parent again. Where I had forgotten or transferred certain necessary parenting skills and kid-guidance duties to another person, I was going to reclaim them for myself and for the love of my kids.

In the divorce, when you lose everything, what you still have is your kids. And while you are deep in recovery of your own feelings, paying attention and parenting from a place of wholeness is critical. I decided I would document my sad feelings, I would client/counsel/complain about my divorce and my ex-wife AWAY from my kids. And I would stand up, at that very sunny moment on the beach, and join them in digging the biggest baddest hole we could manage. I was going to engage with them in new and more invigorated ways. I was going to listen deeper. I was going to put my own pain aside and give them hope to deal with their own pains.

I would repeat, like a mantra, anytime I was asked about the divorce, “I would always love their mother. She was a great person. And though we were no longer together we BOTH loved them very much. ”

And then the biggest part: I WOULD SHOW THEM.

Welcome to my journey at becoming a whole parent again.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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