mornings with the kids before divorce

The Breakfast King: All the Family Mornings Lost After Divorce

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Dad’s Breakfast Scene

Dad wakes up before the rest of the house, puts on a joyful soundtrack and begins the rounds of gently rousing his kids and his beautiful wife. He turns up the heat in the chilly house and goes into the kitchen to put on the coffee and begins stirring up some eggs for French toast. As the first slice of cinnamon French toast is dropped sizzling into the butter, he makes the “breakfast in 5 minutes round” that signals to everyone that it’s really time to get out of their warm beds.

End Scene

I was the dad that delighted in being the Pied Piper of the morning. Except, I was not leading my tribe to their deaths. I was providing the love and caring morning that I would’ve liked as a kid. I was the guy that drove the family mornings with love and absolute joy. Sure, there were mornings that didn’t go as planned, but it was a ritual that built our family momentum every day. My goal was to send both of my children and my wife into their days with the experiential knowledge that they were loved and their bellies were full. This was my dream and I was living it every day.

As I moved out after the divorce, things became very different for my kids and my now-ex-wife. For the four Friday’s a month they were with me, I recreated this happy scene, but for most of their mornings, there was no happy procession from breakfast-to-school. What they all lost in the divorce, even my former wife, was a genuinely happy and optimistic champion.

Today’s Breakfast – An Updated Version

This morning I made my “special French toast” for my girlfriend and her son as I jetted them out into their days with the same love and enthusiasm as I had done as a dad. Even as I was blissed out in my new role, I was feeling a hint of sadness over the sizzling French toast, that my daughter, 5 miles away, was not getting the “waking up with music and joy” morning. Underneath my current happiness is a longing for the family-time I lost in the divorce.

Not everything was perfect back then. We were struggling in the final year of our marriage. But in some ways, I was still that optimistic happy dad doing his “good morning” dance to rouse his sleeping bundles of joy. (That included my wife.) And even after my then-wife asked for the divorce, I stayed in the home for the final two months of my kids’ 3rd and 5th-grade years of elementary school. I kept up my happy-dad routine. I did my best to navigate the evil-eye anger of my soon-to-be-ex.

Where Do We Take Our Sadness

Just one year ago, I could never have imagined my joyful scene this morning. In my sadness a year ago (Total System Failure: Rebooting My Life, Again) there were parts of me that wanted to give up. But here’s my message to that sad dude (to you, if you are struggling this season), “YOU FKN MADE IT.”

I will never be able to recapture or recreate the loving family home that I lost ten years ago, but, perhaps, I can create something new and different. I can’t make my special French toast for my daughter this morning, but I might be able to get her to join my new morning breakfast at some time in the future.

Sadness can inform us. Depression can indicate a major shift that needs to happen in our lives. And if we persevere, if we work our assess off, and NEVER GIVE UP, we can continue to evolve and grow. We may or may not be able to completely manage our moods, but we can listen to them and still take charge of what we need to get done in our lives. We can take action towards a healthier life, even if we are feeling like dying and staying in bed all morning.

This Blissful Parent Morning

I lost my family mornings in a huge way when I finally accepted my then-wife’s request for a divorce. I am certain she had no understanding of the happiness that was going to walk out the door with me, but my kids both knew it. And in the years since the divorce, many things have changed in all of our lives.

There was a moment, a few years after the divorce, when I had finally been able to afford a house of my own. It was lovingly referred to as the “Gnome House.” Breakfasts in my little house, when my kids were around, were enthusiastic recreations of what we had done before. I still woke them with music and the smell of their favorite breakfast. After the new school year had begun, and we got into the routine of their 5th and 7th-grade school starts, my son said something at the breakfast table that made me smile.

“I asked mom if she could wake us up like you do.”

100% win. My heart was so happy after that.

And I continued to enjoy the stories over the course of that school year, that they had begun to have easier mornings at their mom’s house. My son had seen the difference between the two homes and asked their mom “do it more like dad does it.”

Supporting Our Kids and Our Co-Parents

In the end, I don’t wish any less happiness for my ex-wife. She’s still the guardian of my daughter for another year-and-a-half as she finishes up high school. I do wish my daughter had a loving parent that still brought her back from her dreams into a world where music was playing, where she knew she was loved completely, and she knew she had a happy home to come home to after her adventures out in the wide world of high school.

In the universal arc of things, my kids know (and have always known) that I love them. And my ex-wife knows her part in going for her divorce package and claiming 70% of our kids’ time. Even as she didn’t understand what losing me was going to mean in our kids’ lives, she didn’t ultimately value my parenting as much as she valued her own selfish needs. It’s my hope that future fathers will be able to continue to make special breakfasts for their kids as often as they can.

In my perfect dream, we stay together and work things out in our marriage. My wife takes responsibility for her own moods, and finally understands that I am not the cause of her unhappiness. In my perfect dream, she finds happiness as a mother and as my wife. Of course, that’s not what happened.

My New 50/50 Parenting Dream

In my new dream, I hope that parents can begin to agree, OUTSIDE THE FAMILY COURT SYSTEM, to share 50/50 parenting for the good of their children. By putting the kids first, we can value the contributions of both the mother and the father. And by joining in 50/50 co-parenting (before, during, and after divorce) we can give our kids the positive aspects of both parents. Parenting is a spiritual journey. It will either break you down and force you to find your own healing. Or it will elevate your game and give you a more direct connection with the “higher power” of your choice.

50/50 parenting is not a dream, it is a choice. Let’s make this choice for the benefit of our children and their children. New Parenting means doing it together, forever. Amen.

Full circle moment: A few months ago my daughter and I were having lunch. She asked me about my new relationship. “Have they had your French toast?” We smiled. “They have not. I’ve been waiting to make sure I was ready to give it to them.”

“You should do it.”

“I will.”


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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This time last year:

Additional reading:

Here are a few of my books on Amazon:

image: my son having a non-french-toast breakfast

Here’s a little video I made to show the disparity of typical 70/30 custody agreements.


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