fathers and daughters after divorce

The Loss of Kid-time Has Been the Biggest Source of Pain in My Life

At the time of the divorce, my daughter and I had only known each other for five years. There was a fracture that happened at the moment I told her (we told our kids together) that I was leaving the house. Her immediate question was, “What pets are you going to take?” At the time I imagined she was asking about how I was going to be loved and taken care of when I left the family. When I asked her about this in December this year, she said, “I was probably more worried about losing a pet than I was about your health.”

Dads Can Be Just As Loving

In our home, I was an equal partner in nurturing and caring for my kids. The loss of my father-daughter relationship struck my heart in a different way than either my wife or my son. And in the Faustian bargain I was handed by my ex-wife, I knew I was going to see my kids 70% less of the time. That loss is a huge gap in divorce. Sure, it would’ve still hurt if we had divorced with a 50/50 shared parenting plan, but it would have honored how we entered our agreement to become parents and the way the co-parented for nearly ten years.

In the nine and a half years since the divorce, I have seen my daughter approximately 8 days to every 22 days that my ex-wife gets to see her. This arrangement seems to support the idea that the mom is the primary caregiver in the family, or that moms deserve the majority of the children’s time. And I’m certain, given my readership is 80% women, that this moms-first approach to divorce seems just and fair. Is it fair? Is it “in the best interest of the children?”

Some Characteristics of a Good Dad

  • Warm and loving (hugs and kisses, wrestling, nighttime snuggles, willingness to join any game)
  • Strong and reliable (I had my ups and downs but my commitment and optimism never waivered)
  • Optimistic cheerleader (waking my family each morning before school became a joyful dance)
  • The preparer of favorite meals (I loved/love making breakfast for my kids)
  • Firm and consistent leader (“Okay, we’re going in the grocery store and we’re not going to have any begging or whining. If we do, neither of you gets a treat.”)
  • Chores and duties get done, but not at the expense of opportunities for play

As my daughter and son have navigated the last nine years, they have done so with a lot less of my influence and cheerleading. I have always made an extra effort to be overt in my love and affection, but it’s mostly from a distance. You cannot tuck your child in via text messages. Your hugs cannot be stored up and delivered at a later date. Your children simply get less of you. And they get more than twice as much of mom. Some of this imbalance of time has deprived my children of my positive influence, my optimistic outlook, and my consistent shepherding of healthy habits and healthy emotional regulation.

Losing Dad

When my parents got divorced my dad took a left turn down a dark road and became more of a ghost to me than a father. His alcoholism had destroyed his loving perspective and the divorce made him bitter and morose. I was determined to manage my own sadness and struggles so that my children would get the best of me even when I was floundering the minute they were not with me. I put their emotional health ahead of my own. I learned how to get help during my alone times, and give them the best of me during dad times. And I lived for the dad times.

The majority of their lives since the divorce, however, has been without my warm and consistent presence. And while I don’t think our marriage was a good fit (emotionally and physically) their mom has done her best to provide a loving and safe home as well. But there has been a gap in my kids’ lives without me. A gap that a struggling single mom can’t fill alone. It would’ve been better for all of us had we gone with the agreed-upon co-parenting relationship. It would’ve been better for my children had my ex-wife held up her side of the parenting plan and included me in some of the decisions in how their lives would be guided.

As it happened, my ex-wife chose to exclude me from a number of major parenting decisions. She knew that I would not agree. So she simply didn’t ask, didn’t tell, and didn’t include me. I would find out about certain decisions when my daughter would report to me that she and her mom decided to move her from the advanced English class to the regular English class. Sure, not a major turning point in my daughter’s life. But the reason given, after the fact, was that it was just too much of a load on their family system. I was not given a voice in the decision or an opportunity to provide additional support for my daughter’s reading and writing adventure. And there have been hundreds of these micro-decisions that I have simply been left out of.

If We Parent 50/50 We Should Divorce 50/50

Of my journey back from getting a divorce I have begun to express my frustration at how unfairly I was treated by my ex-wife. We agreed to a collaborative divorce but she did not collaborate. She didn’t have to. She knew I would never sue her for custody. So, she took the low road and asked for the 70/30 package that has become the norm in our country. (80% of divorces end with moms getting the better end of the 70/30 split, called the Standard Possession Order.) I can forgive my ex-wife and move on, but I would like to help future fathers get a fair shake at 50/50 shared parenting after divorce, if that is what they’d like.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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