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What Everyone Loses in Divorce

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Newsflash: it’s not about moms vs dads. Divorce crushes everyone involved. But, once a parent has made their decision to divorce, fighting to keep the family together is unproductive thrashing. It hurts everyone even more. So, after six weeks of roomating, as I was hoping for her heart to thaw out and remember, I left the family home cocoon and accepted, even as I was walking out the door for the last time as a husband, that my life would never be the same.

That’s about all the perspective you can have while your in the crisis of divorce. Yes, you think about your kids. You have empathy for them. You try to have empathy for a wife who is torching the vows. And you walk around wounded and confused for a few months or years. It’s too much to contemplate the loss for your kids. It’s even harder to imagine your ex having a happy and rewarding life. I mean, you don’t want the other parent to die, but… It might make everything easier.

Dads Exit

In our country, most states award custodial parent status and child support to the mom. That’s not because moms are better parents. We’ve seen plenty of cases where moms are monsters too. It’s not because moms are more essential caregivers. The science shows this to be a myth. It’s not because it’s better for the kids. Nope. The reason custody and child support is *still* so skewed in favor of the moms is MONEY.

US states parenting after divorce

In the state of Texas, well over 50% of the Attorney General’s budget comes from the federal government for child support enforcement. Now, this may lead you to believe that deadbeat dads are the norm. Or, that dads always skip out on their kids after divorce. Or, just dads are not very good parents. And maybe in my dad’s time, when he divorced my mom with the intent to kill or maim her, the laws were there to protect mothers from monsters like my father.

Today, however, there are plenty of parents who enter the world of becoming parents with the idea that it would be a 50/50 shared experience. Shared roles and responsibilities. Shared child care and child cleaning duties. Shared transportation and logistics coordinators. Shared counselors. Shared story readers. Most parents enter the agreement with a 50/50 mindset about having kids.

Why does this change the second one of the parents mentions divorce? Why does the family court work to award moms with custody and child support in over 85% of the cases in Texas?

Feeding the Lie

The federal government pays reimburses the attorney general’s offices based on how many dollars they have in their child support collections department. Again: states attorney generals’ staffing and growth are funded by child support enforcement.

So, the state of Texas, like many others in the US, start the divorce conversation with moms getting the child support and the custodial role. It funds their department. Period. That is the only reason 50/50 shared parenting is still a FIGHT in this country for most dads who want it. Even in a cooperative divorce, like mine, the mom can pull the rip cord at any time, as mine did, and go for the “divorce package” from the state.  Even our divorce therapist told me after my wife revealed she did not want 50/50 custody, “She knows she’s going to get the deal. You could fight in court, but you’ll lose. You might as well negotiate the best deal.”

There was NO NEGOTIATION with my then-wife as she pulled back from our collaborative divorce into a I AM THEIR MOTHER divorce. Sure, she had to say several times to the therapist how she was a better parent, how she was the more responsible parent, and how she did most of the work. I should restate that, she had to LIE to the therapist, and to herself, that she was the better parent. That she was ENTITLED to the standard divorce deal. Her lawyer assured her she was entitled to half of everything, including my ongoing salary.

This Father’s Day

My kids are 20 and 22. I’ve already gotten a “Happy Father’s Day” text from one of them. I may not even hear from the other one, but they are dealing with their own morass at the moment. And, this morning, I’m enjoying my Father’s Day lying in bed with my girlfriend and her two dogs. I am writing here in the bed beside them. They are all sleeping and snoring with various tones. I am in my happy place. And I felt a pang of regret looking at this moment, and the 11 years that were robbed from my daughter and 9 years that were robbed from my son.

I was whisked out of their lives for the “better parent.” And as things went along, she would begin refusing to co-parent with me. For them, I went on an extended business trip. We would see each other for 4 days out of every two weeks. 4/12. You do the math. How is 70/30 fair? How is my influence, my love, and my nurturing, so devalued?

Oh, and let’s flip the script a bit: I was (am) the emotional one. The attachment parenting parent. The optimist. The “choose the positive” type. And my love and influence were dimmed by 70%. It’s a shame when this happens to good dads or moms. Kids need BOTH parents equally. No matter what my soon-to-be ex-wife said, she knew I was the parent who did the weekday morning routine: wakeup, dressed, fed, and to school ON TIME. She would often sleep through. I was happy. I would wake everyone up with my guitar, playing songs I wrote for them, or improved for them on the spot. I was that dad. I was a great dad.

A Healthy Divorce

It turns out in recent research it has been argued that single dads do a better job overall than single moms. Here’s a Cliff’s Note version:

a. kids do better with two parents

b. when divorce happens, kids are *best served* to see their parents reconnect with a new partner and demonstrate a loving relationship for them. Our kids watch how we behave. They learn from seeing our actions. Do they match up with our words?

c. single dads often enter new romantic relationships quicker than single moms

d. as kids see healthy relationships (dad and his new “partner”) they are comforted, they see what a happy couple looks like (perhaps there was less happiness in the marriage) and they eventually go on to model that happiness (or lack of happiness) in their own primary relationships.

e. single dads, in many cases, show their kids a healthy partnership

f. single moms often stay single, fight their feelings of bitterness at “men,” and go on to parent alone

In my case, a moment of great joy occurred about two years into my single dad adventure. I had recently purchased a house (not an easy trick after divorce, when you’re child support is around $2k per month) and my kids shared a room. Mid-October, as we started the new school year, my son told me at bedtime one night, “We told Mom we wanted her to wake us up more like your do, at your house.”


Is She a Better Parent?

All through high school, my ex-wife struggled to get the kids to school on time. My daughter had to take summer school one year to make up for all her tardies and absences. She also developed debilitating migraine headaches. And as I fought to get my daughter into better care, my ex-wife refused to accept any of my help or suggestions. She no longer felt it necessary to talk to me about the kids. Not about anything. This was the beginning of her narcissistic abuse toward me. She simply shut me out. 100%. I have all the emails. She was a big fan of delay and deflect. “Thank you for your input. I don’t have time to consider the research and information you provided.” And it only got worse, not better.

My ex-wife did remarry, but I’m not sure the relationship she “demonstrated” for our kids was positive in an emotional and loving way. If my wife is OCD and a bit ADHD she married a man that takes those casual ideas to clinical. I’ll leave him out of this, but his emotional attachment skills were nonexistent. My wife was cold. Her husband was indifferent. Until he wasn’t, then he was a micromanaging tyrant. Perhaps that’s one of the things they sync up on, I don’t know. But, even after they were married, they lived in separate houses until our kids left the house. Why? In covid it was ridiculous. He wouldn’t stay in the house with them for months, because they were a risk vector.

On the path of demonstrating a healthy and loving relationship, I have tried and failed a few times. I think I’m in the RIGHT ONE this time, but only time will tell. Her two dogs asleep beside me, at this moment, are a tender reminder of the experiences that were stripped of me the moment my wife went to consult with a divorce attorney to get the brochure.

What I Lost

These snuggled mornings, like today with the dogs. All the tuck-ins at night. All of the nights of homework, and sports, and girlfriends, and boyfriends, and daily life. I lost my daily life with my kids. They got me as a twice-a-month dad. And it’s no surprise that both kids today have tattoos of MY MOM’S handwriting. My mom was a better mom to my kids than their mom. Their mom was good at the beginning, she got mad in the middle because I was not keeping her happy, and she became bitter, vindictive, cynical, and indifferent to me and my inclusion in our kids’ lives.

This Father’s Day, Tucked next to Frodo, Gracie, and “my love,” I am aware of that loss more than I can express in a single post.

Mothers and Fathers are essential for healthy kids.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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