We’ve got some connections to make in this world of relationships, parenting, and divorce.
Point One: Divorced parents are still parents.
A divorced dad is still a dad. (I’m relating this to dads, as that is the only role I know. Please substitute mom if you’re reading this from that perspective.) Even though our relationship has changed, I’m still “tha dad.”
Why it’s important to remember.
- Schools will often communicate and support the single mother in ways that are very different than the single father.
- Single dads may not have cheated, messed up, been an alcoholic, or done awful things to cause the divorce.
- Dads have a very different experience of divorce. Even when hurting, disconnected, depressed, angry… A dad is still important in his kids lives.
- Single dads are made fun of in the media and even in our daily lives about things that are hard. It’s true, we don’t know how to braid our daughter’s hair (until we’ve been taught) and we’re less competent at making school lunches from time to time.
- Single dads often shoulder a disproportionate amount of the financial burden and are usually required to find new living quarters. The money issues alone are enough to hinder a strong person.
Point Two: Divorce is very different if you have kids.
I have been through two marriages and two divorces. The first one, which I rarely reference, I consider a mistake. A mistake I learned a lot from, but a mistake nonetheless. No kids were ever on the planning horizon and I’m grateful that I bypassed that lifetime connection with this woman. When you divorce without children, it is hard, but the process has an end. I have not spoken to my first ex wife for years, and once Apple released the option to block a contact she was vanquished from her random “Hey how are you?” communications as well. Good. I am happy to not to orbit her in any way.
With children, you’ve got an entirely different set of circumstances. Sometimes I’d love an escape option, when she’s being dramatic or unreasonable, from my perspective. But she is never going away. And in all fairness, our time together was filled with loving attempts at being married with children. I was no Al Bundy, and she was less Peg than I occasionally claim, but we didn’t make it as married parents. So we are divorced parents.
In my current relationship, with a woman who’s had no children but was married for 17 years, we have a very different experience of life. She likes my kids, she loves my fatherhood role, but she doesn’t need my kids in the same way I do. I understand that. That’s our relationship that we get to focus on, when the kids are with us and when they are gone.
You can’t walk away from your kids and thus you never get to fully walk away from the other parent. This point cannot be stressed enough. Every mean thing you say or do towards them, comes back ten fold, just when you least expect it. You may not think so at this moment, you may be angry, you may be fighting about something, but… Your kids are non-negotiable connections.
Get over your issues with your coparent.
We still have plenty of issues to work through. I wish we didn’t, I wish she weren’t so dramatic when she tries to get her way, but that’s the way it is. That’s the way she’s probably going to be for the rest of our lives together. Perhaps she needs to be this way when I seem so disconnected or unresponsive. I get it. We are stuck in this relationship with one another. Our kids will need both of us for the rest of their lives.
We’ve done a great job of keeping the money issues separate from our parenting issues. We don’t agree on some things. We’d both like things to be different than they are. But we’ve learned to put the kids first and negotiate about their lives and their needs with a holistic perspective. We can fight about other stuff, but when it comes to them, we’re a team.
Parents are parents. Make sure you treat each parent, married or unmarried, with the same respect and courtesy.
Divorces with children are more entangled. If you’re dating a divorced parent you don’t have to understand all the weirdness of their relationship with the ex-partner and children. You don’t even have to love their kids or understand why things between them, the kids, and their former partner may occasionally feel like a an inside joke that you’re not a part of. The relationship between you and the divorced parent is a common variety configuration these days. If we (as a couple) can focus on our relationship and let the co-parenting relationship exist in a parallel universe, with different laws of physics and gravity, we’ll do fine. We can focus on the we, and when we are expanded with my kids, we can focus on the we as coaches and cheerleaders of these wonderful kids.
Divorced parents are dealing with a lot of changes. And if you are lucky enough to be in a relationship with one of these kid-attached folks the blessing you can bring to the equation is to stand slightly outside of the odd divorced-family dynamic and maintain a supportive closeness with your partner. Us divorced parents can really benefit from an unattached, unreactive, partners. A partner who sides with us under any circumstance.
The Off Parent
back to Single Parenting
More posts from the Single Parenting section:
- The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise
- I Want To Thank You for the Divorce
- Things Broken and Unsaid
- My Urban Fit Uber-cute Couple Bias
- Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again
- What I Need To Tell You: Take Heart. It Gets Better.
image: the author in chicago with sweatheart, creative commons usage
To GROK is to know, consume, and “become one” something. The concept comes from Robert Heinlien’s Stranger in a Strange Land. In the book a Christ-like man has returned to Earth in the very distant future. And while this man can indeed do miracles and does appear to many to be the return of the Christian Jesus Christ, the ultramodern society cannot quite embrace his proof. In the end this uber-Christ is killed. And in a bazaar “final supper” his followers boil him into a soup and eat him. By finally Groking him, they are knowing and becoming him.
The language of divorce had the same effect on me. I was disoriented and unprepared to begin talking about my ex-wife. There was none of the newly-married fascination that comes with referring to someone as “my wife.” Do you refer to her by her name? Do you call her my ex? Or my ex-wife? Or on good days, “the mother or my children?” I actually prefer “their mom.”
And terms like Standard Possession Order and Non-custodial Parent become new definitions that you have to get help to understand. And you will learn new ways of talking about yourself as well. Do you want to be referred to as “single” or “divorced?” And what do you say when people ask after your now-ex-wife?
A friend from my divorce recovery class told me after about 6 months of knowing me, “I’ve never known your ex-wife’s name. You always just call her ‘my ex'”
And you also develop subtle ways of letting people know you are a single parent. “Oh, I have the kids that weekend, we’d love to come if it’s kid-friendly.” And the ever popular, “They are with their mother that weekend.” Words like “the kids” and “their mother” become keywords that identify us as DIVORCED with CHILDREN. Not exactly a humorous or popular term, but one which you must embrace and GROK before you can move on into becoming what’s next.
There’s an amazing scene in the movie The Descendants when we meet the older daughter for the first time. She is drunk and very unhappy. Her first line of the movie is “Fuck Mom!”
I was in the process of courting a potential date online last week and I referred to my ex as “my fuckin ex.” Oops. I was trying it on for measure, almost as a line from the movie. The woman I was communicating with was not impressed. And with a few quick txts we established that I was still mad at my ex-wife and would refer to her as “the mother of my kids” or just her name.
That’s okay. But sometimes it is good to say “my fucking ex.” The words have power. But it might be best for you and your same-sex buddies rather than mixed company. And it’s true, if you are constantly triggered by the thought of your ex, it might be necessary to do some more “work” on them.
I think we have to reach a comfort with the language and rhythm of divorce. At first we are lost and confused. But after a while, after consuming the broth of everything that was your marriage, you will begin to recover a new self that is ready for what’s next. It’s a bitter soup. It’s a process that requires many spices and experiments. But you’ve got to rise above the “fucking ex” in order to move on.
In some ways this writing is my soup preparation.
The Off Parent
- this very last second of love i have for you < poem
- The 1st and 2nd Time I Knew My Marriage Was Finished
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)