It’s been nearly seven years since my divorce and on average that means I’ve missed 2/3 of my kids lives since then. I’m not depressed about it, but the sadness does occasionally creep up on me on the nights they are with their mom. I fought for 50/50 parenting but was shown the law book as an excuse for doing the right thing. If you parent 50/50 both mom and dad should have equal access to the kids after the divorce.
For me the loss of my kids and being thrust into alone time was the most traumatic part about divorce. We had built a happy (somewhat) home and I was determined to keep it together. And sure, I was keeping it together for the kids, but probably I was holding on to a crumbling marriage because I didn’t want to be alone again. I loved the routines: 1. home from school; 2. homework and play; 3. dinner; 4. bath; 5. bedtime stories. My kids were young when we split. And the harsh interruption of this family dance was almost too much to take. I survived. We all survived. But for the most part, their lives stayed the same and my life was upended and cut off from all I knew.
It’s odd when you leave your house for the last time, all the little things you’re never going to remember to ask for, but you leave behind. In my case, I didn’t have anywhere to move to, so I moved in with my sister while I tried to get my act together again. So 95% of all my stuff stayed in the house. At some point, a few months in, she and one of her girlfriends packed all of my clothes and belonging into boxes and moved my material corpse into the garage. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do it. But it also felt like I was being buried, or put in my place.
I was fortunate to have a sister in town who happened to have a mother-in-law plan that worked out for me and my kids. While I didn’t have any privacy, my room was next to the media/tv/gaming room, I did have a place to sleep. And the room was big enough that over the summer the kids could spend their dad-weekends with me. So, I didn’t have it to bad. Or should I say, it could’ve been a lot worse.
But seeing my kids and ex-wife in the house, with all my stuff, continuing on with life as usual. It was like “daddy was on an extended business trip.” But I would never be back.
A few nights ago, on a typical kid-free Monday (M-T-W nights were always kid-free) I was feeling sad and I tried to examine what was making me ache. Again, this is seven years later. It was easy to identify that I missed my kids. Their laughs and stories about their day at school. Getting to hear what’s going on in their lives. But it was deeper.
What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce. And I’m sure it cut both ways. I’m sure that my ex-wife was sad on the nights when they were with me. Those young-kid nights when everything was about them and their connection to you and the world and each other. Here I was, seven years later, feeling sorry about what I’d lost when they were younger.
It’s different today, being in parenting relationships with teenagers. Most of the time the parenting role is about transportation and food. And with friends and boyfriend/girlfriends they’d mostly like to be somewhere else. We still have the tender moments, but they are sparsely scattered throughout our time together. What I was sad about a few days ago is the loss of that time, the tender time. My kids are still precious, and I am completely devoted to them, but there’s a longing, like wanting a puppy to stay a puppy, for that earlier time. Of course, it’s never coming back, and my sadness is just about me. Perhaps it’s me feeling sorry for myself all these years later, about what I lost back then.
This was the pain of divorce for me. The minute she said she had seen a lawyer I howled. And in my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about. When I lost my dad in divorce the loss was absolute. It was as if he fell off the deep end of his isolation and alcoholism. He was gone from my life. What I had after the divorce was a ghost of a dad.
I am not a ghost to my kids. I am a fully alive and empowered father. I was handed a less-than-fair deal and we’ve all learned to deal with it. Today my ex has been mentioning a 50/50 schedule, toying with the idea rather than making an offer. We haven’t reached any agreement, but there are more things in motion. And again, it’s just an “idea” she’s floating.
I’m also considering letting my sadness be my own and not mixing it up with my kids-of-divorce sadness, because, my kids seem extremely happy right where things are. My sadness is my own. It’s more from my little boy than my middle-aged man. I can recognize that and deal with it, on my own. And we’ll see how our relationships evolve over the coming years.
The Off Parent
< back to Single Parenting
- The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce
- When Will I Get Over My Divorce?
- The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise
- I Want To Thank You for the Divorce
- Things Broken and Unsaid
image: children sleeping, creative commons usage
This post was written as a response to a readers comment. You can see the entire dialogue in the comments of this post: Putting Your Foot (Fool) Out There – Online Dating in Perspective
Wow, H. You seem to have started a wonderful dialogue with yourself (and me) as a result of posting on The Off Parent. I salute you. And welcome the interaction. Here’s the crux (for me) of what you said:
“And then soon, I forgot the ‘longing’ of wanting something/someone else. My life as it is today, perfect, with my children, as they are my family now….Just like your happiest hours on Thursday nights (forgive if I got your name for it incorrect)…well, that is my life, every day and night.”
I appreciate the Happier hour of Thursdays. And I feel the tweak of my happiness every Friday morning as I drop them back at school. On the weekends when they will return to me Friday afternoon I have a nice routine, I finish my work around 3pm and I take the rest of the afternoon off, after I pick them up at 3:30.
This is such a weekend. Full. Complete. Completed. I do understand your fullness. When we are together there is nothing missing. We are a family as I envisioned it. Except of course, their mom. But of course things are MUCH easier without her, for us. There is not one single argument about cleaning the house, about chores (we have them, yes) about what we’re going to do on Saturday. This core unit has a connected and free form flow that probably drove my ex-y crazy. She much preferred the work plan model.
The longing for me, takes place, as it will tomorrow, when I drop them back at school on a Monday, after our full family weekend. It is that morning, as I pull away from school that I feel an ache.
Why did I, how did I end up in this “missing” place? It is a familiar feeling, but I no longer welcome it. I acknowledge the ache. And I can understand my past history that is riddled with so many “missing” moments. And for today, I move away from that HURT as I drive away from their school and them.
It is THAT longing that holds the key to me for what I am missing in the rest of my life. I DO want to be in a relationship. While I get so much joy and fulfillment out of simply being DAD, I am hungry for a companion. That longing that you have learned to forget, just might be a key to the relationship you want as well. It’s easier to keep driving away from their school and the ache and just carry on.
Later in the day your THREE return to you and you are full up in the activity of FAM again. Mine do not return to my fold until the next Thursday evening. And this coming Thursday, that glimpse, that ONE NIGHT and MORNING, is all I will have of them for the entire week. And the rest of the time I am what I call, The Off Parent. Both physically (they are not with me) and mentally I am OFF.
I love having entire weekends to plan activities alone. Time and options I never had while married. But I also wish it were not so. I was content wrapped in the everyday details of being Dad. Now I don’t have that luxury. Perhaps I am pushed out to learn more about myself, my needs, my next plan or dream. Certainly that’s what’s happening. But the reality is I LONG FOR MY KIDS when they are not here. And to a lesser extent, I can feel that I LONG FOR A RELATIONSHIP again.
There is no real reason to put up with red flags the new experimental relationships. What’s the point? If there are too many fouls, you pick up and move along.
So, H, perhaps you will find the longing in something as mundane as a painful shoulder that needs a strong and warm hand to knead and rub it. For now you can put heating gel on it, or ask one of your kids to beat it for you. (that’s what I do.) But if you can listen to the ache, only if you want to, you might find the energy behind the longing. And at this point in my life, I am finding that ache-to-energy to be quite powerful and quite transformative.
I am becoming someone else. I am expressing all side of the joy and pain, here on The Off Parent. I am leaving all of my grievances behind. And when they show up I’m putting them to rest by journaling them here.
I am excited that you have found the reason, the energy, to post such a reflective comment here. I hope you continue. A dialogue is forming between us. Another wonderful and interesting development from writing this down. The hard stuff and the good stuff. The dark sex stuff and the vulnerable stuff.
Thank you for joining in the dance with me.
The Off Parent
- 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)
Note on the image: My daughter saw this picture and headline above on my posterous site. “I know what that means,” she said. I laughed. “What does it mean?” At 9, she has been sharing more of her understanding of the world. “It means, for now. Eventually you will park on the side when you’re making room for a girlfriend.”