Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

Posts tagged “single parenting

Bad Daddy and the Delicious Breakfast Dilemma

“Daddy, will you make me an English muffin?” she asked, waking up just before noon on a Tuesday summer morning.

“What is hard about making an English muffin?” Daddy asked. “Is something too hard for you?”

“Yes, I want you to make it,” said the daughter, Little Lazy Lucy, as she *slounched* into the comfy chair to pet the cat.

“I see,” Daddy said. “Is it too hard to cut the English muffin?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“What about the butter?” Daddy asked. “Do you find that too taxing as well?”

“Yes, Daddy, you do it so much better.”

“And adding the jelly” Daddy prodded, “Is that part difficult for you in some way?”

“Daddy, please make me a muffin, I’m much to tired to do it.”

“And what about eating the English muffin, is that too hard?” he asked.

“No, that part I’m really good at.”

“Very well,” said Daddy, “I’ll start on an English muffin.”

And with that Daddy went into the kitchen while LLLucy scrounched even further into the comfy chair and laughed as the cat kneeded into her soft belly.

Upstairs another door flew open and dapper son Badly Buzy Ben announced, “Breakfast? What’s for breakfast?” as he stomped down the stairs. His hair was cuoffed and his suit looked freshly pressed. The blue tie matching and shining in concert with his pocket square.

“Daddy,” he said, as he entered the room and eyed LLLucy with disdain. “I am hungry.”

“Very well, Ben,” Daddy said, “What did you have in mind to fix for yourself?”

“Um… What are you making?” he asked, noticing the English muffin Daddy was cutting in half.

“Little Lazy Lucy has asked for an English muffin,” Daddy said. “But she’s too lazy to help.”

“I would like some bacon and eggs,” BBBen announced.

“Great,” Daddy said, “We’ve got eggs, but I think we’re out of bacon. So you’re almost all set. You could put the eggs on an English muffin if you like.”

“Will you make my eggs?” BBBen asked.

“Why,” Daddy asked. “Is something wrong with your arms and legs?”

“No, Daddy, but I’m in a hurry, and I’ve got a homework assignment that’s due in 15 minutes. Can you make it, please?”

“It only takes about 5 minutes to scramble some eggs, let me show you where they are,” Daddy said.

“I’m really not that hungry,” BBBen said, looking quite skinny in his fine suit.

“Yes, I understand,” Daddy said. “If you actually grew and filled out, you’d need a whole new wardrobe.”

“It’s not that, Daddy, I’m just very busy this morning, and I’d prefer your eggs to my own.”

“Nicely said,” Daddy replied. “I’m pretty sure, if you have time to eat the eggs you have time to make them.”

“Okay, I’ll just have an apple and go back to my room.” He said.

Daddy cut the English muffin and put it into the toaster oven. The timer was set to dark, but he knew that this really resulted in the perfect toasting of the English muffin.

“Do you want to come put the butter on?” he asked, LLLucy.

“No Daddy, Shadow (the cat) is kneeding my belly and I’d really rather stay here.”

“Very well,” Daddy said, as he shaved a few pieces of butter onto the steaming English muffin. The smell of toasted muffin and melting butter began to fill the kitchen, and Daddy could feel his own tummy rumble. “This sure smells good,” Daddy said. “It’s making me hungry.”

“I can smell it do, Daddy. It does smell delicious.”

“Would you like to come put the strawberry jelly on the muffin?” Daddy asked.

“Can you do it Daddy, I’m much to relaxed here with Shadow,” she said. The cat had curled up in her lap and was licking his paws vigorously. It was a nice scene. Daddy could understand how it was hard to get up when getting up meant upsetting the cat in your lap. So he proceeded to put the organic strawberry preserves on the warm and buttery English muffin.

“Yum, Daddy. That smells great. Is it almost ready?” LLLucy asked.

Daddy didn’t answer.

“Daddy? Is my English muffin ready?”

Daddy walked out the front door with the English muffin in hand. “Yes, the English muffin is delicious and ready, but it’s not yours. I made it.”

“Daaaady,” LLLucy cried.

“There are more muffins and I’ve left out all the ingredients right beside the toaster for you.” he said.

“But Daddy! You said you would make me an English muffin. You lied to me.”

“I’m sorry Little Lazy Lucy, but I said I would make an English muffin. And since you were too lazy to help and too comfortable to get up, I had it myself, and it was amazingly good.”

“But Dad! I wanted you to make it. I’m too tired.”

“You should make one for yourself.”

“And Shadow is sooooo comfortable,” she said, as I peeked back in the door. She eyed me with her teary and beautiful eyes. “Daddy, please!”

“Yummy yummy, in my tummy,” Daddy said, as he closed the door and left his children to starve.

Take care, and if you need someone to talk to about dating, divorce, or depression check out my coaching page.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: english muffin, creative commons usage


Developing Low-Reactivity as a Divorced Parent

My ex-wife does stuff that pisses me off all the time. The trick for me, has been to ignore the affront and keep moving along with my own agenda. I think sometimes she does things to upset me. Maybe she’s still mad. Maybe she’s spiteful and vindictive. Maybe she’s unhappy with her current situation.

I’m not sure what causes her flare-ups, but they are getting further apart and that’s a good thing. My winning approach has been to stay low-key.

Today and everyday until my daughter is 18, my ex-wife will be suing me for child support. Now, there’s no need for her to involve the AG’s office in this way, but she does. And with a phone call she could turn them off. But she doesn’t. Something about having the lien against me gives her pleasure, confidence, assurance, something. But, by law, I have to pay her 100% of what we agreed to in our divorce decree. Not even bankruptcy or death gets you out of your obligation to your kids. And I’ve never tried to get out of it. Still she keeps making the decision to let it ride on my ass.

Even this situation is done. There is nothing I can do about it. I’ve asked. I’ve offered alternative collateral. I’ve reasoned with her. But there’s no change. It gives her some pleasure. But I will not give her the pleasure of watching me thrash against it. So I let it ride.

I remember when I did a personality test for a job a number of years ago. The hiring manager was looking over my results and mentioned that my “sense of urgency” was very low. “Everyone on my team has a high sense of urgency. I don’t think you’d fit in very well.” She was right. I’ve cultivated a low sense of urgency. Why? Because I like to avoid conflict and I usually get my work done without the whip being applied. So, she did me a favor by not putting me on a team, her team, where are the projects were in crisis mode. No thanks.

So, that’s the way I deal with my ex as well. No crisis. No drama. Sure, she tries to make craziness out of minor issues. She tries to escalate mundane issues. But I don’t jump. I don’t take the bait. I remain in my low sense of urgency and ask her what she needs from me. “How can I help?” Is actually a very effective response. Often there is nothing I can do. That’s the point of being out of urgency. Still, she likes to include me in the excitement. It is my choice how I want to respond.

And that’s really the point of divorce relationships. You can’t control the other parent. But you can choose your response. If you can diffuse the urgency and your need to be right, smart, witty, or even a jerk, you will go along way towards lessening the drama and making things easier for both you and your kids. And in many ways, a low sense of urgency lessens the stress and drama in my ex-wife’s life too. But I don’t think too much about her wellbeing. That’s no longer my role.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: urgency, creative commons usage


#dad #divorce #depression

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 6.22.59 PM

“They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.”

My recent series of depressions were a direct result of my divorce 6 years ago. There’s no way to beat around that bush. I had been depression free for quite some time, but the fragility was still there beneath the surface. So, even as I counseled my kids, negotiated with my soon-to-be-ex, I was reeling inside with doubt, sadness, and plan old garden variety depression.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression.

I missed my kids every day they were not in my life. And as a dad, that meant about 70% of the time I was alone. The crisis came swiftly as I was asked to leave my house, my neighborhood and support system, and move into my sister’s spare room. There was not a large amount of money in our accounts, and I’d recently lost a high-paying corporate job. It was a hard time for anyone. But with my propensity towards hopelessness, I was set up for a fall unlike any I had experienced before.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression. The circumstances of my physical life were depressing = existential depression. AND, in my case, the chemical depression caused by my brain functioning improperly and giving off distress signals that were causing untold havoc in my body, mind, and attitude.

Through a number of previous “really hard periods” I had learned the pattern of hopelessness. I was prone to giving up when things got too bad. In my youth this was a result of being kicked out of a top prep school and the death of my father when I was twenty-one. Each of those events affected me profoundly. And part of me decided that the deck was stacked against me in some way, and perhaps — the depressed person incorrectly reasons — I need to give up. I suppose the ultimate giving up would be suicide, but I was a bit of a softie for that. Heights and guns terrified me, and pills, well, there was a lot of bad pill stories out there, if you’re researching how to do yourself in. It wasn’t going to be my thing, suicide.

Instead I was going to wallow, fall, cry, complain, sleep, and hope in a magical rescue that would bring me up and out. Going for a rescue is another one of my common patterns. I make my life look so horrible that maybe someone (in my high school days it was my mom) would see my distress and rescue me. But as an adult there was no person who could sooth my hopeless soul. There was no one in my life to say, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.
That’s really your therapist’s role. My talky doctor and I examined past and present depressions and tried to reason some things out. My meds doctor consoled me with the idea that the meds would eventually have a lifting effect on my mood. But it was more than mood. It was life. existentially, in divorce, I was in a depressing place. Still, I had to find a way to make a go of it, for my kids, for my family, and ultimately for me. I had to find a way to stand alone, as a single dad, and proclaim that life was good. I was a long way from that a few years ago.

Today, I’d have to say, I’m in a stable relationship, I’m working and paying my child support, and I’m happy with my life. I’m okay with the divorce. My existential life has caught up with my positive attitude. It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.

When my existential life is crushed my mental life will often follow. But the level of stress I can endure without cratering is also substantial. I had been able to sustain a wobbly marriage for a year or more and get us into couple’s therapy to see if we could save the core of our relationship. I was working and doing my fair share of chores and kid duties. Neither of us was HAPPY but we were working on it.

I was not aware when we entered therapy that she was actually already considering divorce. The yaw of divorce had not been allowed to enter my consciousness. Divorce was the 100% dead option. Divorce to me WAS suicide. And while I continued week after week to talk her down off the ledge, I was ultimately unable to fix things that I didn’t see as broken. It was probably more about her family of origin than about us. But still I failed.

In failing at marriage, I was certain that I had failed in my life, that I had failed my kids. I was most certain that I failed as a man. The full story is I didn’t fail, I was still giving it 100% when I was told things just weren’t going to work out for the other person. There was nothing I could do.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me.

I fought. I tried to bully her back into the relationship. I pleaded. I reasoned. I failed again and again, because she had decided and never wavered from her decision. The rest was my reaction to this failure. My reaction to the loss of the majority of my “dad time.” There is no way to understand the loss until you are a parent and you learn that you’re going to get 1/3 the time with your kids you are used to. It felt like a violation of my life, my principles, my religion. But it was just a divorce. And in divorce the kids get split between houses.

Would I have not gotten depressed if I gotten 50/50 parenting like I’d asked, I doubt it. My stress level, in the “year of negotiations” trying to keep my wife in the marriage, and now the collapse of my marriage and loss of my kids and house, for any amount of time… I think I would’ve succumbed. The existential depression was inevitable. Could I have started the chemical repair sooner? Sure, but until things broke down I was feeling really strong. Stressed, but strong. Once I was out of my family home I was no longer certain of my positive future.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me. And in some ways, I think my kids (13 and 15) are also stronger and more resilient as a result of our break up. If she wasn’t happy, she was showing them through actions and words, what unhappy looks like. If I was stressed I was not able to be my effervescent self and the dad I wanted to be.

I am showing them how to recover from a loss, and to become a happier, more focused man. And as a dad, I am showing up in ways I couldn’t have as a married man. I’ve got more energy, more time, and more attention for each of them, in the smaller amount of time I have. They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.

… I will continue tomorrow…

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: dad, creative commons usage


The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise

OFF-swings

Yes, we got divorced. Yes, we got angry and bitter and had some tussles over child support and entitlement. And yes, I still have fond feelings for the mother of my children, in spite of all that we’ve been through. It’s not the same as wanting to be in a romantic relationship with her. No, that’s not it. That part was done before our marriage was done.

Were I still married to their mom we might work together more closely, to enforce and build healthier boundaries, better manners, more respect for other adults in their lives.

But the relationship, once you have kids, is not about what’s gone wrong between you, it’s suddenly about what can go right between you as you support your children. Together. The fall and slip of one parent equals a fall and slip of the entire family. We’re still a family, both emotionally and financially. The sooner you come to realize that after your divorce the better.

You Take What You Get

Whatever the “deal” was you struck with your ex-partner, that’s what you’re going to have to live with. Over time, you may both ask for flexibility and forgiveness in various aspects of the decree, but for the most part, you can always revert back to the “schedule” if things start getting too squirrelly.

So then, as a divorced dad, I had access to my kids 70% less of the time. That was a huge blow. From full-time to fractional-time. And that’s where the compromises begin.

  • I don’t always discipline my kids the way others might
  • I want to hear them more than I want to hear almost anything in the world
  • I adapt my goals and plans to make room for their ideas and agendas
  • I am looking for ways to connect and support them in everything they do, even when they are with their mother
  • I don’t raise certain issues with their mom, because I’d rather focus on my time with the kids, not arguing over some detail about health insurance billings
  • I give my kids the benefit of the doubt on almost everything
  • I assume that they are honest and good kids, and I give them leeway in managing their own time

Were I still married to their mom we might work together more closely, to enforce and build healthier boundaries, better manners, more respect for other adults in their lives. We might be more strict about things like picking up their clothes, letting us know of their weekend plans *before* the weekend. And we might have more collective influence and bargaining power over their decisions. But we aren’t and so we rely more on the attachment parenting ideals that we used when they were little.

I love my kids with all my heart and soul. I still love their mom, but primarily for the way she has navigated this divorce trip, and how she has never stopped putting them first as well. We are aligned in parenting. We’ve been aligned on most of those things since the earliest days. So our parenting discussions and negotiations are usually pretty easy.

Where things have always been hard is around money. When there’s not enough, on either side, the tension gets high and things get wacky. It was that way when we were married too, but today things have fallen into disrepair. I am happy to say, we’re working on it. Talking about it, at least.

Compromise

In the compromise that was my divorce, I opted to not fight. I decided to accept my dad role as it was outlined by the state of Texas and do my best within that structure. I miss my kids every day. And I know there is no getting back the time, the 70% of the time, that they are not with me.

I am so honored to have her in my life, and so honored with everyday that we are able to be parents together.

So as a single father I work really hard to make my time as authentic and honest as possible. At this age, (14 and 12) I can hope to have several real conversations with each of them over the course of “my weekend.” And then they are gone. The house, though wonderful, orderly, and clean, is less of a “home” without my kids.

And it’s within this compromise that I am also bringing in my new relationship, my fiancé. She’s not privy to all the kid bringing up that we did. She wasn’t part of the tenderness that has grown between me and my kids over their entire lifespans. And of course, her relationship to them is exclusively through me. She’s finding her way within this “new home” with us. It’s like we’re all dating again. Me and her and the kids. We’re having fun.

The other morning she was essential in getting me and my two kids off to school on-time, which happened to be very early. She packed lunches, made breakfast, and did all kinds of parently things. Later that evening she expressed how it had felt warm, and fun, and right.

Love First

I am so honored to have her in my life, and so honored with everyday that we are able to play at being parents together. She’s an amazing partner, and she shows me the light at the end of my single parenting tunnel to be the twin flames of LOVE and ACCEPTANCE. Fortunately for me and my kids, and even my ex-wife, her warm LOVE affects all of us.

Afterword: So while I unload and vent on this site from time to time, know that my intentions towards my kids are pure and my relationship between myself and my ex-wife may be in the “it’s complicated” setting for now, but we’re working on it. And that’s also why this site is anonymous.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image from friend Darren Smith on Instagram, used by permission


What a Farty Old Dog Taught Me About Parenting, Divorce, and My Codependency

jmac-scrambles-2012-3He’s completely deaf and mostly blind. He was driving my ex crazy to the point of her suggesting end-of-life strategies. But he’s just an old farty, blind, deaf, dog that I love. I love him anyway. I carry him up the stairs every night to put him in the warmer bathroom for safe keeping. He’s frail and a bit disoriented, but I have high hopes that his bounding spirit will return.

I lost my animals almost a year ago when I had to sell my house under duress. And my ex-wife was thankfully, willing to take back the old farty dog and my new addition, a cat. She wasn’t all that happy about it. And she put some conditions around their boarding, but she did me a great service by letting me keep them in the family. And today I will recover the cat as well.

Even as I complained inside about all the chores and kid runs I had to make, I was outwardly and spiritually happy to be of-service.

However, this morning, watching my old family dog wander aimlessly and blind around the back yard, I was struck by some of my emotional reactions to his presence. He’s not doing all that well. I think the year with the big-young dog was hard on him. And as my ex became more irritated and irritable about the situation, this little guy was seen as a chore and not a gift. I don’t care how many times I have to clean poop and pee off the floor of my house, he’s still family. Thankfully, he made it through the transition and has been relaxing in his new back yard, sans competitors, for almost a week.

He seems to be thriving, even as his frail condition becomes more obvious. But I am also noticing my reaction towards care taking. I would do almost anything to support and love this dog. And as I watch him wandering the back yard I often go out and pick him up, talk to him, and give him some hugs. His milky eyes turn towards me and back away, almost as if he’s ashamed of his blindness. And even if he can’t hear me, or see me very well, I know he recalls our loving relationship. Whatever it takes.

That was my approach to marriage as well. When I was farting and shitting a bit too much, my then-wife took up the lion’s share of parenting and household management. And we knew it would swing back around. And there were plenty of periods where I was the hyper-parent and responsible partner. And even as I grew weary of the duties from time to time, there was never any push back from me.

The year my son broke his leg was a good example. Or the year my then-wife broke her wrist requiring major reconstructive surgery… She couldn’t do anything for herself. And the months of early recovery were hellacious. And somehow strengthening at the same time. Even as I complained inside about all the chores and kid runs I had to make, I was outwardly and spiritually happy to be of-service. And it didn’t wear me out or diminish my love overall. All of these trials seemed to strengthen the bond, for me.

“We made it through the Winter,” we used to say, as the spring months broke the metaphorical grip on our warm hearts.

As the marriage wore on, my then-wife, somehow grew weary of the constant negotiation and navigation of parenting. She decided at some point, that going it alone was a better option for her and the kids.

As I watch my dog in the back yard today, I remember wishing back then that I had some way of protecting my kids and my then-wife from all the harmful things the might happen. I was struck occasionally with a sad moment when dropping the kids at the fantastic daycare in the mornings on the way to work. I wanted to stay there with them. I wanted to push my daughter on the swing all afternoon. I wanted to have the same kid time my then-wife had. But I moved along after a few pushes on the swing, “Come on, Daddy, one more!”

Today I see how my desire to go out and cuddle my old ailing pup is the same emotional response. We want to comfort all of our tribe members when they are hurting. Even if we don’t have any idea what’s going on in their hearts, we still project our own stuff on to them, and want to comfort OUR discomfort by comforting them. That’s called codependency.

With kids, it’s a given. They are dependent on you. And without healthy codependency they would probably starve and go feral. So we interconnect, we interrelate.  And as parents we commingle our happiness with theirs. Even as I watched the kids rush off to greet their “daily” friends I was saddened to be left behind. And even though my daughter complained every morning as I left, “One more, please,” I knew the responsible thing, the adult thing, was to do the work that made the money that provided the food and shelter part of our family living.

My dog is probably not feeling any pain in the back yard. Sure he looks around as if he’s surveying the landscape. And yes, he would like a continuous stream of wet dog food to magically appear. But for the most part, his life now consists of wandering, eating, pooping, and sleeping.  He does all of them just fine. And it is my emotional need that fuels my compassionate response to him. I’m guessing he’s a bit confused when I pick him up these days. It’s been a while since we had this much contact. And for him, this has meant very little contact over all, since he was one of three pets in a house of busy kids and an overstressed single mom.

I guess, somehow, I’m an old farty dog to my kids, and they love me anyway.

As the marriage wore on, my then-wife, somehow grew weary of the constant negotiation and navigation of parenting. She decided at some point, that going it alone was a better option for her and the kids. I think maybe she had the same overall compassion for me that she had for the farty old dog. As his maintenance grew into a chore, she was ready to put him to sleep rather than deal with it. The real story behind the dog’s issues was more about winter weather and freezing rain that kept him from going outside to do his business.

Today he has the same problems but he’s got me again, to nurture and provide comfortable transportation and living quarters. And yes, he needs some fattening up. And while I’m hopeful at his recovery back to a bouncy and hype old blind dog, I’m also aware that his current life is happier than it was a week ago. And next week, who knows.

For the last years of his life, my buddy will do whatever he does as an old dog. I will watch him zigzagging around the back yard and try to remain happy for him rather than sad for him. I will love on him as much as I can. And I’ll be aware of how my emotional attachments and complaints are mine alone. He’s a dog.

As a parent I know separation has to happen. My kids are now 12 and 14 and the process has begun. I am no longer the most awesome dad of all time. I’m ignored, complained at, and teased. It’s okay. It’s part of the plan. My old dog is still reminding me of how the process works.

I guess, somehow, I’m an old farty dog to my kids, and they love me anyway. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: the author and his dog before the separation, creative common usage

king-scrambles-497


The Divorce Recovery Path: My Journey Back to Joy (part 1)

divorce-recovery-path-mcel

My divorce has been finalized for four years now. This is how my journey back from depression, loss, and hopelessness looked. And this blog has taken me through all of these steps in a way that I can now look back and see how the building blocks were necessary. Here is my divorce recovery path in posts from this blog.

Year 1 – Anger, Depression, Divorce

Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ I believe someone going through a divorce goes through stages of grief. And for me the emotions that I struggled with directly after leaving my house for the last time were anger and depression. Often I vassilated from one to the other. And my talky therapist used to tell me, “It’s better to feel homicidal than suicidal.” (It’s a metaphor.)

Anger turned inward and unexpressed was clearly for me one of the ways I would sink myself into sadness and depression. While I was mad at my ex-wife, and mad a the decision she made and I had to go along with, I kept pointing the sharp stick back at myself. Somehow I had failed. Something about me was unlovable, or the reason she decided to opt-out of our marriage, and effectively opt me out of 60% of my kids lives.

I left the house at the beginning of June after the kids had finished 3rd and 5th grade. Here are a few of my early posts. I was acting out a bit. And I even maintained a tiny bit of hopefulness that my ex would realize how much she really wanted me back. That was imaginary thinking. She was done. And I tried to imagine the wonderful opportunities of dating new women, but of course, I was in no condition to date. Fortunately my initial run at online dating was unsuccessful.

August 2010

The first year and the shock of the loss was definitely the hardest period of my recovery. I was scrambling to find a place to live, a way to make a living that would support myself and my child support payments. And the loss of my kids was an emotional hardship that still hits me from time to time.

By January of that first year I was hitting the first skids of depression.

And the first poem appeared as an expression of my loss.

And while I had started a few dating tries I was more focused on transforming my anger and energy into something positive. Or in the face of Ferris Bueller, something funny and light. That’s how I tried to imagine myself, as Ferris dealing with the impossible situations with joy and grace. I was only partially successful.

A number of other issues hammered me as I crossed into the second year of divorce.  The pressure of the financial obligation I had agreed to began to force me out of my idea of comfort and “doing enough.” Of course I had agreed to pay child support on a much higher income than I’d been able to achieve again. I was basing my future on the hopeful high-level gainful employment, and when my next big corporate job folded my position after six months I fell into a very tough spot. (A spot I’m still trying to pull myself out of today.)

But something else began to show up in my life. I began to remember how happy I was, even alone. Just happy. And this was the beginning of the second year, where I joined a divorce recovery class and began to take charge of my own happiness and recovery from the pits of divorce.

I started to come to terms with the divorce. And take ownership of my depression.

 

Year 2 – Healing, Recovery, Kids First

And then in June of the second year, I lost all of my progress in one massive loss. The job I had found that allowed me to buy a house and start setting up my life again, decided they didn’t want to continue trying to sell their product to the consumer, and after six months my position was eliminated. And the earlier struggles with money and depression came rushing back. Just as I felt I was getting ahead of it, I suffered a setback.

And it was four months before I was able to confess to my readers what was going on. And amazing as it was, I did already have readers. A lot of people reached out to me after the loneliness post and gave me their support.

And I started to take an inventory of what I was feeling rather than run away from it or wallow in it. I started studying the 12-steps concept of self-pity as a way to get a little perspective on what I was going through. I could up and out of this.

And then in October of year two I met the woman who would become my first girlfriend. And she single-handedly changed my life.

More than anything, what I learned from my first girlfriend was how it felt to be adored. She had also been through the same divorce recovery class I had, and we had the same Love Language: touch. I was blown away by how affectionate someone could be. I always thought it was only me who had such outpourings.  But she was beside me 100%. In the end our relationship evolved into a friendship, but out love for each other has continued to grow. And I learned what a post-divorce relationship might look like. And how dating after divorce *can* be drama free. We never screwed each other over, we simply decided that we needed to pull our romantic relationship back from our friendship.

END OF YEARS ONE AND TWO – stay tuned.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

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Step 4 of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Today is a day of reflection. I am examining what I’m doing here on The Off Parent. Assessing the damage and progress of my self-observation, self-obsession, self-centered divorce blog. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Strive to cut deep into the pain and healing of divorce recovery.
  2. Express anger and hurt without blaming the other person.
  3. Eliminate cynicism.
  4. Always go for the truth, my truth, the painful truth.
  5. Protect the innocent through anonymity and discretion.
  6. Write for my own personal journey and healing, if there is a reader that’s fine, but I am not writing for anyone but myself.
  7. Lift my psychology out of the hurt and sadness of depression and towards the healing and recovery for all the members of my family.
  8. Do no harm.
  9. Take on no more shame.
  10. Leave this discussion behind in favor of the next love and romance in my life.

Those are my goals. I’m not sure if I hit the mark with 100% of what is left here, but that was (is) my intention. I have progressed from a confused and angry soon-to-be-ex-husband to a hopeful and romantic single father. That’s the ultimate goal, and for that I give thanks.

Writing is therapy.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

For me, when I write down an experience, I begin to understand it in new ways. I find common threads with other experiences in my life. I hear echoes of past hurts. I recognise the hopeful little boy who survived a crappy divorce and has now grown into a divorce and family of my own. And here on these pages, sometimes, I process the hard stuff, I leave behind puddles of blood and anger that I no longer need. I am discarding these stories as fast as I can write them. Discharging the energy they might still hold on my emotional life, by putting down the bones of truth, as I remember it.

I am not writing for you.

I am glad you are here. I have gotten a lot of support and love through the four years that I have been writing this blog. I have been amazed by some of the comments, troubled by some of the misunderstandings, and encouraged to keep digging for gold. Digging for the heart of joy that is still inside that needs encouragement to hope and dream of loving again.

And I have found the language for that love again. I am writing aspirational love poems. There are still a few divorce poems, but for the most part, this blog has transformed from angry/divorce/rant to relationship/love/discovery. Sure, there will always be flares of anger and sadness when managing the ongoing life of a single parent, but there are also great wins and joys that I am determined to celebrate here, right along side the struggle.

Next Steps

As I continue to change and challenge myself in the coming years, I hope this blog will continue to evolve with me. As I do find that next relationship, I hope that I can write with care and tenderness as “we” this woman and I, journey down the next road of our lives together. Or maybe that will be a different blog. I don’t know. And I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself, here, or in my relationships.

As I grow and parent this blog will still be the rally point for my emotional triumphs and struggles. And as I struggle with depression, or employment difficulties, I will also try to pull back the armor and release the dragons that still loom ahead for me.

In all cases, I thank you for coming along for the journey thus far. I encourage you to start with the INDEX and read chronologically from the beginning. Or jump to any subject or thread that interests you at this time in your life. And if you have a comment, I value the feedback of my readers more than you can imagine. So tell me.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

Final note: Why why why write about this painful stuff? My kids were 5 and 7 when my then-wife decided for all of us that she was done with this marriage and wanted to move on to some other configuration. We’re still reeling from the fallout. Not all of it has been bad, but all of it has been transformative. I give thanks that she had the courage to step into the unknown and make the choice she thought was right for her and thus for all of us. Whatever the motivation or past, we are now a family in divorce. We have commitments and connections that will never cease between all of us. And in my attempts to heal myself I hope to continue to be a positive influence in my kids and ex’s lives. We’re in this together. Let’s evolve to a higher discussion.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

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Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship

OFF-healthycoupling

Divorce is hard. Dating after divorce is tricky too, and I’ve found some things I think are good indicators of how whole a person is, and how ready they are for a healthy relationship. Sure, your dating profile says something like, “Let’s be friends first and see where that takes us.” But most people I meet are really hoping that friendship takes us to the next wave of affection. I think we are mostly looking to me found and appreciated by another person, while having the opportunity to appreciate them back. We want to become the most fantastic cheerleader for their hopes and dreams and we expect that positive affirmation in return.

We don’t need a relationship. We want one. We are fine alone. We have found our own way out of the desert of depression and despair. And now, standing strong and alone again, we are ready to dip our toes into the idea of being loved and loving again. It is a huge risk. And some people can’t get over it. Their divorce is still too painful, or their relationship with their ex is still too volatile. They are really not ready for a relationship.

If, however you begin to think your shit is sufficiently together to date again, some new boundaries are in order. And here is what I’ve found to be the indicators of a healthy start.

You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too.

1. The relationship with the ex is business-like and drama-free.

If your potential partner is still dramatically engaged or enraged at their ex partner, watch out. You are likely to take some of the “stand-in” damage for the anger that needs a place to dissipate. Irritation and conflict can always arise. But pay attention to how this person deals with these setbacks or conflicts. It’s likely this is how any future conflict with you might evolve, as well. Are they able to articulate what the problem is? Can they negotiate a solution and then let it go? The emotional baggage from divorce is huge. And it’s tough to get through all the processing that needs to happen before we can cut it loose and be free of the burden of our ex.

2. The other person puts their kids ahead of the relationship.

In my experience, I find a potential partner who has had kids (they can be older or younger than mine) is more likely to be accepting and accommodating of my relationship to my kids. When my kids call, they come first. Sure, it’s an interruption, and sure it puts the “special friend” in a secondary role, but it’s clear to me that my kids emotional and physical well-being is much more important than me having a girlfriend. At least at this point in my life, while they are still in school, and still very much under my influence. I have a deep respect for my role model as a dad, and as a man. I am showing both my daughter and my son how a man acts in the world. Even under duress, I am showing how I can remain calm, and make strong and positive decisions. And always, my kids come first. Especially in the early stages of a new relationship.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case.

3. In meeting the kids, there are no major hangups or obvious attachment issues.

Divorce traumatizes all of the family members. And often this trauma causes us to revert to old and unhealthy defense mechanisms. And of course, as a divorced, and now-single parent, I am going to do everything I can to take care of my kids needs. BUT… this has to be carefully done. I have seen both men and women who were WAY to enmeshed with their children. Maybe the kid was a brat who was completely undisciplined. Or perhaps the child was overly shy and withdrawn, folding themselves into the parent. At younger ages some of this behavior is acceptable. But as the child ages, and reaches the end of elementary school they should not need to be coddled or babied, because the other parent is trying to make up for some loss. The single parent cannot make up for the divorce. But everyone survives and moves on. Both the kids and the parents need to return to healthy boundaries and healthy communication styles, so that everyone can grow up, and let go of the stigma and shame of the divorce.

4. Conversations about divorce, parenting, or relationships are not tense.

In early stages of a relationship, most of the time you want to hear, “What happened?” And this opportunity to share your story and hear the divorce story of the other person, is a great time to listen for their repose. How have they accepted their own responsibility for the divorce. Even if the divorce was the result of some infidelity, have they been able to move beyond the anger? The best approach to the ex is to live and let be. Focus on the kids. Walking away from a marriage is hard work, and the way someone tells their divorce story is important. Listen.

5. Clarity of intention and honest expression of affection and desire.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case. You’d even imagine, that someone who puts up a dating profile online, and who talks about what they want in their next relationship, probably has some intention of being in a relationship. BUT, you might be wrong. I have been on quite a few dates where the woman had no idea what they wanted. I had one woman, who I connected with and had just spent nearly two hours talking to, tell me in the parking lot as she was getting into her car, “I can tell you at least three reasons I’m not right for you.” She didn’t, but she said she knew she had no real idea of what she wanted in a relationship. If you’re dating, be clear on if you want to “date” or have a relationship. I’ve heard that some people are into casual dating and casual sex. That’s never worked for me, but if that’s your thing, make sure that’s what the other person is saying as well. If the person cannot give  you a good idea of what they are looking for, how their next relationship might look or feel, they may not be ready to be in a relationship. And if you can’t articulate what you are looking for, if your vague, or simply lonely, you might want to keep working on yourself, and your approach to relationships before jumping right back into one.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship.

6. Alcohol or tv are not constant sources of entertainment or escape.

Drinking together can be fun, but it shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice, unless you are both into it. If the person doesn’t really open up until a glass of wine or two, you might be rubbing up against someone who has a hard time expressing themselves. In moderation, as a celebration lifter, a few drinks on the weekend are no problem. But if it’s every single night, and the glass of whatever becomes like the cup of coffee in the morning, a necessary lubricant, there is probably an issue there. And I’ve seen TV become the same sort of numbing or escaping addiction. I went on a few dates with a woman who professed an addiction to reality TV shows. She also turned around and fought with me about the virtues of TV overall, and how TV was no less interactive than reading a book or playing a game with someone. Um…. Yeah.  Escapism should not be a common theme. You want clear and present as the normal relating condition between you and another consenting adult.

7. Affection that moves into sexual relations doesn’t change the overall tone of the friendship.

Of course, you’d like to be friends first. And if the chemistry is working, there may be a pull towards the bedroom. But of course you need to know that if you are looking for a relationship, sex, while important, is not the most important aspect of a relationship. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too. Don’t get me wrong, a good sexual chemistry is a powerful motivator. But don’t let the sex cloud your understanding of who the person is, and what other things you like to do together. You can’t screw all the time.

And initiation of sex shouldn’t cause major shifts in the relationship. You’re friendship should still remain a focus in all of the stages of a relationship. Perhaps that’s part of what led us to divorce, we stopped dating our partners and began to take them for granted. We stopped cheerleading and became more of a negotiator, or even antagonist.

Listen to yourself as you talk about the relationship as well. When you are describing your relationship to a friend, notice the words you use. How do you describe this new interest? What are the highlights that you are proud to share about this person?

And listen as you talk to this person as well. Are you open and free with your expressions of affection or desire? Can you say what you need? Are you holding back, or withholding some information for fear of upsetting the other person? All of these are clues that the relating part of the relationship might still need some exploration.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship. It doesn’t have to be about marriage, but can be more about learning to love and feel loved again. Take your time. Be intentional with your time, attention, and actions. And if things don’t feel right, move along. If you’re not in a hurry, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of time to find one that’s just right. Or at least better than what you’ve done before.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Getting Angry, Reaching Forgiveness, and Moving On After Divorce

OFF-happy-sadIt’s been four years and counting since my divorce began. It was finalized in August, but by this time I had left the house for the last time. And while many things have remained the same, and the relationship with my ex is centered around the kids now, and not so much about our relationship, there are still things that can trigger a painful memory, or feeling of loss. Today was one of those times, when dropping the kids bags off at my old house, and seeing a book on the kitchen counter was enough to spark a bit of WTF?

The book, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships, made me laugh at first. Then made me say, WTF? Then sort of made me feel bad for my ex who must be trying this time to form a healthy relationship with her 2+ year boyfriend. But the book sort of ticked me off. I’m not exactly sure why. But the basic reaction was, “YEAH, that’s a good one!”

But after the knee jerk jerkishness passed I was a bit saddened by the idea.

  1. That my ex would buy and read this book now, rather than when it could’ve had an impact on her marriage
  2. That my ex must be struggling with how to light up the passion with her bf
  3. She must be hopeful of marriage, and getting it right this time.
  4. And if she’d stayed IN this marriage, we would be working together to keep things passionate. As it was, I was the only one who seemed to think there was a problem.

How can I still be bitter about her decision to exit our marriage? Well, it’s easy when you see the impact it has had on our kids and their ideas of stability and family. Sure, perhaps their perspectives are now more in alignment with reality, things change, love fades, and even divorce can rearrange things for the better, eventually, but it’s gonna hurt real bad first.

Something had been lost. Through the toil and tear of our relationship and the struggle of life, we had (she had) begun to shut down her passion.

Okay, so that’s not a lot. And I’d have to say I am more grateful today that I am no longer in a passion-starved marriage. I am enjoying the first benefits of singlehood again, and feeling fairly strong about my capabilities as a lover, potential mate, and even husband again. IF that’s where we go. I am certainly also learning to question my need for that marriage. Today, I’m even asking questions about monogamy. I mean, what’s the point? Couldn’t we get a lot more energy and excitement by changing partners every once in a while?

Of course, that’s not the way it worked for me. That’s not the way I was wired. Today, I don’t know. But I was fully committed to my marriage, and this woman now reading a book called Passionate Marriage. I was never doubting my desire or steadfast resolve. However, the truth is, I was unhappy.

They say the sign of a codependant relationship is how powerfully you wait and work for the other person to change. It doesn’t work out. Some of the things I was beginning to howl about:

  • Lack of affection
  • Lack of touch of any kind
  • Lack of sex
  • Lack of financial partnership in the earning part of the business we had together

I learned, towards the end, when I withdrew my overbearing touch-love-joy energy from the relationship there was nothing left. There was zero energy coming back. And when the vacuum was created, what I hoped would happen, she would wake up to the loss of playful affection and come back with some energy and affection of her own, didn’t happen at all. All that happened was the void of any feeling in our marriage was so clear, that even though I fought FOR the marriage over the next several months, I also knew I would not settle for anything less than a rejuvenated and passionate wife.

I have to thank my ex-wife for the release. My own desires and unmet needs were causing me great pain. And that pain was probably not going to be met by her.

Something had been lost. Through the toil and tear of our relationship and the struggle of life, we had (she had) begun to shut down her passion. And while things in our relationship began with a lot of passion and touch and yes, sex, it was virtually a one-way street during the last year of our marriage. I was always asking, and always providing the way and the caress and the casual kisses. She was doing something else, had different priorities, was withdrawing emotionally from our marriage.

As a divorced and emotionally available single parent here are a few of the things I am finding again

  • Affection (If they don’t dig you, don’t do it. If they can’t hold you and comfort you, don’t do it.)
  • The Love Language of Touch (Sure you can be with someone of a different language, but it’s always going to be a compromise.)
  • Sex that is open and fun (Healthy sex is an amazing thing. A woman who knows what she likes is another level beyond that. A woman who can teach me some things, and WOW.)
  • Financial partnering doesn’t come into play for a while, but it might in the long-run
  • Pure friendship (Do you like being with the person? Do they engage your mind and your imagination?)
  • Comparing notes on the experience of single parenting
  • Desirability (There are women out there who find me attractive, who are not looking for rail-thin men in their 30’s or even 40’s. (I’m 51!)
  • Mature women are more emotionally available, and more sexually open, and birth control is a non-issue. (Woohoo!)

And with all those wonderful aspects of my new lease on life, I have to thank my ex-wife for the release. My own desires and unmet needs were causing me great pain. And that pain was probably not going to be met by her, unless she changed dramatically. And whatever caused her to change in the first place, was probably not a quick fix, and certainly not something a book or counseling session was going to alleviate.

And with that, today, I give thanks to my ex-wife for actually having the balls to ask for a divorce. I would’ve limped along limp for the next several years, maybe forever, imagining, “This is as good as it gets.”

Well, it’s not. Things do get better. And the process of forgiveness and release is a continuous one. You don’t wake up one day and you’re healed, done, finished with your ex-partner. If you have kids, that road is going to go on for a long time. And you will need the other parent from time to time and the best way to become a good co-parent is to heal yourself and move on. You will have good days, and fuck you days, but as long as you keep returning to the process of release and move on, you will continue up the spiral of healing that leads to your next life. The post-divorce life that holds great riches.

Good luck.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

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After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.

It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life for ever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure, what you learn is how to get back up.

Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex-y. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.

And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with the Divorce I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed I’m leaning into love poems.

And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommiting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.

I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing the hopefulness in yourself.

In the five years I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship to them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Separating Stories and Seeking Purpose

getting through divorce one step at a timeIt’s time to sort this story and pull apart the tasty bits, throw away the vitriol, and find the pure “off parent” story. Like pulling apart the colorful threads that are bound together in a rope, if you begin to separate the various issues you can focus and perhaps solve them independently. As a whole the strength of the problem is overwhelming and seemingly unsolvable. But taken as smaller parts, with diligence, you can find your way into a solution, or at least resolution.

In looking back at the three years since my divorce, I see how this writing journey became an important part of my recovery of self. As I was able to articulate the pain/joy/struggle of finding myself alone again I gave voice to my own recovery. What started in anger and confusion, has risen through many ups and downs into something of an anthem to self-examination and (in my humble opinion) victory.

And all the parts of this expression have formed who I have become, as I walked, crawled, cried, and sang through my journey back to wholeness. As I reflect on the content now, I see some very distinct threads.

  1. Divorce Process, Mechanics, and Resolution
  2. Kids, Parenting, Single-parenting, Fathering
  3. Pure Anger and Bitterness
  4. Depression, Loss, and Recovery from Depression
  5. Dating, Desire, Sex, Relationship Journey
  6. Poetry of Desire, Loss, and Aspiration

Assessing the strength of this rope, I see one “voice” that needs to go away. (Not be deleted, but not be encouraged either.) The vitriol and black anger that has come out, may have felt justified and righteous at the start of my fall from the family as it previously existed, it does nothing but feed on itself and stir up more of itself. Time to acknowledge it and move on. Turn it over to a higher power, if you’d like a platitude. There is no growth or healing from bitter focus. It is a step you must pass through. The hope is you move through it with great passion and without much damage to yourself or (more importantly) others. Even your ex does not deserve the vile that is likely to come up. But get it up and out, you must. In my case, this blog was started with that bitter voice. Titty dancers, Fuck Yous, and “You really fucked up,” all formed some of the energy that got me started.

Next on the list of “maybe this should go somewhere else” are the aspirational love poems. While they too have given me great hope and insight into my dreams and desires, AND they are part of the divorce/recovery journey, perhaps their song should be published elsewhere. As part of a divorce story they are tinted by the rest of the rope. But pulled away from the whole, perhaps those prayers, laments, and songs will gain a lightness. I believe they belong here, but I also know that I was probably publishing them here because of the audience that has developed.

And finally, the exciting part for me, the Single-parenting content. (Here’s a prime example: Just Being Dad Is Enough: A Hot Summer and a Ghost Horse) This thread run brightly through the narrative as it unfolded, but the energy and focus was always mixed with the other “colors” of the writing. How could I be bitching and praising their mom in the same place, much less the same post?

The first vacation (alone) to the beach with my kids was an eye-opening experience. And the joy that emerged on that first journey was one of strength and hopefulness. And the idea for The Whole Father emerged. I wasn’t ready, at that time, to really begin imagining myself as a teacher or model father; I’m still not.

But, the awareness that was so exciting to me was this. In getting divorced we have to regain skills, chores, and  parts of our whole selves that we had parsed off to the other parent. My ex was really great at the beach. She loved it. She loved shepherding the kids and giving me some hours to lounge, sleep, read, whatever… But without her, there would be no down time. I had to up my game. I had to become more whole again and recapture and rework those parts of myself that had been languishing.

This was a wonderful insight. And today, I’m going to begin expanding that concept and giving voice to The Whole Father as a new blog for all the positive and negative aspects of becoming a single-dad and having to learn all over again how to be a parent. I had to fill myself back up enough to become whole again, and while I had the vision early on, it is only now that I feel competent enough to expand on that gift and road to discovery.

So I’m not leaving The Off Parent behind. But I do think there are other places for me to find joy and focus, and perhaps the weight of the “off-ness” is heavier than it needs to be for poetry or joyful single-parenting. That’s where I’m headed.

Here’s the first post: A Return to Wholeness After Divorce | The Whole Parent

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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What I Need To Tell You: Take Heart. It Gets Better.

OFF-brokenguitarI’m happy.

My posts/poems about desire are really about hoping and striving towards “what’s next.”

I had a  friend ping me on Facebook yesterday after reading one of my poems. She said, “They make me so sad for you.” I was surprised. But I can understand how things might come off that way, especially if you are entering The Off Parent from one of the more emotional posts. But I want to be clear, this is a process, and this blog is large enough to contain the anger, the depression, the joy, the thrill of new relationships, and the frustration at dealing with a woman who no longer thinks I’m hot shit. (That’s okay, it’s mutual.) Overall, the picture I am hoping to paint… WAIT. That’s not the idea. I’m not trying to put a bow around the process of divorce. Let’s try again.

I would not want Divorce for ANYONE. That said, my divorce, has become one of the defining and re-defining moments of my life. I would not say I wanted the divorce, or that it was MY idea… BUT… I was starting to stand up for a situation that had become unbearable for me.

The points of leverage changed dramatically when she let me know, in therapy, that she HAD consulted an attorney.

The difference between my ex-wife’s perspective and mine was minor. Critical, but minor. In the large scheme of things, I was also demanding a change.

MY PERSPECTIVE: this demand was the only way I had to effect change from within my marriage. I was arguing and demanding answers to some dark questions from the perspective that I WANTED THE MARRIAGE TO CONTINUE.

HER PERSPECTIVE: (somewhat paraphrased, but we went over it a number of times in therapy, so I’m not putting words into her mouth) she was unhappy with the marriage and saw no signs of things changing or getting better, thus it was better for her to move to something different.

The points of leverage changed dramatically when she let me know, in therapy, that she HAD consulted an attorney. I was crushed and panicked, but unsurprised. The anger she had been demonstrating in action and words over the previous 12 months had all but wrecked my positive outlook. And this admission, only revealed by my direct ask, “Have you already been to see a lawyer?” When she said yes, I just about hit the eject button right there. I did the sober thing, and expressed my dismay in a rational manner and left the session feeling absolutely lost about what to do next.

In the process of the next few days, primarily via email, I ranted and demanded she make a decision. She demurred and deflected for a couple of days. But in the end I was asked to leave the house and give her some space, so relief from the stress and tension she and the kids were experiencing. Um, what?

In the end, I refused. It was March. My line, “The process of divorce takes time. There is no hurry. And I’m not going to throw my kid’s lives into this hell before the school year is up. We’ve been living as roommates for a year, we can do it for another two months. We can split sleeping on the couch.”

Somewhere in the back of my mind, in my rapidly crashing heart, I was certain she would see the error of her ways and come back. I knew, however, in my rational mind, that this was not going to happen.

Today, three years later, I am happy. Alone. But happy. And I won’t pass judgement on her and the boyfriend who has given her strength and steadiness.

A few sessions before the hammer fell the therapist had asked a pivotal question, “How do you feel about the marriage and this process at this point.”

I went first. “Hopeful.”

Her word, and I knew more than I wanted to admit actually how hopeless I was feeling, was “Cynical.”

Fuck.

I think that was the beginning of my revelation into the darkness that now separated the two of us. It was different for each of us. But the pain, sadness, and anger was just a potent for each of us. I like to think I was on the optimist-side of the whole deal, but I was pretty disheartened.

All that said… as water under the bridge…

Today, three years later, I am happy. Alone. But happy. And I won’t pass judgement on her and the boyfriend who has given her strength and steadiness. My daughter likes him. That’s enough for me.

As I cursed, raged, pleaded, and cried at my wife trying to get her to come back to the marriage, I was also certain that I could not do it alone. Two people have to be IN for a marriage to work. So she exited before me. Probably, maybe, that whole year of blinding anger, was really her way of trying to help ME exit. But I’m projecting now.

When the agreement was made to divorce I also demanded the right to stay in the house until the kids were out of school. A shitty-hard decision, but I did not want to reenact the gross and bitter divorce struggle of my parents. And it was my argument, even against the therapist, that remaining in the house while the kids finished their 1st and 4th grade years at elementary school was much better than me leaving the house immediately.

Take heart. It gets better.

And today, I would assure you that my kids are thriving. And while the ex-y and I don’t communicate much, we have kids who love both of us and are seeing how we can still care about each other while moving in new directions with our lives.

So as I write poems about being “a poet rather than a player” I mean to be happy about it. This journey has taken some amazingly wonderful turns. And the next one is coming right up.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: broken dreams, brandon satterwhite, creative commons usage


On The Planet of Over Thinking: Sublimating Desire

learning in relationshipsIt was a moment of frustration for her. I could see her facial expression even though I was driving. “What do you mean when you keep saying ‘over thinking?’ It sounds a bit like a criticism.”

This time we were not discussing the theory of adult relationships, we were talking about the concept of a mastermind group. (No relationship to the cultish pay-to-play Mastermind(tm) process.) In this concept I was sharing with her about how getting a couple “cherry picked” people together for mutual sharing and accountability can have a great effect on your growth. She loved the idea.

But immediately something changed in her version. And I found myself trying to offer different approaches and kept coming back to exactly what worked for HER.

Aside: Walking this morning Aimme Mann sang a line that really seemed to resonate with me. “I know love doesn’t change anything at all. I know love doesn’t change a thing.” And this line seemed to speak to something I was feeling about this “mastermind” encounter.

“Because kissing or sex leads to more time.” She said. “The desire for more time. And I guess I’m just not there yet.”

What I kept saying to her was, “The character of the group will define the goals and cadence. It’s fine to set up your goals and expectations, but each individual will come to the first meeting with their own ideas and needs.”

Some how she didn’t want to hear that.

“But Sunday is the only day that would work for me,” she said.

“That’s fine. And I do think you need to get your expectations and goals in place, but I don’t think you need to over think it.”

Boom.

“What do you mean by that?”

And here’s the way Aimee Mann’s line struck me this morning, as I was reflecting on my explanation.

“Well, you can do your part to get your plans and desires in place. That is necessary for you to even want to attempt setting up the group. BUT, the group will be redefined by the people who show up. Each of them will have expectations and needs as well. I was saying to get your needs and ask in order, but then be open to the asks and needs of the group you assemble. Because everyone brings their own issues and ideas to the group.”

Somehow I felt like I was defending my position. Or defending the idea of “over thinking.” But that’s not what it felt like. In reflection today, what it felt like, is I was encountering an inflexible approach to relationships. She has a concept of how this mastermind group can serve her, and how it would fit into HER needs.

Um.

Perhaps that’s where I am with her. Seeing how I fit into her needs. If it’s Saturday that I can be worked in, if that’s all she has available, well, who am I to argue with that. I did use the word over thinking in our conversation the night before as we were comparing relationship notes.

In over thinking the idea of being in a relationship, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how this woman likes to control her life. If it fits for HER then it can happen. And at this moment, she’s not sure.

Sometimes you need to let go of the plans and strategies and just kiss. Or in the terms of the mastermind process, just convene the best group of people you can manage and see what happens. THE GROUP will have a dynamic and need of its own. As a relationship between two people is more dependant on the two people that show up and the MIX or FLEXIBILITY of those people, more than the PLAN or FIT in a schedule.

I seem to have been doing a lot of explaining, and sublimating desire to say how patient I am. And all we’re talking about is kissing. Sure, it’s the gateway to everything else, but it IS A BIT MESSY. There’s no plan or strategy that will explain or prepare you for the kiss. As there is no containing the flow of feelings when sexual passion gets ignited.

But if there’s a control plan that won’t let anything move forward without further investigation, well, maybe the problem is the investigation. In over thinking the idea of being in a relationship, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how this woman likes to control her life. If it fits for HER then it can happen. And at this moment, she’s not sure.

But it’s not just HER agenda that needs to be served.

I was trying in my subtle ways to say, hey a kiss is just a kiss. Let’s try it. See what happens. But she was having none of it. And she said something at the breakfast table about what she WAS looking for.

“Because kissing or sex leads to more time. The desire for more time. And I guess I’m just not there yet.”

Oh, maybe after the “400 dates“, or maybe not.

Um, maybe not. (Hello OKCupid.)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

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+++

And here’s the Aimee Mann song with the line about love doesn’t change a thing – Phoenix

+++

And another song about arriving at 31 as a woman, still trying to figure out life – 31 Today

caught some guy I knew
had a drink or two
and we fumbled as the day grew dark
i pretended that I felt a spark…


Dropping the Parenting Bomb on Your Ex Unexpectedly

THIS IS NOT OKAY. Text from daughter at 7:00am.

is she leaving him home alone?

[These events happened a few weeks ago, so I’ve cooled off and tried to temper them with some perspective.]

Good morning! I’m sorta glad the ex-y got my daughter a phone. BUT not if the primary purpose is so she can leave my her and her 12-yo brother home alone.

The first time this sort of thing happened, I got a “Kids are home sick, I’ve asked babysitter to check in on them through the day, can you check in on them too?”

What are my options? As a good Dad, there was only one thing I could do. I went and picked them up, on her day. She had started a new job. I was being supportive, without a fuss. But I did not appreciate the unplanned reorientation of my entire day.

When we were married the scenario went more like this.

1. We’ve got a sick kid. How can we divide the care for him while keeping our jobs?
2. Then we would have the opportunity to discuss how to juggle our mutual schedules to minimize the impact on our work responsibilities.
3. The priority was on providing comfort for the kid, AND being flexible with one another.

Today I have much less flexibility (patience maybe) to be jerked out of my regularly planned work day because she couldn’t find a sitter, or couldn’t rearrange her day around her responsibility.

My responsibility is to the sick kid. My flexibility is in helping and being a good coparent to the ex-y. She gave up the mutually-shared-responsibility-and-drop-any-and-everything-to-make-it work-for-you partner a number of years ago.

I’m happy to report that this scenario played out much less antagonistic than it might first appear from my response. We talked on the phone. My daughter had jumped to conclusions and was doing her part in the family system to care take. The ex-y was not really considering leaving our son at home alone, sick.

The better part is I got a chance to share my vehement abhorrence of her idea of leaving the kids without a supervising adult for ANY REASON. The childcare is her responsibility when the kids are on her watch. PERIOD. I can help, I am happy to help, and most of the time I’d rather have them with me than anywhere else in the world. But for the most part, when I’m not the ON Parent I’m working to pay for my house and a good portion of their mom’s house.

I have never had easy access to my anger. When I start standing up for myself, my family often thinks I’m being an asshole. Let me reframe that. My mom, sister, and ex-wife think I’m being an asshole when I start using anger to push back a bit on their overbearing demands and requests. Without it, the anger, we are emasculated. Male or female, we need to be able to get angry. Especially in a complex thing like a relationship. If there is no anger (and there was very little in my marriage) then there might be an anger problem. Not enough.

I pushed back with an angry response. I let the ex-y know that I would not be compliant with this type of activity. If she needs something from me, in terms of parenting, she needs to contact me directly. I did not respond to my daughter. I contacted the ex-y with my response. We did work it out. And in the same communication I was able to establish that our daughter was not going to be left home after school, just because she has a phone. She’s in fourth grade. And our sixth grade son is not a babysitter. NO.

If saying no, and needing to say it loudly and repeatedly makes me an asshole, well I’m learning to own that persona. My “real” asshole dad, sort of RAGED the hell out of all of us. So it’s hard to raise my voice. It’s hard to demand my point be taken seriously. And being raised by three strong women, and on emasculated brother, was not easy.

But we’re learning and getting better. And I will re-educate my immediate family that anger is okay. It doesn’t mean I’m nuts, or that I don’t like you or respect your ideas and boundaries. It means something has threatened me. And I’m willing to fight for it.

Just like my kids at the end of the marriage. I fought like a banshee to stay in the house the last two months, while they finished 2nd and 4th grade before exiting our family system. As hard as it was for both my ex-y and me, it was the right thing. And of course I was accused of being unreasonable, and “off my meds” for demanding this strategy. But I persevered. And I think the kids WON as a result.

Know what to fight for and what to let go. But when you are pushed, be ready to bring the heat. It’s okay. No body is going to be hurt physically. But feelings often are not the best guide for what is best or right.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Footnote: There was a time I would do anything for my wife, if she was ill or needed help with a project. Um, now that she’s my ex-y I have a very different response to drama.

dropping the ball on your ex


Making a Will As a Single Parent: Sooner Rather Than Later

Love or Money - making a will

(this is a guest post)

Making a will is not always high on people’s agendas. With so much going on in our daily lives, thinking about the future is not something we tend to do – but it should be, especially if you’re a single parent.

For those who are not with their partner, for whatever reason, decisions over who will care for your children when you’re no longer around is a real concern and it’s vital that you take the time to work out what it is you want.

Why make a Will?

Making a Will is one of the only ways to guarantee that your affairs will be handled how you want them to be following your death. This not only applies to who will inherit your personal possessions and finances but also decides who will become responsible for looking after and raising your children.

As a single parent, the care of your child may not automatically default to their other parent. This means that it is wise to specify who you want to look after your children in your Will. You’ll need to discuss this with the individual first to ensure it is a responsibility they are willing to take on and you need only do it if you’re children are still classed as dependents (are under 18 years of age or suffer from a disability or have special needs which make them more reliant to adults).

Why do it now?

By putting off making a Will you could be putting yourself and your children at unnecessary risk. Situations can change at anytime and no one knows what the future holds in regards to their life and time of death. If you fail to appoint a guardian for your children then serious complications could be encountered following your death.

Dealing with the loss of a parent is hard enough for any child but where they like in a single parent home it can be even more traumatic. Adding the stress of uncertainty concerning their living arrangements and guardianship onto this could therefore have drastic ramifications. By drawing a Will you will be protecting them from this heartache.

Making a will is both easy and inexpensive so you needn’t worry about being stung with expensive costs. If you already have a Will then you may not even need to draw a new one but may be able to make legally recognized amendments known as codicils.

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Feeling Again or NOT Feeling Again

the spilled coffee grounds at my ex's houseSee if you can feel the irony of this. I am picking up my kids after school at my former house. And the dogs have gotten into the trash in the kitchen. So what do I do, clean it up? Make it a little more messy? Ignore it, not my problem.

Well she is nice enough to let me use the house as a pick up zone. It’s good for the kids. So I do a partial pickup. Coffee grounds and trash off the kitchen floor. Sweep, but not mop.

So we’re waiting 20 minutes for me to take my daughter to Brownies. Cause my ex-y had a business trip and it IS my day. We hustle up to the playground and there is no one in sight. We drive over to the park and it is completely empty. Turns out they are inside at the playground in the MUD office. We figure this out about 20 minutes into the meeting.

The plan was for my son and I do to a quick grocery run while they were doing girl scouts. Problem was, by the time we got her to the right room, there was only 30 minutes before the meeting would be out. So we couldn’t even get there and back in 30 minutes. So my son and I were left to our own devices. He drew and I fuddled with my Blackberry and wished it had a real browser. And tuned into all the beautiful women coming to the playground with new offspring. Oh yeah.

So at the same park where I was a Den Leader with my son in Cub Scouts, I was now simply waiting in the park on a beautiful day, looking at beautiful women, and grooving on the pictures my son was drawing.

I guess we could have gone back to the house. It’s HER house now, but it will always be the house. Much of me is still inside.

And I give thanks that my ex-y is not bitter and angry or she’d have my shit in storage unit. As it is, I am still looking for a place to live and all of my furniture and most of my clothes still in her house. She’s been boxing and moving some stuff. But lot’s of me still remains. Almost trapped, in her house, until I can find my house.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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