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

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

At the time of my divorce my ex wanted primary custody. I wanted joint custody. She wanted the majority of the children’s time. I wanted 50/50. In my understanding of parenting and what my kids needed, I was certain that our roles were equally important. For some reason, probably financial, she did not agree. And in our fair state of Texas, she was awarded the custody just as she knew she would be.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent.

So, for the last seven years from the time my daughter was six and my son was eight, she’s had the responsibility and pleasure of parenting my kids two hours for every one hour I get. Back in the early months and years of the divorce, this was devastating. I never got enough time with my kids. I longed for them twice as often and twice as long as she did. And in those tender years, our kids really needed both of us. My son needed his dad more than he was getting him. My daughter craved my hugs and happy lifestyle. But that’s the way the divorce went down.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent. Well, she is engaged, but it’s a separate house, separate living quarters kid of engagement. And I imagine she is not lying when she says it’s hard.

And there is a part of me that still misses my kids during the 2-for-1 hours they are with her. But today, as teenagers, the quality and type of relationship with your kids is very different. Back then I wanted to teach my son to ride a bike, I wanted to take my daughter fishing more, I wanted to expand their horizons and let them see and be with their happy father. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to do that. But back then it was a different type of parenting.

Today, as teenagers, my kids are even more interesting and self-driven, but they are also a lot more work. Most of the parenting activity in the teen years is driving them from place to place, waiting for them and their friends to get ready, and feeding and clothing them. It’s not as rewarding. It’s still engaging and important, but the “kid years” are really the golden age of parenting and attachment parenting specifically.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent.

My life is also very different. A bit over a year ago I started dating a woman who quickly captured my heart and imagination for the future. Today we are happily engaged and living together in a modest house that has two rooms in the back for my kids. And I relish every hour I have with them. But I don’t necessarily want more carpool and cafeteria shifts. That’s the hard work, low return, parenting duty that makes up the majority of parenting teenagers.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent. I am more than happy to carpool them. I thrive and excel at making them breakfast before school and getting them to their appointments on-time. It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. I’m guessing, my overwhelmed ex is asking for 50/50 parenting now because the mundane teen years are harder and less interactive than before.

I lost the golden years of parenting. My son is a bit less masculine at times and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. He doesn’t want to learn, either. That’s okay. We have the relationship we have as a result of those years of absence. All those years where their mom tried to fill in the dad blanks. But I was not there. And I was given that share of the parenting duties by her selfishness and greed.

I’d love more time with my kids. But… I am okay with the time I have with my teenagers. In the time I do have with them I know I am the best dad they could ever have. And they are not begging to go 50/50 or anything. Why would they want things any different? It’s my ex that wants the change and today, unfortunately for her, she’s got the Standard Possession Order (SPO) she argued for and won. She’s got the kids about 2 hours for every 1 of mine.

Today, in the long tail days of parenting, it makes me smile. I’m still missing my kids just as much as I was as a newly divorced dad, but I’m missing a different role. I can’t get back that early dad role. They are grown and growing now and have different needs. There are different ways I can be an influence on their lives. And one of my greatest gifts is showing them how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Now, I need to go wake one of my teenagers up so we can have breakfast together and talk about the world.

Respectfully,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

OFF-dataset

We were married for over ten years. We spawned two great kids. But I’d have to say there were very few years that weren’t somewhat tumultuous. It seemed like I was always begin accused of some transgression: not doing enough of the chores, asking for sex too often, not being honest, not being responsible enough. And while these weren’t leveraged at me as an excuse for not wanting to make love, it was more often than not one of these complaints that shut her libido completely off. Zero.

What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man.

But there has been a lot of time since then, and you think I’d let go of it, but some parts of the divorce and thus marriage still have big question marks for me. Could I have done more? Was I at fault? Was I a child? In trying to examine these things about my role in the relationship, I’ve come to discover there were a lot of things in her story that didn’t add up. There were some key pieces of information that were being left out at various points along the way, that have me wondering. Was it her fault? Was she dishonest from the beginning? When she told me, in couples therapy, that she’d already seen a lawyer, was it couple’s therapy or divorce counseling we’d been doing?

The first big X was when we were just getting re-acquainted with each other. We’d known each other in high school and had started “doing lunch” on a semi-weekly basis. What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man. Not just dating him, but living in his house.

The second big X came during one of our hardest moments. As 9-11 had torn everyone’s financial stability to the ground and I was struggling with how I wanted to reenter the workplace, she began a series of lunches with a young man she worked with. It wasn’t that she was having lunch with him, it’s that she wasn’t telling me about him. And the day I stumbled onto an email about “his depression” and “my loneliness” I knew I was discovering what emotional infidelity felt like. We weathered this one, she admitted her mistake and vowed to never do it again. But a deep fundamental trust had been broken.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy.

The final X came when she confessed to consulting with an attorney while we were in couple’s therapy. She didn’t let on that things were that bad IN therapy, and only admitted her “discovery phase” because I asked her. She was not being honest. She was not opening up in couple’s therapy. She was planning her options. She wanted to know what she was going to get if we divorced. It’s a fear she had expressed to me earlier, in some moment of wine-induced honesty. “If you leave me, I’ll have nothing.” It was a false statement, but it was an indication of just how deep her fear went.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy. Sometimes it is projection that shows up. If she was feeling unfaithful, untrustworthy, perhaps projecting those fears on to me help her deal with her own guilt.

In the dataset I see, she was withholding and misrepresenting herself all along. This is a hard nut to swallow at this point. But it’s easier than trying to figure out what I did wrong. Because I was the partner who was still ALL-IN at the end. She’d made a decision to leave, made plans to cover her needs, and then with the backing of the State of Texas, she ripped my world in two.

I was given a 1/3 – 2/3 parenting schedule. (Called the Standard Possession Order). I was given the non-custodial parent role, that comes with a large child support payment. And I was asked to leave the house I funded. Because it was “in the best interest of the kids.”

What was not in the best interest of anyone was the bad deal I got. Rather than cooperating during tough times, she decided to file on me after three months of being late. I was telling her she would get paid. I was showing her my bank statements and my pursuit of new business. But she was impatient and entitled. So she let the dogs loose on her ex-husband. And while this big X doesn’t show up on the chart, it’s the biggest one. I can never trust her again. Perhaps my biggest mistake was trusting her after she told me she was living with a guy.

Respectfully,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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Asking My Partner, “Are You Having Sex? Because I’m Not.”

woman through the window - geddes

i am mad at you… i’m trying to get through it… forgive my slowness…
i say we’re doing well, you say we’re bouncing checks
i say, i’m making 100k, you say you’re making 2k per month
i say I recognize my accelerated mode, yellow flagging myself
you say, yes but… there’s more…

yes there is more… always more…

Bottom line: my love is never-ending for you, you are more beautiful to me today than at any time in the past, I can see you with a vibrancy as I am buzzing over here at P o L. but, I am tired of always being the one to hold the overview perspective, always the one to suggest parties, beach trips, cars, whatever… and have you… say, and I know you will agree that you are tired of this role as well, so this is what we are working on… no, we’re not safe, the house is not clean enough, we don’t have the money for that, we have other priorities. I am tired of holding the line when I am angry or in disagreement, when you seemingly let them fly when and where you see them, without regard for where I’m at or what impact it might have.

What I realized standing next to you in the closet this morning, i don’t like you very much. I am holding some shit, and for that I am sorry. So rather than speaking my mind, I mozy on to the office and work. Rather than complaining when you say you are going to come out of the kids’ room and watch a movie, I blow it off, throw it in the canyon for a later day.

I guess the later day has come. I am negative. I am not happy. I am not giving you the wrapper that I would like to. You suggest the beach via email a few days ago and my first thought is, “yeah right.” Glad it was your suggestion and not mine.

Well, that signals to me that I am off. What I am off about is something that feels like an imbalance. I am enthusiastic about Rich’s and what we began to hit on this week. (Sorry the date didn’t hit my work calendar.)

I don’t feel like I’m better than you or that I am doing it right and you are wrong. I don’t.

But I feel like you have some critical eye that is telling me what I am doing wrong, how I am not meeting YOUR expectations on several levels, and even when I come up and self-proclaim my own warning, card, rather than join, you say, but wait… there’s more. Well, that’s what we’re doing, I guess. The more part.

I am sorry for my negativity. I am focusing in on the kids. I am irritable when you talk out loud because I think you are telling me something to do. I am short with you. And I’m happy in {Daughter’s} room. (I guess you know that one, eh?)

I hope you can see that this is a love letter and not a bitch session. AS I WRITE THIS I AM FEELING VERY SAD.

I do not want to be on the receiving end of so many “you shoulds.”

Here’s the most telling example I can come up with. The other night as I was reading in bed, hoping that you would be returning from the snake room, you patted my head. The hard part was how good it felt. I don’t think our outward expression of genuine amazement and love of the other is very balanced. I am certain you are expressing that with Jason and Claire in spades. Me… well, it’s complicated.

And wrapping up, so I can come home. SEX. (I can see your expression changing in my mind…)

I add sex to your list of chores for the weekend. You feel like I am taking a pot shot at you. So you add, Looking for the when, where, how… Okay, so do ever have the thought… “horny”

You have expressed in the past that you do in fact have these thoughts.

So do you ever wonder when, where, how… or is that my department, like taking out the trash or switching lightbulbs? (that came across more harsh than I wanted) Nonetheless, I am harsh right now. I could care less about architecting the clean house, no kids, right mood, structure that it often requires to have sex together. So you know what, I’m having sex alone. Bummer.

Are you having sex?

Sincerely,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

Note: This was the turning point for me… I was writing this as an email to my wife, trying to understand what was happening between us. My thought was I was working to expose myself, and illuminate the gap so that we could work on it. What ended up happening, I began to express my dissatisfaction in the marriage. And while she was the one who asked for the divorce, I was demanding a change in the status quo. Somehow I had NOT made my satisfaction a priority. But with the release of this email, I was declaring that I would NOT. SHUT. UP. About what was hurting me.

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image: a perfect vacuum, jeremy geddis, creative commons usage

Every Other Saturday Night: Dating After Divorce

dating as a single parent

If you’ve got kids and you are divorced you’re most likely on an every-other weekend schedule like me. While it affords plenty of opportunities for self-improvement and creative endeavors, it’s hell on dating. AND if your “date” is also divorced with children, chances are their schedule is exactly opposite from yours, if they’re on the SPO prescribed by the state and enforced on 80% of Texas men, for example.

Okay, so you’ve got approximately two weekends a month to do as you please.

TIME is what we need to figure out how compatible we are. TIME is what it takes, for me, to understand adoration and appreciation, apart from the drive to have SEX or be in a relationship.

In trying to move a  significant love interest forward (I’d place the remaining woman with potential in this category) it is hard not to press for some commitment. Some indication that we are in a relationship. We’ve snuggled. We’ve hugged goodbye and had the occasional closed-mouth kiss. And then we’re off to the static silence that is the rest of the week in a busy single-parent’s life. She has a 16 year-old daughter, and that entails a lot. AND… of course we are both hyper-committed parents. For me that runs a staggered schedule, for her, with the father no longer in the picture, it’s 24/7 mothering.

So rather than asking for some sign, I’m looking at the time. There is not much time to be together. And the joining takes effort and intentionality on both of our parts to make it happen. Why do I need some profession, some major milestone (a passionate kiss, lovemaking) to confirm our relationship? Do I? It might just be my longing and desire for those things, rather than some insecurity.

In terms of my available weekend nights, this summer, I have two Saturday nights a month. (I take my kids THU/FRI during summer vacation.) And now, with a little imagination, I can establish “dates” on those two nights and make the most of what is available.

I kept thinking, “Well, she’s really busy.” But it’s ME that has the time. And for real relaxed socialization, the weekend offers the most return. So Saturdays it is. Every other Saturday.

That’s not a lot of time to get time together. And today, at this moment, I’m okay with that. I admit to getting restless and desirous and checking my OKCupid profile for any “visitors” who might look interesting. BUT, in general, I think this developing story serves me well.

  1. I am busily working on my creative craft (writing, journaling, playing music)
  2. I am reinvigorated in my fitness and slimming quest
  3. I have an engine of passion and longing in imagining “being” with her (and this serves the love poem, and love song output quite well)
  4. And with things still being OPEN, I have flexibility and opportunity to explore whatever whims happen to arrive

TIME is what we need to figure out how compatible we are. TIME is what it takes, for me, to understand adoration and appreciation, apart from the drive to have SEX or be in a relationship. I want those things. BUT, I’m clear that my mistakes of the past will not foreshadow my next relationship commitment.

I can use every ounce of energy to improve MYSELF and MY VISION, and continue to dig into the wacky meanderings of my mind and my past/future mistakes. Most of all, I can stay present.

When I jump in, this next time, I intend to jump in feet first. Both times I fell head-first in love and married some of the fundamental parts of the relationship mismatch had not been revealed. (Of course, with hindsight I can imagine I would’ve seen them, but I was blind with passionate love.)

It’s enough right now to know someone is out there, someone I aspire to, someone I adore and appreciate for herself, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, without ever having passionately kissed. (I can say this, today, tomorrow might be a different tune.) She is showing me what ADORATION looks like when it grows and moves slowly.

Sure, I’d really like for a woman to take a shine to me and light up like a Christmas tree. And maybe that will happen, maybe this pause, and calm/steady snuggle artist is just what I need to prepare me for what’s next.

And I can use every ounce of energy to improve MYSELF and MY VISION, and continue to dig into the wacky meanderings of my mind and my past/future mistakes. Most of all, I can stay present.

All of this self-examination is fine if we don’t ruminate on the past or future. I feel, today, as if this writing has allowed me to shed the pain and disfunction of my divorce and explore my life as a happy single person, again. And GF #1 showed me that I know how to be open, honest, and truthful in relationships. She showed the way to what’s next. It is my job to stay present, and not rush into anything (for any reason) unhealthy. TIME is my most valuable currency. When planning my two Saturday nights, I’d be wise to choose with intention.

Sincerely,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

< back to On Dating Again index

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image: I’d rather stay at home with my kids, the author

What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

What’s sex about?

How do I make a living in this world?

Are intimate relationships worth it?

Lena Dunham is the 25 yo powerhouse who’s show, GIRLS is a hit on HBO. Are she and her cast voicing millennial ennui of our time? The show tries to be shocking. Its stars are quirky, damaged, and beautiful in many different facets. At least we’ve graduated beyond the vapid (shoes, sex, power, self-obsession) view of Sex and the City. And we’ve come a long way from Carrie Bradshaw to the lead in GIRLS played by Ms. Dunham.

So sex is a loaded gun.  We’re all carrying it around in our pocket.

And the questions, I now realize are the same ones I am asking myself. The questions that divorce and recovery have pressed firmly in my face as said, “Get your shit together, or don’t.”

And we know what not getting our shit together looks like. It looks nothing like writing and staring in your own TV series.

So the voice of this younger generation… The same questions. No wonder it’s doing great. Well done, Ms. Dunham and Co. Now let’s see these three biggie questions are pretty important.

What’s sex about?

Is it possible we (I am) are still trying to answer this question? In fact, as Thomas Moore would lead us to believe, the sex in our lives is one of the last un-illuminated mysteries of our lives. It’s still the primary place that can generate elation, ecstasy, horror, passion, obsession. Not all good, not all bad, but mysterious, yes. And taken one step further, Mr. Moore suggests that there is a spiritual component to sex, even if we don’t want to look at it. God is there, in the mystery. God is there in beauty and unexplained fantasies. Not all good. And not all bad.

So sex is a loaded gun. (pun sort of intended) We’re all carrying it around in our pocket. Sometimes we have concealed permits and we keep our deadly weapons hidden. Other times, sometimes with shocking results, we wear our weapons on our sleeve. I think of the 50+ woman in the local grocery store in her yoga pants and perfect hair and perfect teeth. I’m guessing her car is quite new and clean as well. It takes money to be dressed like that, to look like that, mid-day on a work day. For most of us, yoga, midday on a Tuesday is not an option.

If I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

There she is. A loaded weapon. Sharing every good piece of herself that she can. She may or may not have been to yoga, just now, but she’s looking like she just stepped out of the Yoga Journal, or some “special issue” of Playboy, “The Yogini Babes of the West Coast.”

I don’t think she’s putting out “come hither” vibes. But she is putting out the best that she’s got in a very sexual way. And all the other loaded weapons in the store, men and women, are taking notice. And that gives her some additional lift. Her brightly colored tennis shoes springing just a tad more as she heads for gluten-free.

So *what* is SEX all about?

Hell if I know.

Today I have a few touch points. But of course, tomorrow they will be different.

  1. Sex is essential. In fact is on the base level of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s connected with survival. Instincts. Primal, animal, procreative sex. When you don’t have it, you either NOTICE or you don’t. We’re all animals with different wiring.
  2. Sex is fun.
  3. Sex can be messy. (Complications, miscommunications, obsessions, loss, lack of…)
  4. Sex… well it’s somewhere between Miranda in Sex in the City and XXX in Girls. Where you fall on the spectrum, has more to do with your family of origin and how you feel about the loaded weapon you are packing.

How do I make a living in this world?

I guess until you hit the ball out of the stadium, or inherit the unlimited wealth, making a living is going to form a large part of your existence. And your relationship to this task is critical to your self-worth, self-expression, and even your ability to thrive. And the rules and conditions change all the time. You think you have it figured out, and you get laid off. You imagine a big project is coming, and someone dies leaving the signed contract in limbo. There is always change in the world of work.  Learning to take the “change” with balance and integrity, forms a good portion of how you walk in your life. There is nothing abstract about paying bills. And there is nothing casual about missing mortgage payments.

Are intimate relationships worth it?

We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

I think so. But I also know the “relationship” to myself comes before my ability to relate to another person.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — nada surf, concrete bed

When I don’t have my own shit together, so to speak, it gets messy pretty quick. However, if I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship (whatever the form: lover, inspiration, ex-wife) and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

If you don’t have a clear link with your plans, if you don’t have a PLAN, you are likely to be misdirected by relationships.

There are three kinds of relationships that are most important in my life.

  1. Relationship to self and god. (*my* spiritual program and self-care regimen)
  2. Relationship to my children. (a life-long lesson in humility and blessings)
  3. Relationship to another person.

In my failing marriage, my therapist said to me,”It seems like she’s cut her flame off from you. She is protecting her flame for some reason.”

The metaphor worked for me.

“You should probably let her go. You deserve someone who can stand unshielded with you. Next to your flame. Someone who can burn brightly WITH and BESIDE you.”

Yes. We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

However, without our own flame, we are more likely to be looking for a light. That’s the wrong way to enter into a relationship.

So there you have it. Are relationships where it’s at? YES. And there are THREE of them. We have 100% responsibility for the first one. Relationship to self and god. (Please put whatever *concept* for god in there that fits with your belief.)

We have a lot of control over the initial trust and love of the second one: Relationship to my children. At some point, they will fly under their own power, but at this critical juncture, they need all the guidance and inspiration they can handle.

And on the final one: Relationship to another person. The loaded gun is in our hands. Either we have a clear understanding of our goals and purpose in holding it or we don’t. Either way, the gun is still in our hands. And the gun is always loaded.

Sincerely,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

< back to On Dating Again index

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image: man and woman on a date, creative commons usage