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

Creative Parenting and the Gifts of Enthusiastic Participation

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playing with the kidsI used to get criticized by the ex for how much I liked to play with the kids as opposed to discipline and enforce rules with them. (I think this is a very common husband-wife issue.) She would want the family to do chores and I’d be out back chasing them around the yard, or playing tickle tag on the bed, completely messing the house up.

Maybe men and women have different styles. The dad is the one who’s supposed to rough-house. The mom is the one who’s supposed to offer comfort and tenderness. The dad is the one who’s supposed to play games, incite rule-breaking, and ignore curfews. The mom is the one who has to slog away in the kitchen until the dishes are done and the counters are all spotless.

BUT… I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way. And I think my ex could have had a profound effect on the kids had she spent more time in high-energy play rather than angry-energy chore-master.

Let’s see how things have turned out so far.

My kids have never wondered about how much I loved them. I was usually there wrestling and hugging and soothing the bumps that come from falling off the bed the 15th time. We have a physical closeness that still draws them to jump in the “big bed” when they stay over at my house. WIN.

While my musical pursuits have never paid off financially, both my kids love music and they both play an instrument. My son, 12, even got a middle-school award for his orchestra enthusiasm. WIN.

Gaming and other flights of imagination. My son has become the ringleader of a small band of Minecraft kids from his school. Essentially they quest together, with my son playing the narrator role. (Like dungeon master in D n D.)

And while my kitchen sink is still often filled with dishes (how did I buy a house without a dishwasher again?) my kids are clean, happy, and on-time for school and other events. And there is ZERO nagging or complaining about chores or homework. It’s a very different place here at my house than the days when I was parenting with the ex.

And perhaps some of it comes down to core approach to relationships. In an early example, I recall my then-wife demanding of my 2nd-grade daughter, “If you don’t get your homework done, right now, there will be no TV.” My daughter burst into tears. As I joined the scene, I asked, “Hey honey, how’s your homework going? Is there anything I can help you with?”

One approach was authoritarian and matter of fact, but it lacked any compassion or connectivity with the child. My approach was to join with my daughter and see what she needed to get her work done.

My kids are continuing to thrive after the divorce. And I give credit to my ex for working hard to keep our friction out of our kid’s lives. But she treats me in the same way she commanded my daughter, “Where’s the money you owe me? How much can you pay? When can you pay it? Oh, and btw, I’m sorry you’re having trouble.” I guess it’s the way she was raised.

My kids have been raised to expect a warm and joining approach to school work, problems, and aspirations. I’m always on their side. And they have been given an example of a life filled with enthusiastic play and love of playing music. I think those are transferable skills that will continue to serve them throughout their lives. And I couldn’t be happier with that picture.


The Off Parent

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John McElhenney

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