single parenting after divorce

Our marriage at that point, was like trying to figure out how to stay in love while our house was on fire.

Things were not great in my marriage over the last two years of our cohabitation and co-parenting experiment. What broke down between us was not 100% clear until I was several years out of the marriage. Simply put: my ex-wife did not want to go back to work, ever. She wanted me to provide the stay-at-home lifestyle that was stretching me too thin, mentally, spiritually, and most critical, physically. I got laid off from Dell in the 2009/2010 financial crisis along with 50% of my Global Online marketing group. While I saw the six-month severance as an opportunity, my then-wife saw it as a threat.

The first Monday of my layoff victory lap was disturbed by a heated lunch with my then-wife. She was certain six months was too short a time for me to refactor my career and decide what direction I wanted to go where I would not be stress eating, commuting 45 minutes to an hour each way, and getting fat and depressed. She was having none of my whinings. She wanted me to get the next-Dell job. That she was laid off at the same time, was stressful, but the clarity of the situation was lost on my then-wife.

We were both afraid. We both wanted more time to be with our lovely children. (5 and 7 at the time.) And we did not communicate very well. We were in some sort of unspoken power struggle. She demanded I get back to work while she went soulsearching for her next career move. Hmm. Something in that equation is off. She wanted time off to “find herself.” She wanted me to continue to sacrifice my health and well-being in the name of the family.

Best for the kids: Staying Married

We didn’t want our children to suffer, ever. We wanted to stay together and keep the facade of the successful happy upper-middle-class white family. I think my then-wife wanted was clinging to that illusion harder than she was clinging to me as her husband. While she spent the next year seeking career nirvana, I worked several jobs until I landed the “next big job.”

The first day of my new job, my company flew me to San Francisco to meet with the other half of my team as part of my orientation and onboarding. The company was going to pay for the room, but they had not given the hotel its credit card number yet. My wife was furious. “We don’t have the money to float your hotel room,” she yelled. She was attacking me about the failing of my new employer just as this new job was saving our asses. She often attacked before considering the whole picture. Onward into the divorce.

Our Work-Life Balance Needed to Change

Even my then-wife was ready for a change of some kind. But her choices began to include divorce as an option. She met with a lawyer to discuss her options before mentioning it to me. She dutifully went to couple’s therapy at the same time she was building financial models in excel for her upcoming divorce. She was a planner and financially-focused mom. She was getting ready for the war long before letting me know she was about to ask me to leave the family, the family home, and 70% of my parenting time.

The change needed to happen in our marriage. And perhaps the job struggles illuminated more than my then-wife was comfortable with exposing. She did not want to go back to work. She wanted to meet the bus after school and spend the afternoons with our kids. [Um, yeah, I’d like to sign up for that job too.]

What Are We Fighting For?

At some point along the course of the year after my Dell layoff, my then-wife began to plan for the divorce. In the same way she liked printed packing lists for vacations, she probably had a detailed roadmap for her life as a single mom, long before I knew my marriage was in trouble. Wait, check that, before I was told that my marriage was over. Once one partner breaches the subject of divorce, the core trust in the marriage is gone. I was aware and working on the discord in our relationship, but I was fighting from the belief that our marriage was solid and worth fighting for. My then-wife was already checking out of my life, she just didn’t tell me about it.

When she was found out in couple’s therapy, she was contrite about her “options” planning with a divorce attorney. I still wonder if she was staying in therapy with me to keep me optimistic and compliant while she was arranging her armies for a march against the king. I was fighting for my marriage. She was getting ready to fight her way out of our marriage. That’s an unfair advantage, for sure. But more damning, her tactics cut at the heart of marriage and honesty. She was lying to me in our couple’s therapy. She was going to bed each night for months with spreadsheets of HIGH and LOW predictions about her next adventure: becoming a single mom.

Who Caused the Divorce?

When a popular couple decides to divorce, everyone is looking for sides. “Why are they getting divorced?” And everyone is looking for the story behind the divorce. We’re fascinated by car wrecks and horror movies. We’re interested and supportive of our friends who are going through a breakup. But we really want to know, “What happened? Did he cheat on you?”

In modern times, it is often the man who is assumed to be the cause of the divorce. Stereotypes tell us that men cheat, that men can’t commit, that men are less emotionally available than women. And, more critically, that men are less important to their young children. In our current culture of divorce, moms are often seen as the victims of divorce, or victims of a man who did the family wrong. In my case, it was exactly the opposite. My wife abandoned the marriage for her own selfish reasons. She didn’t want to go back to work. The hard reality that hit as she began planning for the upcoming divorce was that she needed a full-time job, and quick.

When my then-wife decided to divorce me she found a job in a month. She had been searching for herself (not contributing any cash) the entire year prior to asking for the divorce. She needed the job to keep the house even with my agreed upon child support of $1,500 per month. She was doing the math and working out her plan. And, as a good fighter, she kept me in the dark about the depth of her anger and disappointment. In the end, she made the choice that altered all of our lives for reasons that were more financial than emotional. My then-wife wasn’t concerned with my wellbeing or my health, she was determined to keep the nice house and the part-time schedule, no matter the cost to the rest of us.

Evaluating Our Divorce Story: How it worked out

My wife asked me to leave the house that afternoon, to tell my kids I had to go on a business trip. She was certain what she needed was some alone time with the kids, so “they” could get some relief from the stress and tension in our marriage. But the crisis was only in my then-wife’s mind. As she had been calculating and modeling the financial costs of divorcing me, she was living the discord, she was acting as if things were cool, while she was making plans to kick me out of our young family.

My life collapsed beneath me the day I walked out of our house and gave away my custodial parenting rights.

I made a mistake. I agreed to collaborate and do some version of a cooperative divorce. All the time, my then-wife knew the legal process and knew that by filing for divorce, she was likely to get the best deal for her. In theory, the Standard Possession Order is “in the best interest of the children,” but that is bullshit meant to lighten the loads on family courts in the state of Texas. In theory, in 2010 I probably would’ve lost my fight for 50/50 shared parenting. Regardless, I should’ve fought for 50/50 parenting schedule.

In the summer of 2009, over the course of a few weeks, I lost 70% of my time with my kids and a huge portion of my future income for the next 12 years. I’m still paying my ex-wife. And she’s still convinced that the Attorney General’s Office is the only reason I’m paying. She still working the numbers in her spreadsheet based on what’s she’s entitled to. It’s right there in the divorce decree I agreed to. She gets the kids, the house, and the first $2,300 of my pre-tax income every month. Sounds like the Divorce Brochure worked out pretty well for her.

Fighting for 50/50 Shared Parenting

I can’t go back and redo my divorce or the last ten years. I feel the sadness of losing my kids every day. My ex-wife has experienced very little disturbance from the life we built together. Sure, she’s remarried and living in the house I paid/pay for. And my kids have gotten to stay in the fancy school district with the good schools and millionaire neighbors. So, today, the divorce is “just what happened.” And in my life, the divorce broke open my creative passion again. It’s true, that most of my creative energy has gone into blogging/writing about my divorce and the challenges of being a single dad. But more fundamentally, my ex-wife showed me that trust and honesty are not about a decree or a legally binding settlement. She broke all the rules of trust and honesty when she orchestrated her divorce from me, as she might negotiate a multi-year lease agreement.

So, she was justified in “going for the divorce” and all that she could get. She was also justified, in her mind, in arguing and then demanding the 70/30 parenting schedule of the standard possession order. She won all the battles over the last ten years.  She has got 100% of the power. And she’s got the state of Texas on her side. She filed against me with the AG’s office to bludgeon me. She was not concerned about me becoming a deadbeat dad. She just wanted to hurt me. And every day that my ex-wife keeps the AG’s office on my ass, as a deadbeat dad, she is saying, “Fuck you,” directly to me.

There was never any need for the AG’s office to be involved in my divorce. There was never any question about my willingness to pay my child support obligation. What changed is my wife didn’t like the smirk on my face that came from being blissfully happy about the divorce. While the divorce was driven by her own ego and her own self-centered plans, she was not suddenly happy. The divorce did not make my ex-wife happy. However, we can make a note that the marriage did not make her happy either.

But why does my ex-wife keep the AG’s office in the enforcement business against me?

She’s still mad at me for failing her in the marriage. I see things a bit differently, but there you go. We no longer have to agree or find agreement. In the divorce she was able to stop compromising with me, she was ultimately able to stop co-parenting with me, and she still got the kids and the money. She has played all her trump cards and she’s still not happy. She’s remarried and she’s still not happy. She might not ever be happy. That’s no longer my problem.

And as my kids emerge from her toxic and angry household, they will be able to see what happened more clearly. I do pray for the happiness of my ex-wife. Her anger and sadness have shaped a lot about of my kid’s lives. My optimism and enthusiasm has been less of a contributor, due to the disparity of time after a divorce.

Dad’s Lose 70% of their time with the kids.

Are dads less important in a child’s life? The research is coming in, that both parents are equally important in raising healthy and balanced kids. Why won’t our states recognize this truth and begin divorce negotiation on the even playing field of 50/50 shared parenting?

Part of my mission over the next several years is to fight for 50/50 parenting as the norm for families in Texas. I was not able to make this happen for myself. But I can help future fathers get better treatment by their soon-to-be-ex-wives. When the financial weapon is no longer available to women gearing up for divorce, perhaps they would reconsider breaking up the family for selfish reasons. Perhaps, in the case of my ex-wife, they would not.

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas

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