Divorced Parenting Requires a New Kind of Love

Children with divorced parents spend a lot of time waving from windows. It's sad. Put them first. Always. (Image/Time)

Children with divorced parents spend a lot of time waving from windows. It’s sad. Put them first. Always. (Image/Time)

Oreoanonymous asked:

I have been watching the struggle of my mother’s partner from his point of view, with only small comments on his ex to go on. The struggle is for time with their little girl. From the point of view that I have, the ex seems to be the one being the dickhead. Yet part of me thinks that’s an unfair thing to assume. Just because she stops the lass from visiting some weekends and then shows up unexpectedly because she wants a night off on others, that’s maybe… bad communication? Or misunderstanding? I don’t know.

Do you have experience with the custodial thing? Could you write about it?

Fortunately, it was never up for debate.

When my wife and I divorced two years ago, we agreed that an equal-time shared-parenting agreement made the most sense for us and our son who was just about to enter kindergarten.

Even though your heart is broken in a million pieces because of your relationship ending, the hardest part of divorce for most parents inevitably involves the fallout surrounding their children.

There are hurt feelings. Financial concerns. Scheduling headaches. Extra things to remember (which I’m historically bad about). All kinds of fears and sensitivities surrounding your child’s safety and well being when you’re not around. And maybe the biggest—a complete lack of control regarding who your ex might date or marry, and to what extent that might influence your child’s life.

The Right Way to Parent After Divorce

I’m not saying my judgment is always best. I may be totally screwing up my son because of things I do or don’t do. I’m not saying I know the best way to be a divorced father. I’m saying, logistically and behaviorally, my ex and I have found a way that works for us. Our son seems to benefit from it.

I can say with certainty and pride that if there’s an optimum way for divorced parents to cooperate and work together in the interest of a child’s well being, my son’s mother and I are doing it right.

We communicate constantly. Close to daily. If scheduling conflicts are on the horizon, we discuss it ahead of time and reshuffle our schedules accordingly. We back one another up in case of illness. Change our personal schedules for special occasions. Attend school functions and extracurricular activities together. We are constantly doing favors for one another, which I think breeds goodwill and eliminates any and all stress for our child.

That boy comes first. He never doesn’t.

We never call one another to say: “Hey! I want to go out partying this weekend! Will you please keep him???”

We also never squabble over when he is to be with one of us. If there is a special event of some kind—a wedding, or unique opportunity to attend a family event—we always accommodate the other.

Our individual wants don’t come first. Our son comes first.

When my parents divorced when I was 4 and my mom moved us 500 miles away from my dad, my parents battled in court for full-time custody of me. The judge awarded custody to my mother. So, I lived in Ohio throughout the school year, and would visit my dad for 9-10 weeks over summer breaks and 1-2 weeks over winter breaks.

And that’s just how it was for me growing up. Not optimum.

When my wife and I first separated, I assumed we would trade weeks. One week on, one week off. Brutal. But clean and simple. And infinitely better than how I remember it with my dad.

Everything my ex and I heard and read said young children suffer emotionally and psychologically from being away from a parent for that much time. So we had to figure out a better, albeit more complicated, way.

There are MANY different 50-50 parenting schedules out there that work for people because of geography or work schedules or other circumstances.

Here’s what worked for us:

Monday and Tuesday – Child with one parent.

Wednesday and Thursday – Child with other parent.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Child back with other parent.

And on and on it goes, constantly flip-flopping (save for the occasional juggling and makeup days we do to help one another).

The positives are that it keeps the weekends even, and cleanly divides the time even though calendar weeks are an inconvenient odd number of days.

The negatives are that it’s REALLY hard to be part of social groups or organized activities that take place at the same time and day each week, because every other week you are unavailable to participate. And it also requires intense THOUGHTFULNESS AND COOPERATION.

For example, when your child participates in sports or other activities, or has special projects or events for school, BOTH parents must communicate and back one another up regarding having the correct clothes or uniform or shoes a child might need, or for completing work on a project, or even just to notify one another about upcoming stuff on the school calendar.

It means you have to swallow your pride and always be available to answer the phone or a text message. It means you have to soften your heart. It means you sometimes have to drop whatever you’re doing because your ex needs an outfit or school document delivered for your kid.

It seems like a lot of people are incapable of doing, or refuse to do this, because they’re angry, selfish, or something else.

I think children suffer for it.

The Wrong Way to Parent After Divorce

I don’t always know what’s right, but it’s generally easy to spot what’s wrong.

Here are the things I see divorced parents do often that gives me the most heartburn:

Selfishness

Sometimes, parents want to do what they want to do more than they want to spend time with their kids, or help maintain the kids’ routines.

I hear about dads scheduling last-minute golf trips or Vegas trips with buddies and not being available for their scheduled time with children.

I hear about moms wanting to go party all night at the bars so “just keep them an extra night, okay??”

A well-coordinated, equally split schedule yields the flexibility to build in all the selfish time you want for you. It just requires a bit of foresight and planning. If you’re bad at that like me, and your kids are scheduled to be with you during that fun thing that’s coming up? Sorry about your luck, I guess? Love your kids. They deserve it.

Dating

Moms and dads all over the place will sometimes start casually dating, and just have their new boyfriend or girlfriend (sometimes, multiple!) around even when the kids are home, just because they like having sex so much.

MAYBE this has no impact on children. I don’t claim to be a child psychologist. But I have to believe it exposes them to shit they’re just not ready to process maturely. Also, little kids often like everyone, so if they attach to the new boyfriends and girlfriends, they often have to deal with loss again when their mom or dad breaks up a month later. Ugh. I just think it’s a total asshole move.

In two years of being single, I have not introduced my son to, or met a child of, someone I dated (minus the mom of one of his friends/classmates who he already knew. Public Service Announcement: Don’t date parents of your kids’ classmates. Just, don’t.)

Please wait until confidence is REALLY high that you’re in a committed, long-term relationship before involving children. Pretty please.

Revenge

I’ve heard a couple stories about parents who straight-up refuse to share and cooperate. One dad told his son’s mother that he will NEVER exchange weekends under any circumstances, and that the clothes he buys for his kid stay with him, and that mom doesn’t get them, ever. (I don’t know what this looks like on transition days! Nudity?)

It’s not because they’re the dumbest, most-unreasonable people to walk the earth.

It’s because they’re angry at their exes, and they’re going to use their children as pawns in their power plays. They want to feel in control of a situation in which no one can have control.

Sure, maybe your ex will suffer a little bit.

In the end, your child (and your relationship with that child) will suffer more. Those are sad stories.

The Post-Marriage Relationship when Children are Involved

A new kind of love is required.

It is a difficult, emotionally painful, pride-swallowing affair.

If you didn’t have kids, you maybe would have never had to see one another or speak to one another again. But you do have kids. And you’re “stuck” with each other for better or worse until your children are independent adults, and probably for long after.

So, love. Just love.

You didn’t get it right in your marriage. You messed up. Here’s your chance to do something right. A little redemption.

Love.

Be kind.

Be helpful.

Be generous.

Give more than you take.

Always put your children first.

This is one tangible way to show your children what love and class and grace and kindness look like.

A tangible way to light up the darkness.

And that always changes everything.

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21 thoughts on “Divorced Parenting Requires a New Kind of Love

  1. anitvan says:

    I always appreciate when you write about the issues of single parenthood.

    My son is in a position similar to yours – his marriage broke up when his sons were both under two years old.

    The way you described how you and your son’s mom co-written is identical to what I see between my son and my daughter-in-law.

    It may seems funny to say so, but they are each others best friend. Honestly? They treat each other with more love, compassion and respect than they ever did during their marriage. That part of it kinda breaks my heart, but at the same time I couldn’t be prouder of those two for putting the interests of their boys above all else. It really did require a new kind of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      That’s a nice story. I’m glad you’re witnessing it first-hand. There’s so much anger right at the beginning. But you’re never angry with your kids. So you just keep doing what’s best for them and before you know it, you and their other parent are healing yourselves too.

      It’s a very good thing.

      Like

  2. .. I knew there was a reason I was compelled to ask. Thanks Matt :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa says:

    Your writings on this /these matters is so spot on! It’s heart breaking your sensitivity and openness with your relentless ability to share your gritty truths. Just when I think I must be an “old bag” cuz I don’t really get the humor in some of your pieces….. Hello.. “Bill Rodgers” you post something that blows me out of the water.
    Love your candor and truth speaking .
    Pps… the occasional post that goes over my head is all me… not you .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much. It’s nice to know my immaturity doesn’t cost me with everyone. I have a unique ability to act 50 or 12, depending on my mood or the situation.

      I appreciate your patience with me during my less-mature moments. Unfortunately, they are also authentic. :)

      Like

  4. nights7 says:

    That “everything I buy stays at my house” thing, it looks like kids wearing the exact same thing on the transition day they arrived on & the one they left on even if it’s not weather or occassion appropriate (for example a baseball uniform on an eighty degree afternoon). Apparently that requires a box right inside the door where they must put every thing they’re wearing in as soon as they get there so they can put it back on at the end the week…exactly as it was. It also looks like different backpacks, shoes, & jackets at school every other week. It looks like kids changing identities to adapt to the standards of each household, to match who they’re supposed to be with which house they’re at. It’s really not the best for anyone. In case you really were wondering what that looks like.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Don’t know what to say.

      I’m sorry you and the kids have to deal with that. It doesn’t seem sand or sensible to me to put everyone through that.

      Like

  5. Phoenix says:

    I wish. That’s all I can say. I wish. But he was selfish during the marriage and he is a hundred times worse after the separation and the divorce. He claims to want peace and communication and to co-parent mutually, but that just translates into do what I say and ask and don’t ever ask for reciprocation. Except he Nevers see it as that. And unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to deal with him anymore.

    So I have to keep him at more than arms length and by the book, the divorce arrangement. Cause nothing works.

    But to all that can make it work, I applaud and salute you, honestly. I can only wish and I most definitely pray that it will happen for me one day.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I hope and pray for that, too. Time heals all wounds, they say. And you’re a prayer. Pray for peace inside that man long enough and demonstrate compassion along the way, and there’s little reason to think you won’t get there.

      Nice to hear from you. I hope you’re having a good weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Phoenix says:

        Thank u for you kind words. I will definitely keep praying and I will keep trying to be compassionate when he’s stressing the crap outta me! Lol! Always good to hear from you, Matt! U have a great week!

        Like

  6. v0brien says:

    My divorce was awful. Maybe someday I’ll have the nerve to share it. Your writing lights up my darkness. Continue. And be well, Matt. :)

    Like

  7. Misty Ewegen says:

    You are doing it just right. We have a 2-3-2 schedule as well and it works very well for the children. We adopted it in part because I work with families in high conflict divorces to determine the best parenting arrangements for the kids.

    Also allowing regular phone contact with the other parent on your time can help as well.

    Sadly many couples use their children against each other and that is very hard on them. Unless there is a safety concern, i.e. substance abuse, domestic violence, etc, a co-parenting plan centered around the age appropriate needs of you children is the best thing for their development, happiness, and sense of stability.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I appreciate that feedback. Thank you. I feel good about how we do things. Mom talks to him almost every day he’s with me. We have open lines both ways. I’m very grateful for how “well” an unfortunate situation has worked out thus far. I won’t celebrate it. But it’s a good example of doing the best we can under less-than-ideal circumstances.

      Like

  8. That is so nice and encouraging to hear! I know one couple that has divorced and remarried. Between the four of them, they have 12 children. I cannot believe how they all manage to put those kids first and make it work, but it’s a sight to behold.

    There are some sad and ugly stories out there and kids really do suffer the most from selfish parents, so it’s always so nice to hear that it doesn’t have to be that way, that there is a better way to do it and many people are actually living it out.

    Like

  9. Vince says:

    When I was freshly divorced one of my best friends would say, “You are really lucky the way things worked out, you know?” That would bug the hell out of me because I didn’t feel lucky at all. I felt like I had been gutted and left to die on the side of some isolated road. Forward some time later and I began to say to myself, “man you are lucky, you know?” There was never a time when we fought about the kids or anything during the divorce process or now. Things were and continue to be respectful and all done in the best interest of the four lives we have in common and for that I am so grateful. She’s a good mom and I am a good dad.

    Thinking back to my childhood something that I really disliked is how my mother dated guys and always had them around from the get go. When you’re young you tend to attach to people easily and I would get attached to these men. The problem was they were around for long enough for me to think of them like a dad but then they were gone and the process would repeat. It was like seeing my parents divorce over and over. I hated it and always knew that if I found myself dating as a divorced dad I would never do that to my own kids. My rule is I won’t introduce a woman to my kids unless I am sure the dating process has evolved to the point where we will be together for a long time. I believe that to be in the best interest of the kids.

    Like

  10. Jennifer says:

    I recently found your blog and it’s very refreshing. You and ex wife are a perfect example of co parenting.

    When I was little, the court awarded custody to my mom, which was the biggest mistake. She ended up alienating my brother and I from my father and his family. Injunctions were filed against her, but nothing was ever enforced nor was she held accountable for her actions. Personally, I think she has a personality disorder.

    Now my brother went through something similar recently, but his ex wife ended giving him full custody of their children so she could do “her own thing”.

    Anyways, the point of me sharing this with you is my brother wants to start a website to advocate for fathers rights. Majority of men have very little rights to their children after a divorce. I’ve been brainstorming ideas for him to get started and I thought he should start with Twitter or a blog.

    My brother is witty and super funny, I think he would enjoy your blog and I think it’s great example of how a person can share a message. Really, your blog is totally awesome and it’s inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      This was really nice of your take time to write. Thank you. Hard to imagine a life where my son’s other parent couldn’t be counted on. As shitty as divorce is, I’m very blessed to have a great parenting partner. And I like to focus on the good stuff.

      I wish the best for your brother. It’s a noble cause, for sure.

      Like

  11. amestravel says:

    Wow, I just found your blog and I am completely blown away by this emotion and honesty you write with.

    I’m so glad you and your ex are there for your son. My parents divorced when I was 20 and it was awful. I don’t live in the same state at them, but it still felt like a battle over me. Every phone call, every minute I spent with the other when visiting when counted. They don’t understand why I rarely visit now. Please, please, never do this to your son.

    Liked by 1 person

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