Tag Archives: Children

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

happy face

“Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)

How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.

But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.

I don’t think people want to admit that.

I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.

Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?

Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.

I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.

And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?

Maybe it’s Just Me

I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.

I don’t feel depressed all the time.

My life doesn’t suck.

BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.

And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.

Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say

I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.

My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)

Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.

No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.

In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.

We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.

Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.

It’s still true right now.

I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.

Why?

(This is the depressing part.)

So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).

In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.

To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.

But that’s a personal problem.

What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.

They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.

But we don’t have time for platitudes.

We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”

We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.

We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.

In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.

It makes us better romantic partners.

It makes us better parents.

It makes us better friends.

It makes us better members of the workforce.

It makes us better human beings.

The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places

Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.

Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.

Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”

Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.

And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.

Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.

The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)

But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.

We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.

Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.

But you must.

And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.

We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to the buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.

I think goals are amazing.

I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.

But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.

We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.

It’s a feeling.

And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.

With our spouses or romantic partners.

With our children.

With our co-workers.

We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.

It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”

So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.

But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.

It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.

It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.

We’re broken.

Messy.

Imbalanced and unsteady.

Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.

No agenda.

Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.

We forget to play.

We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.

When things just felt better.

When we were happy.

When life was fun.

It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?

Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.

Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.

But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.

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The Fastest Way to Stop Feeling Angry: How a Dying Child Changed the World

father hugging children

(Image/penneylaw.com)

“I hate you, dad!” he yelled from his bedroom. “You always want me to do things how you would do them, and I don’t want to! I’ll never be like you! You’re the worst dad ever!”

I was getting a divorce the last time I lost my breath while standing still.

The little person I love most in the world is about to turn 9.

He had refused to follow some simple instructions, said something dickheaded, so I sent my only child to his room to think about it for a while and threatened to cancel his upcoming birthday plans if he didn’t leave the door closed.

I’m sure I did it wrong.

He got angry and yelled a bunch of unkind things from behind his door that I’d never heard him say before.

It feels sometimes like he’s all I have. He’s the only person who gets everything I have to give. My entire life literally revolves around his wellbeing and needs.

I hate you, dad, he’d said.

That left a mark.

I’m pretty sure Maria McNamara never said something like that to her parents. And I’m pretty sure her parents—Ed and Megan—never sent her to her room for being a little shit-machine.

Maybe that would have happened at 17. Maybe after dad told her: “You’re not walking out of this house looking like that, young lady,” or after mom told her: “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do with your phone, Maria. We love you and if we have to read your texts to understand what’s going on in your life and keep you safe, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Probably not, though.

maria mcnamara - prayers from maria

Maria McNamara (Image/Prayers From Maria)

Look at that cute freaking face. That’s the face of a future class president, or the girl who won’t let others feel left out and who always stands up for the kids getting picked on, and then credits her parents for instilling good values and setting a great example.

Maria McNamara would be 17 today, enjoying her final high school summer break before senior year. She’d be getting her senior photos taken pretty soon. Maybe she’d have a boyfriend.

Maria died when she was 7.

One day, everything was normal and her parents probably felt frustrated with her and maybe occasionally used frustrated-parent tones with her. And then the next day doctors told them their baby girl had a cancerous brain tumor and would die within a year’s time.

“We knew on that day that our lives had changed forever and that we would never be the same again,” Megan McNamara wrote.

[NOTE: If you want to quit reading or are in a hurry, please at least scroll quickly to the bottom of this post to learn about a child killer we can identify AND do something about.]

I often wonder how much I’m getting wrong as father.

He’s my only child.

I wonder how verbalizing my frustration with certain things he does or doesn’t do might harm him. There’s a happy medium somewhere between not sweating the small stuff and providing adequate parental guidance.

I replay moments in my head and wonder to what extent he maybe feels like I’m too critical of him, or somehow disappointed in him.

I write a blog with a name symbolically rooted in the powerful human desire to feel adequate and accepted—to feel like we’re “enough.” If I foster feelings of inadequacy in my little boy, shame on me. He must always know he’s enough. I hope I can figure out how to always make him feel so.

What if I died today?, I wonder sometimes.

Maybe my heart will stop suddenly in my sleep. Maybe I’ll get T-boned at an intersection by a high-speed driver who never saw the light. Maybe I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get killed in an armed robbery.

What will my son feel and believe about himself because of these moments?

I don’t know.

But I do know that if I knew today was my last day with him, I certainly wouldn’t be wasting time on anger or sending him to his room.

I know that if I knew today was my last day with my son, he would never feel like I’m being hard on him. He would never feel anything except all of the intense and unconditional love I have for him.

In a life where ANYTHING can and does happen, one wonders how we so easily lose perspective on The Things That Matter.

Whoever you would want to see and talk to. Wherever you would want to be. Whatever activity you would want to be doing. In our final hours.

Those are the things that matter.

How easily we forget.

Little Maria had a brain tumor called a glioma. It is the second-deadliest form of cancer in children.

Her dad and mom, Ed and Megan, searched desperately for a way to save Maria. What they discovered was that cancer research focused on glioma prevention or recovery was virtually non-existent.

They then spent the next 14 months feeling unimaginable things—they and their three other children.

“In the course of the 14 months from Maria’s diagnosis, we watched her go from having balance issues, double vision, sleeping excessively and vomiting to bouncing back almost completely to normal after radiation in what is known as the ‘false hope’ stage,” Megan McNamara wrote. “From there the tumor began to grow back and eventually rob her of everything a child loves to do. She endured horrendous debilitating headaches. Eventually eating, swallowing and breathing became difficult. She watched as her body slowly began to shut down. I wasn’t even able to hug her tightly as it caused too much pain. As she saw herself becoming worse, Maria would tell us ‘I think we should go back to St. Jude’s.’ We had to tell her that St. Jude’s could no longer do anything for her anymore.”

How Little Maria Spent Her Final Days

She didn’t feel sorry for herself nor spend time praying for herself.

She spent her final days intent on praying for other children and other families battling cancer.

“Through it all, Maria showed tremendous character and dignity. Her strength, her courage and, most of all, her faith, left marks on our souls that have changed us forever,” her mom wrote. “She never thought of herself. Instead she chose to pray for all children suffering from cancer and their families. She prayed that the doctors would find a way to help them. She is our hero and her fight became our inspiration. Her prayers became our mission.”

Lighting Up the Darkness

People sometimes say “Everything happens for a reason,” and I don’t like it for the very reason that sometimes little kids get cancer, and I’m sorry, but I’m not okay with attaching concepts like Fate or Purpose to Maria’s death and the agony felt by her parents and siblings.

But I also understand that THIS is why people say that.

The suffering endured by Maria and her family provided an opportunity for a tiny person with a giant heart to inspire those around her.

And now we have Prayers From Maria – Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation, dedicated to funding global research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for these childhood brain tumors.

 

Why I’m Writing About This and Why it Matters So Much to Me

I know a guy.

He is easily among the best and most-inspiring people I know. He has become a personally significant mentor and friend. He owns a web-design firm with a few business partners. They are amazing people doing amazing work. Their company’s stated mission and purpose is “to help humans flourish.”

Not to maximize profit (though they run a fine business). But simply to—as a business—lift people up.

Their remarkable team walks that walk on and off the clock. My personal admiration for them knows no bounds.

They are donating a bunch of their time, talents and money to Prayers From Maria.

They didn’t stick their hands out asking my consulting partners and I, or anyone else, to help offset their costs. They said simply that this is an amazing organization doing difference-making work and invited us to be a part of helping people who need and deserve it.

I feel honored to be asked, and would have wanted to help them EVEN IF the cause didn’t matter to me.

But I’m a father. This matters to me.

I think about how fast my son is growing. Too fast.

I think about how I’m not promised tomorrow, or even five minutes from now.

How everything can change at any moment.

How truly, humbly, grateful I feel right now to have a healthy little boy.

How grateful I feel to have another opportunity to hug his precious face and see about mindfully adjusting how I communicate with him. About mindfully adjusting how I choose to think and act today with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To be here.

Right now.

Soon it will be time to go hug my son.

Almost 9 years old. Who’s luckier than me?

Maybe you. I hope you feel this too. The thing that replaces hurt and anger when we see things from another perspective.

Thank you for being you, Maria McNamara. For all you gave. And all you continue to.

Do Something Amazing Today

I don’t feel good asking you for things. If I ever get a book finished, I’ll surely be spamming you with pleas to purchase five copies.

I’m trying to save whatever goodwill I’ve earned for that.

But some things are bigger than me and more important than how comfortable I feel.

Right now, there’s a father somewhere who is about my age who has a son about 8 or 9 years old. Like me. But instead of getting ready to celebrate his birthday, he’s saying goodbye. Helpless. Trying to be strong for his wife and family. Trying to keep it together at work.

Right now, there’s a little boy out there around my son’s age who will grow up to be a father himself. And one of his kids is going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Today, that diagnosis would be a death sentence.

But tomorrow, it doesn’t have to be.

Please join me in helping people save the lives of children and give hope to their parents.

There is no amount too small to give.

Thank you so much for reading this and doing something meaningful for other people today.

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Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents

Who's #1?

(Image/The Bullvine)

Where does your spouse or romantic partner rank in your life?

Take all the time you need to think before answering. Just don’t be a lying doucheface when you make your list.

Ever have your wife ask you to fold a basket of laundry or clean up after dinner, and you said you would but really you just ended up playing video games all night? Unless it was a legit one-time incident, don’t rank your spouse ahead of video games on your list.

Ever have your husband ask you to not complain about him to your mother or discuss intimate details of your private sex life with your friends? Unless you did so as part of consulting those you trust for marital wisdom, don’t rank your spouse ahead of gossiping with your friends, mom, or whoever.

I think many—perhaps most—people have other things and people ranked ahead of their spouses. They won’t say it. But they don’t have to. You can see what people do.

Ranking anything ahead of your spouse is the most surefire way I know to create mistrust and instability in a marriage which often leads to divorce and almost always unhappiness for everyone involved.

Here’s how I think many married guys would publically rank their Life Things (I’m intentionally leaving Faith out of the conversation as it often proves to be an unproductive and distracting argument starter – though I think it’s fair to note that I’ve never heard of a divorce resulting from two people putting their God and faith first in their marriage):

  1. Marital Family
  2. Family of Origin
  3. Job
  4. Friends
  5. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity

But here’s how I think many married guys actually prioritize their Life Things, according to their actions:

  1. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
  2. Job
  3. Friends
  4. Family of Origin
  5. Marital Family

I work hard at not blaming my ex-wife for our divorce. I get more blog comments and private messages encouraging me to start putting more blame on her than I’d prefer. Each and every message like that tends to signify that someone doesn’t understand what it means to accept personal responsibility, which means they’re going to feel like a victim every time something bad happens for their rest of their lives until they learn how to flip that around.

But there are thousands of wives reading here too, and several have asked for help understanding what kinds of wifely behavior can destroy a marriage.

And for me, it was THIS.

I feel like my wife prioritized her family of origin over our marriage. Later, she doubled-down by giving 95% of herself to our son when it was just the three of us. I thought I was being noble by not calling that one out. ALSO, I’d already screwed up so badly at being a husband by that point, that there’s no intellectually honest or fair way to predict how she might have been after childbirth had I been a kick-ass husband leading up to becoming parents.

What About the Kids? Shouldn’t They Come First?

Nope. They shouldn’t. And, as a father who loves his little boy more than anything else on this planet, I struggle writing that.

It twists my insides a little. That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Prioritizing anyone or anything over your wife or husband is the most surefire way I know to destroy your family.

In marriage, either your spouse is #1, or you’re doing it wrong.

I say that without judgment. I’m divorced largely because I prioritized all kinds of bullshit ahead of my wife and our relationship.

I offer it only as a thought exercise, because I think MOST married people put at least something ahead of their marriage.

And yes, that includes our children. And yes, that includes our parents and families of origin. And yes, that idea makes me uncomfortable.

But it’s still true.

“WAIT. Matt. Are you seriously saying we should choose our husbands and wives over our children? I can ALMOST understand the parents thing. But the kids? My kids come first no matter what!”

Do they really?

When we teach our children that they are the most important things in life, and that if they want our attention they’re going to get it, and that if they need something it is magically done for them, and that the marriage between mom and dad isn’t the top priority, what happens?

Bad news: You end up getting someone like me. (Sorry mom.)

You raise kids who grow up believing they’re uniquely special even though they’re not.

You raise kids who lack self-sufficiency and grow up expecting their partners to do things for them that their parents used to.

You raise kids who have no idea what a loving, high-functioning, healthy, mutually respectful marriage looks like. A marriage between two people who truly cherish one another and maintain their romantic and sexual spark through MINDFUL INTENTION and channeling energy into the human being they promised to love, honor and serve for the rest of their lives.

The Adam and Eve bible story famously depicts the first marriage. In the story, you’ll find the word “cleave” which describes what we’re supposed to do to our spouse.

The word “cleave” means “to adhere to, stick to, or join with.” I think it’s reasonable to assume the spiritual text is promoting a metaphorical bond of unity between them beyond promoting the literal act of inserting a penis into a vagina, but surely we can celebrate both the figurative and literal in this particular instance.

Don’t Marry Until You’re Ready to Make Her/Him #1

You’ll be doing your girlfriend or boyfriend, their family and friends, and any children or pets you may one day share a HUGE favor by doing this.

Please remember: You don’t have to get married, and maybe you shouldn’t.

If your parents or siblings mean more to you than your partner, and you feel inside as if you’d choose them over the person you’re considering marrying, then DO NOT get married.

If your job or your friends or the fun things you like to do mean more to you than your partner, DO NOT get married.

And *big swallow*, if your children mean more to you than your partner, and you believe catering to their needs at the expense of your partner’s is the right thing to do, then I think your marriage is a ticking time bomb. (NOTE: I’m writing specifically about married moms and dads who made babies together. I think it’s both fair and proper for divorced or otherwise single parents to prioritize their children over people they’re dating when there’s still uncertainty about whether marriage is in the future.)

Physician Danielle Teller, in “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” wrote, “Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home… Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?”

You’re born to your parents. They and any siblings are all you know and love.

Family by birth. Love tends to be part of the package.

When you’re older, and your offspring are born, you are all they know and love. You’re their everything. And the intense love we feel for our children is something beyond description.

But still. Family by birth. And again, the love is easy. We tend to not need reminders to feel love for our kids.

But our spouse. THAT is a particularly unique and special relationship. That’s not inherited. Love is not some pre-packaged thing that comes along with dating or marriage like it does with being born into a family or having kids of your own.

Your spouse is someone you CHOOSE. Out of every human being—billions of them—you choose that person.

It is a love as rich and powerful as we have for our parents and children, but it’s one that is grown. Something purely voluntary.

Love is a choice we must make every day.

More and more, people are coming to understand this, but often when their marriage is in shambles and their trying to figure out why, or in the aftermath of a painful divorce.

I didn’t know what marriage REALLY was when I asked her to marry me, or when I said “I do.” The proof was in the pudding.

If more people entered marriage committed to this idea of putting their spouse first, and why it’s such an important mindset, I think a lot more marriages would go the distance because they’d never deteriorate to begin with.

You honor your parents when you put your spouse first. You comfort them because they know you’re safe and secure, and that their grandchildren are well cared for.

You honor your children when you put your spouse first. You teach them that they are, in fact, NOT the center of the universe and that the best way to live is to be aware of other people’s needs. You teach them what marriage is supposed to look like. You provide a safe and unbreakable home. You provide a lifelong foundation from which to build their futures.

You honor yourself when you put your spouse first. Because you are living for something greater than yourself and are less likely to die alone with herpes on your mouth.

Your parents will pass one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the grief and transition. You will provide the same support for her or him.

Your children will move out one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the major life adjustment. You will provide the same support for her or him.

And there you’ll be. In the future. Waking up every day seeking purpose and adventure.

And when we have spent the years putting our spouse first, we won’t have to look very hard to find either.

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The Thing Divorced Parents Fear Most

lost child

After divorce, you’re not always there to hold their hand. (Image/The Coverage)

When people experience divorce, several life changes happen at once, often compounding an already-excruciating time for those involved.

First, your partner is gone. Maybe you feel rejected. Maybe you feel guilt.

The entire ebb and flow of your life turns upside down. Everything feels different. You either live in the place you shared with them which now feels lifeless and empty, or you live in a brand-new place which can be a difficult adjustment under the best circumstances.

Some percentage of life tasks once performed by your partner aren’t getting done. You—literally—have more to do every day, even if you were the one doing most of the heavy lifting. Since I wasn’t, everything from vacuuming, dusting, laundry and bathroom cleaning to kitchen cleaning, opening mail, bill paying and keeping track of Life things on the calendar were added to the These Things Need Done pile. Life got harder.

You often lose in-law family members and friends overnight. Maybe they miss you. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you’ll never know.

Your money situation can be affected. Sometimes majorly. Sometimes it scares you.

Sometimes single adulthood produces life and social challenges in the dating and partnership arenas.

If you’re a parent, the situation with your children tends to emerge as the most-difficult component. It’s hard to lose your time with them. Kids grow so fast anyway. My son was in preschool when my time with him reduced by half.

It didn’t take me long to realize: if he’s a kid for another 14 years, that means I just lost SEVEN years with my son.

What would you trade for seven more years with ANYONE you love? Maybe everything.

There’s a long list of things negatively affected by divorce. But what I perceive to be the worst thing is something I rarely see discussed: The loss of any and all control of what happens to your children—the very people for which you live and breathe—when they’re not with you.

When Life Beats You Into Submission

When James Bond gets captured, we always know he’s going to pull off some rad-007 super-spy escape to get out of whatever situation he’s in.

In more tragic fiction stories, the bad guys sometimes catch up to and overpower our heroes. In some stories, those heroes may die or suffer enormous loss.

It’s often hard to watch or read. When the hero gets taken down from a fight he or she couldn’t have possibly won. Somewhere along the way, the characters realize, as we do: there’s no escape.

I like to say I don’t believe in unsolvable problems. That there’s ALWAYS a solution, or at least a way to make something or a situation substantially better.

But with kids after divorce? [*massive exhale noise*]

It can feel like there’s no escape. Not that you want to. But the reality of divorce and custody law and, I imagine, most of our moral compasses, gives us no obvious solutions.

That’s what makes it hard.

Some people are crappy spouses, but amazing parents. They “deserve” to be divorced because of their substandard efforts or behavior in marriage. And without going too far down the semantics and “Yeah, but” rabbit hole, it can be argued that amazing parents NEVER “deserve” to lose their children, even just sometimes. Certainly, children don’t deserve to lose parents.

As an advocate of personal responsibility, I think married parents should be intellectually capable of understanding that what’s best for their children is to always love the other parent in mind, heart, word and action, but I also know how murky the waters get and how gray the areas get when emotionally damaged humans start doing what emotionally damaged humans do.

Under the very best of divorced circumstances—where two adults communicate frequently, never undermine one another or use their children as pawns to inflict pain, and who truly demonstrate a commitment to putting children first—(which I’m insanely blessed to experience in my life) it’s STILL super-hard.

And there are so many levels to that. You worry about their physical health and safety. You worry about whatever undeserved emotional and psychological baggage they’re taking on from your past or present failings.

Mothers’ hearts break while driving away from screaming, outstretched-armed infants too young to verbally communicate or understand why mommy is leaving them. Mothers who stress over their children eating unhealthy meals, not brushing their teeth before bed, or being left unattended for long periods of time by partying, video-game-playing, or otherwise inattentive, fathers.

Fathers’ hearts break while looking at vacation photos of their children posted on social media while a bunch of people who used to be inner-circle friends and family Like and Favorite and Comment on Facebook and Instagram: “Everyone looks so happy! Love this!” Fathers who stress over their children’s unknown neighbors, or trying to match the level of domestic care their kids might experience at mom’s, or seeing another man experience father-child moments with their kids while attending baseball games or riding bikes and probably other things we’ll never hear about.

That’s when things are optimal.

When they’re not?

The other parent’s girlfriend or boyfriend might present some kind of threat to your child’s wellbeing. Perhaps in some obvious and specifically terrifying ways, or perhaps in more subtle mind- and heart-damaging ways you can only imagine.

I know of one 10-year-old girl and 7-year-old brother who text their dad (a guy I believe to be a decent man and fiercely loving father) every time a strange man emerges from mommy’s bedroom. The last number I heard was 6.

Maybe those new boyfriends or girlfriends are criminals. Abusers. Addicts. Maybe they’re psychotic. Moronic. Cruel.

Maybe they’ll teach your kids that what they’ve been taught about faith, or politics, or personal interests are “wrong” or “stupid” or not as good as some other thing.

Maybe they’ll tell your kids about things you do and spin them in ugly ways in an effort to make them think less of you.

Maybe they’ll make up lies to make them afraid of you or not want to see you at all.

In the United States, we have a legal system that mostly—but not always—helps people navigate these situations, but even then, they’re brutally expensive, emotionally exhausting, and even when things go your way, you STILL end up facing the tragic reality of your child’s other parent being someone you (and maybe even your children) can’t trust to take care of them in ways you perceive to be best for them.

Right or wrong, if your heart’s in the right place, it’s all a bit more than human beings are equipped to handle.

The Thing About Control

Maybe there’s a really wise approach to feeling out of control. Maybe there are obvious choices to make, and when we do, everything gets to be okay afterward.

Even though I feel truly blessed to share parenting with someone who I perceive to do virtually everything “right,” and who loves our son with the same passion and fierce loyalty any parent could want, I STILL experience this loss of control we’d all ideally like to have over the things that mean most to us, and affect us most deeply.

One of my friends texted me about a month ago: “May I request a future post about HOW TO COPE WITH A DOUCHEBAG dating your ex-wife and constantly hanging with your kid?”

My friend is solid people. But while I’m inclined to trust his judgment that his ex-wife’s boyfriend demonstrates legitimate douchebaggery, I can’t be 100-percent sure his feelings aren’t comprised the same as most of us are when we talk and think about our exes.

Regardless, this is an important thing.

It’s profoundly important when children are truly at risk.

It’s pretty damn important when children are being damaged in some ways, even if only accidentally.

And as part of the Macro Divorce Conversation, this needs acknowledgement and its day in the sun.

It’s hard to lose control of anything that impacts our lives.

It’s CRUSHING to lose control of things that directly impact our children’s wellbeing.

Maybe We’re Never Actually In Control

I wish I had an answer for how to cope, JBD.

But I don’t. I just…don’t.

I might die on my drive home today.

We can’t control whether our hearts will beat five seconds from now.

And I think that means we can’t control most things. Some people accept the lack of control as fundamental to the human experience. Others have faith that God’s in control, which helps eliminate fear.

Maybe the best we can do is influence.

We can use brute force and later pay the legal and human consequences.

We can use the legal system and maybe after spending a bunch of money, something gets better somehow.

We can fight back, trying to do things that might affect our exes as much as we feel affected.

Maybe some of that serves the purpose of helping our kids. Probably not.

Or.

Maybe we can accept responsibility for the role we played in creating the situation. Maybe we can accept responsibility for choosing life partnership and/or procreation with someone capable of not putting our child’s welfare above other things.

Or.

Maybe we can work on being the kind of people who make this spinning rock a better place to be. Maybe we can work on being people who light up the darkness.

And.

Maybe we can WANT and actively work for good things to happen to our exes, if for no other reason than to give our children the best lives possible.

Maybe we can pray for their hearts and minds. Maybe we can wish good things for them. Maybe we can say nice things to and about them. Maybe we can support them. Maybe we can help them. Maybe we can work on redeeming ourselves in our shared-parenting relationships by walking a higher path than we did on our marches toward divorce.

And just maybe, when we love that hard, walls come down and connections form.

Just maybe, our children thrive even under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Because life feels extra-difficult when we try to control everything only to discover we’re never really in control.

Maybe when we love hard enough, we won’t feel like we have to.

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Please Help Me Build Something

bald eagle

(Image/Christopher Martin)

NOTE: I try hard to not ask you for things.

That’s not how I want this relationship to work.

But today, I must.

Because someone who matters to me asked for my help. And only you can make it possible.

You can skip the storytelling and contribute to something deserving and meaningful.

Or you can learn why I care. Because context matters.

We’d haul buckets full of water and live fish to the barn where my grandfather had built a fish-cleaning station.

There, I’d watch him club the heads of fish to kill them before I’d help him descale and filet them. Later, we’d have a fish fry.

The meals were delicious. The process was routine if I was fishing with grandpa. I didn’t think or feel much about it at all. It was just the way we did things.

My third-grade son and I recently started fishing together. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I asked him the question: “When we catch fish, do you want to keep and eat them, or release them back into the lake?”

He insta-answered: “I want to put them back.”

I was glad. Because I didn’t want to club fish heads.

I don’t judge people who fish for food. And I promise I’ll fish for food any time a food shortage or survival situation calls for it. But so long as I have access to a nice seafood counter at my local market, I’m cool with not intentionally killing fish myself.

I didn’t think about things like that when I was in third grade.

But my little boy does.

Years ago, so did another boy growing up in Minnesota. When he was in third grade, a representative of a raptor (birds of prey, not dinosaurs!) educational outreach program visited his school.

The speaker invited the boy to approach the live eagle perched on their arm.

It was Scott’s first close encounter with a raptor.

And it changed him forever.

The Subtle Art of Achieving Balance

One of my dearest childhood friends went through divorce about a year after me.

My divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Her divorce was maybe the fourth- or fifth-worst thing to happen to her, because she has survived Life Things that destroy people, leaving most of us in perpetual states of identity crisis and disrepair.

When we take enough damage, breathing and moving ceases to mean we’re alive.

My friend knew she wasn’t really alive anymore. Sometimes, we just break.

I’ve been broken.

In her search for balance, she enrolled in a program designed to help people achieve the kind of Mind, Body and Spirit balance that allows humans to thrive.

The process has been transformative.

I see and hear the changes in the things she writes and says.

The final step in her journey was to team with others as part of her leadership training to create something meaningful by enlisting the help of at least 100 people.

She joined 16 others to form the team who would choose Children and Environment as focal points for their final project.

Scott, the third grader from Minnesota who turned his eagle encounter into a lifelong passion for learning about and protecting birds of prey into his adulthood, just happened to be part of her team.

It Means: ‘To Seize’

The word Raptor—that is the classification of large birds of prey which includes eagles, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, etc.—is derived from the Latin word Rapere, which means “to seize” or “to take by force.”

I see my friend taking her life back. Seizing moments. It’s a big deal.

And in Charlotte, N.C., she serendipitously met 16 like-minded souls willing to unite and work for something that mattered.

They’re going to build—with their hands—a large outdoor playground on the grounds of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., just north of Charlotte.

Something lasting. Something for children. Something that serves the big-picture mission of ecological balance most of us rarely pause to think about. (Here’s an entry-level primer on how raptors help balance ecosystems.)

They are raising money to pay for the raw materials, hardware, and tools needed to complete the project.

Maybe you care about raptor conservation. Maybe you care about children. Maybe you’d like to do me a personal favor.

Maybe you just like helping people. I hope so.

I didn’t need a reason other than someone who was fundamental to my character development, who has always been there for me, and who I have NEVER seen on the wrong side of a kindness argument say: “Can I please ask you for a favor?”

I should have known it wouldn’t be about her.

Help My Friend, Children, and Life Flourish

Please show others what’s possible by making the Carolina Raptor Center Playground a reality. No amount is too small.

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Who is Worthy of Your Love?

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

monthemoon asked (read the full comment here): “Hi Matt! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, just before my partner and I split up. We are still living together due to circumstances, but from summer we will be living separately, and I am kind of looking forward to it. But I am also afraid.

“Apart from developing his empathy, can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, specially after separation?”

I might be a bad father.

I don’t know. I don’t know who gets to decide. I don’t think his mom would call me one. I don’t think anyone close to me would call me one. And I’m certain my son wouldn’t call me one.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

The list documenting my failings as a father is long and distinguished. That might not make me “bad.” That might just make me typical. Who can say?

When we fail our families, sentencing our innocent children to lives without both parents at home, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ve fallen short as parents.

When we force our spouses to choose between keeping the family together and suffering in masked silence for years, or ending the marriage risking judgment from family and friends, and emotionally damaged children because THAT somehow feels like the better choice, we have failed our children.

There’s nothing inherently gender-specific about this, but I have no qualms about calling out men as the primary culprits here. It’s because — no matter how much we’ll deny it — there are many things men love more than their wives and children.

It’s all psychological, of course. Most husbands and fathers are GOOD MEN. And they think and feel “I love my wife,” and they think and feel “I love my family.” But when it comes time to choose between getting down on the floor to play LEGOs or to cook pretend-dinner in the play kitchen or have a dinosaur battle, and whatever else feels EASIER or MORE CONVENIENT, we often choose the latter.

“Sorry, kid. That sounds like so much fun, but dad is really tired after a long day. You just play alone while I do this thing by myself that I’m prioritizing over you. I’ll engage you in bond-forming one-on-one activities some other time, because I’ll probably have a lot more energy then. We have all the time in the world to build life-long parent-child bonds. We have all the time in the world to make you feel loved and safe.”

If what you do matters more than what you say, then I was divorced for about a year before I actually started putting my son first in my life.

From the moment I learned about the positive pregnancy test, I always said — and actually believed — that I was putting my child first.

I’ll do anything for my family, we think. Because we’re dads and husbands, we take that job seriously. But then we choose other things over dad and husband things because it’s easier or seemingly more fun in the moment. Sacrificing the later for the now. Like the kids whose lives turned out worse after choosing immediate gratification in the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Sure, we feel blindsided when our wives leave us and file papers.

Sure, we feel surprised when our children question our love for them during future disagreements.

Our brains automatically search for any explanation that will take away our responsibility. We’ll concoct any story that makes something the fault of someone else, and not ours.

Maybe that’s all people. Maybe that’s just mehhhhhhhh fathers who think they’re great parents. Or maybe it’s just me.

But today I know better, and apologize for the finger pointing. We’re NEVER the only one doing, thinking, believing, or feeling anything. There are always others in the boat with you. Knowing that helps me feel better sometimes.

You’re Probably Forgetting About the Hourglass

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is in this global boat large enough to hold every living thing from the beginning of time ‘til the end.

But, it’s true. You have an invisible hourglass attached to your life.

Just like that person standing over there.

Just like your friends and enemies and family and co-workers and the strangers you pass on the street and the people you scream at when they cut you off in traffic.

Just like your children.

We all have an hourglass that is ALWAYS dropping sand from the top to the bottom, and when that last granule falls, we will take our final breath.

Then, gone.

Our hourglasses live in a dimension beyond sight. So we don’t usually know when the sand is going to run out.

As I’m writing this sentence, someone young and who was thought to be healthy is dying unexpectedly. It’s a statistical certainty.

Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.

But living mindfully of it? I think that might be important.

Two years ago, I learned about a beautiful little girl named Abby with a disease that has no known cure. I was blogging about some personal things with an ungrateful attitude. And then Life saw fit to introduce me to the story of two parents who lose a little bit of their daughter every day.

I called it a Godsmack. That’s what it felt like.

Maybe no matter how long and hard my day was, playing with my son is the best use of my time because of all the parents whose top wish would be to do what I’m taking for granted.

Maybe if I knew the world was about to explode, all I would want is to hold him tight to try and demonstrate my love one last time.

And maybe the things we should spend the most energy on in life are the things we would do during the final countdown. (No. You’re not the only one who just sang the Europe song.)

This is a Parent’s Most Important Job

With the exception of parents with deeply held spiritual beliefs about salvation and an afterlife whose life mission centers around helping their children achieve it, our earthly life-focused parenting has ONE job beyond meeting basic life needs that seems more important than any other.

The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it.

That’s our most important job.

Most of life’s negative experiences are rooted in us doubting our value or worthiness. Because of a million little things that happen to us as children at home and school, and all we observe as others around us succeed, achieve and acquire things we want but don’t have, and all of the rejection and failure we experience in our relationships, and social circles, and academic pursuits, and work lives.

We don’t celebrate failure as the interesting and valuable mistake it really is — another opportunity to grow and change and improve on our pursuit of mastery. We’re terrified of it and what it will make others believe about us. We fall short all the time. And then we assume everyone thinks we’re huge stupid losers because of failures, big or small. And then we tell ourselves stories about those failures and our self-narrative becomes one of failure, and self-doubt.

We’re not good enough to be happy.

We’re not good enough to be accepted.

We’re not good enough to be loved.

Sorry, kid. You’re just not tall enough. And you never will be.

That narrative is believed by a frightening amount of people. The majority, I believe.

Poverty. Crime. Abuse. Infidelity. Addiction. Suicide. Divorce.

These things often happen because someone doesn’t believe they matter. Because they don’t think they are worthy of love. Because they don’t think they belong on any of the boats.

But we are worthy. And we do belong. And that realization eludes many of us for many different reasons.

As parents, we mustn’t let that reason be because we failed our children in a moment that seemed inconsequential to us while not realizing it means the world to them.

She asked: “Can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, ‘specially after separation?”

It took me losing my family.

My wife.

And half of my son’s childhood. I estimate AT LEAST seven years, since he was not quite 5 when the marriage ended.

Whatever must happen to ensure he and I stay connected once he leaves the nest? That window is closing fast.

Once this father realizes it, he’ll either care enough to do something about it, or he won’t.

Or maybe he simply doesn’t feel worthy of his son’s love. Maybe he doesn’t feel he deserves that.

Because like so many of us stopped by the Must Be This Tall To Ride gatekeepers, he simply never got the memo: That sign is bullshit.

He’s always been tall enough.

And now his life’s most important work is about teaching his son that too.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

“Fine. I’ll just stay with mom all the time and you won’t see me anymore!” he said about seven years sooner than expected.

I can’t remember why he was upset with me. It’s usually because I denied him something he wanted.

He was 6 when he said that during a father-son fight more than a year ago. An occasionally angry little boy adjusting to a brand-new school and a brand-new life where mom and dad live in different houses. An occasionally angry father adjusting to the same.

I try to remember how I felt at age 5 when my parents split, but everything’s hazy. I remember bits and pieces. The moments. But I can’t remember me then. How I felt. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember me five years ago.

I haven’t talked to any therapists about it, but my amateur self-evaluation is that my traumatic experience with divorce two and a half years ago is largely due to hypersensitivity related to also going through it as a child. I think some things I’d buried might have clawed their way up to the surface.

I was the only kid I knew whose dad lived hundreds of miles away.

I don’t know what parts of me—good or bad—are byproducts of that upbringing. I wonder whether living near, and coexisting well with his mother, might make his life better than mine.

I cried a lot in the weeks leading up to, and following, my marriage imploding. Everything hurts. And it scares the shit out of you when you figure out you can’t run away from it.

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

It’s there when you’re having drinks with friends.

It’s there when you visit family for the first time without your spouse and you’re totally drenched in failure.

It’s there in the house you shared with her for more than seven years.

It’s there when you look into your child’s eyes. The most beautiful, pure, innocent, precious thing you have ever known. And it’s your job, your mission, your solemn duty to provide him with the safety, resources, education and love required for him to have a chance at a life better than your own.

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

You’re afraid of everything and you’re carrying a mountain of shame.

You wonder how you can ever take care of him if you can’t even take care of yourself.

Maybe he deserves a better father than this, you think.

Maybe he does.

I was in his mom’s driveway helping him buckle his seatbelt—something he does now on his own—the last time I remember crying. Every child has a patented little frown that no other kid can make. All parents recognize it because it’s the one that makes your heart bleed. The corners of his mouth turned down. Tears fell.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

“I just want you and mommy to live in the same house again,” he said.

And then you hold your breath and wonder whether your heart will keep beating. I knew he wished for that. He just hadn’t said it until then.

He’d been so strong and brave. Wearing his little mask every day like his parents used to while hiding a marriage on life support from family and friends.

You hold his little face in your hands and apologize harder than you ever have before. You pray your ex isn’t watching you from the window. You mutter silent Why me, God?s before remembering that you brought this on yourself.

When you neglect a garden, the plants stop producing. And the flowers wither and die.

I have a massive capacity for forgiveness. This doesn’t make me a good or virtuous person. I didn’t work hard to grow into a person who forgives easily. It’s a gift I didn’t earn.

It caused a lot of problems in my marriage. Because my wife and I would fight, and it was ALWAYS the same fight. I think maybe every couple has it.

Something I did or didn’t do would upset her, and she’d tell me about it. And instead of acknowledging something I had done hurt my wife’s feelings, I would get defensive and justify it. I didn’t apologize. Since I didn’t do anything intentionally, I didn’t owe it, I reasoned, and I’d go to great lengths to justify that, too.

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

I think most husbands and boyfriends get annoyed about things their wives or girlfriends do, but because they don’t like to have “talks,” they avoid saying anything. Having a beer, or watching football, or playing video games, or going to work, or literally any other thing in the entire universe including taxes and dental work are less painful than “talks.”

I always viewed it as loving my wife enough to overlook her “shortcomings,” and was always perturbed I didn’t get that same courtesy in return. I didn’t have empathy for my wife’s feelings because I didn’t know she felt things in profoundly different ways than me. I didn’t have perspective because I ignorantly took my marriage for granted and thought winning battles was more important than actionable love.

She didn’t like that after a good night’s sleep I felt good and was ready to move on because she was still pissed about the unresolved thing.

These things piled up with each passing argument, and instead of acknowledging them, I’d stay defensive and complain that she was keeping track of all these supposed crimes and unloading them on me every time she was upset. I would never be so petty as to do that to her, I’d say like a smug prick.

I didn’t know that her way would have saved our marriage, and that my way was why half of all marriages fail, and why many that don’t are broken and miserable.

Maybe my son will get angry all over again when he’s old enough to recognize that. Or maybe because he’s a boy, he’ll empathize with me by default.

His mom is a grudge holder and is still angry with me about how our lives turned out. I sometimes feel it in those (now rare) moments when she gets upset with me about something I did or didn’t do as her co-parenting partner.

I don’t know how to stay angry. It goes away like magic even if I don’t work at it. But I think it’s opposite for other people. I think they don’t know how to not be angry. A burden they didn’t earn or deserve.

Maybe it’s just nine years of feeling unheard and invalidated all piled up into a mountain of shit too heavy and painful to always keep hidden.

Since there’s no such thing as time travel, our son is all that matters now.

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

“Dad,” he says into my ear. “You’re the best dad in the whole world. If I could choose any dad out of every dad there is, I would choose you.”

He tells mom the same thing about her. And we believe him. He really would choose us.

Some combination of love and resilient childhood magic stirs inside him.

My handsome little second grader, rapidly approaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to call him little.

We crafted a small boat for him to race at a Cub Scouts function this past weekend. Win or lose, he showed maturity and graciousness in congratulating opponents. Losses left other kids in tears. My little man shrugged them off, knowing we did all we could.

One year ago, he was desperate for acceptance from the first graders in his new school. His mom and I worried privately about him being a social outcast because we’re not ingrained in the community the way most of the other families are.

Last year, kids didn’t chant our son’s name in support when it was his turn to race. This year, many did.

Last year, we worried about his social life. This year, every Cub Scout in his class came to our table at the event to sit with and talk to him.

We grow together, that boy and I.

Him—socially and academically. Me—emotionally and professionally.

He rifled through a deck of nerd cards during breakfast this morning. “Nerd cards,” being the little role-playing trading cards popular with kids (and some adults), but which I was too “cool” to play with when I was younger. Things like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Gormiti cards. The particular nerd cards this morning were Gormiti cards given to him by an older boy he looks up to. Gormiti, to me, feels like Wyler’s Flavor Aid to Pokemon’s Kool-Aid®.

You know—even lamer than the regular amount of lame.

I started teasing him: “Hi, I’m Tony Romo and I play Pokemon. And I’m arts-and-craftsy Tony Romo, and I play Gormiti.”

He half-smiled because he likes the DirecTV commercial I was spoofing.

And then I made up another Pokemon-is-better-than-Gormiti joke, and I saw his sweet little face do the patented frown thing, and he started to cry.

I felt like a dick.

I walked around the counter scooped him up, sat him on the counter and hugged him tight, because I’m not the guy I used to be.

“I’m so sorry, bud. Did dad just hurt your feelings?”

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

“Kiddo, you are allowed to like whatever you like, and I am so sorry if I made you feel like I thought your Gormiti cards were stupid. I think it’s awesome that your friend gave you those and I want you to have so much fun with them today, okay?”

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

Hands on my shoulders, he sort of pushed me back a few inches so we could look each other in the eye.

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

Because he has a massive capacity for forgiveness, too. And God-willing, maybe now he has a role model for how to deal with hurt feelings in ways that can heal rather than divide. That soften hearts rather than harden them.

That, at the risk of oversimplifying humanity, might be the keys to making romantic love last.

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

So that we can unlock tomorrow without fear of the unknown. Because we’re ready now.

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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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Three Years From Now 

three-years

Sarah asked: 

“How would you like to see your relationships evolved in the next three years?”

If form holds, I’ll still be alive in three years.

But form never holds.

I’ll be barreling toward 40. Maybe I’ll like myself more. I hope so. People should like themselves on their 40th birthday.

My son will have just finished fourth grade. Maybe he’ll like a girl and want to hold hands with her but not want to talk to me about it.

I might still be plugging away at my cubicle job. Maybe that will be depressing. Or maybe I’ll be grateful for the security.

I might be a published author. Hopefully more than just once. You always get better at things when you practice.

When I rank all the things that project to matter in my life three years from now, only four things stand out. All four are personal relationships. Only three are with humans.

The One with my Ex

I didn’t see it coming, but my relationship with the woman I married continues to be the most important one I have.

“But what about your son, Matt!?!?”

If you want to get all lawyery about it, my relationship with him (he’ll be seven soon) is the most relevant and meaningful.

But the thing that gives me the best chance for success with that child is for his mother and I to have a civil, healthy, friendly, cooperative relationship, that provides him the best opportunity for a happy, secure, fruitful childhood.

In three years, I have to assume she will be in a serious relationship with another man. A man who will serve as a de facto stepfather to my son. A man who I will inevitably imagine having sex with my wife of nine years and be slightly repulsed. A man who might have children of his own who will prove to be a major influence on my young son.

I will have no say in the matter, nor should I.

You wake up and breathe. You smile. You help. You care. You love. Not romantically. Just… love.

You continue to practice kindness and you build up that muscle.

This is what love looks like, son.

That’s what it must be about now.

The One with my Son

When I was a boy, I loved being with friends because I was an only child. I wanted to go play with them more than I wanted to be home, and I think it might have made my parents sad.

My mom sometimes took it as I didn’t want to be with her.

My dad? I only saw him for a small percentage of the year. Maybe he felt betrayed, too. He usually didn’t say anything. But maybe it hurt. I don’t know.

My young son was invited recently to spend the night with his friends. I texted his mom to let her know I was thinking about letting him.

“Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “But I think there’s a good chance he will wake up crying and want you, so be prepared to go get him in the middle of the night.”

I asked him whether he’d like to stay with his friends. He was visibly excited. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be there. In that moment, he had everything he wanted.

That was the first time he has ever slept somewhere else when he was “supposed” to be with me. That’s the first time I ever felt like my parents must have felt a thousand times, each.

I know there will be more.

I want him to know he can talk to me about anything. I pray I never make him feel punished for his honesty. He must learn to communicate honestly about things if he hopes to maintain healthy relationships in the future.

It was a lesson I learned too late.

I have never loved nor been more proud of anything than that child. Nothing can stir in me deep, meaningful feelings the way just looking at him sleeping can, or when he does something that demonstrates how much he has learned and grown.

He’s a beautiful child.

I pray I always feel about him as I do right now. Right as I push this button.

The One with the Girl I Haven’t Met 

It fascinates me when I consider it.

Maybe she’s laying in bed with another guy right now. Maybe she’s giving birth to a child. Maybe she’s on the other side of the world building houses in impoverished communities. Maybe she’s out having drinks with her friends. Or walking her dog. Or visiting her grandmother. Or writing something like me.

Maybe she’s sitting somewhere right now wondering who I am and what I’m doing.

Maybe I’ll be single forever. I just don’t think so.

And that means it’s going to happen again. You know. IT. Love. It’s hard to imagine. Only this time, she’s going to get a more raw, real, honest, authentic version of me than my ex-wife did. (I didn’t know then what I know now.)

With all of my insecurities (though I feel pretty good about myself these days) and baggage. With the knowledge I have a son.

That my family is spread all over. That I’m still trying to figure out who I’m going to be when I grow up.

She’s going to be amazing. AMAZING.

I know.

Because I’m picky. Because her capacity for love and patience and forgiveness will be massive. Because I’m TERRIFIED to love again the way I loved my wife because I never again want to feel the horrors of breaking on the inside. And if there IS a someone?

That means she overcame all that. That means I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both said yes.

It means we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but for now, we want to find out together.

It means I’ll be cooking again. Hugging again. Kissing again.

It means someone will inspire me. Cheer for me. Believe in me.

It means I’ll rarely feel lonely. Just a reach away.

Maybe all of that will come true, or maybe none of it will. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

But really we only have now.

The things that happened before don’t get to determine what happens next.

And what happens next is not something we control.

Just. Right. Now.

Breathe in. Hold it. Then out.

Alive.

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Your Kids Are Going to Get Divorced Unless We Fix This

(Image courtesy of Bridal Banter.)

(Image courtesy of Bridal Banter.)

I’ve written and published more than 400 posts here.

Many of them are about divorce and marriage because divorce was the hardest thing I ever did. I don’t mean “hardest thing” like: Oh man! Running a marathon was really hard! Or. Oh man! Installing that patio was really hard!

I mean: I can’t breathe. I cry and puke and panic all the time. I think I might die. And that doesn’t even scare me anymore because this is so horrible that dying might be better.

Maybe not everyone freaks out like me when they get divorced and they don’t see their kids all the time.

But I know some do. And maybe more importantly? I know some WILL. Because until people figure out how to be better at marriage, the divorce rate is going to continue to wreak havoc on families and society.

Kids are going to get angry and develop emotional and psychological issues.

Money is going to be tighter.

Families and old friendships will fracture. New ones will be formed and then those will fracture, too, because not enough people are learning lessons.

Fewer people smoke than they did in the 1970s because now we know there’s an infinitely greater chance of you getting cancer and dying if you do.

More people exercise and eat healthy than they did in the 1970s because now we know all of these great benefits of healthy living versus unhealthy living.

More people wear seat belts. Fewer people drink and drive.

We do a better job as a society with public safety measures of all stripes.

It’s because we DO get better at things. It’s because we CAN change things.

Why Aren’t People Doing Anything About Divorce?

I feel like so many of us just shrug our shoulders and think: Ehh! Nothing we can do about it! It’s just the way it is!

Because we don’t want to “legislate morality?” Because we don’t want to “tell people what to do?” Because we can’t “force people to be nice to one another?”

Sure. We can’t make ignorant people not hate. But we CAN—slowly but surely—cure ignorance.

We have done it over and over again as a society. With smoking. And STDs. And social issues related to race and sexual orientation and environmental conservation.

We CAN teach kids about common causes of divorce—things we grow up NOT EVEN KNOWING will destroy a marriage.

We CAN teach kids about the extensive research done on gender studies, and how smart cross-gender communication can improve our romantic, social and professional relationships across the board.

We CAN teach kids about the ramifications of divorce, financially and socially and in all of the ways it can damage our lives.

We teach kids all these things they never use when they grow up.

But pretty much EVERYONE is going to end up in a relationship, sooner or later. We can quibble over marriage rates, and gay couples, and those people who are going to co-habitat but never marry. Whatever. Those people STILL need to understand how to co-exist in those intimate relationships, and I would argue these things are infinitely more important to a person’s quality of life than ANYTHING we teach in school.

We may not be able to save already-horrible marriages, but we can damn sure start arming young people with the knowledge they’re ALL already interested in anyway: How to get and keep significant others and get along with friends.

We can save FUTURE marriages. We can.

I want to start sharing some older posts that I really believe in.

Some of these 400 posts have been read tens of thousands of times. Others? Just a few hundred. And I think some of these ideas are too valuable to live in the shadows.

So I’ve decided I want to start re-sharing some of them.

I’m going to start here:

Why should we all care about divorce as much as I do?

BECAUSE IT AFFECTS 95% OF US.

Other than our mutual interest in Earth continuing to spin around the sun without any major catastrophes, can you think of anything that affects so many people?

Exactly.

Maybe you’ll care like me. I sure hope so.

Please read:

The 95 Percent

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