After becoming the proud dad to five kids, Matt Sweetwood was handed a horrific divorce. Rather than allowing it to defeat him, he found a way to not only survive, but to find peace and success as a father. Here is how he did it.
It was late 1996 and my marriage and family life I dreamt of was ending. My wife of 8 years and mother of our 5 small children was gone. Our children had borne the brunt of this.
The next few years of my life were filled with court dates, forensic accountants and court appointed custody evaluators. The divorce and financial settlement took over four years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There were 13 motions and a trial related to financial matters and I lost every one. And lost them badly. The New Jersey court system bankrupted me – happily.
The determination of custody for our 5 children took a different course. I was now solely responsible for 5 little children, ages 2 through 9.
I walked away from the situation stunned like I had been hit with a brick. There was not going to be a happy ending like I had hoped. The reality that I had lost my wife for good finally set in. My children were now motherless and I was going to have to raise my children on my own. I feared that without a mom, my children were surely going to fail or end up as criminals or worse. Out of sheer necessity, I needed to make life work. Here are the 10 ways I made it happen.
- I learned to trust. If not the courts – something outside of myself. I was never spiritual before but now what did I have to lose by trying. And it was calling to me. As if to say and show me, all the money I needed, every need of mine and my children’s I would somehow have the ability to meet. And I did.
- Stand for what is right. Although I lost every court hearing – and won my kids – it may not have felt like winning then – and it wasn’t. But I then also stood up for myself with a connective aspect of my case taking it all the way to the Supreme Court of New Jersey and I won.
- Get help to fix things. I brought in two nannies for a while, straight from the Israeli army to help me mitigate the damage my children and I had endured – from a house that was torn apart.
- Reserve a space for yourself. I gave everything I had to my kids but when it was time for me to have time to myself, there was a lock on my bedroom door. All five kids were on their own.
- Be willing to blaze a trail. I wanted to run away – but I didn’t. I was a “pioneer” of sorts of the process – had never seen any man in my neighborhood who had full custody of all his children. 5!
- Find kindness beyond reason. When it was time for the court appointed visitations with their mom I did not impose any ideas upon them but I listened to them intently on the other end. We talked extensively about their new relationship, our relationship. I did not bad mouth their mother which took tremendous restraint for me.
- Be willing to cease being angry. I worked little by little at getting over my rage and bitterness. I started taking responsibility for my part in this. I’m not saying I’m l00 percent there, but my writing, my putting my heart and soul into helping other men and women is a part of my healing.
- Be thankful for the love in your life. I am grateful every day I have had these kids in my life – wonderful human beings – Paying me back daily with their success.
- Stay physically healthy. I work hard to keep myself in tip-top physical condition. Physical strength was always my foundation for emotional and mental strength.
- Let go of the fight. I stay out of courts.
My kids today are all in their 20’s. Four have attended top colleges, one is just married, one helps run my business, and all five are successful, happy and kind human beings. We all stay close to each other.
This process is not for the faint of heart. Then again, neither is life.
In any case, stepping up may be hard, and it may be painful, but in my case, it was worth what was on the other side.