John McElhenney tried to abide by the cooperative divorce rules. But when the discussion veered from 50/50 parenting to something else, his collaborative spirit was crushed with a simple, “No.”
See if you can spot the lie:
- The woman is the primary care giver.
- The mom always gets primary custody.
- Dads usually make the most money and spend more time at work, this situation is important for the continuity of the family after divorce.
- The kids should be supported in a lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to.
- Women are usually the emotional ones in a relationship. They are the emotional center of the nuclear family unit before the divorce and should be given consideration as such after the divorce.
- Dads are often distant, unengaged, and aloof in relationship to parenting.
- Girls really need their mom’s more than their father.
- Boys need their moms when they are young and their fathers later in life.
They are all wrong. Or at least misperceptions about how it is. Every case, every family, is different.
In my case, I’d go as a far as saying every one of these statements was actually the opposite of what our family was like. But as we headed towards negotiating our co-parenting relationship, I started being fed these outdated ideas as truth. Though they didn’t fit in our case, I was assured that the courts had done enough research and the experience to say “what’s best for the children.”
In our case, as in 90% of divorces in Texas, the split was divided along 1970’s traditional divorce wisdom. Moms are the primary caregivers, dads are the primary breadwinners, and keeping this balance is what protects the children from the harshness of divorce. That’s the party line.
The truth is, there is no protection from the harshness of divorce. However, not giving 50/50 consideration to the father in the family does everyone a disservice. Kids need both parents equally. If you can’t stay together for them, at least split up in the way that serves everyone’s need.
Can the father’s needs be tossed out at a court’s whim? Sure. It happens daily. But it’s not “in the best interest of the children.”
Divorce is hard business. And for your kids, divorce is the biggest trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. The dad is often given the boot as the little group attempts to maintain some semblance of routine without him. This is what you will be told is best for everyone. Well, everyone except the dad.
We’ve come to view the stereotypical male as detached and unfeeling. And that preconceived idea no longer holds water. Today the lopsided divorce, while all to common, is coming being challenged more frequently.
If you are about to enter into divorce negotiations or a divorce war, please consider the needs of both parents in addition to the children. If, for some reason, it is determined the balance should be less than 50/50 make sure you understand the reason.
My dad was an aloof man. He was also the only breadwinner in the house. And my mom was, in fact, the emotional center in the house. That’s typical of that period in time. But the working mom revolution came along and changed everything. We’re more aspirational with our parenting, and in my case, we voted to split the details of parenting as closely down the middle as possible.
While I don’t blame my then-wife for “going for it” and asking for everything she wanted: the money, the house, the custody, I don’t think she was thinking beyond her interests. And we can all cite studies about mothering and nurturing, but today, just as many modern studies show the dad is of equal importance in bringing up healthy kids. The situation: someone in the relationship has decided to break up the family, why shouldn’t it start with the assumption that the split is going to be a 50/50 on all counts?
In my marriage, that’s how we agreed to have kids, as equal partners. What leads the woman to think she’s entitled to more? Why does more time with the kids also equate with more money to be paid by the father? It’s flawed math. Worse, it’s really flawed psychology.
I didn’t have the option to fight for 50/50 parenting once the divorce was in motion. By agreeing to a collaborative divorce, I was waving my right to sue my then-wife for terms. And while this also precluded her from suing me, somehow we started the negotiations with the old imbalanced split.
There’s no going back for us. The decisions that were made have run their course. My son is now 15, he was 9 when his mom asked for a divorce. My daughter, who was 7 at the time, is the one I still feel the most pain about. She didn’t understand. As I was preparing to leave the house, she wanted to make sure I got a pet to be with me. She understood where her emotional bonds were.
I will never get back my kid’s youngest days. I will not be able to make up for the 65% lost time with them. What I can do is tell others about my experience. I can encourage, even moms, to consider the 50/50 route in compassion for the kids and also for the other member of the equation, the dad.
Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting
A few more positive co-parenting posts:
- The Care and Feeding of a Lover
- The Training and Education of a Reluctant Divorcé
- The 3 Immutable Laws of Co-Parenting
- The Transcendent Single Father
- The Positive Divorce is Up To You: The Two Levels of Healing
image: ballet 3, creative commons usage