The Whole Parent writes about his journey past divorce to become a better father and a better man.
I remember a discussion with my then-wife before we entered the “trying to get pregnant” phase of our sexual relationship. I felt very clear about my intentions.
“I am ready to not be the center of my own universe all the time. I’m kinda sick of my self-absorption. I think we’re both ready to have someone else come in and be the most important thing in our lives.” I was speaking of the journey of becoming parents. And of course, at that time, I was certain this journey would not be interrupted by …
There’s no way sugar coat it. Divorce is the single biggest event that has happened in the lives of my family, ever. As amicable as you want to make it (and we tried) things get rough, sad, hurtful, complicated, and confusing. And while we as adults can only fathom that chaos from our own perspectives, the churn in our kid’s lives will shape them forever. I know my parents divorce, and the subsequent loss of my father’s love and influence, had devastating effects on my life. I’m a survivor. I’m here to talk, write, and grow even more from the experience. But it sucked.
I got the first taste of the “whole parent” concept during the summer after I was asked to leave my own house for the last time. I took the kids, as a single dad, to the beach for a quick display of solidarity and confidence. I was actually quite broken and scared inside, but we made the most of it.
What I remember feeling, that first hour on the beach was a mix of relief and *holy crap* how am I going to do this.
On the relief side, there were going to be no debates between the parents about what should or should not be done next. None. I was devoted to “whatever you guys want.” We made some democratic decisions about when and where to eat, what to watch on the crappy tv, and how long to stay on the beach. Where my ex-wife and I would probably be negotiating and disagreeing on various aspects of the trip, the safety, the best place to eat or stay, I was autonomous for the first time, and I had no complications about what to do, or why to do it. That was the plus side.
On the *holy crap* side was…
How to get everyone sun-screened sufficiently. (We went the sunshirt route) How to do the sand and sun and sea without any nap or relief from the partner. How to take one kid back to the room to use the bathroom without taking everyone. (You can’t.) And what to talk about when the kids were immersed in the sand castle construction. (You talk with your inside voice a lot, “Is this okay? Have we been out here too long? Man, I’d rather be taking a nap right now.”)
And in that moment of pros and cons, in that epiphany on the beach with my kids happily chattering away about how deep to make the hole, I got it:
Things were going to be okay. I was going to be fine. We were going to be fine.
I could learn to take back the things I had depended on my wife for. I could toughen up with one crappy cup of coffee (rather than 2+) and no nap, and I could be awake and enthusiastic for my kids. I could grow above and beyond the hurt I was experiencing at the devastating loss of my partner, and I would be better for it.
What I got on the beach, was the concept for this chapter of my life, The Whole Parent. I had become dependant (possibly resentful) on my wife’s strengths and let a few of my habits run amok. (Napping at the beach is a luxury best afforded without kids, or with an understanding and cooperative partner who will swap supervision duties with you.) I was going to get my first aid skills tested and make sure I had the necessary gear. I was going to learn to refocus my attention on someone other than myself.
In summary I was going to become a holistic parent again. Where I had forgotten or transferred certain necessary parenting skills and kid-guidance duties to another person, I was going to reclaim them for myself and for the love of my kids.
In the divorce, when you lose everything, what you still have is your kids. And while you are deep in recovery of your own feelings, paying attention and parenting from a place of wholeness is critical. I decided I would document my sad feelings, I would client/counsel/complain about my divorce and my ex-wife AWAY from my kids. And I would stand up, at that very sunny moment on the beach, and join them in digging the biggest baddest hole we could manage. I was going to engage with them in new and more invigorated ways. I was going to listen deeper. I was going to put my own pain aside and give them hope to deal with their own pains.
I would repeat, like a mantra, anytime I was asked about the divorce, “I would always love their mother. She was a great person. And though we were no longer together we BOTH loved them very much. ”
And then the biggest part: I WOULD SHOW THEM.
Welcome to my journey at becoming a whole parent again.