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Monday, December 3, 2012

Divorce and Fatherhood: Coping With Missing the Kids

Guest Post from Donald Pennington

Divorce is one of the major stressful events in most people's lives. It's been likened to dealing with the death of a close friend or family member – including the usual stages of grief. It might just be my own opinion (but it is an opinion based upon my observations) that we men are actually at a disadvantage during a divorce because, unlike women in general, we don't deal with our feelings well, since our traditional roles rarely allow us to discuss feelings. We often lack a lot of information which would otherwise make the grieving process much easier.

I'm sharing here today to help other men who've found themselves in the same place I once was, struggling with a divorce – especially in the cases where we dads are missing our children. Because - of all the aspects of a divorce - missing the children is perhaps the most painful. I don't have all of the answers to every problem – and believe me when I say I made my own share of mistakes too – but I am here to try and help someone else ease their own pain and hopefully find some measure of relief. My goal is to hopefully bring a fresh perspective to another person's situation as a way of expressing gratitude for those who did the same for me. I hope something here is of some use to someone, somewhere.

It all stems from fear. The biggest portion of the pain we divorced dads feel seems to come from fear. When we see or hear how the kid's hearts are broken by the divorce, we fear their pain and we want to protect them, of course. That's our “job” after all – to be the protector of our offspring. And we fear missing out on the chance to teach and guide our children, to be there for them, to just be their dad, flaws and all. These fears are so powerful and pervasive since, unlike simple anticipated fears, they have a basis in reality. Our children's hearts really are breaking. We really are missing out on being there for them. We truly are missing the milestones of their childhood and it hurts. Occasionally, she ends up with another guy who may not treat them as well as they should. These fears are rational and they hurt like few other things. Face these fears calmly and with a smile. Acknowledge them and
embrace them yourself but never try using them as leverage.

Love is still the answer. We are all unable to control the actions of others. All any of us have (and this includes the ex, their friends, the courts – ANY of us) is the ability to control how we respond to the actions of others. Letting go of some of the need to control things will also release a few of those fears. Acting out of fear often leads to negative consequences. When your actions stem from love you will find good results – and you'll be bolder, calmer and more confident as well. If the only people who you're willing to act from love for is your children, so be it. They deserve to be considered first anyway, right?

Play fair. It's possible that our ex's know keeping us from our children hurts and behave this way as some sort of punishment. Whether the ex-wife, the former in-laws or even the courts seem fair or not - even in situations wherein others are not being fair themselves - we must focus on being fair ourselves, for the children's sakes. It's not about us. It's about them and we are the grown-ups in the room.

To illustrate this point, I'll share with you something my dad and I discussed. I was doing my usual griping and complaining about my ex one day. Looking back, I think I was probably hoping for some sympathy from the old man, seeing that he and my mom had divorced when I was three and he hardly got to see me very often for years himself. I figured he'd understand. Somewhere in the discussion I made a typically self-centered comment of one sort or another and somehow, the words came out sounding like I was thinking of doing something stupid. (I probably was.)

His very loud, somewhat angry response got my attention and has stuck in my mind permanently. He said “Look! You need to watch your dumb a$$ mouth! Don't act like this in front of them! You and her went into the marriage with your eyes wide open but those kids didn't ask to be born!” He was right again. We must play fair, for their sake, whether anyone else does or not. That's even if we “lose” temporarily. The goal is to scar their young minds as little as possible.

Extend the olive branch. It might sound very difficult – and depending on the level of emotions it might even actually be difficult – but you will want to be the first one to extend an olive branch. I'd recommend a simple, hand-written letter to your ex, not “certified” as that will just cause their guard to go up, which reads something to the effect of, “You're perfectly welcome to say anything you want to about me. Just please don't say it to the children.” Be polite, courteous and leave all other commentary out of this letter. In my case, I had to also call her and tell her that I was “done with being an a$$hole about this.” A little bit of humility is powerful stuff. My personal situation might be a little bit different than yours. But I'll bet you dollars to donuts you'll find expressing the willingness to be peaceful effective. *One side-note: Once you make this offer, stick with it. We guys are infamous for saying one thing and doing another. Keeping this arrangement will gain you much ground and might even completely adjust her behavior.

Time factors in too. Right now it might seem hard to believe but eventually, you will adjust. A day will come when you one day look back and realize this was a difficult, painful time – but it wasn't the end. A guy in Florida was talking with me during a particularly difficult day and said, “When I first got divorced, I cried myself to sleep every night because I lost my wife. Now I cry myself to sleep every night because I'm afraid she might someday want me back.” You'll reach this point eventually, too. Just make sure not to screw up permanently because of temporary emotions along the way.


For more from Donald, please visit Expertspages by clicking the link. You can also find Donald on Yahoo Voices, and you can buy his book, Winging It; 21 Ways to Earn Money Without a Job, by clicking the links.

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