Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Storm and The Calm: A Lesson for Divorced Parents

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a gentleman who attended one of our Upbeat Dad Community Forums. He has been going through a challenging time in his marriage and most recently, he and his wife separated. They have two young children, both under 5 years old. He wanted to get my perspective on his situation and to know of any insight that I could share.

As we sat and spoke, it became increasingly clear to me that he was living the life that I lived 10 years ago at this point. The situations are somewhat different but the similarities were striking. He invested his all into a relationship and now he’s seeing it crumble in front of his eyes. And in the midst of it all are his young children. I can certainly relate to that feeling  – wanting a relationship to work out but knowing quite well that it is likely over.

He is currently separated and based on what he shared with me, I really doubt that there’s any hope of saving that marriage. I wish that I could talk to his wife to see if there’s any hope of salvaging that relationship. I’m always for reconciliation, especially when there are kids involved – young kids, in particular. But this one, I think, is likely over. I told him that if they should go to the next step and file for divorce, things could get worse before they get better. There’s no telling just what might occur, especially if there are unreasonable demands made by either party. It can be an emotionally – and financially - draining experience for sure.

After about 2 hours of sitting and speaking with him, I realized something quite significant. As we started out the conversation, his perspective was that there was doom and gloom ahead. By the time we finished speaking, he had developed a different perspective – one of hope and optimism. I believe that, based on my own experience, I was able to let him know that, though he’s walking through a storm presently, if he maintains the right perspective, then inevitably, the calm will come.

I have shared my story on this blog in various posts, including The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad and The Awful Night 10 Years Ago That Led Me to Start The Upbeat Dad. Please read those posts to get a perspective on the journey I’ve taken. As you read, I hope that you understand the source of the passion that I have developed for seeing fathers engaged in the lives of their children.

Here’s the most important point I can make with this post: regardless of the difficulties that arise in a divorce, when there are kids involved, if we adopt the right mindset, things will ultimately turn out for our good and the good of our children. After the storm comes the calm, and life goes on.
I have seen couples fight for the assets acquired in their marriages – the house, the cars, the investments, the 401K, etc. I have also seen them fight for custody of their children and in the process, stoop to low depths to get their way. And I can tell you that in just about all of the cases, the persons who made decisions in the best interest of the children ultimately found themselves in a better position.

As I told the gentleman, I’m not an attorney so I can’t give legal advice. I can only give advice based on my own experience and the principles that I believe will put him in the most favorable position. So I told him to have the right focus. He and his wife have accumulated some assets – house, cars, and other material things. I believe that he should seek to divide these assets evenly. That’s the ideal, I believe. But sometimes in family court, things don’t quite work out that way.

I then told him, that when it comes to the kids, he should not compromise on the one factor that matters most – time with them. His wife wants him to have them every other weekend. The whole thing about “every other weekend,” I think is just wrong. Young kids cannot develop a close bond with a parent when they see him/her on what amounts to every 2 weeks. In my view, kids share the DNA of their parents 50/50 so when marriages end, the time shared between parents should also be 50/50.

I also advised him that, at no point, should he say anything negative regarding their mother in their presence. Some parents think that by saying the worst things about the other parent, that will give them an advantage in the eyes of the children. That might work in the short-run but, in time, it generally backfires. Children are smarter than we think. No matter how young they are, they know when the love of a parent is genuine. You may have heard the saying “love conquers all.” I have found that to be true, especially as it relates to the affection towards one’s children during divorce.  

One thing that stood out to me when I spoke with him was that he was going through inner turmoil. I recall that feeling but guess what? I was far removed from those emotions. It was a distant memory. Ten years ago this month my divorce was finalized and, believe me, at that time, I thought the world was coming to an end. I was living through a nightmare that seemed to get worst by the minute. The storm was raging then and even got worse in the next couple years after that.

But here we are today. Those emotions are all gone. Life has moved on. It doesn’t matter that I lost the house and just about all the material things we acquired. My focus was on my then-3 year old daughter. Today, I’m happily married to a wonderful woman and we have a gorgeous little almost 2 year old son. And my daughter is now 13 and she lives with us. The calm has come and I appreciate it so much more because I have the relative experience of the storm to put it all in perspective.

If you’re currently experiencing divorce and its effects, be encouraged. As the saying goes, “tough times don’t last – tough people do.” Keep focused on your kids and somehow things will all get aligned in your favor and theirs.

As I wrote this post, I was listening to Jimmy Cliff’s Greatest Hits. I think that a fitting way to conclude these words of encouragement come from the chorus of his song Better Days are. Check out these lyrics:

Better days are coming by and by
Don’t you get downhearted, don’t you cry
Troubles will be over, all our joys come over
Better days are coming by and by.

Encouraging huh? Indeed better days are coming. Better days are here for me and for so many others who have walked the road you’re walking now. And they will be for you too. Just hang in there because after the storms of life, comes the calm. We cannot always control the storms but if we keep focused despite the raging winds, we’ll come through on the other side just fine. Keep your head up and stay encouraged.

I hope that this was just that “picker upper” that you needed to make it through today. Now go out and make it a wonderful day!

The Upbeat Dad