First off, I want to say that I am a single father of two amazing and beautiful daughters, and my custody schedule allows me to have them every Friday night until Monday morning.
Is it enough? Hell no.
But I do the best I can with the time I have, and I try to spend as much quality time with them as humanly possible. We are constantly taking day trips, going on adventures, or being goofballs together.
Last weekend, I took them to a friend's 8th birthday party; and for the most part, it was like the dozens of other parties I've taken them to. But this one was a little different.
It was different because the birthday boy is a child of divorce, and although his mother is now remarried and he looks to his stepdad as a father figure, his biological father was at the party with all of his ex-wife's family and friends.
Awkward? A little. But it was his son, and although he sat alone for the most part, I noticed something as he was leaving. His son, who had been playing soccer and Nerf guns without a care in the world for the previous two hours, was now bawling in the middle of the kitchen as his father told him he had to leave. It actually caught me a bit by surprise, but it touched me; and I was immediately sad for both of them.
3,000 Miles to Dad
It hit me hard because my parents divorced when I was six. And it broke my heart when my mother moved us 3,000 miles away from my dad, and I was only allowed to see him for two months out of every year.
I still remember boarding that TWA plane, as my dad walked my younger brother and I to our seats, telling us he loved us and he'd talk to us soon. And I vividly remember all three of us crying like babies because of the pain of separating, and knowing that we wouldn't be together again for another year.
I didn't understand it at the time, but I now see how emotionally damaging it was for my dad; and I cannot imagine a world where I could only see my girls for a few short months each year.
A Great Tragedy
There is no greater tragedy than being told you cannot see your children; and as of this writing, I'm fighting to keep my daughters for what little time I have with them. My ex-wife and I are in the midst of a custody battle, and she has filed for sole physical and legal custody.
Needless to say, I'm going to fight. But I don't want to fight. I don't want to live with the stress of hating my daughters' mother, as my father did for so many years. I will fight for what is right and what I believe is in the best interest of my girls, but I can say in all honesty that a war in the courtroom is not what I want.
The reason is because I believe no one wins in these situations. Sure, I might walk away with an extra night of custody, but at what cost? Of course it's a massive financial drain, but that means very little compared to the emotional toll it takes on me, my girls, and their mother.
So I choose the path of most resistance instead of the path of least. I choose to be a bigger person and not succumb to the overwhelming feelings I have of anger, frustration, and bitterness. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
There Are No Winners
Why I share this with you is because many of you reading this are going through, or have gone through, divorces and/or custody battles; and regardless of who ends up getting more time or that extra holiday, there are no winners.
There aren't, because your kids are sucked into the middle of things even though you try your best to stop it. Kids are smart and understand a lot more than we give them credit for. If you don't think they can see your expression as you're on the phone with your ex, or hear those little snide comments you might make because he or she was late yet again dropping them off, you're wrong.
I witnessed firsthand the absolute hate and disdain my parents had for each other, and was sucked right into it. I ended up resenting my mother for many years, even into my thirties, before I was able to truly understand what she did and why.
Take the High Road
As I mentioned, I choose to take the high road even as our custody battle drags on; and although you may think I'm crazy, I highly advise you to do the same.
I belong to several private Facebook groups for dads, and I see the anger and hate every single day. And although I do my best to coach them and try to keep things positive, I know there is no hope for so many. Anger is such a powerful emotion and easy to harness. But it's toxic. To you. To your ex. And to your kids.
Here are some rules I live by that have served me well:
- Always be the better person, regardless of what's happening to you.
- Never speak poorly about your ex.
- In fact, speak highly of them even if you don't believe it. I'm not saying lie to your kids, but tell them the positive things. After all, you were married at one point and surely can find some redeeming qualities. They need to hear it from you, believe me.
- Make it a goal to work together even if your parenting styles are different. Having parents contradict each other is a quick way to confuse your kids and create a good cop/bad cop situation, or open them up to answer shopping. Stability and uniformity are critical.
- Be respectful to your ex. Our kids need to learn how to respect others and expect it in return, and it starts with us.
- Communicate. Sure, poor communication has been the cause of many a marriage's failure, but it's vitally important that you do your best to keep your ex informed and in the know. I don't particularly enjoy my conversations with my ex-wife, but it's still an important part of raising our kids separately.
I'm not saying this will solve all your problems as you try to raise your kids or deal with your ex, but it will absolutely help. Take it from someone who lived through a bitter and nasty divorce and saw how much his mother and father hated each other. I have deep scars from my childhood, and I've worked through many of them; but it's your duty to protect your children's hearts and do the right thing, even when it seems impossible.
It's not, believe me.