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I love Mother’s Day with all the encouraging posts about moms, mom stories, mom photos, remembering mom posts, what mom was like. I relish that shared experience we all have of being children of a mom. And a dad, too. (Yeah, I know, Father’s Day is next month, after school is out, and doesn’t get the same promotional or emotional lift.)

One of the threads of encouragement I tend to follow on Instagram and Facebook are the single mom bloggers, posters, evangelists. Well done single moms! You rule. And I do believe single moms need all the support and love they can get. And single dads, too.

Do you think we could get support for a Single Parent Day?

I am almost always encouraged by the ferocity and energy expressed in these women lifting single moms up. Occasionally, the sentiment moves over into bashing the dad, as bad as he may be, and those I’m less interested in. Let’s keep our dirty laundry on another thread. Lot’s of mean things happen on the path to becoming a single parent. And the anger and resentment, and perhaps the ongoing struggle with things like custody, child support, and parenting permissions, are real. And I do believe they need support. But let’s keep the GO SINGLE MOM posts on the positive side. What can a single mom do to be strong today? Can a single mom feel good about herself for the work she puts in, over and above, every day to make sure her kids are happy and well-fed? Isn’t that enough?

Let’s examine the rest of the players of this drama for a minute.

The single dad (that’s me); and the kid(s) of divorce (that’s what adds the magical word parent into the equation)

In the post above I was sincerely touched by the sentiment. Until the last two words. “Give up.”

Divorce has a lot of stigma associated with the sexes and who was at fault, who did what to whom, and who is the deadbeat parent now? And I don’t want to add to that largesse, but… someone did give up. That’s how divorce usually works. One of the parental partners gives up, seeks greener pastures, perhaps escape from abuse and neglect. Giving up is an option in parenting, and it’s called divorce. Giving up as a parent is what? Suicide? The kids aren’t going anywhere.

In my case, my then-wife had been carrying a chip on her shoulder for over a year. We’d gone to her therapist a few times. We’d gone to a couple’s therapist a bunch, but nothing really shifted her innate anger at me. Maybe, I would venture, the anger was about something in her life that predated our marriage, but perhaps I was just an awful husband. I was doing my part to earn enough to allow her to work part-time and live in a modest home in the blue-ribbon school district. I was a faithful and enthusiastic sexual partner, but that connection had taken an isolative turn in the last months. I was at a loss about what to do to jumpstart my marriage, my relationship, my lover. It seemed like the mother of my children had given up.

I learned from the experience. One partner cannot make a relationship work. She had checked out, and no amount of negotiation, re-balancing, or money in the bank, was going to bring her back. I tried all that stuff. Same result. One mad momma.

Now let’s move to focus on the kids for a moment. It seems they have the most to lose if this family system falls apart. And yet the language of the divorce attorney’s literature is about “maintaining a standard of living” and “what’s in the best interest of the children.” In most cases, the couple working out their issues and staying together is what’s in the best interest of the children. However, if one of the parents is not willing to work on it, perhaps the best thing is to coordinate the divorce is a cooperative and friendly manner. That’s the idea behind collaborative divorce, it doesn’t always work out that way, however, as emotions run high and when a parent’s time with their children is threatened, the claws and screams will come out.

The children are the biggest losers in divorce. Once it is done, however, all that is left to do is pick up the pieces and carry on. Support the single mom. Support the single dad. Support the single parents. And learn better how to support the children of divorce.

Always Love,

John McElhenney