Armchair Quarterbacks

While it was a few decades ago, though it doesn’t seem that long, I was in my early days of military education. During that time I had to learn an excerpt from a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt in April 1910 entitled Citizenship in a Republic. At that age, they were just words. Later in life they became more meaningful. The excerpt is often referred to as the Man in the Arena.  Below are the words that mean more with each passing year:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

You can pick a difficult area in your life and these words apply. For me, they became extremely poignant during my divorce. The process was extremely lengthy, trying, and pushed me many times towards just giving up and signing her unfair offers. I was inundated with opinions, some supporting, some questioning. Maybe it was the number of times I read the passage above in an effort to memorize it so many years prior that made the words pop into my head. I was able to see my kids, the relationship and role that needed protecting, and keep moving forward.

When the dust settles, you want to be able to look back and know you gave it your all. There are no guarantees in the courtroom. Many armchair quarterbacks will continue to evaluate your divorce and your actions for years after it’s over. Let them. You are the one in the arena. Your cause is worthy and you should never let the critics erode at your sense of the fight for right and the needs of your kids that kept you swinging.

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How to Win Child Custody

I ran across the subject of this posting during a random search engine tunneling last week. Apparently a top searched phrase out there regarding divorce is about how to win custody. It makes perfect sense and is one of the top questions I’ve dealt with from dads about divorce. To address an answer to the question, you need to ask yourself what you mean by the word win.

As men in our society we are brought up in a culture that pretty much divides you into winners and losers in whatever category you choose. It may be true that the current generation is getting flooded with praise in the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” environment we are creating. But in our games as kids you either won or lost. In applying for jobs or college you either won the position or lost. Dating, marriage, promotions, and many other are competitive. Our culture rewards strong men that win. So it is natural that we start off in the divorce battle with our preset win/lose mentality.

Unfortunately it is this win-focused mentality that is expected of dads in the legal system. Many dads before us have set the stereotype. Dads who seek primary physical custody or even shared custody are initially viewed as trying to win. When a mom pushes court employees for custody, she is viewed as passionate. When a dad pushes, he is viewed as aggressive. The belief is that men want custody only to win the divorce and make the mom the loser, regardless of what is right for the children.

The stereotype needs to be broken and it starts with dads out there shifting their focus about winning. Custody is completely about what is right for the kids. As an equal parent in their upbringing, you along with the mom should know what is best for the future of the children going forward in a divorced environment. The right answer should be based on the past relationship between children and parents. The right future is also the abilities of the parents to attend to the children’s needs based on the other demands placed on the parent, such as work. The best environment for the children is also based on the ability of both parents to set aside their differences, and I know personally how hard this is, to make common decisions about the children.

When you honestly assess these and many other factors, the right custody arrangement for your children should stand out. It may not be easy to accept, but it is about what is best for them. And by stating that, I’m not assuming the children go to mom. Your right answer may be primary custody with you and that is very hard depending on all the other demands you have in life. The right solution will take serious soul searching. You will need to perform the most honest self-assessment in your life. But when you have that answer, then winning is defined as final custody aligning with your right answer.

Ideally your vision of the right answer is the same as their mother’s vision. Often that is not the case. If in your heart you know your version is right and best for your children, then you owe it to them to fight with all your means to win the best outcome for them. That is winning, not beating the mother. When you can argue why your vision is right based on real, tangible examples, relationships, and strong evidence from the past looking forward, then you can shift the opinion of the court from the assumption of you wanting to win for the sake of winning to that of a passionate father. It all starts with believing to your core that you are fighting for the right reason, and not the petty reason of just winning. The system already assumes you are fighting for that. Open up your heart with real reasons to prove them wrong.

Solo Holiday

You can’t help noticing that Easter is very close. While religiously it may only a holiday for Christians, it has become a part of the American culture. No matter your religion, your children see the Easter bunny at the mall, the assorted candies at the store, and the egg hunts around town. The traditions vary when you get to each household, but the excitement and anticipation for the kids, especially the young ones, is universal.  Unfortunately for divorced parents, Easter also presents another holiday divided.  Some dads will be with their kids on Easter and others will not.  For me, this is not my year with them. We had an “early” dinner last night, I gave them a few small gifts, and then they went to their mom’s for this holiday.

I don’t look forward to this Easter morning.  Kris Kristofferson wrote the lyrics to one of my favorite songs several decades ago entitled “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Many artists have recorded it, so you have many versions for your choice. I’m partial to Johnny Cash’s recording. The lyrics that always come to mind are “There’s nothing short of dying, half as lonesome as the sound of a sleeping city sidewalk Sunday morning coming down.” The lonesome Easter Sunday waking up in an empty house I think is just as lonesome. I’ve had a few hangover Sundays in my younger days and remember the down feeling. To me, without a doubt, the haunting quiet of an empty holiday house is far worse, especially when the sounds of what was still ring in your ears.

A recurring theme from me is to minimize the looks backwards. I try to keep my own thoughts grounded, recommend it often to my divorcing and divorced friends, and devoted a section in the Solo Fathers book series to the point. These lonely holidays, though, make it especially hard to keep your eyes forward, or better yet in the now. As this is a solo Easter for me this year, I am with all my brothers that will awaken to the sad silence on Sunday.  All of us will struggle to not let our thoughts linger in the past opening ourselves up to regret, yearning, and sadness.

Regardless of your faith, Easter symbolizes a time of rebirth and renewal. As our thoughts fall in line with the sad theme of the song, we can work to shift our gaze forward. After all, as the saying goes, you can never really go home. Trips back into places and events we remember with fondness never are the same, no matter how hard we try. No matter how hard we regret, we will never wake again by our ex in the household of old on these mornings.  

Instead, we have to focus on the next chapter. I have been in the military longer than I have not, but I was not raised in the military. A good friend who was, though, described his childhood as chapters, divided by each duty station. He was happy with his childhood and loved remembering each chapters, even the sad ones.  I always liked that and my memories after joining the military are also organized that way. The pre-divorce life is the last chapter. The one ahead is for me to define. Your next chapter is yours. You may or may not have had much to say about how the last one ended, but you are the owner of the next chapter.

We can relish in the good memories just as we can any from our past. Rather than becoming stuck in regret and what-if loops that produce no good, focus instead on what you want to be the highlight, the sound bite, the trailer of the next chapter for you and your children. 

Everyone custody and visitation arrangement are different. We all hold the power to direct our energy where we can control. Your next chapter is yours to define. This season of rebirth is yours and your family’s. The sadness will not go away, but we can stop the spiral by enjoying the past, not regretting it. Are there passions or hobbies you couldn’t put much effort towards in the last chapter? You have time now. There are usually a few openings on the golf course during Easter! Think of your next time with your kids and how you plan to make that special for them and you. 

You aren’t alone this solitary holiday. We just ended up with some single holidays sooner than we may have imagined. But all parents will have to learn someday how to close that chapter and move forward when their children are gone. We can’t change the timing of our chapter change. But we can control the beginning of the next one. 

The Spring Break Schedule

While it seems many school districts are shifting their spring breaks away from the weeks around Easter, most still hold theirs around this time. Disneyworld certainly plans a large surge right now! Spring Break can be one of the trickiest holiday periods to divide in your custody planning. Here are a few of the most common solution options available:

1) Nothing changes. Spring break affects the schools, but not the work environment. Many families treat it as any other week. If your break occurs around Easter, and your family observes that holiday, you can address the holiday specifically. Otherwise, keep the schedule moving as usual. The main advantage is that the schedule continues to be predictable for your children. The main disadvantage is that you have no firm arrangement should you wish to take a vacation with your kids during their break. You can easily work around this disadvantage by inserting some language that allows either party some right to claim the week on an alternating arrangement with some level of notice.

2) Alternating years. Another common arrangement is to assign the break based on even/odd year. In this way, you now have a guarantee for each parent to have the opportunity to use the break to spend time with their children or even take a vacation. As a disadvantage, if your job makes time off difficult, then you just picked up a week of kids at home while you work. Going this route will require some level of commitment on your part to taking time off to be with your kids, especially if your ex is always able to be off.

3) Split the break. You pick a halfway point, like Tuesday or Wednesday, and each parent gets some of the break. Every year you are guaranteed to have some extended time with your kids. That’s nice for everyone, but the kids need to pack up halfway during their break. The same argument applies to this approach as with the alternating years in that you need to be able to commit some of your time to them, especially if your ex is able to make that commitment.

4) Remote parent gets the break. For those of us who live a good distance away from your kids, you should expect to be able to seize all the opportunities you can when the kids are out of school. Many courts will make spring break available to the remote parent every year. Work may not allow you to take advantage of the time every year, but taking this approach does provide you a good stretch for you to be with them without having to worry about school calendars.

There’s no one-size-fits-all arrangement. I’m sure there are many other examples out there other than those listed above that work well for their practicing families. The best plan for your needs must fit within your limitations and minimize the churn for your kids. If you have other examples or comments, please share them!