Custody and Divorce: Don't walk away from responsibility
One man's journey through the murky waters of divorce and single parenthood
by Mike Malinchok
dad with laundry © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com All rights reserved.
The possibility of just 'walking
away' from my life is something that has never been far from my thoughts
almost every waking moment for the past couple of years. It has
been an option I have entertained when I wake up to face the overwhelming
tasks ahead of me before 5am...and it crawled into bed
with me when I finally put my head on the pillow in exhaustion and despair
at 11:30pm. I sometimes fantasized about what it would be like,
how I would do it, and how I would feel about it. Of course,
it never amounted to more than that:just a thought. The
closest I came to walking away was running out into the front yard to
escape the gut wrenching sounds of my three beautiful children (ages
12, 10, 8) crying out simultaneously in anguish and confusion over the
disintegration of their family. Within seconds of running outside,
I ran back into the house, and sat on the stairs with my 3 children
as we all cried together over their mother's decision to leave our
Just a few months prior to
that , I was in the full stride of my life with a beautiful wife who
also happened to be my best friend for 25 years, a successful career
that was taking off with new fervor, three great children whom I adored,
and a couple of completed running marathon medals hanging on my bedroom
wall. To complete the picture I was able to move my family into
my version of the American 'dream house'.......an older 'fixer-upper'
with lots of character, an in ground swimming pool, and plenty of room
in which to raise my brood and grow old with my wife.
But my picture of a successful
life was painfully dismantled when my wife's private life was
uncovered while I was reviewing the cell phone bill. In
what turns out to be a not-so-uncommon turn of events, I found myself
in a situation I naively thought I would never, ever be in.
The life I had worked toward and cultivated was a dream that was not
shared by wife. She had other plans for her life that didn't
include me or a family structure that I simply assumed she wanted as much as
I did. She left. I stayed.
Over the coming months, attempts
to address marital issues through counseling, spiritual intervention,
and numerous 'dates' trying to re-create romance brought us both
to the decision that the marriage had run its course and it was time
to move on. And, so, she left--and I stayed.
Having been raised in a family where divorce was never considered an
acceptable option, I struggled deeply (and still do today) with acceptance
of the reality of the breakdown of the relationship and I felt contempt
for my ex wife at her decision to leave the marriage (emotionally) and
Our society and culture have
created a general sentiment that divorce is commonplace. It does
not carry with it the social stigma it used to. Look at any of the television
stations that are geared to children's programming. The vast
majority of families portrayed in sitcoms are single parent households
or blended families. Admittedly, before my own divorce I thought
nothing of this situation because I never thought it would touch
my own family. When it did, the explosion of emotions hit me like
a ton of bricks. Seeing how society downplays and accepts divorce
as a natural part of life often makes the hair on the back of my neck
stand on edge. We live in a culture that chooses to minimize
the family trauma of divorce. We seem to want to brush the pain
and torment under the rug and encourage everyone to just 'move on,' 'get
on with your life' and 'accept what is'.
Motivated partly by anger toward
my ex wife and fear that my children would grow up with no respect for
marital commitment, I was diligent about driving home the point that
walking away from a problem or an uncomfortable situation was never
the right answer. For obvious reasons, it was a hot button for
me and I never missed the opportunity to stay on message with my kids
about this. Being the verbose children they are, whenever I implored
that my kids 'don't walk away' (either from an argument, a scolding,
or an awkward conversation), they began to ask me 'why not?'.
I can see now where that response could well have been nothing more
than a child's way of pushing back on a parental command. But,
in the newness of my situation, that response sent red flags up to me
that my children are already becoming 'damaged' kids of divorce
who will grow up with no sense of commitment to anything.
In trying to determine the
best way to respond to the 'why not' question, I tried the
usual range of typical parental responses: 'because I said so',
'don't question me, just listen', and 'because if you do walk
away, you're grounded'. Short term success of those answers
bought me some time, but didn't really have the staying power I had
hoped for. And given our family situation, I knew that my children
deserved to hear a logical answer to the question of why 'walking
away' was not the right option when faced with something difficult.
I struggled for months to try to come up with a better way to handle
this when it finally came to me:
Of all the tasks that my life
requires me to do on a daily basis, the one that evokes the darkest,
ugliest, and most vile emotions within my head is doing the laundry.
I recognize that the task is a relatively sedate one since the advent
of the washing machine and dryer--nowhere close to the physically
daunting task my immigrant grandmother who raised 7 children had to
undertake. But, in my mind, the very thought of approaching that
chore has the ability to suck the life out of me. One day, in
the heat of an emotional conversation which escalated to the usual peak
of me shouting 'don't walk away'.and one of my kids asking
'why not,' the family mantra was borne: As we were standing
knee deep in two weeks worth of laundry generated by a family of four, I
found the most compelling answer to the 'why not' question:
'Because there's laundry to do!'
There's a simple, yet powerful
two-part brilliance to that answer: First, the element of humor
softens the moment, it allows a space between the raw emotion and the
subsequent action. Sometimes, all it takes is that comical jolt
to completely diffuse the situation and bring a fresh, calm perspective.
Second, and perhaps even more compelling, is the very fact that in a
household run by a single father with three small children there's
an automatic safeguard built into that answer that most parents of young
children who might be reading this already know: there will always
be laundry to do and it's never really 'done.' Hence, walking
away is never right.
The first time I used that
answer, we all broke out into laughter,.looked around at the huge
piles of dirty clothes surrounding us, then looked at each other and could
feel that the energy had shifted. The 'storm' had passed.
We sat down, talked through the issue, and then got to work on the laundry.
And, so, as a single dad trying
to run a household, raise three spirited young children, and manage
a career, I find it to be a striking conundrum that the one task
in my life that I loathe more than anything else has evolved into one
of the keys to keeping my family together. Don't walk away...there's laundry to do.
About the author: Mike is a Certified Professional Coach and Business Consultant. His 'On Purpose' seminars have been widely recognized for their practical and direct approaches on such topics as: Public Speaking Training, Business Discipline Boot Camp, Parenting on Purpose, and Transition-to-Transformation 101. Mike is the proud father of a son (Stephen) and two daughters (Karlie, Kirsti) for whom the company is purposely named. For more information: www.s2konpurpose.com
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