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10 Survival Tips for the Divorcing Dad

As you may know, Magda and I used to be married. The wedding seems like ancient history now. In fact, we’re a month away from what would have been our 14th anniversary, which means our cells have regenerated twice over since that fateful day in 1998. Each of us has become two entirely different people!

What seems like an eternity is actually just under 5-1/2 years since we first realized our marriage was kaput. And I feel very grateful to tell you we’ve reached a degree of stasis. We’ve found houses that are a walking distance apart, in an area safe enough to let the boys walk to and from whenever they like. And from all accounts — *knock every piece of wood within arm’s length* — the kids are doing OK. It helps, of course, that our kids were young when we split. (We’ve been apart for more than half of our 10-year-old’s life, and just about all of our almost-7-year-old’s.)

The weird thing is that so many people have commented to both of us that we make it look so easy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth and that are diametric opposites, each at the far end of the spectrum of everything. It’s getting easier, but it was miserably rotten and hard for a long time. And now that I’m sitting here on the other side, in the relative calm after the tempest, I can look back on the things I did and think, “I guess that sort of … worked?”

If you’re a man about to divorce the mother of your kids, I’m sorry to hear it. Divorce is a heaping dose of awful, full stop. But it doesn’t always have to be forever. When I first knew I was going to be single again, my first thoughts were of our boys. I mostly knew I’d eventually be OK, but I had no idea how we’d help them through it and keep from screwing them up even more than we already were. The bottom line is this: Just like on an airplane, you need to take care of yourself in order to be in a position to take care of them. So here are 9 tips for seeing your way through the really terrible times, so that you can brace up and be the rock that your kids desperately need.

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  • Find a good therapist. 1 of 10
    Find a good therapist.
    Whether you're leaving or being left, you're very likely navigating lots of intense feelings all at once. Acknowledge this and talk it over with a pro. You'll very likely realize things you never knew about yourself, or your relationship, and the answers will help you feel less threatened and visualize your partner's side of things.
  • Get it out of your mind and onto the page. 2 of 10
    Get it out of your mind and onto the page.
    You've got lots of ugly thoughts right now. You're picturing your soon-to-be-ex dying in the most painful and disgusting manners possible. Express all of it in a document that no one must ever see. Write it out and destroy it ritually. Perhaps involving a Viking pyre. Purge all your childish, puerile impulses so you can face your divorce like an adult. And realize that not having a mom would be terrible for your kids.
  • Get your exercise. 3 of 10
    Get your exercise.
    Putting your body through its paces is great for venting anger that you can't express, creating endorphins that stave off depression, and getting into "presentation condition." Exhausting yourself is also a great antidote for insomnia.
  • Accept the new reality. 4 of 10
    Accept the new reality.
    Take as long as you need to go through the five stages of grief, and remember that every day gets incrementally better. Rely on others who've gone through it, and count on the day when you'll be in the place where you can pay that advice forward.
  • Treat her like a business partner. 5 of 10
    Treat her like a business partner.
    Your marriage is over, but your relationship isn't. You're not emotionally beholden to her. She's just a co-shareholder in this business of raising your kids together. When you argue, don't take it personally; it's just business. It also helps to recognize that detaching from your emotions is a good thing; detaching from hers is even better. Ultimately, for the sake of your kids, you'll want to rebuild trust. That comes from working together (and having a clear-cut divorce agreement also helps).
  • Be honest with your kids. 6 of 10
    Be honest with your kids.
    Tell them the truth about what's happening, and let them know it's OK to feel however they're feeling. Cry with them if you want (like I did), then pull it together and show them how they can overcome the shock and sadness.
  • Tell your kids what you’re going to do, and then do it. 7 of 10
    Tell your kids what you're going to do, and then do it.
    Kids crave stability and support, and a divorce is like an earthquake beneath their feet. Living up to what you say helps them rebuild trust and recognize that, even though you're moving out, you're not going anywhere.
  • Fight for (and savor) time with your kids. 8 of 10
    Fight for (and savor) time with your kids.
    Don't move out until you have a visitation plan you can live with. And when your kids are with you, engage with them fully. Put your phone away and give them your full attention. You'll have plenty of time for that other stuff while they're gone.
  • Tell them when you’ll see them again. 9 of 10
    Tell them when you'll see them again.
    This is all part of that same New Structure idea. When they leave, tell them when they'll be back. New schedules can be daunting; let them know they don't have to remember when to see you, because you'll do it for them.
  • Defy expectations. 10 of 10
    Defy expectations.
    Hating your ex-spouse's guts is boring and cliched. So go the other way. Talk about her kindly to your kids. Encourage them to make birthday and Mother's Day gifts for her. Even if you do hate her guts, guess what: Your kids aren't you. And every kid deserves to like his mom when he's young. When he's older, he can decide for himself.
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Read more of Doug’s work on his personal blog, Laid-Off Dad.
Check out Doug’s Twitter feed @LOD.
Read Doug and Magda’s blog about co-parenting, When The Flames Go Up.
Read all about him on his About.me page.

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