Four years ago, my wife left me.
Even before the divorce was finalized, I received well-intended but mostly bad advice from people recommending I start dating. I can understand why. No-fault divorce is a grave injustice. Why should the faithful spouse be sentenced to a life of loneliness and misery. Loved ones want the abandoned spouse to be happy again. And they think if you are happy, then your kids will be happy too.
The problem with this approach is that it focuses exclusively on the adult’s happiness and further reduces that happiness equation to another sexual relationship. But if happiness is the goal, shouldn’t the focus be on making the kids happy?
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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What’s best for kids is stability and self-sacrificing love. Despite the fact that male abandoned spouses face difficult financial and emotional challenges, I would argue you need to avoid the temptation to find a girlfriend and “new love” and instead find joy in the time you spend with your kids.
My experience observing other men dealing with the aftermath of an unwanted divorce is that girlfriends are just an escape, and they often distract from childcare. Guys want companionship and help in caring for their children. But all too often, the guy focuses most of his time on the new girlfriend and not enough time on his kids, who often feel neglected.
Children of divorce are already upset and confused about what is going on in their lives. They shouldn’t have to compete with a new girlfriend for their father’s attention. The never-ending movement between dad’s house, mom’s apartment, and school take a toll on their sense of stability and safety. The remedy is to spend as much time with them as you can and pay attention to what they say.
It’s important to eat meals together at the table, without distractions, where children can talk about their day and share their concerns. For example, my oldest son talks about what he learns at school. My daughter tells me about her friends. And I listen to my youngest son talk about the latest toy-sharing injustice. In order to pull that off, I make bulk meals in advance and complete household chores on the weekends when the kids aren’t with me.
I learned to put down the phone and listen to my kids. I take an active interest in what they care about. I leave work early to be at my kids’ practices.
Bedtime can be tough. Inevitably, one of my kids misses their mother. Usually, my youngest will say, “I miss mommy, snuggle me tight daddy.” Or when a child is sick and you don’t have back up, it’s just you dealing with both the projectile vomit and washing all the bedding at 3 a.m. the morning before an important work presentation. Bedtime can be tough. Inevitably, one of my kids misses their mother. Usually, my youngest will say, “I miss mommy, snuggle me tight daddy.” Tweet This
Most importantly, take your kids to church and send your kids to Catholic school if you can afford it. Otherwise, send them to CCD. The stability will help them. Your kids need to know that they are special because God loves them.
What do you do when the kids aren’t with you?
Consider joining a men’s group at your local parish. It will help combat the loneliness and work toward developing a deeper spirituality. I attend a men’s group on the Saturday mornings I don’t have my kids. We begin with a prayer, listen to a weekly video presentation, and break out into small groups. I have been able to meet a lot of good Catholic men this way. Some are going through the same challenges.
I would also recommend joining your local Knights of Columbus. It’s another outlet to meet good Catholic men and has many social and volunteer opportunities.
Read more, especially from Catholic outlets. Websites like Crisis and others are not only intellectually stimulating but also help to strengthen your knowledge of Catholicism and form a stronger conscience.
Join a gym. Lift weights and go for long walks. The endorphins provide temporary relief from the emotional pain and anxiety. Avoid drinking. It is not a good way of dealing with loneliness, it’s bad for your health, and it intensifies emotional pain. No matter how old your kids are, they need your help and guidance. Stay healthy for them.
Make no mistake about it, divorce is always terrible for kids and the abandoned spouse. But if you want to give your kids a chance at normal, forget about finding “new love.” Instead, remain faithful to your vows. It’s what’s best for your kids. They need you more than you know.