Peter McGraw brings two solo parents (with older children) into the studio to talk about parenting alone. They discuss common challenges and opportunities that come from the transition to being a single parent, co-parenting, finding balance, dating (conventionally or not), and preparing for the transition to an empty nest. His guest close with advice for having a remarkable life as a solo parent.
Listen to Episode #109 here
How to Parent Alone – Part 1
I’m not a parent but plenty of Solos are. This episode follows up on a previous one titled Solo Parents, which featured two single mothers who chose to parent their young children alone. I bring two solo parents with older children into the studio to continue the conversation. My first guest is a friend and familiar voice, Julie Nirvelli. She has lived in Colorado for more than seventeen years and as a strong, independent, and fun-loving person, Julie embraces the solo life. She’s also a sponsor of the show with her company, Bachelor Girl Productions, which offers you fun and flirty T-shirts.
The second guest is Eric Elkins. He is a strategist author, professional speaker, and CEO of WideFoc.us, a social media agency. He had a blog titled Dating Dad. Now, an empty nester, he has started exploring the digital nomad lifestyle. We start with a brief introduction of their experiences as solo parents. We then tackle some common challenges and opportunities that come from the transition to being a single parent, co-parenting, finding balance, dating, whether conventionally or unconventionally, and preparing for the transition to an empty nest. My guests closed with advice for solo parents on how to have a remarkable life doing this difficult job. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
Welcome back, Julie.
It’s great to be back.
I hope I’m gaining readers because of you.
We have not had any hate mail yet.
Not yet. I have had hate mail but you have none. Welcome, Eric.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
I often get requests for topics and I welcome those requests. Occasionally, I have blind spots, so I’m like, “That’s a great idea.” This episode is among the most requested. I have the obvious blind spot because I don’t have children and nor will I, so I’m doing this for the world. I’m not doing this for me. Before we jump into the conversation, I want to share some data about single parents.
There are a lot of children with single parents, especially in the United States. The US has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. Almost 1 in 4 US children under the age of 18 live with 1 parent and no other adults. It’s 23%. That’s more than three times this year of children around the world to do so, which has 7%.
Seventy-five percent plus of those families are “headed by a mother.” It skews more towards women and all of these numbers are higher in communities of color, especially in Black communities. They are also higher in low-income communities, low-income families, and so on. It’s not surprising given the challenges that those communities faced.
This phenomenon is spurred largely due to divorce. The US has the third-highest divorce rate in the world but it’s also accompanied by a decline in marriage rates and a rise in births outside of marriage. It’s not simply a divorce phenomenon, although that is the most common. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about this phenomenon as you might imagine across the political spectrum and so on. Divorce creates a lot of challenges, financial challenges, most notably. You are splitting a household into two without the commensurate increase in income.
Also, there’s the cost, and that this is one of the big costs is the stigma associated with it. People feel embarrassed that they’ve got divorced. They are embarrassed that they are a single parent and that has a psychological, emotional toll. One of the things that I want to do with this show is to try to attack some of that stigma. A show like this is useful.
One of the major concerns is the effect that it has on children, and there’s a lot of intuition that divorce or single parenthood is bad for kids. That’s not bared out in the data as much as it is in people’s intuition. Bella DePaulo, a friend of the show and working at the leading edge of many of these topics looked into this and finds very few differences between kids raised by single and non-single parents.
When there are differences, the advantage that non-single parents have is quite small. Take substance abuse for example. A national study of more than 22,000 teenagers found that about 5% of the children of married parents had substance abuse problems and about 6% of the children of single mothers had such problems. A difference of 1%, the vast majority of children of single mothers, about 94% are doing fine.
The other thing that I would add to this is it’s very hard to do good research on this because you can’t randomly assign people to divorces, and I will start in my experience. I’m very glad my parents divorced. There were challenges that it created, especially economic challenges but it’s not like it was this happy and loving home with these two people at odds with each other. In some ways, their divorce was good for them, and then also good for their kids, for my sister and me.
I’m sometimes a little too quick to congratulate people on their divorces but that’s my own bias. You can create happier parents by separating them and happier parents are probably the best predictor rather than togetherness. Let’s talk about your experience. Why are you here and how is it going? Let’s start with Eric.
My daughter was almost three when we’ve got divorced. It was quite a long time ago. My biggest priority was her wellbeing, and her mom, to a certain extent, had that same priority. That made it a little bit easier in the sense of we have the same goals. We separated. We kept a pretty strict schedule, which allowed us to keep our daughter feeling that we’ve got her into a structure she was able to follow even though there was a pretty hard transition there. She was almost three, and by the time she was 4 or 5, she did not remember a time when we were together.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with her when she was four years old and talking about the two cats that we had and I said, “When they first met, we had to keep them separate.” One cat was now in 1 household and 1 was in the other. She got this abstract look on her face and then went, “It’s because you and mommy used to be married.”
It has been her whole life, 50/50 nonstop. It has been living my best life on both sides of the equation has allowed me to be a better parent. Sometimes I wonder how traditional parents do it because you feel guilty when you are not with your kid or not co-parenting. When you are divorced, there’s some guilt there for me at first of enjoying my time away from her but there is this essence of when I was with her, I was 100% with her and that allowed our relationship to grow and be strong. It also made it so that when I was away from her, I did not feel like I was missing out as much or being a bad parent.
One of the questions I have is, do you have some overarching perspective that has been helpful to you and your child? It sounds like it’s the child first.
It’s bigger than that. It’s living your best life when you have your child and when you don’t.
Can we say a remarkable life?
Live a remarkable life. When we come back to this at the end, this will probably be the same message but it’s the idea for me of when I was not with her. I did everything I could to make the most of that time. It did not mean I was always going out and dating or partying with my friends. Early on, that’s all I was doing.
How old are you when your daughter was three?
I was 35 and I had never been single. I had gotten married early, had a quick divorce, met my daughter’s mom a short time after we were together. My 30s were like my wild 20s. There’s always this dichotomy between when I was not with her, and when I was in the lives were very separate for a long time but each side was lived fully.
When I was with her, we did amazing things together. I was super engaged with her. I was always on point with her, still some FOMO of my friends being out, whooping it up. When I did not have her, the biggest thing I had to learn was that I did not have to use every moment of that time to go out, do other things, and to optimize that time like getting on the couch for a night and knowing your friends are out drinking. You are on the couch in front of the fireplace, watching movies by yourself and drinking scotch. That’s okay, too.
A quick comment and a question before we get to Julie. One of the nice things about being divorced with kids versus being divorced is you can refer to your ex, not as my ex-wife or ex-husband but as my daughter’s mother.
I use was-band.
Is there an equivalent on your side?
Not that I know of. I’m happy with saying ex-wife but it has been so many years. She has been with her husband longer than we were ever together. For me, ex-wife seems so prehistoric compared to what it is.
I have this philosophy of this barbell style of approaching life, and it sounds like you are living that. When your dad time, you are fully dad time, and then when you are not, you are enjoying your life as a single man. For many years you had a blog called Dating Dad. Can you talk briefly about that too? That will give people a flavor of how you did jump back into your single life. We are not even jumped back into it. You embraced it in your 30s.
It was like my first time enjoying single life. What I realized when it was happening is I had all these amazing stories. Total humiliations, bad dates, good dates, stupid things that I did or said weird, awesome, and amazing things that would happen with my daughter. I was like, “I’m a writer. I should be writing these things down.”
One of those networks of websites for women called SheKnows.com picked it up very early on. I wrote for them for a few years, and then they lost the thread and some people, so I decided to relaunch it on my own as DatingDad.com, and it was a way to share what was going on in my life. It was long-form stories. Every month, a long story that hopefully had some universal meaning to it and that would help other single parents and single people.
What it also helped me do is process a lot of the weird stuff that was happening and figure out how I could be a better person, date better, be a better parent and also stitch those two lives together. It was not so dichotomous. Even though I was not introducing my daughter to people, I was dating or involving her in my romantic life, that social life that I had away from her started to bleed in so that she could see that I was living a full life, even when she was not around.
I go on a lot of dates and get a lot of, “I should write a book about my experience dating. I better get on it because it was 1,000 people thinking the same thing.” It’s nice to meet someone who decided to put pen to paper.
I wrote it for fifteen years. When she left for college, I wrote a few more but I did not feel like I was the Dating Dad anymore. I was this 50 something dating guy. Not nearly as interesting.
Not as much as sexy and fun anymore. Julie, how about you? What has your experience been like? Do you have an overarching perspective that guides you as a solo parent?
Eric and I have never met before but I resonate with everything you said, and I have similar philosophies. We divorced when my daughter was four but she was old enough to remember. You must have hit that sweet spot. My parents divorced when I was two, and so I don’t remember them being together. I would say, “If you are thinking we should stay married for the kids’ sake,” that’s not a reason to stay married. The older they get, the harder the transition is.
I was nine. It was devastating.
I was 25 and it was still devastating.
My daughter is fourteen. I have been divorced for several years. I agree with you completely about the focus on yourself when you have that alone time, and then also with the child. That has been one of my overarching principles is living a full life, both ways and I had 60% custody up until the pandemic, and then we went to 50/50 because when she was doing school at home, we were together all the time and we needed a little more space.
She’s a teenager and we did a very regular schedule. It was with 60%, you don’t have to do any flipping or flopping of anything. I had her Tuesday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. It was the same every week with minor changes. It’s ideal when both of the parents have the child’s best interest in mind for obvious reasons, and that was a bit of a challenge in my situation because that was not always the case on both sides and the other side. I should call a spade, a spade. I do my best to have her best interest in mind. I was going to say it helps when you go into these situations with logic, instead of emotion, and emotions can get in the way of allowing people to keep the child’s best interest in mind.
I screwed up. I did not have her best interests in mind. Maybe in my heart but I made mistakes because the emotions took over for sure.
It’s hard and that’s a perfect segue. I want to get into some specific issues as I have talked about in generalities. Why don’t we start from the beginning because that’s the best place to start, and that is with this transition? Both of you were in a couple. You live together, you were on the relationship escalator and decided to step off of it. What you are alluding to, Julie is divorces are painful and there are anger and hurt feelings?
Not always. Sometimes they are very amicable. “This is not working. How are we going to do this?” I know divorced couples who go that way but it’s very hard to be like that. There are feelings of rejection and failure as we talked about the stigma and so on. What are the best practices either that you used or you wish you would have used to help with this transition as you are disassembling this family unit and creating two separate ones?
Something that jumped into my head when you said that is, both people would have to be willing to do it. Some counseling that helps you process this new life and this new transition, that maybe would have helped our situation somewhat to have an independent party talk to us about how to co-parent and what is in the best interest of the child. I have never heard of anybody doing that before but I feel it could be beneficial.
We did not go to lawyers until the divorce agreements were written, and then we went to separate lawyers to look them over and make sure they were fair but we started with a mediator. There are anger, frustration, and disagreements but a mediator who is trained in that is good at being like, “This is what you want, how can we figure out how to get the best of both worlds?” To your point, it made a huge difference in the way we were able to look at co-parenting, finances, and how we were going to treat each other during this transition.
I always get the sense, the mediator is more about blocking and tackling, who’s going to live in the house, and what the percentage of custody is. The person you worked with went into even more detail about how we are going to approach parenting and so on.
A good mediator is looking, not at the logistics of it but the emotional weight as well. That helped us because we both agreed we were putting our daughter first but that did not mean that we always agreed on what that was.
As someone who hosts a show and a movement for single-living, I have friends and people I know who are married, who then suddenly are becoming unmarried, and I’m often the first call. I have been that for several people, and, interestingly, both of you say this. My first piece of advice, change your passwords because of the hurt feelings. You are going to be talking to other people about this stuff. Don’t give your partner a glimpse into this to make things more antagonistic.
The second one is your child is first. You have to remember that through all the lenses, and then the third one is, “Can you get on the same page with an independent person to help you work through these things?” That’s often hard to do because it’s not an obvious option, and then it’s not cheap. There’s a stigma of seeing a therapist if you choose a therapist route and so on. Those are my three-piece of advice out of the gate.
For me, it was all about maintaining some level of stability for my daughter, which is why we created a schedule that we could stick to. I know a lot of parents have a looser arrangement and it’s like, “I can’t take her tonight. Can you take her?” For me, what I knew my daughter needed most was structure and was to have a predictable schedule.
I remember picking her up at her mom’s to take her back to the house, and the whole way home she’s crying. “I want my mommy. I don’t want you.” Feeling that tension and sadness, at the same time, she became accustomed to knowing when she was going to be with me and when she was going to be with mom. That helped us all limit some of those interactions that can be much more fraught. There were occasions where I was like, “I have to travel. Can you take her or vice versa?” It was neither of us who took too much advantage of that, and that allowed us to keep some separation and lower than the amount of conflict between us.
You have preferred the structure also?
I would be one of those people.
It’s important for kids. Some parents travel a lot for work, so they are not able to but it helps the child to know, especially when their world is being in upheaval and now they can know what to expect.
There are scheduling issues to get on the same page about that. This idea of having someone help you with this stuff as needed. What about things like housing? That to me seems fraught because there are decisions around, “We’ve got this home, someone else is going to move somewhere else.” I have heard of different situations where you now have three residences. The child stays in the familial home and the parents moved back and forth. I get the sense that’s pretty rare because it’s so expensive and difficult. What was your experience? What advice do you have as people are contemplating the housing part of this?
I don’t ever remember a discussion of who would stay in the house. I left the marriage, so I moved out. I stayed there for a while until a month or so. I was not interested in staying there but you have to do what seems to make the most sense. I rented a place in Golden and that’s the community where we had lived prior, so we were not in the same community still but fifteen minutes away. Proximity is another one too is how often are you going to be transitioning. Thinking about the location of that.
I kept the house and sometimes I regret it.
Both of those go against what the norm typically is, with the mother is staying in the home, and the father leaving. That’s interesting that both of you ended up.
It was for the same reason. She initiated the divorce, and part of what I said to her was like, “I want to keep this as stable for Simone as possible, so she and I are going to stay. If you want this to all go smoothly, you are going to find another place.” I wish we sold the house. That might have been harder in the short-term for my daughter to suddenly have to move but I was saddled with this house in the mortgage all by myself and got myself into financial trouble. It was painful. As much as I loved being in that house, also, it was the worst possible place. It was in the suburbs. I was working and partying downtown. It was all the wrong decisions.
It took me a while to get out from under it. I don’t think I was thinking that far ahead, and I do think it was better for my daughter to not have to suddenly shift her entire life and have that stability of the home she liked but in the long run, it was bad financially and socially. I was stuck in the suburbs while everything was happening away. It was always a slug.
You have too much house now.
It was 2 of us in this 5-bedroom home that we did not need, and it was all up to me to do the upkeep. The mowing the lawn and the vacuuming like keeping it in some stable condition was way more than I should have taken on.
If not, you have to pay someone to do it and that is more financial burden. You eventually sold that place and what place did you move into?
We moved into an apartment near downtown, and then eventually, got ourselves a home. I bought a home for us and that helped as well. I did not want to be the single dad in an apartment. It’s a cliché. My biggest concern was being that guy, so I tried to find us a nice place to live that had playgrounds nearby and that it did not feel so bleak. It ended up being the best decision. My life changed from the day we moved in, like the quality of life and everything. It was immediately better, and I wish I had done that sooner.
I loved the choice I made in Downtown Golden. If you don’t live in Colorado, it’s a cute little walkable town, and we made lots of friends, her age. We would go to storytime at the library. I met moms. It was a great small community. I stayed there for five years maybe but I wish I would have bought a home or something instead of rented because the market then went crazy. You just don’t know.
It’s hard to know those things. One follow-up question, we will get to the finances here next but it seems like you both became single parents at an age where you had a little bit of wiggle room about schooling. It seems to me, at some point, you are committing to a school district in a sense.
That’s a huge difference if you move. That’s a much bigger impact than when they are in preschool or not even in school yet.
My daughter was in preschool at a charter school, which went through eighth grade. The plan was for her to stay there. Whenever either one of us moved, we stayed within our radius of that school, and that was never an agreement or anything but you can’t ride a bus to a charter school, so you are going to be driving. We have always been in this radius of that school.
It seems impossible to ignore that unless you are going to homeschool. The financial stuff is very real because it’s math, you add an extra residence. We are in Colorado and a lot of states have done this, where they have formulas based upon you run the numbers, and then some of it also is based on the proportion of childcare.
The number of overnights is the other part of the formula that’s spent at each house.
What are some of the financial challenges besides the obvious one, which is you have to add a residence?
You are also doubling up everything your child owns in some ways. There’s this rotation of clothes that go back and forth between the two homes, and then sometimes your daughter is like, “I left my favorite hoodie at the other house.” I’m like, “We are not going to go back and get it.” There’s stuff that you have to figure out.
She had a favorite blanket, her little pink blanket that she would sleep with, and we had to make sure we had extras in both houses, in case 1 ended up in 1 house or the other. There are all those furniture and listings. When she got her first phone at fourteen or whatever it was, who’s paying for that? What packages are going to be on?
Her mom would be primarily in charge of clothing, and I would pay for half of whatever she got but there would be other expenses where we would be like, “Are we splitting this? Do you want to take care of it? Whose insurance is she on? Is there an additional cost there?” There are a lot of things you don’t even think about until you are in it.
It’s like when your sock gets lost in the dryer. I never understood how one day my daughter would get up in the morning and be like, “I don’t have any pants. They are all at dad’s.” How does that happen? I don’t understand but that’s happened so many times. It’s somehow they gravitate toward the other house for some reason but there are lots of that financial.
Does she have a bike at both houses, all the furniture, and the things? Luckily, I live five minutes away from my ex. My daughter rides horses, you can’t have two pairs of riding boots. Those things are expensive. A lot of times, we are going back and forth and getting stuff. She’s become good at planning ahead and thinking through the weekend and, “I’m going to be riding this day and my stuff is here or there.” It has been interesting to watch her get into taking responsibility for planning ahead and making sure she has what she needs.
That’s going to serve her forever. Empowering them and giving them some agency and what’s happening in the back and forth. Also, it gives them some sense of control that they are part of it. It’s important.
I’m thinking of not having experiences, you might have used to do family vacations. Hopefully, twice as many vacations in a sense. You are doing your vacation, your ex is doing their vacation, and even that there are some fixed costs that you can take advantage of hotels, car trips, and so on. Those expenses go up. It’s much more than the housing type stuff.
That seems to have an implication on maybe the work that you end up doing. In my own experience watching my mother, she was 100% time. She was a full-time single mom, and she came from a different generation than the two of you. She had not gone to college. She was like a full-time homemaker and then suddenly, had to go out on the job market in a time that was not very good and was working 2 to 3 jobs, which had a big effect.
We were latchkey kids and it was good in the sense of responsibility, learning autonomy, and so on but it caused a great deal of stress in the house. She was not always at her best, as you might imagine. Exhausted, concerned, overly worried, and controlling, try and keep us safe. It was not until she got a job. In hindsight, it was not an amazing job but it was for us. She got a full-time job working as a secretary for the State of New Jersey.
That was a game-changer because it was a steady paycheck and hours. It was close to the house. It was health insurance. Very basic kinds of things, and it was not oodles of money but it was enough that we could make our way, and she could have a reasonable life. What has it done for you in terms of the work decisions you make and so on because you have these expenses?
When I started, I was working at the Denver Post, and not making a lot of money. Keeping the big house in the suburbs was a big financial mistake and a huge weight on my shoulders. Eventually, I’ve got out of it, sold it at a loss. I had to make a deal with the bank. It was a pretty horrible situation. What happened for me, as I realized that my Denver Post job was not going to pay the bills and keep me living the way I wanted to live, I started looking into other options.
I ended up in the startup world. When I started my own company back in 2007, I did not have anything in the bank. I knew I needed that autonomy and that there was more potential there, and that’s the thing that changed my life and my financial outlook. Also, it continued to give me the flexibility needed to be a good dad, to be able to go to school plays in the middle of the day or her mom was a school teacher.
If Simone got sick at 2:00, she could not go get her. I was always the go-to, so I was very fortunate to be able to make something independently and to become a business owner on my own and have more flexibility, money, and opportunities. A lot of that was because I wanted more ability to take care of my daughter in an inappropriate way.
Did you find that because you made this choice? Did you find yourself in a situation where you are like, “I can’t fail at this?”
I’m still in that situation but that early pressure was rough. I maxed out the credit cards. Things were tight as I was getting more clients and building the business. Now I’m not a single parent to my daughter. I feel like I have thirteen malice to feed. Now I’m a “parenting” a whole slew of people who are depending on me to make sure that they are getting paid and that they have to have jobs, food, and stay healthy. Sometimes my parenting skill, experience, and growth helped me become a better boss and a business owner because they are not my kids but I think of the responsibilities I have towards them to help them grow, learn and be safe.
This ties in with that financial piece and there’s a formula for Child Support. Even though it’s 100% a data point, again, emotions can come into play and people can be bitter about paying Child Support. When we were married, I had started my business and when we’ve got divorced, it was not making any money. It was still growing and it was a startup.
I needed Child Support and that created so much bad blood. If I’ve got something new or went on a vacation, he felt like he was paying for that. Not that what he was giving me every month, which was not even that much. It was $350 a month. It was not crazy but it matters. If I did not have a child, I would have a 1-bedroom place, not a 2-bedroom place.
$350 does not even cover the cost of another room. As I have owned my own business the whole time that flexible schedule is such a saving grace because you can be there, and I also was the go-to picking up on sick days or taking to the outings, the horseback riding, and all of that. I always felt that $350 a month, you are paying for Child Support expenses also covers you not having to take time off work to do all these things that I do because I have a flexible schedule.
There are lots of ways to view that but having a flexible schedule, I love it so much. Now she takes the bus to school but the bus goes from his house. I pick her up or drive her but even that time in the car is great quality time. When you are in the car, you get a lot of great conversations when there are no distractions.
After school, how was the day, those kinds of things?
Sometimes, I wonder if I had a 40-hour week job and I had to commute, “How would I do the laundry, do the grocery shopping, prepare meals and do fun things with her and for myself, it would be exhausting.” I can’t even imagine.
“Welcome to my mom’s life,” and we would come home and there would be a list of chores. She had us do a lot of those things and she needed to, even then “I’ve got it” type of thing.
I’ve got offered a job as Global Director of social media for this massive global brand. I was interviewing and talking through the details with a VP there and he was like, “You need to be here at 7:38 every morning.” I said, “No. I’ve got to drive my daughter to school and make sure she settled before I come in. Is that going to work?” He was like, “I don’t know. We are going to have to figure that out.” I said, “I have to pick her up at 2:33.” That’s the priority. I’m sure they would have worked with me but it was enough for me to go, “Why even am I sitting here in this office? This is not my life anymore.” That flexibility was so much more important to me than anything else.
We are all talking transition-related stuff. You have this new lifestyle and needs that are there. I had never even considered how much. I had thought about it as, “More money is better,” but you both highlight the fact that you might even tighten your belt a little bit to have the flexibility and how much that would matter. Especially, with your relationship with your child and even your relationship with your child’s other parent that you can pick up a little slack or where they could pick up a little slack depending on who it is.
Let’s talk a little bit about some of those issues around co-parenting. You are co-parenting when you are together but now you are co-parenting while you are apart, at least you hope you are. I know that this can be challenging if there are those hard feelings or if you are not exactly on the same page. Especially, now if one or both of you have a new partner who has a particular perspective and so on. What do you say are some of the best practices either that you have seen or you have done that helps keep this focus on the health and wellbeing of the child?
You should go first. My co-parenting is highly dysfunctional.
As soon as I’m asking this question, both of them have these faces that they are making. We should be easy on each other here. Anybody who is in this situation is probably going, “This might be my number one challenge.”
Even in an ideal situation where both parents are in agreement, it’s all done amicably. There are going to be disagreements and fundamental disconnects between living in two houses but let’s start with you, and then I can talk about it. It was not all flowers, honey, and whatever else. It was wonderful and there were major disagreements on things but like, “We found our way,” but how do you overcome something?
Eric is out of it. Your daughter is now an adult.
We are still dealing with something like that.
Julie is in it still. You can pass if you want. It’s okay.
It’s hard to know are people reading this because they are thinking about transitioning or it’s like, “What kinds of advice are going to be the most relatable?”
There are three types of people reading. For some people, it’s single-parent porn. They are like, “I’m so glad I did not have a child.” There’s that group, and then there are the folks who are in the thick of it, that they are looking for an idea, even the fact that there are other people they can empathize with and so on. Also, there are people who are like, “I need to do this,” and they are not doing it because of these issues. It’s helpful for them to hear what the future is going to be like and to know that it’s very likely to be okay.
That was the audience of my blog and people who are single or trying to figure out their life but it was those audiences, so that’s interesting.
If we are going to talk about co-parenting, I have to go way back. We had what’s considered a high conflict divorce. We could not agree through lawyers. We went to court for the judge to decide. I realized how volatile our situation was and how unhealthy the communication was, and so I asked the judge for what is called sole decision-making. That gives one parent the right to make decisions for the child based on religion, education, health, and major life events. That’s how it’s defined.
When her dad was on the stand, the judge said, “Mother is asking for sole decision-making, what do you think about that?” He said, “We could not agree on anything when we were married. I don’t know who would expect us to when we are divorced.” The judge said, “Mother gets sole decision-making.” If he had said, “We can work it out. We can have constructive conversations,” then they would not award it because I asked for it but he proved that he did not have the capacity to work with me on behalf of our daughter’s best interest. I have had sole decision-making from the beginning. It’s unfortunate but having her in counseling has helped tremendously. It’s a game-changer. I wish we would have done it way sooner.
She has her own therapist, independent of the two of you.
Yes. We interviewed a couple of different therapists with her and she chose the one she wanted. She was reluctant to go to therapy but then when she met the one. She’s younger, cool and she loves her.
It’s the best thing you can do. I wish I had done that sooner as well.
Finding the right match. If I can do a little quick PSA, I have an episode on how to choose a therapist. It’s not easy. People spend more time choosing their barber or hairstylist than they do their therapist, and it’s important to find someone that’s the right fit in terms of training, orientation, emotions, and so on. The communication side of this thing ends up becoming important. How do you communicate and how frequently? What’s so fascinating is some of the innovation has gone hand-in-hand with how states have changed their approach to divorces. Before you get married, you should look into what the divorce process is like.
I have had readers say to me, “If I had known the divorce process was like this, I would have never married.” I have had other people make a very strong argument for a prenuptial agreement. I have a show on Fireside and I have a forthcoming episode about the prenup that you can find on PeterMcGraw.org.
One of the things is, especially if there is high conflict, there are apps out there and one of them is called Talking Parents. Another one is called Our Family Wizard. I’m not endorsing these per se although I have heard good things about them and they are a forum for the parents to communicate outside of calls and texts. One of the nice elements of it is this is recorded, and so in case, there is a future legal action because there’s a conflict that can’t be resolved. You have a written record of what has been happening.
I wish I would have used Talking Parents early on. I did not know about it. We have been to court three times over this. If had Talking Parents been in play, it would have been helpful.
I was going to say back to the idea of, “How do you keep some consistency and communication?” The first thing we did was we realized email and text were the only way to communicate unless it was an emergency because phone calls would get fraught fast. We also made agreements that were mostly followed over the years on consequences of misbehavior. I’m using the same language to talk about certain things so that it was pretty consistent from home to home.
When you say misbehavior, do you mean your daughter’s or yours?
It’s both. That’s a whole other thing. Absolutely, on the parenting side. Like she did something wrong in one house and it was no screen time for a week, then we both had to agree to it. We would find common ways to address certain issues. It helped and it hurt that her mom had a Master’s in School Counseling, so she had all that language set up and we had used it early on.
She was also like, “I’m the expert here.”
These phrases feel trite and they feel contrived when you have been using them over and over again. It helped us to think about consequences for certain things, ways that we referred to behavior, transitions or what was happening in school. We both did Love & Logic Training. It’s amazing. Every parent should do it, even if you are co-parenting or maybe especially if you are.
Can you give a brief overview of what Love & Logic is for someone who has not heard about it?
It’s this model that allows you to be open and honest with your kid and let the consequences follow naturally. It’s a lot more about taking a breath, and not reacting at the moment, and giving your reaction to the consequences sometimes. You might say, “I’m too angry now to talk about this but we will talk about consequences later,” and then you can take a deep breath. You can figure out what you want to do.
A lot of times the consequences are, “Do you remember how you did not make your bed all week as I asked you to, or you did not move the laundry as I asked you to? I’m tired this weekend, so we are not going to be able to go to the park because I’m too tired from doing all the extra work this weekend.” It’s like you are punishing yourself in a way too because you want to go to the park but you are setting these consequences that are consistent, logical, and are based on the behaviors and misbehaviors of your child. Also, it’s all about a language, a lexicon that you consistently use, and they know it. My favorite one was, “I love you too much to argue,” and you walk away.
I don’t know if this is in Love & Logic but this is one of my favorite ones is, “You may be right.”
Even with your communications with your ex of taking a deep breath and realizing you don’t have to respond at the moment. Probably the most important thing I have learned as a parent is you get caught up in the drama and you want to fix it.
Oftentimes, let’s be honest, you want to win. This is one of these kinds of things where you have moved from a communal thing to a competitive thing because you see as compromises a loss in some sense. I have worked very hard to be a peaceful patient man but I would find myself truly struggling in these situations. I would need all the training or all the books. That’s it for part one. Join us for part two of How to Parent Alone.
- Solo Parents – Past Episode
- Bachelor Girl Productions
- Dating Dad
- Bella DePaulo
- Episode – Past Episode – How To Find A Therapist
- Talking Parents
- Our Family Wizard
- Love & Logic Training
- Episode – Previous Episode – Digital Nomads
- Eric Elkins on Amazon
- Eric Elkins – Instagram
- Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You
About Eric Elkins
Eric Elkins is a strategist, author, professional speaker, and CEO of WideFoc.us, a social media agency. For more than a decade, his “Dating Dad” blog. Now an empty nester, he recently started exploring the digital nomad lifestyle.
About Julie Nirvelli
A friend and familiar voice, Julie Nirvelli has been Peter’s friend and Colorado resident for 17+ years. As a strong, independent and fun-loving person, Julie embraces the solo life. She is also a sponsor of the podcast, with her company Bachelor Girl productions, which offers you fun flirty t-shirts.