For a frame of reference, I have two children from my previous marriage and am expecting my second child from my current marriage. My first marriage was very rushed- after just three months of dating came the news that a baby was on the way. Before she was born, not knowing each other very well but feeling the pressure from both families and society in general, we decided to go ahead and get married. Looking back, I have learned from my choices and realize how wrong that decision was. I also know my experiences have led me to be who I am today so I wouldn’t take anything back at the same time.
Early on after my first daughter was born, life threw some wrenches in my plan and my ex-wife was able to get a better job that required moving to a different area. St. Louis is an amazing city and growing up a Cardinals fan, it was one of the top destinations for me to end up. The only problem was, I became the stay at home dad in this situation with a five month old baby. Did I mention I was 21 at the time and had no friends or anyone I knew in the area? This made the situation very hard, adjusting to being a parent at such a young age and adjusting to the stigma of being a SAHD. This was 2007 and there were not a lot of men in my position, definitely not a lot around my age. It was difficult for me to adjust but I just focused on my daughter and learning how to be the best parent I could be. My ex-wife was happy with her job and her situation there was a lot different than mine as she had made friends at work. Once a month, I would get to visit with friends back in my hometown and it felt like a cruel tease. After less than six months, I forced the issue to move back home. It was too much for me to feel so alone and deal with all the struggles without any friends or family to be there with me.
Once I got back home, I found a great job in sales and put my daughter in day care. My new job boosted my self esteem and showed me that I could be successful in life. Unfortunately, at the same time my daughter was miserable in the day care. Early on in her life, I established great daily routines with naps, meals and bedtime. These routines went out the window at daycare- she wouldn’t nap, cried all the time and went to bed very early every night right after getting home. Despite how well I was doing at work, it was incredibly hard to see my daughter struggle so hard and something had to give. Eventually, things reached their breaking point and I got a part time job to work around my ex-wife’s job so I could stay home with my daughter again. We got back to a nice routine and several months later found out she would be having a little brother.
When my son was born, I had been working third shift and never full adjusted to a different sleep schedule myself. It was scary to not know if I would be so tired I would pass out sitting down on the couch at anytime. Something had to give once again and I devoted full time to being at home with both kids. Despite a rough marriage, I will always look fondly on this time because of how much me and the kids bonded together. We went for walks, went to parks, cruised around town and had fallen into some great routines. My ex-wife was offered a better job if she transferred to the Champaign area, we found a duplex and moved within a couple weeks of the news. This move was a lot better than the move to St. Louis because I was still able to visit family and friends pretty regularly. I was also able to work part time at a job I was very familiar with in lawn care sales. The hours worked around her schedule and I was very successful during the hot season. I will always remember catching the fireflies with my daughter, that was her favorite thing to do all summer for a few years.
After a year and a few months, we were able to move to our current hometown and settled in on a nice cul-de-sac. We made a promise to the kids that they would not have to worry about going to a different school, we would keep them in the same school system. Within the next year, I found a job as a local reporter for a daily newspaper and was able to bring the kids to almost all of the events that I covered. I worked at least 50-60 hours a week but it was worth it because the kids were able to be involved in so much with me. This was covering our new hometown, the events and school sports and diving into the local community. I had picked up a lot of anti-social qualities being in a unique position for awhile (SAHD), but this job allowed me to toss them all to the side and go back to being the people person I always was before. It brought me and the kids even closer together and I took a ton of pictures, not only for work but a lot of the kids as well. After six months, the company folded and I was left without a job once again. That’s when I picked up as a freelance journalist doing stories for local newspapers here and there.
I had an amazing experience in Mexico City for my best friend’s wedding in 2013 and saw what true love could be like. I yearned for this love but never had it with my ex-wife or anyone before that. I made it my mission to try to save the marriage and find the love that was never really there. This only made things worse and I ended up with frustration after frustration when I couldn’t make it happen. I went through some heartbreak and was divorced by the following year. Even in my darkest places, I would still have to hold it together for the kids and a lot of that saga has been chronicled in my past blog posts on here. When my saga ended here, I had found the woman I was hoping for in every way and finally found true love like I always desired. She had a year old son coming into the relationship with a birth father who was not in his life at all, so I took him as my own and am in the process of formal adoption. Me and my current wife have been through a lot together and have been married almost a year now. Our relationship has only grown from the first date where I knew she was the one and told her I loved her (It was early, but when you know you know). We have dealt with a very tough relationship with the ex-wife, with joint custody although not always able to work together due to some lingering animosity over certain events that I don’t want to drag up here.
Ultimately one of the biggest struggles is with two different parenting styles and ways to raise the kids. While being very close and with a lot of nurturing, I use a more authoritative parenting style with clear expectations but also the ability to reason with the kids. I believe the kids first parenting strategy is not the best way, it should be family first. Many decisions I have made have been all about the kids, from staying at home, staying in a loveless marriage for so long and giving up big opportunities in my career to stay at home. These decisions ultimately made things a lot harder for them because I had to almost completely start over after the divorce. We are just now where we wanted to be, through working hard and putting all members of the family into consideration when making decisions.
My daughter was in travel softball for a year and competitive cheerleading for a few years. All of the time spent traveling to practices and tournaments and all of the money spent was hurting the family as a whole. If I had used the kids first mentality that is so prevalent nowadays and I had been guilty of using in the past, my whole family would have suffered and we would end up being without a house, van and the things we have worked so hard to achieve. My son also did travel baseball for two years. These traveling activities/sports add up very quickly and place a huge burden on the whole family to either be at every event and be broke the next few weeks or to be missing out on these big events. Just this year, I had to give up Fathers Day weekend and a few other of my days with the kids so my son could still go to his traveling baseball games, only to still feel a huge financial pressure and put us all in a position where every weekend and week was taken up by baseball.
The travel baseball industry alone is valued in the billions annually and is only rising every year. It is understandable that parents want to give their kids everything they can and make all kinds of sacrifices in the process. It sounds good on paper, but when you consider the effects to everyone else in the family it turns into something more complicated. If everything is for the kids, where do the parents come in? When does it become too much for the other kids in the family? These were tough questions and motivated me to take my daughter out of competitive cheer and my son out of travel baseball for next year. With another daughter on the way, we need to prioritize the family as a whole and use our money wisely to be able to do some activities for all of us but not let it get out of hand.
Parenting is hard because there are so many factors at play. Modern society places a lot of value on putting the kids first, but I think that is also one of the biggest reasons for divorce. In putting the kids first, parents have neglected themselves and their happiness. There is a great article from The Guardian that puts this in perspective: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/07/parents-advised-put-children-second . I have left a lot of my story out for now, but will cover more in the future here. Thank you for reading and I would love to hear your feedback.