This is by far the most vulnerable I’ve been in any of my writing.  Somehow this feels like the right time to open up a little.  And at the same time, I want to share some of my story because it ties in directly to my mission of Talk Shop and the “WHY” behind what I do.

Rarely do I like to talk in cliches, but I want to start with one.  You need rain and sun to grow.  (I’ll come back to this cliché in a bit) It’s hard to believe but I have crossed over the line…the threshold of having been divorced for as long as I was married… (side note: do I get a door prize?)

For those who don’t know my personal parenting journey, I was dealt a divorce 10 years ago, when my boys were the tender ages of 3 and 7.  I’d like to share a little about what I have learned and what it continues to teach me. (Mainly about how pivotal effective communication skills are in life).

While enduring the ongoing existence of a divorce isn’t the most pleasant thing I get to experience, I have learned a lot.  It has also put me in a position to learn a lot about myself.  As the expression goes, “time is a great healer” and indeed time allows me to continue to heal, to reflect, to learn, and to adapt.  My journey through marriage, becoming a father, divorce and co-parenting have all been ripe with ups and downs.  Complete with a full range of emotions that are wide ranging.

For me, it’s an ongoing journey of managing the ups and downs all the while being consistent for my boys.  What does this mean exactly?  It means I strive to be consistent in the way I parent overall, the way I listen, the way I’m present, and the way I communicate with them.  Is it easy?  Not all the time.

This article would carry on way too long if I listed all the lessons I have learned through this ongoing journey but I will do my best to summarize.

I have learned to navigate this ongoing aspect of my life the same way that I manage any type of business or social relationship and the numerous types of conversations that they require.  Whether I’m having a highly emotional conversation at work, resolving conflict or simply having a direct chat with my boys, I strive to be consistent in my approach.  I listen first, ask questions if need be, to fully understand someone else’s perspective and then I respond.  It seems like such a simple method but we all know there are many who do otherwise.

Afterall, we all want to be heard, we all want to be understood, right?

I have learned to communicate even more clearly than ever. If it takes a minute or two to gather my thoughts before I talk, so be it.  I’ve learned Its better then rushing to respond without thinking clearly about what I’m saying.   I have learned to ask questions to get clarity, numerous times, if that what it takes for me to understand someone else.  I have learned that listening more and talking less is often times the best approach.

I have learned how important listening is.  I have learned this from very difficult conversations I have had (and still do have) with my ex-wife, especially conversations I didn’t want any part of.  I’ve also learned this during conversations with my boys as they were growing up with divorce swirling around them at a very young age and asked me many deep questions about what it all means.  With my boys especially, simply letting them talk and listening to them was and will always be essential.  Acknowledging them, letting them know its ok to share how they feel and to start talking about what they feel inside.  My boys needed to be understood and I wanted to understand them and listening is pivotal in order to understand someone else.

I’ve learned that at times, answering tough questions as directly as possible will be best.  I’ve learned there are times where offering more detail is important, while keeping it to the point at the same time.  I’ve learned that incorporating these guidelines into every conversation will support me to be consistent.  Equally as important, I have learned to execute this consistency not only in my face-to-face conversations but in the way I communicate online too.  There are times a quick text or e-mail can be effective and there’s times where it will backfire and cause a disconnect that could have been alleviated.  My divorce has brought some highly emotional conversations…and its easy to dash off an e-mail and hope the message lands as you intended it to.  Let me tell you, it doesn’t work!  (it’s not realistic to talk to an ex-wife or ex-husband every single time an issue comes up) but it would help greatly if you want to be understood.

I have learned that what (used to) hurt doesn’t matter.   I’ll be honest, there were years it hurt to not have an outside source of validation as to how I was doing as a dad.  In the ever-increasing social media world we all live in, seeing others be lauded by their wife or partner on father’s day for example, and not being recognized was tough at first.  Nine years of coaching my oldest in youth baseball and football and not be recognized for all the time, effort, and commitment that other dads would get, was tough at first.  I never signed up to be a dad to get recognition from anyone…I’m simply stating how those initial first years of divorce were very alienating.

A recent University of Pittsburg (Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health) study reveals that the more social media we use, the lonelier we are likely to be.  The study goes on in detail about the “social comparison” on social media.  The impressions from the outside can easily be “I can’t measure up with what seems to be the less than normal life I lead.”  The study concludes that social media use contributes enormously to people feeling alone.  Now, it’s very easy to point fingers or to blame technology (social media) on the increase of loneliness, but I want to own the fact that it played a part in how I adjusted my life.  I learned over time that I don’t need anyone else’s recognition let alone over a post on social media about who I am as a dad on Father’s Day or any other day for that matter.  Seeking validation from others doesn’t matter to me anymore.  Did it hurt, yes, initially it did.  Time has helped with this.

I’ve learned to manage what I can and cannot control.  Divorce takes an emotional toll on me, no hiding this fact.  I do my best to stay grounded for my boys.  In a way it is a lot like hitting a reset button every time my boy’s transition back to me after a week away.  Resetting my connection with them, readjusting the simple things in life like parenting them to have good table manners, not to interrupt during conversations to name just a few.  Divorce can create many gaps that need to be consistently bridged.  I have stayed true to my “connect first, then correct later” approach.  And boy oh boy is consistency ever needed in raising kids!

Communicating with clarity and impact is always the centerpiece of my life.  From my business background to my work with the 49ers, to the way I communicate with my boys, communicating clearly has always been a focal point for me…and the lessons I learned and continue to develop have propelled me to launch Talk Shop.

Divorce can be unsettling to say the least. Parenting can be challenging even while in a healthy relationship let alone a broken one.

But through my lens, I believe divorce changed my life in some positive ways. It made me a better human and brought me back to my original purpose.

To help others.

Adversity hits us all in different ways…when it does hit you and it feels like the rain cloud is directly over your head, remember, it takes a little rain and a little sun for us all to grow.

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1 Comment

Gretchen Breuner · April 13, 2022 at 5:58 pm

Matt, this was a fantastic post! You inspire me, and I am so grateful you shared your wisdom, perspective and courage by being vulnerable.

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