Are Divorced Families Whole Families?

An upside of being raised by a single mom is that once you become one yourself, it's less of a shock to your paradigm.
06/25/2013 04:12 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

When I was at the height of my family drama a few years ago, my mom -- also a single mother for most of my life -- comforted me. "You and Helena and Lucas are a whole family," she assured. I was a little surprised. That we weren't never occurred me. But I could see that had been a struggle for her. After all, she was part of that crush of divorces in the 70s and 80s that followed her own very 50s nuclear-family upbringing. Raising children alone didn't look a thing like what she had known "family" to be.

An upside of being raised by a single mom is that once you become one yourself, it's less of a shock to your paradigm. I was chatting with a single dad friend who said he's struggled so with single parenthood because family is so important to him. That shook me a little -- I mean, family is important to me, too. My family just looks different than a J.Crew catalog. And I'm pretty cool with that.

Just yesterday Helena and I were talking about families, and how each one is different. Some kids live with a mom and a dad, others with their grandparents. If her dad remarries, she'd have a stepmom -- or if I do, a stepdad. When our friend Matthew goes on dates, he goes with other men (to which she noted: "And some families have two daddies. And then they put their penises together to make a girl baby." Oh. Good to know.).

"I'm slowly accepting that the kids, my ex and I are still a family," my friend said. I'm not sure I agree 100 percent. Of course many of us are involved with our exes, and as Helena so sagely noted, family can mean anything we can imagine. I hope to be closer with my own ex for lots of reasons including what that might tech our kids, and also to maintain a relationship that has been part of my life for a long time. But the reality is that when we divorce, we start new families -- those that includes our respective exes less than before. We build new lives that are separate from our former husbands -- in different romantic relationships, different homes and separate time spent with the kids.

That doesn't make it any easier for all parties involved. As I wrote in this post, Helena has sometimes disparagingly compared our's to other families. And while we all want to feel normal and accepted, the reality is: life sometimes stinks. And then it goes on. And then we find a new normal, which will ultimately be upturned sooner or later. And each time, we pull ourselves together, gather our loved ones close, and find that we are still -- remarkably -- whole.

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