We Are Different But Not Broken
We may have what some call a “broken home,” but we do not have a broken family. My children have an active father and step-mom and an adorable little sister. They also have a loving step-father and a step-brother and step-sister. We may look different than other families, but we are still a family. All of us.
And we do look different from other families. We even look different from most divorced families. We don’t meet in a parking lot to “exchange” our children. Their dad is welcome in our home, just as I am welcome in their home with their dad. My ex-husband will go up to see the kids in their rooms, and I feel no need to follow him. We don’t sit across the gym from each other at school functions; we often save seats for each other so that our children will only have to look in one direction. We have only one birthday party for each child, and every member of the family (from both sides) is invited. We want our children to be well adjusted and to know how loved they are by all of us. After football games we all go out to dinner together, and it’s wonderful to see how happy the kids are when they have their mom, dad, stepmom and stepdad breaking bread together peacefully.
There have been plenty of times when I did not want to have to see my ex-husband. I admit that. There were times when things were so contentious that it was easier to just avoid him. But for our kids we have always faked it. Even if we had an email war all morning over something, we would still smile in front of the kids at the school play to reassure them. We are the adults; we can handle the stress; but the kids should not have to know anything about it.
The children need us to step out of the dark and shine. If parents focus inwardly on their own depression and bitterness, then their children suffer. Kids are acutely aware of our weaknesses and depression, and knowing immediately puts them in a caretaker position, which is not healthy for a child. When they feel that you need them, they may be anxious when they go to the other parent’s house, or they may feel that they have to sit with you at events because you can’t “handle being alone.” Our children do not need those extra pressures.
This is the time when they should be chasing fireflies and fishing and dancing to their own music. They should not be put in the middle of a bitter fight between their parents. Even if you think they aren’t aware of what is going on because you don’t fight in front of them, they know. They know that things are not OK. They know everything is different. They know they can’t talk about certain things because it would be too upsetting to you. And they internalize everything. If there is ever a time that they need their parents to work together, it is when they are at their most vulnerable point. They have already lost enough, so why rob them of everything?
It is clear to my children that we may not have been able to make our marriage work, but we will do whatever it takes to work together for their benefit. I overheard my 13-year-old talking to a friend one day about his friend’s parents getting divorced. The other child asked Warren if his dad and I were friends. Warren said, “I wouldn’t say they are friends, but they are always nice to each other.” That is exactly right. We may not be friends, but we are working hard together to make sure that our children are able to enjoy their childhoods.
The fact of the matter is this: How could it be bad for children to know non-stop, every day, no matter who they are with at that moment, that they are loved by everyone? How could it be bad for children to know that you encourage them to love their other parent, and that it’s OK with you if they miss their other parent? Why not encourage the kids to call the other parent and pump the kids up to have a good time when they are with the other parent? Why not show the kids love by getting along with the other parent even if you don’t want to? That would be the true blessing for everyone involved.
And then you can proclaim that your family is not broken either… just different.