I talk a lot. Sometimes too much. I’m an over-sharer and sometimes I feel the need to word vomit in the most simple of conversations. It’s just who I am. Too transparent. But it’s certainly led to some interesting conversation.
I was talking to someone affiliated with my work world, someone I had just met, and she was asking me about life, in general: kids, vacations, etc. Just small talk. She asked if I was married and I said my usual, “No, but her dad and I are still in a relationship. We’re together but don’t live together”.
She gave me the same perplexed look that everyone else does. People don’t understand this type of unconventional situation. I get it. She is quite a bit older than me so she seemed more concerned than most do about my answer.
And then she said this: “Well…that’s an interesting set up. So much dysfunction for kids these days. I guess broken homes are the norm with all of the divorces. No one stays together anymore.”.
Dysfunction. I loathe that word in relation to describing a family.
Broken. I loathe that word in relation to a home.
It got me thinking- why, and how, on earth did we ever start describing families of divorce as “dysfunctional”?
Totally rhetorical but my annoyance remains.
This idea that divorce is synonymous with dysfunction and brokenness should not be perpetuated. Those are temporary states, or emotions, within divorce at times, but not adjectives that should describe families.
What a horrible label. It’s something that I have heard less and less of since divorces are so common, but these ugly words we use to describe families that aren’t the fairytale version of marriage and family- “dysfunctional”, “broken”? Let’s stop that.
My family is not dysfunctional. My family is not broken. And my child does not need to think otherwise. If her father and I would have stayed in a marriage, a relationship, which, at the time of separation was completely unhealthy- arguments, tension, unhappiness, amongst other things- wouldn’t that have been broken? Wouldn’t that have been dysfunctional?
The difference is now, yes, she has two houses. She spends the night at one house twice a week and the other house the rest of the week. There are challenges that go along with this. There is navigation involved. There were certainly concerns for my child when this drastic change was made, but at the end of the day, she has two parents that love her. She has a family that functions despite the title of “divorce”. We all still function. No one is broken.
Hearts might have been broken, sure, but they’re in some phase of repair and they certainly won’t stay broken, so let’s not call anything broken. We were living in more dysfunction before, prior to divorce. So let’s not call our new normal dysfunctional. Let’s get rid of that ideal, of that perfection, in relation to what families look like and how they function. Perfection does not exist. Anywhere. We all know this. Let’s stop with the stigmas.
Everyone functions because they have to. They navigate their new normal- all of us do that have been through a separation and a divorce. None of it is easy, most of it is not pretty. And it can certainly get downright ugly. But it was most likely ugly as the textbook definition of marriage, too.
It’s redefining. Not dysfunctional. Not broken.
We know our children do not go unscathed by divorce. We, as parents, we know this. We do not need ugly labels to reinforce this, however. We do not need this global idea that we simply gave up on marriage, that it was that easy. That we didn’t try. No one lives behind our closed doors. Only we know our reasons, only we know what we had to do to function and thrive the best way we know how.
This obviously also goes for divorced families that now have new marriages, maybe step-children. They’re beautiful, extended, blended families. At least most of them are. Not all of them are the families pictured together at the kids’ soccer games, or at Disney together, as one big happy family, donning the shirts labeled with their specific role in the family, (this just isn’t realistic for every family of divorce), but they all function to the very best of their abilities. They all love.
Once again, love wins. Love for our kids, it wins. Always. We, as parents, make every decision with our children at the forefront of our minds. That’s what we do. And the last thing we want is for them to be labeled as “broken” or “dysfunctional”.
Can we do better, collectively? Can we look at a divorce situation objectively and just silently acknowledge that this family did the best the could then and they’re doing the best they can now. I did not grow up as a child of divorce but so many of my friends that did are badass, full-functioning, successful, functional people. No worse for wear and definitely not broken.
All families are beautiful. They are all unique. They are all functional in some way, shape, or form. They do not need perfection. They just need love.
(This post originally ran on Mind Dumping in Yoga Pants)
About the author: Vanessa Nichols is a single mom living in southwest Florida. She is a lover of yoga, the sun, and travel, a student of life, and an advocate of kindness. A small business owner, Vanessa writes in her limited spare time. Check out her blog or find her on Facebook and Twitter.