My Modern Family

On the 4th of July, one of my favorite holidays on Bainbridge Island, I enjoyed our small town Americana parade this year with my husband, his kids, their mom (my husband’s ex-wife), her husband, my son, his dad (my ex), my ex’s girlfriend and sister and stepsister, my parents and my brother’s family.  I’m not sure if I could diagram that family tree even if my happiness depended on it -- but there I was, because my kid’s (and stepkids’) happiness perhaps did depend on it.

At the time my ex-husband and I decided to divorce, I never envisioned that I’d spend the 4th of July cheering for the roller hockey players and enjoying the marching band with a group of 18 people connected through various current and past family relationships.  Our unlikely group didn’t necessarily represent everyone’s first choice of whom to sit with on Madison Avenue.  But it’s the life that we’re living, mostly because our kids are at the center and it was important for them to enjoy the holiday with the adults they did.  The kids keep us together.... whether we like it or not.

Fortunately, most of the time, I like it.  My son’s dad is a great guy and honorable man who always will feel like family.  He had a tragedy happen recently, and his girlfriend and I were communicating about how best to support him.  Some people think that’s “weird.” I wouldn’t want it any other way. We are all connected, and the bigger our extended family, the more people to cushion the inevitable bumps in the road.  Neither my ex-husband’s girlfriend nor I feel the need to minimize the other’s importance in order to feel good about our place in the order of things.  Life is complicated. Relationships evolve.  When we navigate changes well, relationships don’t have to end, even through divorce. 

A friend of mine recently had surgery to remove a brain tumor.  His girlfriend sat with him through the extremely draining days in intensive care, and by the time he was discharged and ready to make the eight-hour trip home, his ex-wife was there to help with the drive.  While my friend’s girlfriend slept in the car and zoned out as necessary for her own emotional recuperation, his ex-wife literally took the wheel and helped in the way that was needed.  

Many of us, despite our plans and best efforts, don’t keep the same intimate partners for life.  Divorce happens.  But when divorce turns spouses into enemies, that’s the real heartbreak -- especially when kids are at the center.  It must be unfathomable to some kids that their parents loved each other enough to create children and subsequently feel enough animosity that they want out of each other’s lives completely.

Collaborative divorce offers a path forward that honors the families people chose to create, even as we’re rearranging the legal and financial definitions of how they will continue.  It’s not easy.  In fact, it often feels counterculture.  We take couples in just as much strife and conflict as depicted in Kramer v. Kramer and the worst Hollywood portrayals of divorce.  And we work to provide the professional support and modeling of how to get through the hurt and betrayal and anger -- to the other side, with a restructured (but not broken) family model... and perhaps some complicated 4th of July seating arrangements.

Leigh Noffsinger