I AM divorced, a refugee from one of the statistical one in three marriages that ends badly. And to further impress the statistics geeks, my parents are also divorced. People like me aren’t rare any more. Everyone has their own experiences to share on the theme of broken homes. If you are reading this in a group, I guarantee there will be more than one person from a similar situation.
The literature tells us about the harm divorce does to children and the long-term effects of family breakdown, the prevalence of insecurity and poor self-esteem . . . the list goes on and on. Few acknowledge the positives. Yes: there are positives.
My children have four parents, assorted step-brothers and five pairs of grandparents. They have a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins and honorary family members. They have inherited several new circles of friends. If you ask them, my children say they feel lucky (OK, maybe partly from the extra birthday and Christmas presents) but they realise they are part of a wonderful repository of wisdom, life experience and love. My children never struggle for someone to talk to, to ask about their maths homework, to listen to their violin practice or to find out which bait works best for catching trout. They have learned about chickens and beehives, football and fishing, computers and motorbikes. They understand sharing and taking turns.
They speak the language of a tribe, of relationship, of connection. They understand the word family can encompass people outside the traditional biological origin of the term. We have mums and dads and steps of each and brothers and step-brothers and nannies and poppas and pas and mamas and poppies and more nannies and helly and gig and aunties and uncles and friends. And we call this unwieldy construct our family. Let the experts make of it what they will.
And they’re partly right; it’s not perfect. There are conflicts and bouts of jealousy, times when our sharing skills are challenged and times when we wish we lived alone on a hill (we are human, after all). The overwhelming emotion, though, is love. My children know they are special, because so many people love them and tell them so. They know they are part of something strong and enduring, regardless of what you call it.
Our family is a strangely beautiful set of personalities. My children know about respect and acceptance, as the people who make up their family come from a range of backgrounds, faiths and cultures. My kids don’t need to learn about multiculturalism and tolerance at school — we are our own diverse community. So, experts be damned. In our eyes it’s the love that ties its members together that counts. Of all the lessons my children will learn in their complex lives, I most want them to carry this one into the world.