This (di­vorced)


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Leanne Sa­muel

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.

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