Are single-parent families whole families?


I wrote this a few years ago (sue me, I’m on vacation and recycling old classic posts) and this still resonates with me, especially as this week I’ve been on a road trip and spending time with old friends and family who are nuclear families — dads changing diapers and playing soccer with kids and giving the mom morning kisses while living under the same roof. It’s hard not to feel like something is missing in my own family. What do you think? Share in the comments! 

When I was at the height of my family drama a few years ago, my mom – also a single mother for most of my life – comforted me. “You and Helena and Lucas are a whole family,” she assured. I was a little surprised. That we weren’t never occurred me. But I could see that had been a struggle for her. After all,  she was part of that crush of divorces in the 70s and 80s that followed her own very 50s nuclear-family upbringing. Raising children alone didn’t look a thing like what she had known “family” to be.

An upside of being raised by a single mom is that once you become one yourself, it’s less of a shock to your paradigm. I was chatting with a single dad friend who said he’s struggled so with single parenthood because family is so important to him. That shook me a little – I mean, family is important to me, too. My family just looks different than a J.Crew catalog. And I’m pretty cool with that.

Just yesterday Helena and I were talking about families, and how each one is different. Some kids live with a mom and a dad, others with their grandparents. If her dad remarries, she’d have a stepmom – or if I do, a stepdad. When our friend Matthew goes on dates, he goes with other men (to which she noted: “And some families have two daddies. And then they put their penises together to make a girl baby.” Oh. Good to know.).

“I’m slowly accepting that the kids, my ex and I are still a family,” my friend said. I’m not sure I agree 100 percent. Of course many of us are involved with our exes, and as Helena so sagely noted, family can mean anything we can imagine. I hope to be closer with my own ex for lots of reasons including what that might tech our kids, and also to maintain a relationship that has been part of my life for a long time. But the reality is that when we divorce, we start new families – those that includes our respective exes less than before. We build new lives that are separate from our former husbands – in different romantic relationships, different homes and separate time spent with the kids.

That doesn’t make it any easier for all parties involved. As I wrote in this post, Helena has sometimes disparagingly compared our’s to other families. And while we all want to feel normal and accepted, the reality is: life sometimes stinks. And then it goes on. And then we find a new normal, which will ultimately be upturned sooner or later. And each time, we pull ourselves together, gather our loved ones close, and find that we are still — remarkably — whole.


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4 thoughts on “Are single-parent families whole families?

  1. We have a pretty strange family unit. I was friends with a guy all through high school. In college, his relationship ended and so did mine. We got together for a few months before deciding it was weird and we were better off friends. We broke up before I found out I was pregnant. I’ve been friends with his girlfriends over the years, and he finally married his college sweetheart, whom I get along with very well. His mom and sister love me to death, and we can manage co-parenting and birthday parties with their family, along with my large family of many siblings and lots of cousins for my daughter. I’ve recently gotten engaged to a guy with two kiddos of his own, and it has just been one huge family unit. It’s weird, but it works for us, and I’m so thankful we worked our way passed the bitterness and weirdness that seems to plague other blended families.

    1. BK – I love this story! I wouldn’t lead with “strange family” but rather a non-traditional awesome family! Congratulations on the engagement! xxoo

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