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The hardest conversation I’ve ever had to have in my 45 years was with my daughter.
My heart broke a second before hers did. It was almost enough to make me turn back, say, “F*ck it!” and continue living in a marriage that I didn’t want to be in.
I didn’t want to be married, but I wanted a strong family—one that allows each member to be authentically who they are, one that encourages each member to come forward with their needs and have them respected, one that values the truth over appearances.
I wanted a family that doesn’t ask one member to sacrifice herself in order to preserve it; a family that models open communication, setting boundaries, and creative problem-solving.
I remembered my daughter’s words when she was talking to me about being non-binary: “How can there be only two options for eight billion people?!”
Indeed, how can there be such a lack of creative thinking when it comes to the identities and institutions that shape society?
When we are locked into narrow, rigid options, how can they reflect our whole, unique personhood? And isn’t the power of the age we are living in to question the definitions and power structures that have been taken for granted?
For centuries, the binary options of being married or being divorced have been used to keep humans, but women especially, in unhealthy structures. Being married is “successful,” “safe,” and “happy,” and being divorced is “a failure,” “broken,” and “sad.”
But there are many “intact” families that are dripping with dysfunction and many divorced families that have regular family meetings and peacefully negotiate where to spend holidays.
To assign these polarizing labels, infused with cultural judgment, is deeply limiting.
We’ve grown past it. Or at least, I hope we will grow past it.
In 10 years, I hope we can take a page from the LGBTQIA+ community and have an alphabet that reflects all of the different ways to construct a union or a family: NRPs (non-romantic partners), LMs (lesbian moms), TMs (traditional marrieds), LAPs (living apart partners), or SPBC (single parent by choice).
The more we can get clarity about who we are and what family arrangement feels good to us, the happier we will be.
A friend of mine once gave me a thought exercise: what is the difference between stability and security? I spent months mulling over that question before I was ready to get divorced. The day we separated, I had the answer.
Stability is desperately trying to keep everything the same because we are afraid we cannot handle change. Security is strengthening ourselves so that we can withstand any change.
Stability is inauthentic and caters to fear.
Security is tough at times but infinitely stronger.
There is nothing easy about structural changes within a family. It hurts and shatters the image we had of “the way things would always be.”
Uncertainty and circumstantial changes are inevitable in this life, but what can always be in a family—if we cultivate it—is something greater than stability.
It can be a lesson in the permanence of love, of supporting each other as we grow, regardless of the form family takes. It can be a place where we can talk about our heartbreak and let it exist as neither good nor bad, just human.