The term “broken home” still sparks a physical reaction in memy shoulders tense up and I often hear myself release a heavy sigh. Hearing them, I automatically think of dysfunction and pity, and when they are associated with my family due to divorce, I’m often left wanting to explain all the ways and reasons it is a misnomer and doesn’t fit our family.

To me, when I hear those words, they correlate images of a lonely child waiting on a curb for a parent to pick him or her up with a bag full of belongings as they head to the other parent’s house for a weekend visit. They loosely associate with terms like “visitation” and “single parent” and harken back to the movies of my childhood, where I watched on the screen as kids were shuffled between one competent but overworked and stressed out parent (usually Mom), and one funny, bordering on lazy, incompetent parent (usually Dad) who gets to see the kids every other weekend. For many, it seems, this is what divorce still means today.

But . . . 

This is not reality. At least, it’s not mine, or many other divorced or blended families that I know of.

Yes, my former marriage was broken and rightly ended in divorce, but that does not extend to my children and our familywe are whole, complete, and happy.

Before my divorce, we looked right from the outside but felt wrong on the inside. I’ve written before about the environment toward the end of my marriagethe environment was toxic for us and our kids. That was not demonstrating a loving relationship between spouses for our children. That was not a happy home. That was not in our kids’ best interests. That was broken.

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Today, after a lot, a lot, a lot of work, our family operates more smoothly than ever. My ex-husband and I co-parent, mostly together and usually well. We discuss things about the kids. We ask and inform each other with a courtesy, and often a formality, that didn’t exist before. We create and respect boundaries. We respect each other and ensure our kids do, too.

But, that’s not the part others seethat’s background work that occurs behind the magic curtain. Others might see a different parent at drop-off or pick-up at school. They may hear one of our kids refer to “Mom’s house” or “Dad’s house,” and at that moment, they might assume there is inherent dysfunction, conflict, or feel pity. They may assume our children are sadly shuffled between homes or left waiting on a curb for pick up by an incompetent parent, or met at the door with a foot-tapping, stressed-out single parent, knee-deep in conflict, waiting to fix the other’s mistakes as soon as the kids walk in.

For us, that is not the casethe beauty of our divorce is that after a few years, the conflict between us largely dissipated, and we refocused on our kids.

Our reality (after 3+ years of trial by mistake) is that our kids have two separate, happy homes. In my home, the kids have a mother and father, each other, a sister, and all sorts of animals. They see a happy, but real marriage where we love hard, disagree respectfully, and make up. They feel boundaries and have responsibilities, and are rowdy together. We do most things as a unit of five and are on equal footingthere are no steps, sort-ofs, or half anything’s here . . . just family.

We do birthday parties, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and other holidays in coordination with their dad’s plans. Santa and the Easter bunny come here, but not there. We (now, we didn’t use to) deconflict birthday party days and invites, so some friends aren’t expected to attend a party for the same kid two weekends in a row at different houses (yes, this previously happened . . . and yes, I was mortified). Now that they are older, I also ask the kids their preferences on holiday schedules since they have opinions on the number of exchanges and transitions between homes, and they share their opinions (for context, they are 11 and almost 9).

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I found love again in my current husband and his spitfire daughter, and we became a party of five. I became happier. My ex became happier. By respecting each other’s choices, homes, new partners, and traditions, we gave our kids permission to be happier, too, by creating new relationships and traditions with each of us and our new families.

We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We get on each other’s nerves. We disagree. But, we are family. We are not broken, we are finally whole.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Jessica Salyers

I'm Jessica: working wife; mom; step-mom; and industrial/organizational psychologist. Blended family aficionado; overachiever; semi-colon lover; book reader; baker; semi-runner. Lover of life, my husband, kids, and the life we have chosen to live together. Living my best life with my party of 5, across 7 hours and 2 states. Passionate about people, parenthood, balancing and blending work and life, and blended families. Follow me at www.blendedgrind.com or on IG: @blendedgrind