There is a vision we see when we’re young. Of the family structure. Whether it’s on a TV screen. Movies. In the homes of our friends or extended family. Maybe even in our own homes. We might read about it. Though shifts in the portrayal of this vision have begun to spread, there is a stereotypical view of what, in fact, a family structure should be. What’s healthy. Who’s better equipped to raise girls. Boys. Mother or father. Both if you’re lucky. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, neither.
When my first daughter was born, her mom and I were barely in our twenties. Yet my mother in law praised us, unnecessarily at times. Over the top and constantly. One day I started wondering why she always sounded so surprised. Why it seemed such a shock. That we hadn’t somehow let this child perish out of our youthful stupidity. One evening I told my wife, I think everyone thought this was going to be a total shitshow. And when it wasn’t, our family started thanking us for, well, being good at doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing. We wouldn’t truthfully become a total shitshow for well over a decade.
And when that traditional structure does fall away, we’re left struggling with the loss of that vision. The home. The people who hold it together. The decision making. The expected shared stresses and milestones. Equal support from both, for each child. A partnership. It becomes a long, learned process to settle back in. To let go of that old vision. To step up and define new roles. Accept the life changes. To not only keep that structurally compromised ship afloat, but to man it like you never have before. Like your family depends on it. Because it does.
All these years later, I’m not sure I’d consider myself lucky to have lived in a home with two parents. Being what it was. Problems being what they were. I know enough nowadays to know that the visually ideal nuclear family is often only superficially lovely. Underneath it’s a big ugly shitshow. And at times not worth the price paid in the end.
Anyone who knows me from a hole in the ground knows that I’m an advocate for the non-traditional family structure. In any way it falls. In any way it’s healthy. Whatever it may look like. Whomever it may consist of and why. The forced vision of the accepted dynamic just doesn’t work for everyone. Plain and simple. The world has changed. This life, right here, has changed. And I’ve grown far less concerned of painting that picture of percieved perfection.
From one sunrise to the next, this is my home. We are atypical in many ways. We don’t always eat together. We have our own house rules. Some days, we barely function. We struggle with schedules, transportation and being overwhelmed. My kids don’t play sports. We don’t always travel together or go to church at the same time. We play a lot of days by ear. We don’t dress up. We argue. And we do not all hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya at our magical scheduled bedtime then post about it on the internet. There is no fanfare.
We are not that supposed standard of traditional. But our core is exactly what’s necessary. We do what we need to do to support one another. We accomplish small goals with baby steps. Larger ones with perseverance. We compromise for each others well being. We respect each other. We are grateful. In a calm environment, we figure things out together. We keep our sense of humor. We practice empathy. We rely on our comforts. We stay together. We are healing. And we love.
Occasional shitshow or not, we find what works for us as a family. Proud to captain this ship alone.