We Are Divorced, But We Are Not Dysfunctional

Four hands spelling out the word LOVE, each showing one letter

I talk a lot, sometimes too much. I’m an oversharer, and sometimes I feel the need to word vomit in the most simple of conversations. It’s just who I am — too transparent. But it’s certainly led to some interesting conversations.

I was talking to someone affiliated with my work world, someone I had just met, and she was asking me about life in general — kids, vacations, just small talk. She asked if I was married, and I gave my usual, “No, but her dad and I are still in a relationship. We’re together but don’t live together.”

She gave me the same perplexed look everyone else does. People don’t understand this type of unconventional situation. I get it. But on top of this, we are from different generations, so her concern was greater than most.

And then she said this: “Well…that’s an interesting set up. So much dysfunction for kids these days. I guess broken homes are the norm with all of the divorces. No one stays together anymore.”

Dysfunction — I loathe that word in relation to describing a family.

Broken — I loathe that word in relation to a home.

It got me thinking: Why, and how, on earth did we ever start describing families of divorce as “dysfunctional”?

I’m being totally rhetorical here, but my annoyance remains.

This idea that divorce is synonymous with dysfunction and brokenness should not be perpetuated. Those are temporary states, or emotions, within divorce at times, but not adjectives that should describe families.

What horrible labels. I hear them less frequently now, since divorces are so common. But using these ugly words to describe families who don’t fit the fairytale version of marriage and family — dysfunctional and broken? Let’s stop it.

My family is not dysfunctional. My family is not broken. And my child does not need to think otherwise. If her father and I had stayed in our marriage, a relationship which at the time of separation was completely unhealthy — arguments, tension, unhappiness, amongst other things — wouldn’t that have been broken? Wouldn’t that have been dysfunctional?

The difference now is she has two houses. She spends the night at one house twice a week and the other house the rest of the week. Of course, there are challenges that go along with this. There is navigation involved. We certainly had concerns for our child when this drastic change was made, but at the end of the day, she has two parents who love her. She has a family that functions despite the label of “divorce.” We all still function. No one is broken.

Hearts might have been broken with divorce, sure, but they’re in some phase of repair, and no matter what the situation, they certainly won’t stay broken. So let’s not call anything broken. Our new normal is not dysfunctional. Let’s get rid of the ideals of perfection in relation to what families look like and how they function. Perfection does not exist — anywhere. We all know this. Let’s stop with the stigmas.

Everyone functions because they have to. They navigate their new normal — all of us who have been through separation and divorce function. None of it is easy, most of it is not pretty, and it can certainly get downright ugly. But it was most likely ugly even as the textbook definition of marriage too.

It’s redefining. Not dysfunctional. Not broken.

We know our children do not go unscathed by divorce. We, as parents, know this. However, we do not need ugly labels to reinforce this. We do not need this universal idea that we simply gave up on marriage, that it was that easy, that we didn’t try. No one lives behind our closed doors. Only we know our reasons. Only we know what we have to do to function and thrive the best way we know how.

This obviously also goes for divorced families who now have new marriages and maybe stepchildren. They’re beautiful, extended, blended families. At least most of them are. Not all of them are the families we envision together at their kids’ soccer games or Disney World, as one big happy unit, donning shirts labeled with their specific role in the family like we’ve seen across the internet lately (this just isn’t realistic for every family of divorce), but they all function to the very best of their abilities. They all love.

Once again, love wins. Love for our kids, it wins — always. We, as parents, make every decision with our children at the forefront of our minds. That’s what we do. And the last thing we want is for them to be labeled as “broken” or “dysfunctional.”

Can we do better, collectively? Can we look at a divorce situation objectively and just silently acknowledge that this family did the best they could then, and they’re doing the best they can now? I did not grow up as a child of divorce, but so many of my friends who did are badass, fully functional, successful people. They are no worse for wear and definitely not broken.

All families are beautiful. They are all unique. They are all functional in some way, shape, or form. They do not need perfection. They just need love.