The old saying “it takes a village” has never been more relevant to me now that I am divorced with two daughters.
Nothing could prepare me for the deep bonds of love, support, and connection that I found with friends (and their friends and families) when mine fell apart.
I felt it a little right after I had my children, with preschool parents, mostly with long chats in the hall about feeding schedules and navigating work-life balance with new babies. The guilt associated with working instead of staying home, the best place to buy cheap clothes that were still cute, and debating cloth diapers versus Pampers.
Sharing tricks of the trade, and laughing about being at work all day with your shirt inside out—there was a camaraderie in those halls at pickup and drop-off that made me feel not so alone.
Shortly after the divorce, although amicable, and with a fully engaged father around the corner, I felt very alone, questioning my choices—especially late at night. This wasn’t supposed to happen and I had to figure out not only what these girls truly needed from me, but who I was again. I had lost that along the way.
There’s this idea, especially in the South, of what family is: two people, married and raising children. And there is a stigma that surrounds the single mom or dad—that it’s not enough.
This thought leads a lot of people to dive back into the search for another partner too soon. Couple that with loneliness, and perhaps even the feeling of failure lurking in the back of your mind, and choices can be made for the wrong reasons.
The idyllic families are everywhere you look, you can’t escape them. And the yearning for that can cloud what’s important—which is being enough for your children without the idea that you need someone else around to take care of you (or them).
It didn’t come right away, but after a couple of rough years of struggling, I started to feel a little tougher and I became aware that what I was doing was just as powerful.
I reached out to other single parents, some of them new friends, some I’d known for years. We were all in it. We began by having “family” dinners on Tuesday nights; four single moms and six kids of all ages would show up, each tasked with a menu item, and the kids would start preparing.
We had them pick the music, arrange flowers, set the picnic table, and chop in the kitchen. We took turns being in charge of the grill, hollering at each kid as if they were our own to fetch this or pick up that. It was lovely.
A sense of family started creeping back right before our eyes without any planning or idea that it was what we were striving for. It was organic and natural, free-for-all bonding and togetherness, shoulders relaxing, stress melting away. We had them literally sing for their supper as we declared, “Entertain us!”
They would go to the back of the house and practice until we were ready for them. Some were timid, others would be up front and center and sing an oldie with the guitar one night, or a do dance routine lip-synching to Taylor Swift the next. There were cheers and encores, laughter infused with dancing in the kitchen, until it was time to gather and eat.
Holidays tend to be brutal as families gather together, and we would find ourselves without our children some years. As our tribe grew, we orchestrated kid schedules to match so we could always be together somehow.
I had the first Christmas dinner when we all had the kiddos—neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and grandparents all gathered—some meeting for the first time, but not the last, as it was decided then and there to make it a tradition.
That was five years ago, and now Thanksgiving dinner is part of our ritual. You start to recognize that a lot of people are alone during the holidays, so every year we have new members of our extended “friend family” sitting around the table—giving thanks, making toasts, introducing dishes from foreign lands, creating memories.
It’s magical and the children love it.
We travel together as one big family, take each others’ kids to appointments and activities, and always leave our doors wide open. We’ve determined that we each have specific roles in the kids lives: there’s cook mom and laundry mom, discipline mom and after-school mom, the mom who always makes sure devices are put away, and the mom who lets you stay up late and eat sweets in bed. We call ourselves a “big ole Mormon family,” and it works beautifully.
They now recognize that family is not just biological, that friends are like siblings, that they can come to any one of us with anything—it feels safe, like home.
Family means taking care of each other. Being all in it together, breaking bread, and being civil with exes, welcoming new love interests into the mix with care, making sure no matter what hardships we may be suffering through, at the end of the day, they know they are loved by many.
Five years ago the following would have been unimaginable, but now, my ex-husband’s girlfriend’s nanny helps me out with the girls sometimes, and we kept my best friend’s ex-husband’s new girlfriend’s dog when they were out of town. None of it is out of the norm.
When you look past all the things you think you should have done, or could be doing better, or question the choices you’ve made, glance around and if it feels right, and there is happiness and joy and love and safety and humor surrounding you, simply shrug and say out loud: “Whatever works, man.”