Modern Family


For the last ten days, my ex-husband has been here. Yes, here, at my house. At my house with me, my three kids, my wonderful new husband, and his kids visiting for dinner. This folks, is an iteration of Modern Family.

It’s been a little surprising how many people have expressed discomfort or even shock that we would welcome my ex-husband into our home. I’ve talked about this with Jon, and with my ex-husband, and with my mom- we all kind of shrugged and looked bemused at each other. David and I have been divorced for five years. But even before that much time, I tried everything humanly possible to let him be a healthy part of the kids’ lives. Once he had fulfilled what the courts asked of him, I made a point of meeting him halfway on every effort he made. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) about me- it’s about three kids whose lives were irrevocably changed, and my (our) responsibility to those children.

No matter how good a mother I am, no matter how good a step-father Jon is (and he’s fantastic), there is a space in my kids’ collective hearts that cannot be filled by anyone but their father. I owe it to my children to do everything I can to give them access to that space. My life didn’t go how I had hoped it would. So what? I could have held onto bitterness and resentment, punishing David for being the vehicle that crashed into my dreams- but ultimately that would have harmed me, and eventually crippled me. I would have been left allowing the actions of another to define the contours of my life. The story of my divorce would have been the story of who I am.

The thing is, when you hold onto bitterness, resentment and anger, it corrodes you from the inside out. When you constantly pick at wounds and scabs, you’re harming yourself, scarring your body and mind far more deeply than the original cut. This is why forgiveness is so vital. Forgiveness isn’t about telling the person who hurt you that it’s all good— forgiveness is about acknowledging something painful happened, that people hurt each other, that misunderstandings happen, that we are all fallen and in living life, we will both cause and receive hurt. Forgiveness is saying “I will not allow things past to define my future.”

One of the hardest things I have had to do is welcoming David into Little House for the holidays the first year after our divorce. It didn’t matter at all that I was still angry, that I was still smarting and hurt. What mattered was he was willing, and my kids needed to see their father. He didn’t have a place to visit with them, and instead of punishing him (and my kids) for that, I opened my door to him and had him for dinner. Then, after dinner, I stepped out for a few hours to run some errands and let him stay at my home with my kids.

Cut to this week.

It had been more than two years since my kids had seen their father. When he finally called and said he was ready to visit, I didn’t focus on what he hadn’t done- I was happy for my kids that they would get to see him. We set the guest room up, bought him some Coke Classic, and went to the airport. It was a quiet week, with a few side trips to see some DC museums and sights, but mostly he just hung out at home with the kids, playing games and watching movies. He and Jon got along fine, and they watched Monday Night Football and a few games of the World Series together after the kids were in bed.  They’re not going to be fast friends, but there is a mutual respect. David is humble- he knows how fortunate the kids are, and he shows gratitude for me and how I’ve parented, for Jon and how he loves us, and for the kids and their forgiving hearts.

The kids got to see all three of their parents acting like parents, and they blossomed under that love. They saw their father show up, and do what he could. They saw their step-dad welcome their father into their home. They saw us all laugh and joke and tell family stories. They experienced a big family table composed in ways not previously imagined, but overflowing with safety and comfort. They know their home is a place of love.

If you have an ex-spouse over whom you are nurturing resentment and anger, over whom you are allowing lack of forgiveness to define your new life, please step back and shift your perspective. If your ex-spouse loves your kids, honors responsibilities, and shows up— it’s time to get over yourself. Spouses divorce each other- they do not divorce the kids. Had I allowed my anger to control my children’s access to and perception of their father,  I would have been accountable. I would someday have had to stand before them and explain why I privileged my passing bitter feelings as more important than their relationship with the father. That is not mine to violate. I couldn’t do that. Not ever. Allow the other parent to be a parent, and do so without hating them for how they disappointed you. That has nothing to do with the kids.

No matter how well you think you’re hiding it, if you haven’t forgiven, if you are saturated in blame and anger, the kids know it. They can see it and they can feel it. If you can’t forgive for yourself (I know that space- it can take time, but the effort is so worth it.) do so for your kids. Eventually you will start to believe you’re worth healing, and then miracles can and do happen.

20 thoughts on “Modern Family

  1. Hi

    I can so relate to this situation! I completely agree with you on all points. I believe that forgiving and trying to meet my children’s father atleast halfway has healed my soul as well as been the very best thing for my kids. We are kind of a twilight zone – my ex spouse, his partner and my kids and I celebrate birthdays together, holidays to some extent, go to school events, soccer games etc. He has used my house to make them dinner if he has them and there is an event that evening because it’s closer. Do I love that this is my life- my ex husband who is gay and his partner ? No I really don’t but I decided in the beginning to make it as painless as possible for my kids and I chose to make this sacrifice – I can look back over 5 years and tell you that the blessings and payoff have been 100 fold. It was all worth it. I didn’t choose this path, but I have willingly relied on The Lord to show me the best way through this.
    I get all the same reactions you do- and finally after a few years, people have seen that I’m not changing based on their judgements and maybe, just maybe I made the best choice.
    I have strived to live through this so that my kids can look back and say their mother always tried to do the right and most compassionate thing in terms of a relationship with their dad and how I treat him- he’s a great father after all.

    • Yes! yes yes yes. It’s not about changing or approving- it’s about doing what is right for your kids, in all the inevitable messiness that is a lived life. I’m so glad you’ve experienced this healing as I have.

  2. Very well written. My son’s father and I made the very conscious decision when we parted company that , while we could opt out of being married, we COULD NOT opt out of being the absolute best parents to our boy that we could possibly be. It’s been 10 years – we have both remarried . It was hard at first but now it’s just second nature. We all (parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the grandparents) get together for dinner on boy’s birthday, we all sit together at school and sports events, jokes are exchanged, I keep Dad informed on everything involving school, doctor, dentist and sports, there’s teasing back and forth and the end result is a happy, well adjusted young man (also on the Honour Roll) that goes freely between Mom and Dad’s houses without worrying that one of us will be upset or that we will be saying negative things about the other parent. There is consistency between our houses – if boy is grounded here and is going to Dad’s, Dad will follow through with the grounding if isn’t over. As his parents, we talk with him together about expectations and goals and we set rules together. If something comes up that has to be dealt with as a family, it is – sometimes over the phone, sometimes at my kitchen table, sometimes at a coffee shop – but always as a family of Mom, Dad and boy. There is never an argument over whose turn it is to have him – it’s what works best for the boy and what is going on in his life. It makes my life so much easier too – I get to be the best parent I can because I know that his dad is 100% behind me (as I am with him). It’s such a shame that so many people hold on to the bitterness. Accept that you didn’t work as a married couple and then commit to being the best possible co-parents that you can.

  3. Tracy, this was beautiful! A tribute to truly how far your family has come. Thank you for continuing to share your journey!
    Love and miss you!
    Would love to sit and share some guacamole! Can’t wait for the next time we are in your neck of the woods!

  4. I love your determination to forgive and heal. Thank you. What a lovely scene it must have been at your home while you were all together. Cherished memories for sure.

  5. I love this! My ex lives out of state so it’s easier for him to visit the kids here when he’s able. He’s also my second ex. People think we are so odd but it’s the best arrangement for my kids. That’s it.

    My first former in-laws came out for a family event with my sons dad. We all went out to dinner as a group.

    Me. Two ex husbands. One set of former in-laws, all laughing in a Mexican restaurant.

    It can and does work.

  6. Really happy for you, Tracy! This is a great model of maturity from which your kids will benefit immensely.

  7. You’ve got to remember- this is the example I grew up with. My dad and step-dad coached little league together. My dad and his girlfriend would join us at my mom’s for birthdays and holidays. Even now, 25 years post-divorce, they vacationed together this summer- a big, motley collections of grandkids, steps, friends, and siblings. To me, this is how grown-ups behave.

  8. Thank you for this post. My divorce is approaching being finalized, and there’s a crap ton of hurt in my heart. However, my kids need their dad, and they need their parents to heal and move forward. Thankfully we are. I’ve learned that divorce does not gave to be what you do often see it as- bitter and miserable. There can be peace and healing and healthy relationships through and after. Thanks, Tracy, for the mental picture I now have of me, a future spouse, and my ex being together in peace and mutual respect.

  9. Loved this post. It’s not an easy path, but so important for children to have a good relationship with their parents post divorce (considering safety concerns, etc). The first year after my divorce was the hardest time of my life – especially since my ex married someone else just a few months after our divorce was final. More than anything else, I’m proud of myself for being there for my son even as I was living through absolute hell. And it has paid off, my son is happy and well adjusted despite the major upheaval in his life. In fact, he thinks we’re all good friends. Tracy, you are amazing. Thanks for writing this.

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