Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Non-Traditional Family Unit

Earlier this month, actress Maria Bello published a fascinating article in the New York Times about her "modern" family. I found it fascinating not because she has outed herself as bisexual (the sort of thing that really isn't as big a deal as the media thinks it is anymore), but because of her musings about the word "partner" and her inclusive definition of her family.

My own family, while not as far from the traditional setup as Ms. Bello's, is unusual. I live with my ex-wife and our two sons. My ex-wife and I get along quite well as friends and complement one another's parenting styles. We work together as co-parents, and we are also good friends. I care about her not only because she is my sons' mother, but because of who she is as a human being. We did not work as husband and wife for a variety of reasons, but as friends and partners-in-parenting, we work rather splendidly.

However, I have had a hard time defining my relationship to my ex-wife in ways that people can understand. When I say that I live with my ex-wife, people assume that either we live together strictly out of financial necessity, or that we are still together (i.e., sleeping together). While finances are certainly a factor in our living together, our children's special needs are also part of the equation, and I believe our friendship factors in as well. Our relationship has been platonic for so long now that sometimes I find it odd to think that we were once married. The awkwardness of the shift is gone, except for when I need to explain it to others.

My ex-wife and I have both dated other people (although, to be honest, living with your ex puts quite a damper on that part of life), and we have both moved on romantically. We get along far better than we did when we were married. I'm so glad to have her as my sons' mother. We do things together as a family, and it really does feel like a family, even if the mom and the dad are separate from one another.

Reading Ms. Bello's article made me feel good about my own situation. It can be a pretty lonely one, generating odd looks and occasional scorn from people. But it feels right, and despite some of the drawbacks, it has mostly worked well.

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