… from the bungalow

12 days that amaze, Day 5: My family ecosystem

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This is the fifth of 12 “amazing” installments of “12 days that amaze.” I am pushing myself to write 12 posts about things that amaze me leading up to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser in Chicago that Karin, Deb and I are participating in. In doing so, I must also be open to the everyday amazing things that happen around me.


This week’s entry in The Monster in Your Closet’s FTIAT series (written by Christine of The Dash Between) was beautiful as usual, and I hope you’ll read it. Commenting on her post had me thinking about my own separation and divorce, and some of the bad feelings and turmoil that went with it.

To some extent, we establish a relationship with everyone we interact with, whether it be a coworker, a library employee, the cashier at the cafeteria where you buy subs and soup, etc. We build deeper relationships with some than with others, depending on time, association, context, and (I’m sure) several other factors. It could be 12 seconds with the clerk in a grocery store or 12 years with a spouse and in-laws.

The deeper the relationship, the higher the stakes

As we become more invested and embedded in a certain relationship (and all the relationships that come with it), going separate ways becomes all the more difficult and seemingly tragic. I was married for 11 years to my first wife, and we lived together a year before that. I know that some couples marry for life and stay together 60+ years, but a dozen years with someone is still a far cry from a dozen seconds. It’s long enough to become intertwined with someone (and their family). We build interdependencies, like two trees planted next to each other whose root systems begin to overlap. Only, when you get married and have children, you (usually) become a part of a full ecosystem.

When my then-wife confronted me about my distance almost three years ago, I confessed that I was in the beginning stages of an emotional affair, and I suggested that we separate. We had already been to counseling. We were reading the books and doing the activities. We had done everything we were supposed to do, and things still weren’t working out. I won’t speak for her, but I was very unhappy. I loved her as a friend, I explained, but we were no longer loving partners. She made the next move in filing for divorce. Some of this may have been “calling my bluff,” or at a friend’s urging, but she started the process and we followed through with it.

In Michigan, when you have children, you must wait a minimum of six months before a divorce can be finalized. Those were some awful, awkward months. Resentment, denial, anger. From my family, I got some support, but some of it was heavily mixed with judgment. (“Are you sure you can’t work this out? You know, on [some TV show about divorce], they said [blah, blah, blah].” I know they wanted the best for me, but all I heard was, “You’re making a terrible mistake.”

A turn of phrase

Divorce is never easy. It’s painful any way you slice it, especially when you have kids. But what can make the transition somewhat less painful and long-lasting are the relationships you’ve built. My ex-wife’s mother was understandably angry at me in the beginning. Harsh words were exchanged, and we both know that they came out of hurt and fear, not genuine disdain. One phrase that hurt so deeply in the beginning was the same phrase that would save our relationship:

“I loved you as my own son.”

When spoken out of a place of hurting, this sounds a lot like, “You’ve destroyed a sacred bond. You blew it. I hope you’re satisfied.” When spoken out of a place of forgiveness, it sounds more like, “I accept everything that’s happened and I’m sorry. I love you.”

The ecosystem

I hate to single out my ex-mother-in-law, but this really gets at the core of this post. We’re on great terms now. Rather than referring to them as “ex-” anythings, I usually refer to them as my kids’ grandparents. Because they live in Michigan, I see them more than my own parents. They visit the kids (all of them), they take my boys for a weekend when we need them to (like next weekend for our Chicago trip!), and they even helped us move. Because of the relationship we’d built, and a mutual willingness to maintain that relationship, things are just as good as even better than they were before. It’s amazing.

LP Skyping with mom & grandparents

The same goes for my ex-wife. She’s involved with the kids and we’re all on good terms. She and Karin have taken the kids swimming together, they attended our middle child’s parent-teacher conference together yesterday, and they were talking about going to see The Lorax this afternoon. My ex-wife and her new husband have coined this functional, amiable network that is our blended family a “family ecosystem.” I like that term a lot. (She also happens to pay–voluntarily–a very reasonable amount of child support in addition to traveling to see the kids when she can. That’ll bolster your working relationship!)

Today I am amazed at how beautifully our blended family ecosystem is shaping itself. I am also so, very thankful for the relationships in my life, particularly the healthy ones. The unhealthy ones had a hand in shaping who I am today and who I am yet striving to become, but the healthy ones are the ones that last because they’re the ones worth holding onto.

P.S. Don’t forget to join me on Facebook and Twitter, and let me know what you think of my posts!

Previous entries in “12 days that amaze”:

Day 1: TMiYC
Day 2: My singing, dancing, robot son
Day 3: I keep good company.
Day 4: Baby steps

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Author: Chris

A dad with a self-evaluation complex. Also a music therapist, college enrollment administrator, and hippie-nerd.

14 thoughts on “12 days that amaze, Day 5: My family ecosystem

  1. Even though you two divorced, you still maintained a level of commitment to your family that is inspiring! it doesn’t happen like this very often for most. Glad your making the best of it 🙂

    • Thanks, Marie. I know we’re the exception, and how fortunate I am to be in this kind of family environment. I do hope that more families will realize that, if divorce is the only remaining option, it is seen as a way of preserving what’s left of the co-parent relationship rather than the end of everything. It doesn’t have to be venomous or spiteful. I understand why it usually is, though. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I didn’t realize you were divorced, Chris, and I’m really glad I got to hear about this part of your past (and present!)! My sister got divorced not too long ago (she has kids), so we’ve been, as a family, navigating the waters together. I won’t lie; it’s tough sometimes, even though it feels selfish of me to say that. I’m so glad you have such a healthy family ecosystem (I like that term, too!)!

    • Sorry to hear about your sister, Jules. It is tough. Don’t feel selfish. It affects the entire family, not just the couple. I felt a lot of guilt over how my “selfish” actions (wanting a divorce) were affecting everyone else. I know my grandma and my mom both cried, and there was probably other crying going on that I didn’t know about. Those shock waves can be felt throughout the family.

      Things aren’t perfect, that’s for sure. Karin, the kids, and I still have a lot of growing to do as a family, and it will take years to get there. But I love where it’s headed, and I’m so thankful to my ex and her family for being cooperative partners in our kids’ lives.

  3. I love that term, “family ecosystem”. It is so heartwarming to read of others being able to maintain kindness and respect for each other. Particularly in those life-changing events where children are involved. What a blessing to be surrounded by people who have such wonderful hearts!

    • It is a blessing. As I wrote this post, I hoped that it would in no way be seen as dismissive of the difficult times most families experience. I know I’m in the minority. I’m glad you saw it as heartwarming, Christine. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Been enjoying your 12 days of amazing, Chris. I always enjoy your posts! Keep it comin’! It sounds like you are making your family ecosystem work for you – I commend your efforts. My husband has that sort of relationship with his parents and it’s always amazed me. I see more and more couples and families able to co-exist in this way these days.

    Hey, I have a question from a newer WordPress user, because I know you’ll probably be able to answer this. How do you get it so that just part of your post comes up to a subscribed email follower? I’ve searched for the option and can’t seem to find it. Yours always says, “Read more of post..” I’d like to get mine set up that way, too – help?!

    • Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying them. I agree; I’m seeing more of this kind of working partnership these days. I think it’s part of a larger culture shift.

      There is a “more tag” in WordPress. When you’re editing a post in the Visual editor, place your cursor where you want to insert the “Continue reading” link, then simply click the “Insert More Tag” button.

      Good luck! 🙂

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, you are always so helpful! Even a graphic for the visual learner in me?! You’re amazing. How about “12 days that amaze…I’m amazing!” I challenge you to write an unpretentious heartfelt look at your own “amazingness!” It is, after all, what brings us all here, day after day. 😉

        • Haha. I enjoy being helpful. I kind of like to consider myself a resource guy. I don’t know if I can take your challenge. It’s not easy for me to speak highly about myself. Part of my upbringing, I suppose. But I’ll give it some thought. Thank you for the compliment. 🙂

  5. The first time I read the term “family ecosystem” in one of your posts, I smiled. It is indeed a terrific way to describe the environment of relationships that make up divorced families in general, in my opinion. My ex and I, too, have a pretty good way of working together. We were together almost 9 years, married for 7, and tried “everything” to figure out why we couldn’t get back to the love that created a marriage in the first place. It just wasn’t going to happen for us. It’s been a tough road of recovery, dealing with the divorce-mostly financially. However, we now have a groove of our own and are also blessed with partners that we both like and who love our little girl, too. I’m so grateful, as I know you are, Chris. I was a product of a non-amicable divorce between my mom and dad-the kind where you can’t even discuss the other without spiteful comments. I understand why, but I’m so glad that’s not my situation. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

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