The Blog

The New Shape of Family

Divorce can be dignified. Our children deserve the best of us even when the marriage bonds we once thought permanent fray and break.
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The night before my niece Lizzie's wedding, we attended a rehearsal dinner unlike any other I've ever experienced. For one thing, it was in a bowling alley. A bowling alley! There was a Mexican buffet and an open bar. We gathered in a tap room next to the lanes and loaded up our tacos, then sat and listened to speeches the way people do at weddings all over the world.

Except, at this dinner, I clearly saw the new shape of family in the United States. Lizzie, the cute blond bride, isn't really related to me. She is my husband's niece. He is my second husband, and between us we have five children: two of his, two of mine, and one of our own. The bride's mother and father are divorced, but both were in the taco line. So were the bride's stepmother, the bride's three siblings and two of her step-siblings. The groom, whose own parents are out of the picture, was accompanied by the woman who raised him. She arrived on a motorcycle with her boyfriend, who she described as her "balance partner" after a hand-binding commitment ceremony. Most of the grandparents were there, too, smiling and dipping into the guacamole and chips.

During dinner, everyone sat at tables according to family ties. But after the buffet and speeches, we all drifted out to the lanes. The bowling balls glowed yellow and pink, orange and blue in the black light, and the rock music was punctuated by the pinging of arcade machines. We donned our bowling shoes and started downing pins: children with adults, step-cousins and step-siblings with cousins and siblings, ex-laws with in-laws. As the pins came down, the family divisions blurred and we were all bowling together.

Among the shrieking and victory dances on the bowling lanes, under the black light that turned our white buttons and laces blue, I remembered my first wedding. That marriage ended in a painful divorce after two children in seven years. Just like Jon and Kate Plus Eight, my ex and I shared a house for a while after we were separated, trying to disrupt the children's lives as little as possible. It wasn't a mansion, and we didn't have nannies and security guards, but it worked well enough. "If you can do that," my mother proclaimed, "then you can stay married."

Sadly, no. But what we could do was remember the qualities we loved in each other and be civil for the sake of the kids. As Arianna Huffington pointed out in describing her own vacation with her ex, divorce can be dignified. Our children deserve the best of us even when the marriage bonds we once thought permanent fray and break. This is an important lesson, since blended families are now the norm and the majority of American families are in some form of step arrangement, according to The Stepfamily Foundation. In fact, The Council on Contemporary Families reports that at least 65 percent of remarriages involve children younger than 19.

Lizzie's wedding took place in a garden the next day. Her dress sparkled in the sunlight and we were surrounded by lilies and roses. But what made the day so different, so perfect, was the fact that each of us felt surrounded by an abundance of love and acceptance.