My current vlog obsession is Tres Chic Mama. She’s the first one I watched for breastfeeding tips. I initially loved her because she is positive and down to earth and it’s super clear in all her videos that she adores her little girl (and because I was nervous about breastfeeding). Then I watched a little further and learned that she lives locally, so it made it kind of fun to watch and be like “Oh, I’ve been to that Target before” or whatever.
But here’s the real reason I just want to make a call out to this great mom and give her all the respect in the world. I was watching her videos, and there’s a point in which she goes from being a co-parent to a single parent. In her videos, she acknowledges the rough patch and doesn’t gloss over the fact that it’s happening, but she says (something along the lines of), “This is real life, and this involves real people, and I have a real daughter, and I don’t want anything I say to affect other people or color what my daughter thinks of her Dad, so I’m not talking about it.” And I heard that, and suddenly had all the love and respect in the world for this woman.
I Was That Kid
Let’s back up a bit. My parents split when I was a toddler, and they each remarried their current spouses when I was kindergarten-aged. I don’t remember meeting either of my stepparents–it feels like they’ve always been in my life. I do remember passing out from the heat at my dad’s wedding. I also remember my mom asking if I wanted to be at her wedding–just a small ceremony, nothing big–and me saying “Is there gonna be cake?” and, when she said no, saying, “Why would I want to go, then?” Because I was five or six, and that was what mattered back then. (Let’s be real–some days, cake is still what matters).
My point is, my experience with my parents’ divorce is different from the experience my brother had, where he had to actually adjust to parents being together one day and apart the next. I don’t remember that transition; it’s not something that affected me. What did affect me was how people talked about it.
My parents themselves were always careful. My mom would say to me, “I’m not in love with your dad, but I still love him as the father of my children, and he’s a great dad, and he deserves your respect.” My dad was less articulate about it, but he never said a bad word about my mom. And to this day, my stepdad is so respectful of my father that when Ginger Snaps asked his blessing to marry me, my stepdad wouldn’t answer until he’d been assured that my bio dad was asked first.
Others weren’t so careful. Well-meaning teachers would say, “It must be so hard not to have your dad around.” Family members would say something about me coming from a “broken home.” People on one side of the family tree would rail against the other side of the family tree–often when they didn’t think I was listening, but sometimes when they knew I was.
What Is a Broken Home?
Elementary school-me was not articulate enough to explain why it was hurtful for people to say the things they said. I knew that I was more comfortable around adults who said, “How’s your dad doing?” (and actually wanted to know the answer) than around adults who said, “Ask your mom and dad XYZ” when referring to my mother and stepfather. As an adult, I can look back and acknowledge that the latter adults were trying to be respectful of my mom’s relationship with my stepdad. I can also say, with certainty, that in trying to be respectful of my mother’s relationship with her husband (and let’s be clear–he’s a great man who deserves all the respect in the world–I can’t say enough good about him) they diminished the relationship I had with my father.
Kids admire their parents. It doesn’t matter what the relationship looks like. Our parents create us. They’re part of us. There’s a reason the phrase “My DAD says…” is a trump card when you’re a little kid. Our parents are our world. We love it when people say we look like our mom, or walk like our dad, even as we’re rolling our eyes at the comparison, because we love them and we want to be just like them.
Now imagine you’re a kid and that’s flipped on you. Imagine the phrase “you’re just like your mom” or “you’re just like your dad” is used, not as a compliment, but as an explanation for what’s wrong with you. Suddenly your very identity is tied up in this concept people have of what a “broken home” looks like. You learn not to say “My DAD says…” or, “My MOM says…” because a part of you wonders if you’re supposed to be ashamed of who your parents are.
My mom used to say I was an outgoing little kid, and that I shut down somewhere between elementary school and middle school. I don’t actively remember being outgoing–I feel like I’ve always been an introvert. But certainly, I got to an age where I began to feel the pull of separation between the two halves of my family–where I became afraid to act like “me” for fear that someone would notice the similarities between me and the other parent–whomever that other parent was. I became terrified of saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way. I didn’t want to be “the kid from the broken home,” so instead I fought to be “the good kid.” In my struggle to always be the good kid, it took me a long time to actually learn what kind of person I was and what kind of life I wanted to lead.
Separated Doesn’t Mean Broken
When I was a kid, my friends would say, “What’s it like for your parents to be divorced?” My response, without fail, was always, “It’s great! I get two Christmases every year.” And that’s true–just as it’s true that I always felt like I had my parents’ attention. My mom would tell me, in later years, that she feared she hadn’t done a good enough job teaching me how to prioritize my marital relationship because she and my stepdad would wait for weekends I was at Dad’s to have a date night. I literally can’t remember my parents leaving me with a sitter to go out together–I always had their undivided attention when I was home.
I wish the stigma against kids whose parents are divorced didn’t exist. I wish the phrase “broken home” had never come about.
Until I heard that phrase, I never thought of my home as broken. I had two great, loving households. I had four awesome parents. I had three older brothers and one older sister, so even though we didn’t all live together all the time, I always had someone to play with. I had two bedrooms that were mine, and the different lifestyles my two sets of parents lived meant that I had access to a bounty of experiences and choices that I wouldn’t have had access to if my parents had stayed together.
My life didn’t make me feel broken. My parents certainly didn’t make me feel broken. What made me feel broken was the way everyone else talked about it.
Tres Chic Mama and Respect on the Internet
Anyone who knows me knows that “TMI” isn’t really in my vocabulary. If you want to hear about my morning sickness, I’ll tell you–down to exactly what I ate before I hurled all over new leather seats at the movie theater. My family learned long ago not to ask me questions they don’t want to know the answer to because I am a total open book.
For all of that, however, there are certain bits of information I have little tolerance for, and adults complaining about their exes hits the top of that list–especially if there are kids involved. Kids are so impressionable, and their parents are absolutely their world. There is very little you can say to a child that’s more hurtful than the insinuation that there’s something wrong with their parents.
Bring that to the internet, and it’s multiplied tenfold.
We love the internet. The whole point of reading blogs or watching vlogs is for that interaction with real people–for that feeling of “I’m not alone.” I get that we can’t water down what we write or post on the internet while still providing the service of real people talking about real lives.
At the same time… We are real people, and that’s what I love about what Tres Chic Mama had to say on her relationship. Even if you hide behind some supposed anonymity on the internet, the chances are high that someone in the world knows you’re connected to your blog. Certain aspects of our lives are too important to spout off about cavalierly on the internet, and if you have kids, your relationship with their other parent definitely makes that list.
In general, we need to respect one another. We need to do exactly what we’re telling our kids to do: respect other people, even if we don’t like them or understand them. And on the internet, where what we say is immortalized and could be available 20 years from now for our kids to see, that goes double.