Wednesday, September 20th 2017

Humbug to Dickens

Multiple divorces don’t doom everyone to Britneyhood. At Christmas time broken homes, too, can be merry.

BY MICHELLE MORRA-CARLISLE – I wonder how many people feel cheated every Christmas because there is no fluffy snow outside, no cozy fireplace and no Tiny Tim. I must confess that I was down on my own family for years. If ‘A Christmas Carol’ had starred us, Tim and his siblings would have lived with Mrs. Cratchet and only visited Mr. Cratchit on weekends.

This is by no means a sob story. I am, in fact, about to brag about the Christmas I’m about to spend with my mother, husband, sister, stepsister, half-brother and his girlfriend, stepfather and stepfather’s first wife (stepsister’s mother). As my sister puts it, “all three of our parents are twice divorced.” Yet I challenge any nuclear family out there to have a more fun, more loving time than we will have.

It wasn’t always so. Coming from a broken home we’ve had our share of disappointments, moved several times, and spent a lifetime of Christmases divided between this parent and that one. My sister and I were always together but didn’t see our stepsister for years after our mother’s second divorce. Our half-brother, caught in the middle, yo-yoed between our “family” and theirs.

Yet lately, thanks to one freakish party five years ago that each one of us happened to attend, we have joined forces. Since then, every birthday, Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas – and the days in between – are oh so much better than when we were in our separate corners. United we stand… and eat, dance, sing, drink, cry, hug, laugh and support each other.

No Bradies allowed

When we all lived together, (mom, step-dad, step-sis, sis, bro and me) we faithfully attended church every Sunday for years. Yet because our parents were both divorced-and-remarried sinners, we were never allowed to be one of those families that carry the gifts of bread and wine to the altar. Technically, we shouldn’t have been in a Catholic church at all. We went, though. Like our more “normal” friends we feasted and exchanged gifts at Christmas, found magic in midnight mass, and sincerely believed each New Year would bring hope for a more peaceful, joyful life.

It didn’t. Over the years the dysfunction kind of filtered through to us kids in different ways. But I have since realized that, despite having been the only kid my schoolyard with a stepsibling, so-called dysfunction is a whole lot more pervasive than I once thought.

At last count by the U.S. Census Bureau there were approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States who were raising 21.8 million children. More than half of American youth live in non-traditional families, including stepfamilies, non-relatives, grandparents or foster families. And the Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that between 8 and 10 million children in the U.S. are being raised by gay parents. Who’s to say that a great number of those people can’t have their own great memories with loved ones, no matter how unorthodox the demographics of their dinner tables?

There comes a time when the quest to be normal or perfect is so out of reach, a great sense of relief comes from giving up the charade. My family is light years away from ever being Dickensian or nuclear but we have found our own new way of being and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Besides, our family troubles are so far in the past that we can, and do, have a good laugh over some pretty whacked out memories.

Who is the authority on family anyway? If it’s Jesus – the man with a virgin mother, earthly stepfather and celestial bio-dad – I somehow doubt that he would have snubbed my family in church.

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2 Comments on “Humbug to Dickens”

  1. A divorced dad who leaves will miss out on the trust that is built when he is actually there playing the role of father instead of friend. He’ll miss the daily stories and struggles that his child will bring home and recount. He’ll miss the nightly bear hugs before bed, and the heart to heart talks of which he could have been an integral part.

  2. a great sense of relief comes from giving up the charade.
    I like this line. It's so true!

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