At 23 I was a new Mother. It was early nineties and everything in my life had changed dramatically. Beyond the obvious life-changing that becoming a parent brings, I was also in the midst of a whirlwind of choices and lessons that I still look back on today, as I near 43, and learn from. It was during my twenty-third year I began to see how difficult relationships are, and how complicated the actual decision to stay together, or not, can be. How it is not always just about love, or companionship, or attraction that keeps people tethered to each other – and how those other reasons for staying together are not typically strong enough to hold through the day-to-day.

I look back at photographs of that year in my life and I see people I hardly recognize. All those holiday shots where we are gathered close and smiling, posing as a family that I’m not sure we ever really tried to be. At this stage in who we were, well, we hardly knew each other. We barely knew what a family was supposed to be and we had very little time to learn. So many of us, in this age group, at at similar times of trying on the fabric of family and cohabitation for the first time, most of what we had to base any of it on was what we saw on the television. I write this without intention to slight my own family, but it was true for me, and true for most people I know my age, at that time. The truth is, most of us came out of families who had fallen apart to some extent, and many of us had been raised by only one of our parents (at least for some of our lives).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was a single parent for quite a long time, and I mean nothing against that type of family – not at all – but, growing up without knowing my own father, it did influence my perspective of not only what a family was, but what I wanted it to be. I think that is where the complications resided, in the idealistic perspective of what I wanted family to be. Utopia does not exist except in the pages of stories, and even then, there are always flaws and failures. That said, wanting a utopian family was doomed from the start. I did want that, though I honestly do not completely comprehend why.

Some days I wish I could go back to myself, at 23, and sit over a pot of coffee, and say “don’t try so hard“,

be more understanding of each other“,

and  perhaps something like, “remember all the good things having a unconventional family taught you, and how much you have learned from having a strong, single mother” and also especially this:

It may take years, but you will find your own unconventional family that is nothing like you saw on television, but something so much better.”

* note: the photograph is not of me, or my own mother, but just a picture I felt moved by for this post.

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