The Benefits of Having Two Sets of Parents

January 10th, 2017

Illustration by Sarah Dowler/ The Phoenix News

Illustration by Sarah Dowler/ The Phoenix News

The concept of marrying one person, and staying with them for your entire life has been cemented into our minds by countless books, plays, and rom- coms—yet when the dominant “happy ever after” narrative fails to translate to our own experiences, perhaps it is time to consider re-writing that script. Indeed, with 4 in 10 marriages ending in divorce in Canada, this ideal fits less and less with modern reality. Marriages and relationships change, and the traditional “nuclear family” is no longer the dominant family unit. With many modern families formed from a diverse web of step-relatives and half-relatives, there can be unforeseen benefits to this situation, which has become the reality for much of younger generations.

The widespread public perception of “broken homes” tells us that divorce is lethal; that it will leave us with lasting psychological scars, that children will perform poorly at school, and socially. Whilst these things can sometimes be true, too often the negative impacts of divorce on children are exaggerated, and the profound benefits that can arise from it are ignored. A 2011 Pew Research report found that 70% of the children of divorced parents felt satisfied with family life—compared with 78% of those from traditional families—it seems that there’s little conducive evidence to suggest that a blended family should  be less happy than a traditional one by default.

A so-called broken home gives children two spaces, two worlds with two different values, giving them access to a broader outlook and making them more open-minded. Children of blended families get used to adapting and moving around frequently, which can better prepare them for moving away from home and gaining independence. Personally, having two sets of parents has given me more role models, and a greater support network than I might have had with a more “traditional” family—I see it as having two mothers, and two fathers that I can consult when in need of help.

Janice Van Dyck, a novelist known for her books exploring transitions and family change, has spoken openly about the benefits of having a step family. “Stepfamilies can stretch a kid’s thinking and give him or her a stronger sense of self in the world”, she argues. In the case of myself, and friends of mine who have experienced divorce, it seems this statement rings true. Many of them are better at adjusting to change, tougher, and more independent than friends whose upbringing has been tightly welded to a traditional family experience.

Have a step-family, just like a regular family, is never going to be perfect. “When things go wrong I don’t chalk it up to being a step-family. I chalk it up to being a family”, says Van Dyck. Every family will have its ripples of disagreement, moments of madness and chaos in which no one can seem to get along. However, if remarriages seem to make our parents genuinely happier, then embracing new step parents and learning to interact with them is the only way forwards.

Growing up within a blended family, I have been gifted with the most wonderful and diverse step-relatives; have learnt from multiple role models, and never felt a loss of people to ask for advice. When asked if I am upset about my parents’ divorce, I respond by saying that I could not conceive of a world without my stepfather or stepmother, who have strongly influenced who I am today. Going through divorce is never going to be a walk in the park, yet when we can foster new and nurturing family structures out of so-called “broken homes”, there seems to be concrete evidence that the traditional family unit is not the only way forward.

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