September 03, 2019
Rethinking the Semantics (and Other Things) of Divorced Parenthood

Some of the terms associated with and remarks made to divorced families ashow our society’s perception and treatment of non-traditional forms of family

by Dianthus Saputra
Issues // Politics and Society
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It’s been eight years since our official divorce, and I still find it hard to use some of the terms associated with divorced families and to accept some remarks made on my status – well intentioned though they are. Here are some examples:

    1. Broken family

This term has to come first because it is the one that bothers me the most.  What is supposedly broken when two grown adults decide that it is better to go their separate ways?  I get that this is not perfect, and nobody ever plans to get a divorce. But I believe that it is better for everyone to be happy (separately) than to be miserable together.  So, call it “broken” if you must, but judge us not.

    1. Single Parent

If by this you mean spending some nights alone with the children in the house, you are correct. But I did that even when we were still married.  My ex-husband and I disagreed on a lot of things, but none of those disagreements (however big that might be), ever stopped us from being the mother and father of our children.  We regularly keep each other updated and have regular discussions regarding our kids. My ex is still very much a part of the kids’ lives and while it might not be as intense or as involved as before, I wouldn’t negate his role by claiming to be a single parent. This might not be the case for everyone, of course. In some cases, the other partner for natural or non-natural causes is no longer present in the children’s lives in any shape or form and this surely qualifies as being a “single parent.” In some other cases, we have relatives, parents, friends who are taking on some role in the parenting process and I often wonder if the term “Single Parent” is still relevant.

Also read: When Ahok Stole My Thunder: A Divorce Story

    1. No, not all who are alone seeks a new partner.

Please do not assume.  If I was not interested in you before, now that I am single, I am still not interested in you. If you weren’t worried about me liking your husband when I was married, please save yourself the worry about me be interested in him now.

    1. …but you must have “needs”!

I always love how much people care about my “needs” since my divorce.  Statistically, 12 percent of all married people haven’t had sex for at least three months. My bedroom need is a personal matter whatever my marital status is.

    1. “You’re a super woman!”

This is almost always meant as a sincere compliment. So much so that it feels like an invisible pressure on single moms (including me).  But, hey, girlfriends! Our divorce paper is not a certificate of super womanhood.  We don’t have to feel the pressure to be a supermom just because we are now single moms.  Have faith in the little people in our lives. They are good kids and smart ones too. They understand that their mother is not a perfect being and, believe it or not, they love us even still.

    1. “Oh, I feel sorry for your children.”

Thank you. But please don’t.  Believe it or not, my ex and I love our children immensely and their needs and feelings always come first and foremost.

Also read: My Patriarchal Extended Family and Why I Dread Spending Holidays with Them

Semantics aside, our society is still struggling to deal with non-traditional forms of family. Some school events are still branded as “Mom and I” or “Dad and I” event and leave no room for a change of role. 

When for some reason, the topic of my marital status came about at school, my daughter’s teacher looked at me bewildered and said, “But I saw you with her dad the other day! And you were chatting like normal!  Can’t you just work it out for the sake of the children?” Hard as it may to believe, I don’t hate my ex and we are still best friends, but you don’t marry all your best friends, right?

I guess what I am trying to say here is our marital status does not define us or our children or the future of our children. Shit happens, and relationships don’t work out.  It’s just how life is.  If you have a friend or family who is going through a divorce or who have been divorced for a while, just check in with them once in a while and tell them what a good job they’re doing. Tell them you believe in them and that even if things look bleak right now, everything will work out for the best.

Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa

Dianthus Saputra was a journalist turned cinematographer turned mother whose affair with journalism and writing started at Jurnal Perempuan. However, as a mother of both girls and boy, she often finds herself revisiting her concept of feminism and perpetually trying to translate it into something she can share with her kids.