The Relationship Between One Parent and Two Parents (part 2 of 4)


My wife and I love Mexican food. We cook it together at least once a week. Whenever we come back to Texas, as I’m located for the weekend, we consume copious amounts of Mexican food within the first 24 hours. (By the way, Dallas readers, may I suggest Amigos in Richardson. Make sure you order the flan and anything involving their avocado sauce.)

When we transplanted to New England, we asked numerous people where to find good Mexican food. We tried one Mexican place in our town, only to find a “salsa bowl” consisting of tomato sauce mixed with pico de gallo. Another place had a similar salsa and unseasoned chicken in their enchiladas. Not impressed, New England.

So when my coworker, Laura, told me about a yummy Mexican food place in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (a beautiful town about an hour away from us), I immediately brushed her off. My wife and I drove up to Portsmouth on Memorial Day; Laura continued to lobby for this Mexican place, reminding us that she shares the Southwestern culinary roots that we do. We decided to give it a shot, a last ditched effort for New England’s experimentation with tortillas and salsas to redeem itself.

Needless to say, Vida Cantina, though it’s in a different state than we reside, shot up the list of our favorite restaurants. Mango habanero salsa. Delicious fish tacos. Smooth guacamole. In fact, last month, we went to Canada for a week, and on our way back, we stopped into Vida Cantina again to experience the deliciousness.

And who should we run into but my co-worker Laura. It was a hilarious occurrence. Three Boston residents unencumbered by the potential mess of I-95, seeking out our favorite kinds of food an hour away from home at the same time.

Laura’s mother joined her that evening–her parents recently moved to Portsmouth. In fact, Laura explained that her parents divorced when she was in elementary school. Laura spent most of the time with her mother, and described herself as a holy terror during her adolescence, longing for her parents to connect, disrupting the attempts of her mother to introduce other men into the family, a la Parent Trap.

Eventually, Laura’s parents did reconnect; they got remarried, in fact. Laura explained, “I had the dream that every child of divorce has come true. My parents got back together.”


Ulrike Zartler, a sociologist in Austria, recently visited with numerous single mothers, fathers, and children to evaluate the ways that single-parent families attempt to restructure themselves. Zartler discovered that single-parent families often view themselves in relationship to nuclear families, and develop resilience strategies to attempt to mimic that model.

Single-parent families emerge in a diversity of ways. As stated in a previous blog post, an increasing number of children are born into single parent families, as the relationship between parents never evolves. Some children have the misfortune of having widowed parents. Other children witness the dissolution of the marriage of their parents, in a worst case scenario, allying with one parent against another. Even in these cases, as Dr. Edward Kruk, a professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, reminds us, “Alienated children seem to have a secret wish for someone to call their bluff, compelling them to reconnect with the parent they claim to hate; despite strongly held positions of alignment, alienated children want nothing more than to be given the permission and freedom to love and be loved by both parents.”

Zartler learned that many single-parent families attempt to minimize the reality of having one less person in their home, imitating nuclear families in public and private situations. For instance, a child’s dance recital gets attended by both parents, giving the community the impression that they have a cordial, friendly relationship, even if the parents have to fake it for two hours. Parents seemed more interested in maintaining its image as a nuclear family in public situations, whereas children seemed more indiscriminate about the setting, wanting the family to reconvene its idealized structure behind closed doors. When residential and non-residential families connected behind closed doors, it generally centered around a child’s need: the celebration of a birthday or  holiday (generally Christmas).

The imitation process proves difficult for some families. For instance, if a child wants the non-residential parent to come over for dinner, the residential parent has to agree. Some parents in the study promoted the presentation of a nuclear family in public, but resisted reunifying in private circumstances. Children become dependent on the residential parent to coordinate the event, and experience high internal/external conflict when the parent refuses. Imitating nuclear families works when parents are able to communicate healthily post-separation. When parents are unable to do this, families must rely on other resilience strategies.


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