Monday night, three of our four children danced across a stage in their long-anticipated dance recital. Costumes, lipstick, hair in a bun and painted smiles, they went through the steps they’d been practicing for months, all anticipated fears disappeared as they swept through the grace of a live performance.

In the audience: me and my hubby, my parents, my in-laws, our non-dancing son, my step-daughter’s mother, step-father, grandparents and great-grandfather, my ex-husband.

And after, all but my ex (he was invited!) went for ice cream together and sat outside in the waning light, puffy storm clouds like mountains rising over us in the sky, and talked amicably, enjoyably, with love flowing for the children we share.

It was so, so nice to be there with my husband’s ex and her family. It was so nice to see my parents become acquainted with my step-daughter’s other side, to see my in-laws hug their former in-law family because, well, it’s been a long time since the acrimony that led to divorce and it’s now water under the bridge, so why not come together for the children’s sake?

That’s the ideal.  When I see my former in-laws, it’s all hugs and how-are-yous. When I found out that my ex’s nephew got engaged, I texted my ex and said mazal tov and asked all the requisite questions about his bride-to-be and the wedding and all the excitement.

After all, we shared years together and their family was our family and vice versa. Although the marital relationship wasn’t lifelong, the fallout is.

Sure, if we didn’t have children together, we would not play nice. There would be no dance recitals to attend. But IFs don’t matter; it’s the real that sits before us and how we approach it, how we embrace the situation that is now, that’s what makes a family.

Families aren’t always the traditional profile with two parents and long-held deep roots. Sometimes there are extra branches on the tree. And that’s ok.

It’s the embracing that matters. When you can eat your ice cream on a summer night with your husband’s ex and share a laugh with her mother, all is well. Especially for the kids.

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