Conscious Uncoupling in the suburbs: An Authentic Conversation about Parenting, Life, Love and Marriage in the Year 2016
Kara and I first met 12 years ago when I placed an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter. We were both stay-at-home moms.
I wanted to work a few hours a week on a novel I was writing and Kara was “looking to earn a little extra ‘mad money.’” I remembered her saying, a little sarcastically with an ironic chuckle… which suited my personality.
We met for the first time in her kitchen and as we got to know each other, I recognized a kindred spirit: on the outside we just looked like regular moms, but on the inside, we were not women to be trifled with. We wanted to do amazing things AND raise our children OUR own way.
We were first-time moms, “nervous nellies.” But our hearts were in the right place; we were passionate about doing everything right… whatever that meant. Both of us came from divorced families. Straddling our mother’s way of doing things and at the same time at our core we had a machismo of our own.
The fact is, we were girls who grew up playing outside. If there was a spirit guide for our generation it was no doubt, Steven Spielberg. We were Goonies, we were the Indiana Joneses of our own neighborhoods and believers in the power of E.T. and that a good BMX bike could fly if you pedaled fast enough.
We were “latch key” kids, many from divorced families, and we rode our bikes to the arcade and hung out ‘til the street lamps came on.
We grew up with a lot of freedom, grunge, flannel and the belief that when moving about like “Wildlings” in the mosh pits of Lalapolooza and Lillith Fair, if you were lucky enough to be swept up in an impromptu crowd surf you rode the wave, believing wholeheartedly that hands would be there to carry you to the other side.
I was so grateful for the year of babysitting and friendship with Kara. But when we both became pregnant, we fell out of touch.
Recently, Kara and I bounced back into each other’s orbits, (our then-babies, now 12-year-olds), discovered each other on Instagram and after six months of exchanging photos and quips they wanted to have a “real” playdate.
It had been 12 years since we found ourselves catching up in Kara’s kitchen again. It was as if no time had passed; I saw that familiar look in her eyes… a woman doing amazing things and raising her children on her own terms.
But there was something deeper there too, and I felt it in myself as well, a wisdom and confidence that wasn’t there before. The wisdom that comes with experience and making mistakes. We were both confident in who we had become as women and mothers.
Which became evident to me when Kara began sharing her story about how her family had evolved over the last 12 years.
“If something makes me equal parts excited and nervous that’s the right spot for me,” Kara said explaining how seven years ago, through yoga and acupuncture, she realized she had been unhappy in her marriage and had no idea.
“I suddenly realized I had felt dead inside.”
A year of individual and joint counseling with her husband of 8 years had three separate marriage counselors advising divorce… the hard truth was, although they had always been good friends, they had never had an intimate romantic foundation.
Though they came from two totally different backgrounds, (Kara was a child of divorce, while her husband’s parents have been married over 48 years), divorce was not an option.
“The idea that the boys, (at the time ages four and seven) would have to pack a suitcase and be separated and then have the state tell us what our parenting plan needed to be, no thanks.”
Kara and her husband opted for their own version of what Gwyneth Paltrow termed, “Consciously Uncoupling.”
“Our society gives us three options: stay in a marriage and be miserable, stay in the marriage and cheat on your partner because you can justify it, or get divorced. Marriage has changed so much it’s time for us to evolve.”
Kara and her husband came up with their own plan: keep the family unit together, but separate as a couple.
They were very intentional about their goals. Keeping the family together and making it work for them. Which included keeping the family home. They had enough bedrooms for Kara’s husband to move into a spare and then they each have their scheduled evenings and weekends with the kids.
“I think that’s what’s so beautiful about it; we’re no longer a couple, but we still have this family and that’s our main priority.”
Explaining to friends and family was not easy.
“There were certain people who were more understanding than others. But I felt very, very judged. And normally that wouldn’t have bothered me. But I was so excited and proud about what we had accomplished. It was hard to get this pushback from friends and family that were not understanding and still aren’t.”
Writing stories about brave people doing incredible things outside the cookie cutter is the meat and potatoes of my writing.
To me, listening to Kara tell her story was, well, forget meat and potatoes… it was like rolling up my sleeves and feasting on the leg of a ham hock roasted on a spit and eating it off the bone, as salty grease slides down my chin between intermittent gulps of hoppy mead from a horn hook vessel as I say, “Go on.”
Not because it was salacious, or weird but because it was authentic.
Because Kara is a real woman in America carving out her own experience on her own terms. Period. And that, doesn’t matter if you’re Generation X, Y, millennials or our daughters “hot on our heels” in the rearview mirror.
It’s about being true to ourselves and teaching our kids to follow their own path, not someone else’s idea of how we should live our lives.
“There are 26 letters in the alphabet I always tell people find the one that work for you,” Kara said, when describing the way she lives her life.
Seven years into the “conscious uncoupling,” both Kara and her husband have partners outside the home. Which means, when it’s not their time with the kids, they stay with their partners.
One of the best benefits: holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are spent as a family.
“We had an impromptu family campfire night in our yard a couple weeks ago. Their dad and I are committed to the family and grateful that we can provide a loving and stable home for our boys.”
It hasn’t always been easy and there is definitely a lot of give and take, but Kara wouldn’t have it any other way.
There are no statistics for couples living “consciously uncoupled” in America. “It’s not the norm. And it’s one of those things people don’t feel comfortable talking about,” Kara explained.
“This is my story and it wouldn’t work for everybody, but find what works for you,” Kara said.
And the truth is, if you’re honest, stuff happens even with the best-laid plans, and if it does, if the stuff of life happens to you, too, Kara’s a great person to listen to. She’s thoughtful, caring, perceptive and she is a great representation of my new podcast, Pippimamma: Life Outside the Cookie Cutter.
Listen to the podcast above, or download it on iTunes. And while you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when my guest will be reporter and co-host of King 5’s Evening Magazine.