PLEASE STOP SAYING BROKEN HOME
by Shelia Adams Gardner Esq.
Words have power. The term ‘broken home” is still commonly used to describe families with divorced or separated parents. “Broken home” is almost always a misnomer as it invalidates the child’s actual family experience to describe the parents’ legal relationship. Worse, it unfairly portends a future of social/emotional dysfunction for the child.
My parents’ 15-year marital relationship ended in divorce in 1975. Our family did not end. However, throughout my childhood, teachers and other adults often said that I was from a “broken home.” I was repulsed every time I heard that term. I felt a hot sense of shame as if the word ‘broken’ was branded on my chest. The statements were always coupled with looks of pity or suspicious curiosity which made me feel accused of some unforgivable sin. At 7 years old I felt the dissonance between the commonly held beliefs about a family with divorced parents and my reality. I knew my family was not broken. My sisters and I were raised in a family with two parents who cooperatively parented while living in two separate households. We were one loving coparenting family. The formal end of my parents’ relationship did not destroy our family. In fact, it was my parents’ divorce that brought peace to our family unit and set a foundation for strong parent/child relationships with both parents. Divorce does not create ‘broken homes.’ Toxic parental conflict creates ‘broken homes’.
In the mid 1800’s the term ‘broken home’ was used to describe the absence of one parent for any unfortunate reason, such as prolonged illness, incarceration, or extreme poverty. Today, Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘broken home’ as “a family in which parents have divorced.” Further in this context, ‘broken’ is defined as, “disunited by divorce, separation or desertion of one parent.” These definitions reflect the lingering stigma associated with divorce. Although toxic conflict is often part of the breakdown of a marital relationship, one should not assume that all children of divorced parents experience that toxicity; or that they suffer from the associated negative consequences.
I believe the wanton use of the term ‘broken home’ gave birth to the term, ‘stay together for the kids.’ This is a misguided belief that remaining in a toxic marital relationship benefits the children. Neurological studies revealed that children as young as 6 months experience physical and emotional effects from parental conflict. For all children, toxic parental conflict negatively impacts their social, emotional, and academic development. These effects can last into adulthood. The chronic stress from ongoing family conflict may also have lasting physical effects on children and parents. I am forever grateful to my parents for their wisdom. Our family has grown threefold and still enjoys close bonds because of our parents’ dedication. There are many cooperative coparenting families like ours. It is my mission to end the stigma that plagues coparenting. A family is still a family after divorce. Whether a family is ‘broken’ or a ‘loving coparenting family’ is not determined by the parents’ marital status. It is determined by the parents’ steadfast commitment to raising healthy future adults.
Now, for every loving coparenting family I ask… Will you please stop saying, ‘broken home’?
Sheila Adams Gardner is an attorney, mediator, coparenting coach, and author of two children’s books, Two Houses One Family, and Made of Love. Both books celebrate cooperative coparenting families. The paperbacks and ebooks can be found on Amazon.
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Sheila is founder of Cooperative Strategies Family Law. Learn more at www.thecooperativestrategy.com