An open letter to Huffpost (and its writer /blogger, Elizabeth Denham) in response to this article. Denham’s advice-giving post about co-parenting after divorce states “Give [your children] the freedom to be happy wherever they are. It is the greatest gift you can give to them after their family has broken.”
What???? It is 2013 and you are still describing families who have been through divorce or separation as BROKEN???? Are you kidding me?
I am single. I am a mother. I have sole custody of my children. I am not a single-parent. I do the parenting work of two people. I am a double parent, and my family is not broken.
I am outraged that you would describe any family situation as broken. Unless there has been outright abuse or something has happened to damage or sever the parent-child bond/relationship, no child is from a broken family. Parents separate. They don’t break up a family and leave it broken. When one family situation ends a new family situation begins. What’s left when parents separate is not a broken family; it’s a reorganised family structure. It’s still a family, and it’s most definitely not broken.
The first thing I didn’t do when my husband walked out and left me and my two daughters was sit down and tell my children that they are now part of a broken family. How, why would anyone do that? (Don’t answer!) What I did do, however, was tell them that I love them and that their father loves them, and although we don’t all live together, they still have two parents who love them very much.
Two parents who love them very much – that doesn’t sound too broken a situation to me. In fact, I know of several parents who describe their family situations as being fixed after divorce or separation. I can certainly imagine why the word fixed fits better than broken – children get parents who are (hopefully) no longer fighting, domestic abuse may have ended, kids might get to see mum or dad happy, and they get to grow up in more peaceful family situation that what they had prior to the divorce or separation. Each family situation is unique to that family, and what happens after separation can be described in anyway number of ways. But, to use the word ‘broken’ is careless, it is biased, it is old-fashioned, and it is in bad taste. It is unacceptable.
I take care of my children 24/7. I feed, clothe, nurture, love and ensure all their needs are met. I get them to school, to music lessons, to swimming lessons, facilitate play dates, and ensure they consume only suitable forms of entertainment. I take them to the doctor’s as and when needed, take them to the dentist, the library, the theatre, take them on holiday, take them to visit family and friends. I do it all alone, and in a country I emigrated to, without the support of their father or his family. I am not only a double parent; I am the whole proverbial village.
Does that mean my children come from a broken family? No, it does not. Are they children of divorce? Yes. But that is the only way my children differ from any other child being raised by two parents.
The word broken is defined by the OED as:
1. past participle of break
2. that which has been broken; out of order
3. reduced to despair; beaten
Not one of these definitions accurately describe my family.
My family is not broken. It is not what’s left of a whole that is missing a part. It is not three quarters of what it was once. Neither are those other non-traditional families where parents have died, or remarried or whatever….
Just as my family is not broken or inferior to a traditional family (mother, father, children), neither is any other family type or parenting situation. It’s 2013, and children today are being raised by one mother, one father, two mothers, two fathers, one grandmother, a foster family, a sibling, step-parents, even in co-parenting situations. It doesn’t really matter what the family type is, no-one should describe it using words and phrases with negative connotations. To do so, is a huge injustice to the members of that family and perpetuates that notion that one family type is superior. It is also a great disservice to the parents who struggle after divorce and separation to ensure their children don’t suffer as a result.
I suggest you rethink your vocabulary in future.
I realised I was feminist when my daughters and I became post-divorce victims of the patriarchal family court system and society continually told me that my family was broken because there is no male head of household.