Dear Huffpost, my family is not broken…

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.

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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.

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47 thoughts on “Dear Huffpost, my family is not broken…

  1. YES! My family only has two people, but it’s far from broken. We’re so much happier than we would be with S’s father, or probably with any other man. Balls to Huffpost and their ridiculous, antiquated, conservative right-wing ways!


  2. I’m so happy to hear that you and your child are happy. Of course your family isn’t broken. What a ridiculous notion from Huffpost!

    Thanks for commenting. You are an inspiration. 🙂


  3. sasikiran says:

    awesome article i feel the same thanks for the article


  4. Elif and Mina says:

    Reblogged this on Mostly Happy and commented:
    So true…so true…


  5. Thank you, Elif and Mina. Thanks for stopping by, reading, commenting and sharing.


  6. […] Dear Huffpost, my family is not broken… […]


  7. […] Dear Huffpost, my family is not broken… ( […]


  8. Elif and Mina says:

    Thanks for writing such an important message! Maybe one day we can collaborate our ideas or something! It seems as if we are on the same wavelength on many things re: divorce and parenting 🙂


  9. Thanks for linking this important article, and stopping by TDP.


  10. Collaborating sounds like a great idea.


  11. Elif and Mina says:

    excellent!! let’s touch base soon 🙂


  12. Claudia says:

    Yeah! Love this post and love your response to the Huff Post article. I’m a solo parent as well and just started experimenting with a blog on solo parenting – Very inspired by your blog. Thank you so much.


  13. This is beautiful, I detest the term broken family. You sound like an amazing parent, any child would be lucky to have you 🙂


  14. Thank you. I detest that term too. I doubt my children realise how fortunate they are, but that’s okay. I’m not looking for their approval – that would be a long time coming and parenting for the wrong reason. It would nice if one day, the looked back, and thought I was a good enough parent.

    Thanks for visiting The Double Parent. 🙂


  15. lovelylady2 says:

    Well said! As a widow my family isn’t often refered to as broken, but when viewed from the outside, there is a sense that it is not whole. My children know they are loved and hopefully I can give them a “complete” life regardless of whatever pieces may be missing.


  16. Thanks for your comment! You make a great point. I’m very sorry to hear that you are a widow. I’m pretty darned sure that no-one would refer to your family as broken. That would be considered pretty darned cruel and heartless. So why do they think it’s okay to do this after divorce or separation, I wonder.

    I wish you and your children all the best for the future, and I hope you stay in touch.


  17. clwilliams27 says:

    I love how you described yourself and I wholeheartedly agree!


  18. Ooh, now I’m going to be a tad controversial in this conversation, purely for discussions sake.
    I hate labels as much as the next person and at the end of the day that’s all it is, a label, a word and not something we should have to define ourselves by if we don’t agree with that label.
    However, when we’re talking about broken families and many of you feel strongly that this does not describe your family, is this just your opinion? I only ask because I come from a “broken family” sadly. My parents divorced when I was 7. My mother said all the right things, mummy and daddy both loved me etc. I knew they loved me but still something was broken to ME, in MY head. And regardless of their efforts i still feel that way and I’m 38 with kids of my own
    Kids do take these things personally and try as you might, if their peers have both parents, something feels amiss. I say IF because lone parenting is so common and I commend all lone parents.
    My mum did a fantastic job but I still couldn’t help feeling that the balance wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. I have to say my father wasn’t exactly hands on. We lived in the UK and he in the US. Even if he had been next door my own equilibrium would have been off.
    I have recently read posts by teenagers who do consider themselves from broken families, one blogger actually calls herself beautifulbrokenthing or something like that.
    Now, my reason for the controversy here is this. I know that often communication is poor in families, which is often what caused the break in the first place. If you are confident that your children agree with you and broken is still the wrong term, perhaps you could dig out some of these poor lost “broken” teenage bloggers and offer them words of comfort. There’s nothing better than discovering that you are not so alone as you thought. And hearing from another lone parent might help them understand their own.
    I think these blogs are such a great way of helping each other and ourselves to communicate.


  19. I agree. I also agree that her article had value as well. It was a poor choice of words, a matter of semantics (and yes, words have meaning and thus power). However, I am fairly certain it was not the intention of the writer of that article to have painted so negative a view of a family in which the parents are no longer a single unit. Thank you for sharing.


  20. I don’t think you’re being controversial at all. I do believe that we learn more from those who disagree with us, than we do from those who agree. If we our beliefs and thoughts can’t stand up to challenge, then they’re not up to much in the first place.

    I think your belief growing up that your family was broken is true and valid for you, especially considering you were a 7 year old child trying to make sense of your parents’ separation. 7 year old children are not really renowned for being full of wisdom and for always jumping to the right conclusions. No wonder you felt like your family was broken – there was definitely a piece missing. If you lost a piece of a jigsaw puzzle – did you refer to is a broken puzzle or that there was a missing piece??? There’s a difference.

    I suggest you think long and hard about why you felt your family was broken, and think about it from the perspective of your 7 year old self, not your adult self. Look back on your world at that time through your 7 year old self’s eyes. How many other kids from divorced families did you know?? How many other non-traditional family types did you know? Did you grow up in a community where all the families where nuclear families of the same ethnic origin and religious background??? Kids don’t like to feel different, and when there are not a lot of other differences between kids’ families, one difference can stand out more than it ordinarily would have when there’s a plethora of differences.

    You weren’t wrong to think that the balance wasn’t right. I think kids are supposed to be raised by two people – that’s the reason I came up with the term Double Parent – because one parent is doing double the parenting work.

    I don’t want my kids, or any one else for that matter, to grow up thinking their family is broken – because something that is broken is in need of repair or is so beyond repair it needs to be thrown in the garbage. I want people to know that my family is good enough as it is, and that I am proud of myself and my family.

    Heather Mills lost a leg in a road traffic accident. She’s not broken. She’s fully functioning human being. My family lost a parent. It’s not broken. It’s fully functioning.

    We may not be the same as were before, but we are still a family, and our family is not broken.


  21. Thanks for reading, and for your comment. I really appreciate that you took the time to do that. 🙂

    However, it doesn’t really matter to me what the writer’s intentions were. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, after all.

    One drop of poison in a glass of sweet lemonade, is still a drop of poison in glass of sweet lemonade. That drop still taints the lemonade, it still alters the flavour, and it still poisons the drinker.


  22. Now this is why I love bloggers. Thank you for your honesty. I will look back at those times. I do not feel that I am a broken person but I do feel that mother was left broken, so perhaps I’m just carrying those feelings for her.
    I love your strength. Your children must be proud of you.
    With your permission I would like to link your post and this reply to the bloggers I mentioned earlier in the hopes that they can feel less broken.
    It’s this kind of community support that’s missing from society offline today.


  23. Please do share. This is a message I want people to understand. If a married couple get divorced but do not have children, no-one ever refers to them as being from a broken family. Why not, I wonder? A family can consist of a married couple. I think we need to stop targeting kids from divorced families and stop labelling them as less than their peers from married/couple families. Being raised by one wonderful parent is a darned sight less broken than being raised by a pair of alcoholics (for example) or a married couple comprised of one codependent parent and one enabling parent.


  24. Excellent blog post. As a mum raising my family by myself I totally agree what what you have written. I’m also intrigued to read the rest of your blog 😄


  25. Thank you!! I bet you’re working hard at raising your family! I wish you all the best. And look forward to checking out your blog. 🙂


  26. angelnaman says:

    Reblogged this on Away from Mom and commented:
    Very well said…


  27. Jim Clayton says:

    Excellent. My parents divorced when I was about 19. A couple of years later, I was at a friend’s house when her parents were discussing divorce with some guests. Her mom started to ask for my opinion on something with “you’re from a broken home…” It really sounded odd when she said it. I think I replied, “I’m not from a broken home; my parents split up, that’s all.” She thought about it, nodded, and said, “good point.” That one stuck withe me.


  28. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for taking the time out to read and comment. “Broken home” is such an old-fashioned phrase, I was very surprised to see it being used today – and be used by the Huffpost! I’m glad to hear that you answered by telling your friend’s mum that your family wasn’t broken.

    I can’t stand the constant perpetuation of the notion that one family type is better than another.


  29. I agree about the ‘broken family’ term. As a separate point, I’m curious when you say “my husband walked out and left me and my two daughters” did your husband ‘leave’ your two daughters or did he leave the marriage? You state that he loves them and in that sense he has not ‘left’ them. I just mention this point because you’re talking about terms/language, and often it’s one/both parents ‘leaving’ the situation but not intending to leave the kids. Thanks.


  30. When my husband left, he disappeared for two weeks and I was unable to contact him at all. The children were 2 and 5 at the time. Presently , they are almost 9 and 11, and they have not seen him for over 14 months. (It’s a long and complicated story.) I’m sure that I qualified the statement to which you refer with “at that time” or something similar.

    He left the marriage, but in doing so, he also left his children. That’s what the last 6 years have proven. He, in no way, is being a father TO them. I don’t doubt that he has feelings of love for them, but he isn’t involved in their lives in anyway whatsoever. He calls them and they talk for a few minutes each week – there’s a hell of a lot more to being a good enough parent than that! He is responsible for this lack. Do you know that you cannot force a parent to utilize access? There is no law that says a parent must parent his or her own children?


  31. A. Davila says:

    Thanks for your inspiring definition of what family means for some of us. I shared it with my ex-husband and he also agrees: each of us has a NEW family with mother and kid/ father and kid, and we want our child to be proud of being blessed by having the opportunity to receive so much love from both of us.

    Congrats for being a great example for your chilfren:)


  32. val says:

    I totally agree – we left behind was “broken” and we, the “family” have moved on. The only thing that stays broken, is the family court system, which doesn’t work and keeps people in an un-natural limbo. 11 years of no support, no closure, no common sense, the family court doesn’t protect our children, but is being “paid” to perpetuate abuse, neglect and discrimination – and further, it removes the right of the parent to use their best judgement and the ability to protect their loved ones.


  33. Elisabeth says:

    When I was growing up, my parents were together until I was ten years old. I was trafficked for sex by my father. I prayed that my father would leave, so that I would stop being sold by him. THAT was a broken family … even though it didn’t look like it to the outside observer. I am now raising two children on my own. We have a beautiful life together. I would not change a thing. However, some people think there is something wrong with my family. They have no idea.


  34. Elizabeth – thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment. You are correct – many families that seem “whole” are actually broken in the true sense of the word. I applaud your courage and strength to keep going, and I am really looking forward to reading and following your blog


  35. RT says:

    I wonder if there’s a way to add a little nuance here. I agree that using the term broken for a one-parent household, or a post-divorce household in whatever configuration, is ridiculous. But having recently been through a divorce I feel there is some truth to the description that the family we had before broke. I think this can be an important way to acknowledge grief, for adults and for children, if we are also clear that what happens after a family breaks is that we create new family in forms that are hopefully healthier and more conducive to everyone’s happiness than the old form was.


  36. RT: There’s definitely room for nuance, and everyone is free to describe their family any way they want, and in any way they see fit. After all, you know your family better than any one else.

    What there’s no room for however, is calling anyone’s family broken just because there is one parent or there has been a divorce or separation, or because there’s no man in the home. A widow have commented on this posted and said that she was a single mother now her husband was dead, but no-one would dare describe her family as broken.

    This is not to say that divorce and separation are not painful, or that kids don’t need two parents. Couple break up. Yes. If a childless couple break up does anyone describe them as individuals of a broken family?? No.

    Simply put, my family consists of me and my kids. We are broken family just because their father choose to move out. We are a family of three. We have to sop labelling families, stop stigmatising divorced families, and stop assuming that one family type is superior to another. As many, many people have commented – their families became whole after divorce.


  37. […] are not less than, you are not broken. You are whole, you are wonderful, you are good enough, you are beautiful and your loving is a […]


  38. […] Double Parent wrote a great piece about society’s view that a single-parent household is “broken”.  This struck me.  As a single mother, I obviously do not believe that my family is broken.  I […]


  39. I love your blog and the realism of the term double parent. My family was broken when my four month old baby, three year old toddler and I were living with an alcoholic and abuser. As the boys grew older and had to visit with their Dad, I feared for their life. The abuse was just under the wire to call in Children’s Aid and social service support. And then it crossed the line. After years of family therapy, our family of three is healthy, safe and whole. The police aren’t at the door having to protect us, we aren’t being dragged into court to relive the abuse, we finally don’t live in fear! Dad has divorced me and his boys. No contact, no visitation…nothing! Our family is flourishing mentally, physically and spiritually. Yes I am a double parent too and love every minute. And our broken family, it’s now fixed. Huffpost needs to move into this century and see what families are made of before labelling us in negative light.


  40. Reblogged this on The Double Parent: and commented:

    I’m reblogging this post because the #notbroken message is as important as ever. Just because a family has only one parent, or because there is no “male figurehead” does not mean our children are from broken families.


  41. I couldn’t agree with you more. Huffpost certainly does need to get into this century – but sadly, it does tend to be a reflection of what society thinks.

    I firmly believe that we parents need to take a stand and be proud of what we do as double parents, and when we refuse to tolerate BS phrases like ‘broken families’ society will be forced to shift its outdated views and opinions of parents who are single.

    I mean, since when did our relationship status become a definition of our parenting?? I don’t hear anyone who’s married being referred to as a ‘married mother’!

    It’s time for us to say no more. We are strong enough to stand up to abusive partners. We are strong enough to get out out of abusive relationships, and we are strong enough to raise our children alone, so I know we are strong enough to bring about this cultural change.


  42. […] Like this?Read more… […]


  43. Becka Morgan says:

    Our family was broken when I was married, I was broken when I was married. Leaving the mental and verbal abuse took strength. What pushed me to leave, to find that strength, was my daughters. I did not want them growing up learning that men should treat women that way. Our lives have been rich and full. We have a great extended family of choice and my children have thrived in this environment. Broken? I think not. I would also like to throw in, although not something from the article but a pet peeve of mine, people who have less income are not “poor”. I had limited income during much of my children’s childhood years, however we were far from “poor”. We had an abundance of people whom we loved and loved us. How could we have had more riches?


  44. […] so often I read articles like this where single moms are fighting the good fight against that “broken family” label. And I am […]


  45. I write a blog called My Family is not Broken ( I share your values, struggles and desire to reframe the idea of family and unbrokeness. Thank you for sharing.


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