I’ve been bothered for a long time with use of the phrase “a broken home”. You know what I mean- the pejorative phrase used to describe children that are not living with their entire nuclear family, usually as a result of divorce. As though the fractioning of that home, no matter how good or bad and through no fault of their own, somehow should be the label that defines the children. My annoyance with this phrase is of course more relevant now that I am divorced. And while I’ve not heard it used to describe my kids (at least in front of me), I have heard others casually use the phrase when talking about other children.
Without getting all snowflakey about it, let’s discuss whether this phrase is something that is helpful.
When you say that children come from a broken home, that is obviously to be contrasted with an unbroken home. The implication is that broken is not as good as together, and that children have been, are, or will be harmed from their entire family not being together.
I can acknowledge that a divorced family is not the ideal when raising children. I should also acknowledge that I don’t personally believe in divorce absent grounded biblical reasons- namely, adultery and abuse. Even checking the proverbial box based on my own beliefs, I stuck around my marriage not just because I felt obligated to, but because I really did want it to work and I really did want to raise my children as a whole family. I took the vows I made seriously, and if I ever did get married again, I would do the same thing. I don’t believe in leaving because things get hard. I don’t believe in leaving because you fall out of love.
In the time that I was contemplating how to move forward, I wrestled mightily with the very idea that I wanted my children to have a nuclear family to come home to. I wanted them to have the benefits of two parents that loved them and loved each other. To not have to be shuffled back and forth between homes or schools or spend part of their free time at holidays or over the summers away from their friends and regular activities. I didn’t want my failings as a wife or as a partner in my marriage to be something that caused them pain or even inconvenience. And then of course there is at least a part of it that has to do with the ideal that we have in our heads of how things should be; it’s hard to give up on the dream that is in our minds, even when evidence shows us otherwise.
As nice as the idea of a whole family is, there are times when it is just not possible. Sometimes people are so broken individually that there is no hope for the collective “us” in a marriage. And sometimes… “broken” does not mean “less than.”
The more I thought about it in the examination of my own marriage and the decision I inevitably made, the more I realized that I’d rather my kids “come from” a broken home than live in one. I’d rather them come from a broken home than be broken themselves.
It wasn’t lost on me that my children model nearly everything they saw me say and do. We, as parents, are their best and most prominent teachers. When they see us read, they want to read. When they see us scream in frustration, they scream in frustration. When they see us pray at random moments during the day, they pray at random moments during the day. I’ve never seen so many of my bad habits modeled before me until I had children; now when they do certain things I cringe when I realize they picked that up from me.
And that means that they would develop ideas of what a healthy relationship looked like from what they saw- and that was my single biggest motivation in choosing to “break up” my home. While I’ll never say that divorce is great, it doesn’t always have to wreak havoc either. In fact, I’d argue that ongoing and unresolved conflict would be far more damaging long term. That growing up with addiction, codependency, no respect, narcissism, abuse or mistrust would actually be worse than the pain from separation of the nuclear family unit.
At the end of the day, I think words matter. I was discussing this topic with some friends a number of months ago and someone brought up the phrase “putting the child up for adoption” as another phrase that we should just probably stop using. It sounds so transactional, and the fact is, we’re talking about human lives. Children shouldn’t be “put up.” Can you imagine if, instead, we said that a mother loved her child so much that she made the sacrificial choice to give another family an opportunity to love that child? The more that I thought about this one, the more that it really tugged at my heart strings.
What do you think, guys? I don’t feel like this is an overly sensitive topic for me, it’s just somewhere where I think collectively we can do better. Do you agree? Are there any other phrases like this that we regularly use but don’t really think of how that may affect people in those situations?