Your Family Isn’t Broken

by Amy  - April 15, 2024

My parents divorced when I was 5. Throughout my life many people have shared with me that a whole variety of things about me, my potential, the challenges that I would face and how the world would see me are attributable to the fact that I come from a “broken family.” 

Here’s the problem with that from my very personal perspective. 

My family wasn’t broken. I didn’t feel like it was broken. I don’t remember a time when my parents were married. My parents divorce did not break my family. When people told me that my family was broken …those words hurt. They made me feel like something was wrong with me and the people who love me. 

The situation didn’t hurt. The spoken judgment of others hurt.

Words matter – words can matter a lot.

I am using the words broken family in this article/ blog post but only to encourage you to drop this word from your lexicon. 

There’s no such thing as a broken family. It’s not a real thing. Families change. People join through marriage and birth and they leave through death, divorce and choice.

None of this means it’s broken. 

The words broken family have one purpose and only one purpose and that’s to judge and place blame. Create shame and embarrassment. 

This is a made up thing. A family isn’t fragile. Your family isn’t made of terracotta that if you drop it … it fractures. 

A family is a social construct. It’s a complex web of relationships. Parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents. It’s living together. It’s traditions. It can look a million different ways. They can be big, they can be small, they can be connected by blood or simply by commitment. They can all live together in one big compound or be separated by thousands of miles … and still be family.

I’m confident that your family isn’t broken because I don’t believe that families can break.

Families can change. 

Families can look differently from year to year. 

Families can go through challenging transformations. 

The way we use “broken family” is in my experience usually with divorce. Although there is a yucky extra bonus when sometimes it’s used to shame unmarried parents. 

In my opinion, this is a form of religious doctrine showing up in your life. With this sneaky idea that there’s only one way that a family should look. 

If you are religious…I love that for you. I’m not. We can probably still be friends. This is not really about religion I’m just pointing out that usually it’s religious groups that like to make rules about what a family “should” look like. Even though truthfully one of the hints that this is pretty much nonsense is that not all religions agree on the rules. To be fair …sometimes it’s governments who make these rules.

Think about this. If what breaks a family is the severing of the marital relationship why don’t we call a family broken if a parent dies? 

Hmmmm… Any ideas?

In my opinion …it could be that this doesn’t serve the puritanical patriarchal capitalist propaganda machine. It’s historically good for an economy to have lots of babies. Growth of the population historically has fueled prosperity. So maybe we shame people for not being a part of that. Maybe  we also offer financial incentives to married folks with kids …through our tax rules. Hmmmmm.

I did an episode early on in The Amy Says So Show  podcast which I call divorce shaming which I think is a crappy thing that a lot of people who call themselves helpers for families do and I think it’s bad. I encourage you that if you a paying somebody for help and they tell you that your family is broken…consider finding somebody else who believes in you for you. 

Divorce is an easy scapegoat to blame because it can’t fight back.

It never sat right with me when people told me that my family was broken. It didn’t feel broken. Small yes. Complicated…sure. But not broken. 

Today I coach stepparents and I help people co-parent if they are divorced. 

If you’re listening to this and you have even one drop of your body that feels like you have to shoulder more burden because your parents are divorced, you’re divorced, you are a stepparent, you’re thinking about getting a divorce. I want to offer you a permission slip to set that down. Set it down so that you can focus on what you want to create and what might actually need some work. 

There really truly is only one actual large study of divorce and that was done decades ago. It’s called The Virginia Longitudinal Study of Divorce and Remarriage.  The results are that pretty much everything works out okay for the adults and the kids. That’s not super sexy I know…it’s much more dramatic to blame divorces. 

But you get divorced because things are going great. So when things aren’t great then the divorce is not the problem, it is often a step towards improvement for everybody. Not always…life is challenging. Raising children is really expensive so it is definitely easier to face that with more wages and salaries. I wish I could tell you that single moms are out there crushing it with money but the truth is that women and children tend to suffer enormous financial penalties after a divorce.  That’s a truth. It’s not a reason to stay in a miserable marriage.

Families don’t break. They change. And that’s okay.

Words can matter a lot. 

I tell the story all the time that in the early days of my coaching practice somebody said to me…”it’s so great that you help broken families.” And I was like … “Oh those are words I don’t use.” So … hmmm not gonna say thank you for that little zinger. 

So if you think that this is something that you resonate with. Join me in encouraging people to stop using these words to describe families. Your family isn’t broken.  Divorce is not something that needs to be fixed. It’s a status change on your tax filing. Remarriage to a new person doesn’t undo the divorce it does add some more beautiful people to your complex family. 

What if all of that can just be okay…or even beautiful. 

It’s entirely possible that the underlying cause of the breakup is some messy stuff. Those things…they may need some attention. Or they can repeat in a future relationship. Lying, cheating, infidelity, crappy communication, gambling, no intimacy, substance misuse, mental health struggles, wildly different live views, snoring…these are the things that often bring relationships to an end.. That’s a topic for another day. 

If you want to feel whole and content and secure…dare I say happy. Then at least a little bit of you probably needs to feel like that’s possible. If you don’t think it’s possible to be whole as a stepparent in a broken family…maybe consider changing some of those words.  

If you are surrounded by people who describe you or your family as broken…that is gonna makes it hard to begin to build something fabulous. 

You’re not broken. You might feel some discomfort or some strong emotions and that’s almost always okay. 

Your family is not broken because families don’t break when somebody leaves or somebody new joins.


Hidden judgment

There is a famous phrase in latin. The thing speaks for itself; res ipsa loquitur. It’s used in situations like plane crashes. The fact that the crash happened means that something went wrong. If something hadn’t gone wrong …no crash. 

So if something is “broken” something has to have gone “wrong.” Somebody needs to be at “fault.”

But do we want to believe that with our families?

You get to make your own decision here

I’m not telling you what to do or to think. This is just my opinion.  

But. I’ll offer this.

What if there’s another way to look at this. That families don’t break. They change. Sometimes change is uncomfortable and annoying and expensive but it doesn’t mean that anybody did anything wrong. It doesn’t mean anything needs to be fixed. Nobody and nothing is broken.

What if we can just look at our family and think to ourselves…this is what our family looks like today, and that’s okay.

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent

Amy

Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created amysaysso.com.

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