Modernizing the Term “Broken Family” and Moving Forward

I recently read this article featured on Medium. It raised complicated and distressing emotions within myself. This may be a strange response to a piece where the author has tried to paint people like myself in a positive light, but I believe these are valid feelings and I wanted to explore them. Here are my thoughts on broken families and their survivors.

The definition of a “broken family” or “broken home” has always baffled me. In general, it is assumed that this is a family where one parent has left the family, or a divorce has taken place. I want to challenge that outright! There are so many families that are nonfunctional, yet considered whole. When you take the term at face value, the denotation of “broken family” is much more subtle than mere physical or legal separation implies.

A modern interpretation of “broken family” is a family where the nuclear members cannot function as a whole, often ignore, bully or abuse other individuals within the family, or where any one of the family members is too unstable to fully interact with the others. While this encompasses a much wider spectrum, I implore you to consider the ramifications of the family unit being torn or dysfunctional; is this not a type of “brokenness”? Just because all the people who belong in the family live under the same roof, it does not mean that they are all present, respectful, and engaged in each other’s lives. And this is a problem I see facing so many as I grow older.

If you come from a traditionally broken family, you look at other families, see two parents that are living with their children, and assume that because they are all physically present the family is much more intact than your own. This is a dangerous assumption because it is almost never true: name one family you know where all the people are engaged in each others’ lives, make time for each other, and support one another’s goals and dreams.

Growing up, friends who were missing a parent would tell me I was lucky to have my father in my life if I complained about him, but I did not feel that way. He often yelled more then necessary and bullied my brother and myself. I did not see my family as a unit; I saw us as separate entities trying to make it in the same house. Others who had an unhappy parent leave them would mourn; I would ask them, “Why?” It made no sense to me. If someone poisoning their family unit had left of their own free will, why then should they cry? This gives the remaining members time to heal; to grow stronger. If they work hard, they can be their own complete, engaged family unit who cares, listens, supports, and works to help each other grow. I saw them not as having lost a “member”, but a cancer.

In summation, I believe I recoiled from the article because people from broken families do not always possess the qualities listed. These people aren’t just for you to lean on; they too need someone to help them along. I feel that the article is making a lot of assumptions—The article assumes that all people from broken families meet this ideal when we don’t. We have our own issues, and I personally do not measure up to that laundry list of how I should be. I am actively working on these issues that I have, but not everyone will do the same. I feel that the article glosses over all the hard work we have to do to get where we are. These attributes do not sprout and grow overnight. They have to be planted by kind people and cultivated. We have to unlearn the negatives—lashing out, demeaning, hitting, and other hurtful gestures are not the only way to make a point. You do not have to tear someone down in order to build yourself up.

When I think about all the growth I have done, and all the growing I need to keep doing, I think of the people who are still stunted; the ones who are not able to look forward. The saddest thing to me is when people do not try to provide a good, stable life for their children. So many who were hurt, broken, or abused as children go on to do the same things to their own babies. They either are unable or unwilling to make the connection that “better” is not “good”. So many parents these days belittle their kids’ struggles, saying that they faced much harder lives themselves, and I want to ask you, is that is truly what matters? Is it good enough for their lives to be better? What, do you only bully them half as much? To a child—a person we all once were—resentful comments cause the most anguish and damage because they can sense not only your annoyance at their supposed failing, but also your bitterness because they may be better off. We are supposed to want them to have it all— We did not survive our own homes to create distressing environments, ourselves. We are better and stronger than that, and we need to persevere, to remember to be kind and attentive. To make sure that their lives truly are good lives; a quality that cannot be measured against our own lives.

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