In the past week, two clients talked to me about “broken homes”. One woman told me that she came from a broken home and now, as she divorces, her son will have the same burden.
When I asked this woman what it meant to her that she came from a Broken Home, she told me that her parents split up when she was ten, and that life was awful after that. Her mother told her that they weren’t a family anymore now that dad left and they were no longer whole. Life would never be the same, and it wasn’t. This was so sad.
As a therapist, I am keenly aware of how attitudes inform our perceptions. If we believe our home is broken, we will live our lives under that assumption. Homes don’t break! Objects break. Households are different and they can change. A couple can have a home without children. A single parent can have a home with a child. A home can encompass extended family with a sibling or grandparent being part of the household. Through the years households change as people’s needs change. Couples divorce and children can move back and forth between two homes. In one divorced family I worked with, the children spent time in three homes, as a donor dad was part of this lesbian family.These children were lucky kids with three parents who loved them. Someone commented that was crazy, but is it different than a child sleeping at a grnadparent’s house regularly, as many children do ? It’s just another home where the children can be loved and cared for. The point is that there is no one way to be a family or define a home. If a couple splits up and the children spend time with each parent, they have a new bi-nuclear family, which is no longer an intact nuclear family, but has a new structure, which has nothing to do with being broken!
If we believe that after a divorce children can live with both parents in different homes, and still maintain being a family, or a bi-nuclear family to be exact, the children will feel whole. They will not feel broken. Think of associations of the word “broken.” When a child’s toy breaks, it usually gets thrown out because it doesn’t work anymore. When an object breaks, even if it’s repaired, it rarely looks the same. It is damaged. Is that the way we want our children to feel ? I’d rather help children feel that they are loved just as much (and often more) by both parents after a divorce and that their lives are intact. When parents work together to be good co-parents, minimize conflict, not put the kids in the middle and share some events with their kids, they can have a positive expereince of living in a bi-nuclear family.
Many parents have reported to me that after divorce they actually became better and more attentive parents. Fathers, who had little to do with their children through the marriage often step up to the plate and want to be involved with all aspects of childrearing. This is because not living with the kids, they can no longer take for granted that the kids are there, and they realize they’ve missed out. And moms have reported that because they are not with their kids all the time, when they are with them, they are more attentive. They put down their phones and computers and pay more attention to their children. They too, no longer take the kids for granted. And from the kid’s perspective, one college girl told me that when she went away to school, she met lots of kids from divorced families who felt neglected. She realized that her issue growing up in joint custody was that her parents “fought” over how much time they could get with her. She said she was loved too much ! I think all kids should have that problem.