parent opinion

'I'm a single mum but please don't call my family "broken."'

I am not a person who is particularly sensitive to careless wording, and I have been guilty of careless wording plenty of times myself. However, I recently noticed how prolifically the term 'broken family' is still used to refer to a family with two living parents who do not cohabit. 

I am a divorced mum and my own parents divorced after 40 years of marriage, so I wince at hearing this term used to describe rearranged families like mine which are now so common as to be unremarkable. 

The family I was born into is not broken, and the family I created as an adult is not broken. On the contrary, I am happy to say we are all thriving.

Watch: Gretel Killeen on parenting as a solo mum. Post continues below.

Video via The Project.

The term broken family is likely just a condensed form of the colloquial expression 'broken up' family, and I’m sure most people use it with no conscious judgment. 

But that does not mean the term is without stigmatisation. When my daughter was eight years old and I had been separated for one year, she came to me one day and tearfully announced, “We are the only kids at school without a dad.” Of course, she had a dad, but that was her way of expressing his absence in our home. 


I immediately sought out friendships with other single-parent families so my kids would see themselves and their unique family dynamic reflected in their friendship circle. This was my first insight into the fact that children can experience a sense of shame around having parents who live apart and it makes sense that the term 'broken family' could humiliate some children and perhaps even be detrimental.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines broken as, 'violently separated into parts, damaged, not working properly' amongst other things. 

Some may feel these descriptors articulate their own experience of family, and if that is the case they are absolutely entitled to use the word 'broken' along with all its synonyms. After all, the one person who has every right to refer to their family in this way is the person who lives it. 

But because this expression has been a part of our cultural vernacular, it’s easy to use it regarding other people’s families without reflecting on the insensitivity of the phrase.

The only time I have ever felt shame about my status as a single parent is when I heard the term 'broken' used about my family because it implies failure around the thing most important to me.

My experience of raising two children as a single woman has been a kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions. It has been intimidating at times, but it has also been overwhelmingly full of happiness and the solidarity of family. 


We are a tight unit. We have found our unique family rhythm, created our own quirky family traditions and we have a plethora of in-house jokes as every family does. 

I am proud of the family I have created and I feel a deep sense of pride in my adult children who are confident, happy and well-adjusted. 

Today they are living their best lives and I believe the difficult experiences in their childhood have made them more resilient and empathic human beings.


Every person’s experience of navigating their parent’s divorce is unique. But for most it will be a sad experience that they will want to heal from and move past; it is not something anyone wants to be defined by for the rest of their life. 

So, like many old-school phrases in our cultural vernacular, the term 'broken family' as a figure of speech is feeling outdated. 

Maybe it’s time for a relaunch? 

For my part, I refer to my own little family as a single-parent family, and my children have a blended family on their dad’s side which includes half-siblings and a stepmum. 

Of course, these are not new phrases, many people already use them routinely and they simply define what the family looks like today. 

Like many people in my situation, I prefer the description of my family dynamic to make no reference to a difficult past severance, instead recognising the new family unit we have become.

Tam Read is a mum of two and an interior stylist.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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