'I was raised by a single mum. This week someone suggested I was worse off for it.'

This week I had a conversation with someone.

It was about the topic of parenting generally, and we were sharing perspectives on how to raise decent human beings.

Then she offered her opinion. And it immediately cut me deep

She suggested that the biggest thing society needs right now is two-parent families. 

She did acknowledge it was "a pretty controversial" thing to say. But in the same breath, she went on to say that kids do better when families are "intact", "strong" and not "broken". That these kids from two-parent households do better when it comes to pro-social behaviour, having empathy, making safer and healthier choices. 

She also said these kids are better at intimacy later in life, are better off academically, and are less likely to make risky decisions around drug and alcohol abuse.

As I sat and listened in silence and kind of in shock, I felt full of anger. It was personal for me.

Watch: Gretel Killeen on parenting. Post continues below.

Video via The Project.

For context, I hadn't always grown up in a single-parent household.


As a young child, I was in the typical nuclear family set up – myself, mum and dad. From my perspective, things looked good, idyllic even. 

That was far from the truth, though, with neither of my parents happy at all in their marriage.

My parents split when I was 11, and it completely rocked my world. It particularly affected my mum.

My dad moved interstate for work and career reasons, meaning my mother quickly became a single parent, handling the entire mental load and all the day-to-day runnings of my life. It was all on her shoulders. Financially, my dad still provided support, and we kept in contact. But in terms of the physical, emotional and mental load? My mum handled it all on her own.

It brought us closer together as a result, sometimes even leaning towards an 'us against the world' sort of mentality. We quickly found similarities in our mother-daughter relationship to that of Rory and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls.

Of course, it's important to stipulate that my family dynamic doesn't singularly represent the single-parent household experience. There are lots of solo parents out there whose circumstances are different – perhaps they entered into parenthood on their own from the start, or a partner passed away, or there was a complete cut in contact. 

That's the nature of single-parent families – they're diverse.

But there's a universal experience for all who have either raised kids on their own, or are being raised by a single parent. And it's the judgement we've faced.


Sometimes it's micro.

Following the news of my parents' divorce being spread around the local community, a fellow parent turned to my mother at a school bake sale, cocked her head to the side with faux sympathy in her eyes and remarked, "I just don't know how you do it all on your own! I don't think I could do that to my kids."

Other times, the comments are macro.

I will forever have former Australian conservative Senator Cory Bernardi's words burned into my memory, when in 2014 he completely shat on so-called 'broken homes', specifically single mothers.

He wrote: "Given the increasing number of 'non-traditional' families, there is a temptation to equate all family structures as being equal or relative. 

"Why then the levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother?"

At the time, I had just entered high school, and was already a completely self-obsessed and insecure teenager who feared that everyone cared about how I looked, who I dated, whether I had money or if my family was 'broken' or not.

So in class, when I heard one of our teachers recount what Bernardi said, almost agreeing with his sentiments and opening up the discussion for the classroom, I shrunk as small as I could into my chair, desperate to not be 'found out' that I was being raised by a single mum.

Looking back, I feel ashamed I even had that thought in my mind. Who f**king cares?


The irony is that some people still do care, and they think my family is somehow less than theirs because of all the twists and turns we have had to navigate.

Mel Burgess is a parenting coach and the founder of Love Parenting.

Speaking with me, she said the label 'broken home' is no longer a suitable term to use in today's day and age.

"Historically, the language of 'broken homes' allowed professionals to articulate judgements about which kinds of homes were unhealthy and which produced well-adjusted children," she told Mamamia

"When a child whose parents have separated gets labelled as being 'from a broken home' it is highly problematic. It implies they are from a household that is less-than their 'intact home' peers," she notes.

"However, staying married/living together does not mean our children's needs are magically getting met. A child having a caregiver (or caregivers) with capacity to recognise and respond to their emotional needs does."

As Mel explains, making assumptions about a child's behaviour and character based on one criteria – like the relationship status of their parents – is far less useful than once thought.

"It is in our power to stop using the term 'from a broken home', and to politely correct others when they use it. It's had its day, and it is time to move on to using 'single parent household.'"

Of course, in a perfect world, a small part of me wishes my parents had been happy together and we could have stayed in one household. But the reality is, they weren't – and it wasn't healthy for that relationship to continue. If anything, we are all now much healthier, happier and well-rounded people because of that divorce, even if it was very emotionally painful at the time.


We are by no means broken.

Single-parent families aren't weak either, as that person suggested to me. If anything, my mum is the strongest and most resilient person I know, all because of the decision she made.

I refuse to believe a single-parent household makes me more susceptible to being less empathetic.

If anything, when you've been through some s**t in life – particularly in those formative years – it often makes you far more cognisant when people around you are going through a similarly tough time.

Ultimately, no family is perfect.

When Cory Bernardi's comments went viral all those years ago, Carrie Bickmore – who was, at the time, raising her son on her own following the death of her husband – told the Senator to "get stuffed".

So to the woman who suggested I was worse off for being raised in a single-parent household; that well-rounded kids pretty much only come from two-parent households – I respect your right to an opinion. 

But I say get stuffed, too.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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