The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Broken families?

I generally have an easy-going personality. I really do. It takes a lot to get me worked up — I usually have no problem letting comments slide right off my back.

But every time someone expresses surprise that my daughter is "doing so well ... considering everything" I get this little urge to punch that person in the face. The same is true for people who use the phrase "broken family" to describe our family. They mean well — I know they do. But people who say those comments make some pretty big (and quite negative) assumptions about my family.

Broken things need to be fixed. They aren't the way they are intended to be. If something is broken, something is inherently wrong. The same goes for the (well-intentioned) concern about how our daughter is "dealing with everything."

Here is the bottom line: We are precisely the family that God has called us to be, and our daughter's life is better for it. It's your idea of family that is broken.

A couple of months ago, I showed up at my daughter's school for a class party. There weren't many parents there, so the kids gathered around me. My daughter was explaining her family to her friends, "This is my dad. I have another dad too. And I have two moms." To which her friends properly responded: "You have two dads? No fair!"

Children get it. Children are jealous of the child who is privileged to have two dads and two moms — two bedrooms and four sets of grandparents to spoil her. It is adults who have hang-ups, not the kids.

Not every divorce works out well. Many don't, and that pain is very real and important. But we can't assume that divorced parents aren't parenting well together — working together for the well-being of the child. For many families, mine included, it can be the best solution.

And for the children in those situations it can be a real blessing. In many cases, (three or) four parents to surround you with love. (Three or) four parents to guide you and care for you. Just because there has been a divorce in our family does not mean that our family is broken.

How many children grow up in a home that is loveless and cold because mom and dad are staying together "for the good of the kids"? How many children grow up feeling neglected and ignored by one of their parents? Regardless of marital status, those homes experience brokenness.

What it means to be a family is changing in so many ways. So the next time you have a conversation with a divorced parent, stop and listen. Don't jump to conclusions about how they relate to their co-parent and what it means for their child. Just listen.

Our family is not broken. In the last three years, our family has grown larger. In the last three years, it has grown to be more loving and more caring. And that is not a cause for concern. It is a cause for rejoicing.

Can we — the church — rejoice with those who rejoice? Can we set aside our judgments and celebrate love-filled families that look different from what we expect? 


Leland Molgaard

Leland Molgaard

Posted at 2:11 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/2/2013

Well done.  Families have had many shapes and sizes in the last thousands of years as they do today.  Love and respect, love and limits are the necessities regardless of the shape of the family tree.  My wife and I have been teaching this professionally for the past 15 years and I commend you for your honest and touching article.

Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 7:30 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/2/2013

In general, I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. I knew a guy who was in his 40s and never got over the fact that he was from a "broken family," and assumed that all families of divorce suffer. I, on the other hand, came from a family where my sister and I told our mother "this guy is nuts and dangerous," you need to get out. For us the divorce was a reason to celebrate.

However, as a former teacher, I have to be honest and tell you of the many times that no one knew whose house the textbooks were at, when kids alternated homes every night "to be fair."

But on the whole, I think you've done a great job of putting out there the fact that just because there's divorce in your family doesn't mean that it's broken.

Thank you.

Leah Schafer

Leah Schafer

Posted at 1:46 pm (U.S. Eastern) 7/3/2013

Many years ago I had a boy in 7th grade confirmation class argue with another student about the term "broken family." He explained that his family "used to be broken" (his father physically abused him, his mother and his siblings) but his mother "fixed the broken family" by divorcing the abusive father. I would venture to say that most of the time the story behind what some perceive as a "broken family" is not known by the person using the term.

Note: Leah Schafer edited this post at 1:47 pm on 7/3/2013.

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