I remember reading a one-page article that appeared in the back of Ms. Magazine sometime in the 1970’s or early 1980’s. I think the title was something like “My Family Is Not Broken.” It was written by someone who was tired of hearing that her family was broken because it was a family of divorce and only consisted of she and her mother. She never felt the brokenness, she never felt the lack of a father. She and her mother were a solid, whole unit. Imagine walking around as a child hearing your family referred to as “broken” or yourself as “a product of a broken home.”
Today there are probably other family configurations that people would refer to as broken: grandparents raising children, families with an incarcerated parent, families where a woman is inseminated and has raised her child alone, foster families, families in which a parent has transitioned genders, etc. Yet they are not broken either, just different. Why do we insist on labeling and judging families against an outdated model of what a family is? Being a family is hard enough without adding a layer of societal marginalization.
And even when we love our families (however we define them), we can ride a roller coaster of emotions in regard to them. Families just come with “stuff” attached. Each family has its own set of patterns and dynamics. And God help the family member who wants to try and change them: everyone rebels consciously or unconsciously to maintain the status quo. We often joke that when a child is born we should start two funds: a college fund and a therapy fund for all the ways in which we will screw them up. But whatever the dynamic, freedom comes when any of us decides that whatever went wrong in our childhood will not ruin the rest of our lives. That we will not be “broken” by our families, that we are able and capable to make our way forward in the world.
At its best, family is a safe, nurturing place. A place where we are loved and where we learn to love. Where we get to practice relationships. Where we learn what it means to be alive. What breaks a family is not is configuration but an interruption in love. May all of our families be bound by love…