Words Matter

Stop Saying Broken Homes

By Kiran Ansari

July/August 2023

It’s not just a case of semantics when there are feelings involved. Feelings and self-esteem of children who are not responsible for the fact that their parents are no longer together. Over the years, we have improved our vocabulary by using terms like mental health instead of mental illness, special needs instead of disabled, child custody is now parenting time, stepmom is now bonus mom. Similarly, we need to eradicate “broken homes” from our speech. Forever.

“This term is based on the dangerous assumption that “unbroken” homes are always better. Just the phrase broken home brings a judgment with it, not a fact,” said Dr. Khan. “Yes, divorce has implications and families with both parents present and having a healthy marital life is ideal; however, parental conflict with married parents may traumatize children far more than an amicable divorce. I have seen it a lot in my practice where parents who did not get along stayed together “for the kids” and it ended up being worse on the children’s mental health and personality development, something that has further implications on their adult lives.”

“The broken home sting isn’t limited to childhood,” said Ahmad. “My former sister-in-law, an educated woman, said no one will marry my daughter because she comes from a broken home.  It is just appalling.”

A broken home could be one in which two parents are living under one roof, but the environment is toxic. There is yelling, name calling and abuse, but just because mom and dad share an address, the kids are not considered to be from a broken home.

According to research from Harvard University, healthy brain development in children requires consistency and stability from at least one parent. This does not mean children do not fare well in two-parent households. Children thrive when the marriage is healthy. But when it isn’t, the marital status does not determine how well the child will do. What matters most is children have at least one parent who is emotionally safe and who prioritizes happiness over living in fear.

“Children deserve happy parents more than they need married ones,” said Ahmad. “I remember reading this one day and it has stuck with me since.

If someone needs an alternate term to slap a label, then consider saying single parent home.

Kiran Ansari is the Assistant Editor of Islamic Horizons. She has been living in the suburbs of Chicago for the last 24 years.

*Few names have been changed for confidentiality

Tell us what you thought by joining our Facebook community. You can also send comments and story pitches to horizons@isna.net. Islamic Horizons does not publish unsolicited material.