I hate the term “broken home,” meaning a family where the parents are divorced. I grew up in the generation of divorce. I can remember children from school who were one day exactly like me, carefree and fair game for teasing and name-calling, and the next they were just another casualty of the growing divorce rate: another latch-key kid.
I felt sorry for the children I knew whose parents divorced, not because I understood the significance of such an event on a delicate adolescent psyche, but mostly because of how everyone else treated them. The teachers looked at them with pity and understanding. The other children treated them like alien creatures.
I foolishly counted myself as lucky that I wasn’t one of them, but the home I grew up in was nothing if not broken.
There’s a reason you always rip Band-Aids off quickly: it hurts like Hell, but the sooner it’s over, the sooner you can start to feel better. Pulling the festering bandage off one hair at a time over twenty years doesn’t make the wound easier to heal. If anything it makes it more likely to get infected.
Some of those children whose lives I pitied, the ones whose parents split up so they could each find their own happiness, were actually the lucky ones. Sometimes broken things can’t be fixed and it’s best for everyone involved to let them go quietly. It’s a wildly unromantic notion, but life isn’t romantic.
By the end, my parents didn’t fight anymore. They’d moved beyond the stage of giving a shit to total apathy, bordering on silent, seething contempt for one another. When I was very young, I can remember hearing them yell at night. I also remember the time my mother hit my father with a sirloin steak.
He was yelling at her in the kitchen. My brother and I were frozen in place, watching my mother tenderizing the steak for dinner. She hit it harder and harder as he yelled. Finally, she snapped. She picked up the very flat sirloin and nailed him with it directly in the chest. He was wearing one of those white, Fruit of the Loom undershirts and the raw meat left a bloody outline on the cotton before it fell unceremoniously to the floor. Even the dog was too stunned to move.
That was the last time I heard them argue. After that it was as if they were living with each other’s ghost. My mother would make dinner for the family, but my father would eat alone in their room. Either my brother or I would bring him his food, and once a week, or whenever we ran out of bowls, my mother would collect the piles of dishes from the top of the dresser and wash them.
They never made eye contact, like they were afraid that if they did the other person would steal their soul. As a child I didn’t realize just how soul-crushing it was living in a house without love. Of course, they both loved their children the best way they knew how, but their love for each other had completely disappeared. Maybe it had never been there at all.
Eventually, my father sort of faded away. I can’t remember a single conversation we ever had.
I never knew there was anything other than the life I lived every day. The first time I stayed at a friend’s house and her father watched a chick flick with us, laughed along with our jokes, and talked to us like real people, I cried. I had no idea what I’d been missing.
I also had no idea that other mothers had lives outside their children: that they got dressed up, went on dates, and got their hearts broken. I was an adult before I saw my mom touch another person the way married people are supposed to touch.
I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if they divorced earlier. Would I have learned more about love and what makes a strong relationship if my parents had moved on while I was still young enough to change?
So yeah, I don’t like the current definition of “broken home.” A “whole” family, even a nuclear one, without love is already just as broken as a family divorced.
I am married now, with a family of my own, and I fight every day to rise above the example that was set for me when I was young. But my husband and I have promised each other that no matter how hard it gets, we will never fight in front of our kids, use them against each other, or attack each other with meat products. I feel like as long as we can hold onto those promises, then we’ll never need to rip off the Band-Aid.
If that time comes, I will do it swiftly, because I’d rather give my kids the chance to heal that I never got.