“You know a ‘full happy family’ is a farce, right?”
A friend sent me that message after I told her about how I was missing out on the full, happy family club because I was a single parent.
When I read her words, I felt a weight I had been carrying on my chest and stomach suddenly come into awareness. I knew at that moment that she had called out something deep, painful, and ancient within me.
I felt my wounded place reel back its head at my sudden awareness. It was no longer secretly running in the background. I had caught a glimpse of it amidst my current reality.
It is so easy to feel feelings, have thoughts, do actions that seem based on reality now. We are having them now, so it is all too easy to assume we are also in the now.
But that was not the case here. When I saw (as I like to call them) “full, happy families,” I was responding to something that had happened 22 years ago. My eyes were no longer seeing what I thought they were seeing.
I had the eyes and body of a 10-year-old again. A 10-year-old who was sitting in the car with her mom and her sister in an empty school parking lot. This was supposed to be a trip to go get ice cream.
Not all that uncommon, but odd considering she had been at a friend’s house. It was weird to be taken away from a friend’s house for an ice cream trip. As they sat in the car, her mother, through her tears and dysregulated emotions, said that divorce was happening.
Her parent’s marriage was over, and their family was broken.
What I remember most about that incident were two things; the first being that we never went to get ice cream (the wallet lay forgotten at home), and the second was my mom crying so much.
My mom rarely cried in front of us.
It was more a void and then big storms of unprocessed emotions that would sweep through our house. This was one of those big sweeping storms of emotions.
I felt her panic and fear. I felt her belief that she was damaging us, that our family was broken, and that she was a failure. All of those came over me like a tidal wave.
I had no room in that car to have feelings of my own. I was swimming in the tidal wave of everyone else’s experience. And their experience told me that I was now broken and belonged to a broken family.
Damaged goods. Not worthy of the full, happy family social club anymore.
22 years later, when I see people in the world, I am reminded of what that little girl lost in that moment. She lost the opportunity of something complete, whole, and full—or did she? Did the time in the car actually reveal the true state of the family?
I was reading something by Jeff Brown on broken families that helped me see the truth. He writes:
“I grew up in a broken home. But not because my parents divorced. It was broken long before when love turned to hate. When they finally divorced, there was actually more room to breathe. All the energy that went into managing the breaks could be channeled into healing. It’s time we re-frame the shaming term ‘broken home.’ It is riddled with assumption and judgement. And it neglects the fact that many single parents hold their families together beautifully. And that many seemingly intact families are deeply broken. Because a home is not broken when parents separate or divorce. A home is broken when there is an absence of love. If there is love, nothing’s broken.”
His words revealed the truth of what had happened. His words cut through the fear and lies that had been swirling around that experience for decades.
My family had been broken when I was born.
All the years we had spent trying to fit into the fully, happy family club were the real farce. The truth came when the divorce happened. The divorce finally revealed the truth.
But unfortunately, my sister and I did not have someone to guide us through the next chapter in our family’s story. My mom was too trapped in her own sense of failure to captain the ship for us. My Dad simply stepped back into his own world—gone from our team.
We were left with lies about what had happened and what that did to us.
22 years later, sitting with my own son in my worldly perceived broken family, I am finally able to show that little 10-year-old inside of me the truth of her and the truth of families.
The truth is that she was never damaged goods. She was never unworthy of belonging.
It was what she was trying to belong to that was broken—not her. I can tell her that true wholeness comes from a deep connection to the self and to God.
That a real, whole family is made from love, connection, and safety. I can show her that while she can stay stuck on outward appearances, that is not what is real.
The words said and not said, the physical gestures, the feeling of connectedness, the sense of being with each other—that is what is real. That is what is true. That is what is beautiful.
I get to invite my 10-year-old to the full family I have created for her now.
I show her the lessons I have learned, the wisdom I have gained, and the tools I have developed to help her feel safe, loved, and cared for.
I remind her that what happened to her was not her fault and that she has so much more beauty to experience in this life.
Her story is not over. In fact, it is just beginning.