“I never would have guessed you were from a broken home…” I distinctly remember the first time this adjective was applied to my family by a well-meaning, but misguided university lecturer at my graduation. Even as a very young woman, the response was instantly clear to me and I simply replied, “I’m not.”
In reality I’m from an attentive, loving, gentle family who always treat each other kindly, and have showered me with every morsel of nourishment I could have asked for, and more. We haven’t always lived together in one house, and this, clearly was the situation to which the lecturer was clumsily referring.
Single-parent and co-parenting families are just as valid and important as those living within conventional familial norms. Their capacity to love is not reduced, nor is their ability to provide present, attentive and loving parenting. Bowlby’s theory of attachment carries the same weight and power in these families and is, in many cases, even more applicable.
Imagine a family as a nest, with each interweaving relationship within that family represented by one of the fibres in the nest. In order for an infant to thrive, just like the baby bird, each fibre of the nest needs to be warm and comfortable. For many families, it is no good staying together in the same house if these fibres are irreparable or, if by staying together, the individuals within the family cannot thrive or, to put it simply, be happy. For many families, the broken home was the one they were in before, not the one they built by taking positive action.
The nurture children experience from the key people in their lives is their sense of home. Dr Philippa Perry, in her brilliant book ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read’, offers an account of a refugee boy who is asked how it feels not to have a home. The boy replies, “Oh, we have a home, we just don’t have anywhere to put it yet”. This is because ultimately, a home isn’t a building, two buildings or a lack thereof: home is you.
All of us carry unconscious bias to specific stimuli. The images conjured up by the words ‘single parent’ or ‘divorce’ are often inaccurate, not to mention unhelpful to families. Assumptions about economic wellbeing, social circumstances and a family’s priorities can lead people to see families unlike their own as less than ideal. The problem with the term ‘unconscious bias’ is that it suggests something is inevitable or that it can’t be changed through learning. A better term is ‘cognitive bias’, which challenges us to observe those assumptions we make, and to think about how they have wider impact than we ever imagined. Through learning, asking questions and being open to families in all their forms, we can make sure that we don’t let our own bias cloud what’s in front of us. Remember, what can seem broken to one person, is simply perfect to another.