Question of the week: What is the difference between a broken home and a single-parent family?


The term “broken home” is used to describe a home where only one parent is raising the children. You might fairly question if there is a big difference between broken homes and single-parent homes. I mean after all, don’t both kinds of homes have only one parent?

There is a big difference in a fractured, broken home and a single parent family:

  • A single parent family is a healthy family with connectedness in the relationships.
  • Broken homes are just that – disconnected with breaks in the relationships.

Single parents families have their ups and downs, but they stay connected.

By contrast, the adults in disconnected “broken home” situations have not healed from the divorce, abandonment, or the death of a partner.

Dr. Archibald Hart in his book “Children and Divorce” says, “Usually, it is not the event of divorce or the death that necessarily harms the children, but the bitter conflicts that follows, or the prolonged disruption of parenting as the adults sort out their lives.”

Some research shows the “disruption of parenting” or the lack of parenting is a key component. I have observed many broken homes. From my observations and the study of various books, articles and different resources, I have concluded broken homes have certain traits.

Characteristics of Broken Homes

  • Can’t cope with parenting
  • Reacts in anger toward the child(ren).
  • Desires to teach the child a lesson, hoping to change the child’s behavior
  • Is motivated by revenge at the other parent, God or someone else
  • Gives little or no warning regarding punishment; the child doesn’t have a chance to stop the behavior
  • Sets the child up to fail (rushes most mornings, leaves the child alone with no adult nearby, doesn’t take time to listen to the child)
  • Gives no choices
  • Puts his or her own social life before the child; or the parent has no social life
  • Dotes on or hovers/mothers child
  • Changes partners/lovers often
  • Is unpredictable: laughs at behavior one day and is angry the next
  • Allows the child to be disrespectful and controlling
  • Sets no boundaries
  • Rescues the child from consequences as a toddler, preschooler and adolescent … it never ends

At times these parents in the broken homes even take on a broken appearance. They tend to carry themselves slumped over with a beaten-down look. They take on the role of “victim”

  • Victim of divorce
  • Victim of death
  • Victim of society
  • Victim of their economic situation
  • Even victim of his or her own children

Characteristics of a healthy single-parent family

  • Sets up schedules that are consistent but flexible
  • Shows that each member of the family unit is valuable by giving each person responsibilities that contribute to the well-being of the family
  • Communicates with each other. Everyone has a chance to contribute to the conversation, and consideration is given to what the parent has to say as well
  • Supports one another
  • The parent is trustworthy; if they say they are going to do something, they do it
  • Parent is reliable
  • They are respectful. All family members, including the parent, respect each other. In some situations the parent is going to have to model respect
  • Show emotions. The adult models appropriate emotions for various situations
  • Contributes to society; children are encouraged in this practice
  • Family reads and prays together (Deuteronomy 11:18-21)
  • Sets up new rituals and continues some rituals and traditions from the past
  • They problem-solve together
  • They share leisure time; play, laugh and share humor together

Single parent homes have adults that have healed from the circumstances that brought them to the point of being a solo parent. They keep their children’s best interest foremost in their minds. They seek out wise counsel and stay close to the Lord and His family the church.

Churches can play an important role in helping parents who are parenting alone to become healthy and viable single parent families. Set up programs that help the parent heal from the divorce or death of a partner. Provide helps for the children so they can heal and become emotionally and spiritually healthy. Use curriculums that teach them to how to parent alone.


4 thoughts on “Question of the week: What is the difference between a broken home and a single-parent family?

  1. In 15 years of ministering to single parents and their kids , I have seen families who have done it as well as could be and also those who have truly broken families. The differences determine the future of the children more than anything. Well done, Linda.

  2. This is a good article and makes excellent points but one thing is missing… it’s important to note that a parent and kids who are healing from the loss of the other parent can’t go from broken family to healthy family immediately. A parent who is devastated by the loss of a spouse from divorce or death needs time to grieve and heal; new routines don’t come easily when you’re buried in grief, and sometimes it’s all you can do to just get up each morning and keep living, keep the children fed and clothed, and to hold a home together.

    I’m a single mom of two who is two years past my divorce, and I found myself feeling guilt-ridden reading this because our family has been very broken – but I’ve done the very best I could under the weight of my grief and my children’s grief. I haven’t had the strength to do all the great things listed under healthy families, but it is my goal. I’ve been through DivorceCare twice and Single and Parenting once and both were tremendously helpful. But it’s still been a very, very hard road… and we’re all three still healing. Hopefully we’ll turn the corner to healthy family soon, as we are getting a little stronger each day. I just don’t want single parents to feel badly if they’re not there yet…

    • Thank you BizzyMom for sharing from your heart. Of course you are right in that it does take time to heal. You have a deep wound that will only heal with time and with concentrated effort and with a relationship with Jesus Christ. You are on your way though and that is the important thing. You are a single parent family in the making and growing more so every day.

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