Broken Families and Half-Brothers and Whole-Sisters

I was born in a time when being a child from a “broken family” meant your mother and father were divorced and you were irretrievably marked in the marketplace of social commerce as damaged goods.  Today, there’s slightly less stigma of being from a broken family — because there are so many more of them now — but that broken label is still hard to shake even if you never let it directly affect you.

I was listening to Nick Cannon — Mariah Carey’s baby daddy — on the radio the other day and he was having an argument with his female co-host about the definition of “brother” and “sister.”

She was arguing that children who have one parent in common are “brothers and sisters” and Nick was arguing that, unless the children are from the same mother and father, the one-parent-in-common offspring makes only “half-brothers and half-sisters.”

Nick’s co-host was getting angrier and angrier as she tried to convince him that the “half-” part was mean and unnecessary and Nick countered that the “half-” prefix wasn’t prejudicial, it was just fact.  Nick said his father had several children with different women and he doesn’t know all of them and that’s why the “half-” label is important because not using it suggests an intimacy and familiarity that does not exist between DNA-only related offspring.

I agree with Nick Cannon.  After my father divorced my mother, he married another woman — they have since divorced — and had three children with her.  There was an early attempt to integrate me into the lives of his three new kids, but it was always temporary and awkward.  My biological father insisted we were all brothers and sisters, but I would always correct him and say, “We’re half-brothers and half-sister.”  He didn’t like that separation and I didn’t appreciate his umbrella classification of his kids to dilute the aftereffects of his broken marriage vows.

What’s your take on this?  If kids share at least one parent, are they “full siblings” or only “half-?”  Does biology play any role in this?  Can a new marriage with kids from unrelated parents still be considered “brothers and sisters” when there’s only a legally binding agreement and no common DNA?

Published by

David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an author, lyricist, playwright, publisher, editor, actor, director and producer for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at | Buy his books at | Earn the world with | Get a script doctored at | Touch American Sign Language mastery at

8 thoughts on “Broken Families and Half-Brothers and Whole-Sisters

  1. Difficult story to read, David. Do you speak with your halves today? Maybe the “half” and “full arguments depend on how well everybody gets along in the family unit?

    1. It might be variable, Anne. I suppose it does depend how the adults handle the coercion of the situation.

      The inter-family integration didn’t really work for me. We grew up apart and we’ve stayed that way.

  2. Definitely half, David. You can’t pretend something is whole that is not there. At the same times, the person isn’t a complete stranger — but it just isn’t all there.

  3. I have a half sister who is 3 years younger than me and I would never dream of refering to her as only partly my sister. Our DNA may not be completely the same but I was there when she came home form the hospital, I helped feed her and change her. She blackmailed me as only little sisters can when we were growing up. Now we’re adults she is my confident and I am hers. She is completely my sister. In this case the term ‘half’ is mean and unneccessary. However, my sister has a half sister who lives far away and we hardly ever saw. As adults they have become friends but not sisters.
    This is quite a worrying topic for me as my son now has three half siblings, who are much older. Their mother actually convinced them that my son was not their brother. Thankfully they have come to love him as a brother and are very close to him. My son is 5 and it would break his heart if someone was to tell him that they were not his real brothers or sisters.

  4. My thoughts on this topic as well are logical. I have to agree with you on this. I have one kid i am the biological mother of this child and been taking care of this child since birth her father has four other children he had by another women. I consider all his children my child,s half siblings. So me and the father started debating back and in fourth with the subject. He was trying to convince me that children he have by someone else were my child,s whole brothers and sisters. I disagreed not i tried to convince him that the children are not blood or related in any form beause i didn,t birth those children. So the statement i,m making is basically saying if you have kids by a different woman nor man genitially they are not blood. That,s what i say it,s just my opinion.

  5. Well, there’s been a big break in responses here but I thought I’d also share.

    My fiance and I are 4 years into a blended family arrangement.

    My Miss 12 and Mr 10 had an older “half” brother who passed in 2009 in a car accident at age 25. Never have I heard my Miss & Mr refer to him as a “half”. He was their brother. I use the term “half” here simply so that readers understand that their brother was not my biological son.

    My fiance has 3 children, 1 aged 19 to a previous girlfriend (Mr 19 also has a “half” sister Miss 15), and 2 aged 9 and 11 to his former wife (they also have “halfers”, Mr 4 to Mr B, and Mr 4 months to Mr C (who’s not in the picture). I’ve never heard any of his children or any of their siblings refer to any sibling as anything but brother or sister.

    Our children blended together consider all these siblings as siblings, regardless of who their Dad’s or Mum’s are, we share both festive season and birthdays as one big family. Our 5 blended children are proud to use the label “step” to help others understand who belongs to who, but if it doesn’t matter to the person they are speaking to, they simply just use brother or sister.

    What we try to promote is the value of family, and the individual respect of each member’s place in our family as result of our union.

    We love to hear our kids joke about being “Sister from another Mister, or Brother from another Mother”, and although our children bicker like normal siblings, we are a happy family full of happy children who do well at school, have an abundance of friends, and routinely move from one parent’s house to another without bother or question.

    Blending can work, it’s 2012 and an era for using less labels and being more accepting of people’s mistakes and choices to move forward with their lives, all while keeping their children’s best interests at heart.

    Good luck to others in similar situations.

Comments are closed.