Several people have been very concerned about a problematic 60-second TikTok video from Focus on the Family (2/10/2024) that appeared to teach that single mothers have serious brain trauma

Many people were alarmed. The TikTok suggests that:

1) That single mothers have brain trauma and cannot think, and apparently it’s so serious they need to have their brain “triggered” to get out of it;

2) That children are traumatized by the divorce itself (not by the toxic situation in the home before the divorce); and

3) That children of divorce have frequent school behavior problems (which they don't, only 8 in 100 have bad enough behavior to be suspended or expelled).


Here's the transcript of the TikTok video, downloaded from Focus on the Family: My comments are below.

Transcript (publicly available)

"A single mom and the children. When that relationship splits,

it's a trauma. And then her brain, the thinking part of the brain, goes offline,

and we go into trauma mode. And trauma mode is fight, flight, freeze, or please. And you're in that, so you're reacting, you're not responding.

And so there's no way to, like, get out of that except to have someone either help you

or walk through some steps or something where you can finally trigger your brain

to come back online and start thinking again.

And so with the book, we said, let's take you through some very important steps.

Follow these. Walk with us. And then as you go through this, pretty soon you're gonna be thinking again, and you'll be able to make those decisions. Yeah, because that's a lot of times you look at a single mom, you're watching her life, you're watching her behavior,

and you're like, what is she thinking?

“And then you see the children that are down at the principal's office on a regular basis

because of their behavior, and everybody's saying, what are they thinking?

And it's because they're not thinking. It's impossible. They can't.

They're in trauma brain, and so she's reacting.

And children, the only way they can show they have a broken heart is to their behavior.

And so they're not bad kids.

They're kids with a broken heart."


In this 60-second TikTok clip, it seems like the speaker is making six serious generalizations about single mothers after a divorce. The full-length video series itself is much better overall.


This TikTok was clipped from 60 seconds of a 2-part video series. It's a shame because most of the video is good and worthwhile watching. And I want to give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps this part was just poorly worded. It’s very unfortunate because, in the Tiktok video, it appears that the guest is saying single mothers are too cognitively impaired and erratic to be good parents. Three times she says they cannot even think. It sounds as if it’s a medical diagnosis even though I imagine it’s metaphorical. People who like to blame single mothers for society's ills will get a lot of mileage out of this.


—1. The TikTok suggests that single mothers cannot think; their minds shut off and are “not responding” due to some problem that sounds possibly physical and permanent: “brain trauma.” She suggests that single mothers have inexplicable behavior.  To the casual TikTok viewer, this sounds like a serious medical problem, perhaps cognitive impairment. She even states: “And then [the single mother’s] brain, the thinking part of the brain, goes offline…”

To be fair, I think she's talking about something colloquially known as "brain fog," meaning that you aren't as sharp as normal, you're drained. It's not structural. If she had used the phrase "brain fog," I would imagine most single moms would have no problem with her statement.


—2. The TikTok suggests that single mothers need special help to get over this brain trauma. They need someone to help them to "finally trigger your brain to come back online and start thinking again." Three times she says the single mother cannot think. This sentence makes the brain trauma sound structural, medical, and long-term. Any normal person watching this would assume that she is talking about a serious medical condition.

The phrase "brain trauma" has a medical definition. According to the National Institutes for Health: "Brain trauma or traumatic brain injury (TBI) results from a blow, bump, jolt, or penetrating injury to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain."


—3. The TikTok suggests that the "relationship split" (the divorce) is what's traumatizing children, rather than the years of conflict, chaos, tension, and marriage-endangering sins going on in the home before the divorce.


—4. The speaker asserts that people notice that the children are regularly in the principal's office due to bad behavior. (This isn’t true. Only 8 in 100 children of single mothers have serious behavior problems in school.)


—5. She says that "everyone" is observing this and judging this single mother and her kids. She doesn’t say in this 60-second moment that this perception (that children of single mothers have dramatically more school behavior problems) is incorrect scientifically and frankly cruel to someone who has endured an abusive marriage and has only just escaped to safety.


—6. She claims children’s bad behavior in school is due to broken hearts. And the TikTok seems to suggest it is over "the relationship split.”  However, research has found that the tension in the home before the divorce is so severe, that Dr. Andrew Cherlin's study was able to predict divorce by measuring the tension and behavior problems in children as young as 7 years old who were living in highly toxic two-parent families. What is breaking the child’s heart is to endure, witness, or sense the abuse and/or betrayal. A divorce is often the means to getting to safety, even though the first two years (on average) are very difficult. In highly toxic homes, children whose parents divorced had up to 10 times greater well-being than those whose parents “stayed for the kids,” according to Dr. Paul Amato of Penn State.




Having said this about the TikTok snippet, I think that most of the 2-part video series on single mothers, from which the clip was taken, is helpful for single mothers. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.  Guest PeggySue Wells explains her story and how she brought up 7 children after her divorce from an apparently abusive husband. Guest Pam Farrel speaks glowingly about her courageous mother who raised her after a divorce from an alcoholic husband.


This is the first time (as far as I can tell) that Focus on the Family has invited a divorced woman to speak first-person about successful single mothers, and how the Lord helps them handle "the hardest job in the world"!  This is a good first step. In the past, they’ve had children of divorce and a never-married mom speak, but never a divorced mother who says you can have a good family in the aftermath.


Even Jim Daly, the host of the episode and CEO of Focus on the Family, was very supportive of PeggySue. I hope this signals a change in Focus on the Family because Jim Daly recently did a video with Gary Chapman that blamed wives for their husband’s alcohol problems and said that even though Jesus allowed for divorce, we all know that "God hates divorce in every case." It should be noted that Focus on the Family also does not condone divorce for abuse or addictions, just for infidelity and abandonment.




  • Affirmation. Jim Daly praised PeggySue saying, “You are doing probably the hardest job in the world, and you’re doing it with one hand tied behind your back.” And says, “It takes so much resourcefulness on your part to do that.”


  • Good description of an unsafe marriage. PeggySue Wells brought up 7 children as a single mother, including one who was an infant at the time. She describes that their situation before the divorce was escalating and unsafe.


  • Giving single mothers a voice. Host Jim Daly mentions that single mothers rarely get to tell their stories on Focus on the Family and that listeners have criticized Focus for this. He urges people to listen again to Pam and PeggySue’s stories.


  • Divorcees often grow closer to the Lord. Jim Daly says that single mothers often grow closer to the Lord through this process. Pam says that her mother went from nearly experiencing a mental breakdown (due to violence at the hands of her husband) to becoming an amazing servant of God.


  • Accurate demographic about the number of children: Mentions that 20 million children live in single-mother households.


  • Mentions that dads can be single parents too. This is very important because husbands who have suffered abuse at the hands of their wives are rarely given attention. Focus on the Family does have at least one article on male victims of spousal abuse, but the vast majority include anecdotes where the only badly behaved spouse is the husband. 1 in 3 visitors to the Focus on the Family website are men.


  • Affirmation that children of divorce usually turn out fine. PeggySue states, “You can still be fine.” And “Your kids will be fine.” (This is a first on Focus on the Family, as far as I have found. Their top two online articles on the topic suggest that divorce universally destroys kids.)


  • Clear labeling of abuse. Pam Farrel’s father appears to have been a violent alcoholic. Her mother experienced what appears to be a mental breakdown due to the violence of having been thrown out a second-story window. This is clearly labeled as abuse, not swept under the carpet as violence has been with other FOTF guests' stories, such as Emerson Eggerichs' story of his father strangling his mother.


  • Good advice from a medical professional. Pam recounts the story of a physician who told her mother that leaving would be better and would save her life and mental health so that her children could be raised by at least one healthy parent. Pam and Jim Daly both indicate that this was a good recommendation by the physician.


  • Suggesting that kids can learn and grow from the experience. Jim says that sometimes these experiences in childhood can “give you tools” for navigating life in the future, and create a situation where “you have to make decisions earlier, to become broken or responsible.”  I'm glad Jim is saying this.


  • Putting the responsibility on the person who had a pattern of marriage-endangering sins. Jim Daly says that he decided not to become like his father, who was also an alcoholic. This is a courageous admission by Jim Daly, that his father was an alcoholic and his mom [apparently] initiated a divorce. (Note: I hope this is a sign of better broadcasts to come. Sadly, in Daly’s video with Gary Chapman, they blame a wife for her husband’s alcoholism. And in another broadcast, Daly agrees with the guest that the U.S. should make it harder for people to get divorced, without any exceptions for those enduring abuse, infidelity, or family-crushing addictions.)


  • Setting healthy boundaries in marriage. PeggySue talks about calmly setting boundaries with her husband to keep herself and the children safe. Her husband “chose out” instead, meaning he refused to change.


  • Accepting reality. PeggySue said she had sought a lot of counseling, [Christian] books, and prayer and fasting, and yet nothing made a difference in her husband’s behavior. She finally got to the place where she had tried everything.


  • Identifying low-commitment spouses. Jim criticizes low-commitment husbands for leaving their children behind. (Note: This is a change from his earlier video where he places the blame on the wife for not having that special positive attitude that would make her husband want to stay.)


  • Single parents can be good parents too. Jim Daly affirms PeggySue, saying single mothers can be “a good parent in this kind of situation, and in your case, a good mom, which was my story with a good mom.” JIm Daly praises his own divorced mother and calls her "good."


  • Single parents can make major life choices to protect their children and surround them with positive people. Pam talked about her mother moving the family to another state to be with her parents.  This was a bold move for a single mom with 7 children. She indicates that children benefit from loving grandparents, even gaining a male role model from their grandfather.


  • Talk with your kids. Encouragement from Jim Daly not to stuff one’s feelings and to engage with children’s questions, but at the same time, not to dump adult feelings on one’s children.


  • Help confused children understand the situation better. PeggySue addresses children’s false understanding of the events that unfold. The old saying, “Children observe behavior well, but they don’t interpret the behavior well.” She explains to the children that their outwardly happy family "wasn’t all a lie, but it was a significant level of betrayal."


  • Let the church help you, if you have supportive friends. They discuss helpful churches and church friends.


  • The 5 Roots of Conflict were helpful: rejection, resentment, resistance, revenge, and repeat. PeggySue emphasizes the importance of listening to children and helping them to interpret things better.


  • Have fun. Jim says that some people judge single mothers by suggesting they should not be having fun. This is certainly true in some churches. In my own church, I was told to tone down my testimony even though God brought us from poverty to financial stability, and from shame to honor. (Sometimes those who file for divorce are seen as the vow breakers and are judged if they find joy, peace, and happiness later on.) PeggySue tells some funny stories about being a single mom with 7 children.


  • Treat your children as individuals. Helping children find their unique interests and hobbies and favorite movies.


  • Accept that you will lose friends, and gain new friends. PeggySue talks about the judgment and ostracization from people at church. Sadly, people even distanced themselves from her innocent little children who had nothing to do with it. What is not said is that Focus on the Family has contributed to this. They teach that you should only have friends who have “healthy marriages.” Even their vice-president Greg Smalley talks about divorce being contagious, suggesting you should keep away from divorcees and their families.


  • If your church doesn't feel safe, find another one. It's okay not to attend when you're exhausted. PeggySue talks about how 80% of single parents don’t attend church. She doesn't mention a source for these stats, but they sound about right. She talks about single mothers sensing the awkwardness, judgment, and feeling “less than.”  She talks about how churches can do better.


  • Churches need to care for single mothers like widows in the Bible. Jim Daly suggests that a single mother is a type of “widow” and should be cared for. And he and PeggySue caution churches that don't, advising them not to resent having single mothers, nor fear that they will put a financial burden on the church. PeggySue correctly adds that many single mothers tithe, which a LifeWay Research study found to be true: in fact, 6 in 10 divorcees gave equal or MORE after the divorce than they did while married.


  • A divorced family is still a family. PeggySue reminds the audience that a single-parent family is still a family.


  • God loves you and your children. PeggySue's message to other single parents: "God loves you [because] you’re one of His children. And He will rebuild you. He will renew you. He will strengthen you and fortify you. And your today is not your forever."



  • Jim Daly suggests that men who leave their children behind saddle those children with “almost an insurmountable mountain,” suggesting that the vast majority of kids turn out poorly when research shows that 8 in 10 kids of divorce turn out just as well as their two-parent counterparts.


  • Jim Daly suggests that the church is uncomfortable with single mothers, but takes no responsibility for his active role in perpetuating that discomfort. The only churches that are uncomfortable with single mothers are those that have been told over and over that divorce is never acceptable in God’s eyes and that divorcees are quitters who take the easy way out—two messages that are promoted by FOTF articles and broadcasts. Much of the judgment toward single mothers is because of the repeated messages from church leaders, Christian authors, and organizations like FOTF. These messages demean divorcees as frivolously throwing away their marriages and wanting the “grass is greener,” without considering that their reason might be quite serious.  Jim Daly himself has said in a public video: “God hates divorce in every case.” Focus on the Family ought to remove all articles and broadcasts that don't give exceptions for emotional abuse, physical violence, infidelity, family-crushing addictions, pedophilia, severe indifference (neglect) and abandonment.


  • One comment suggested that all children of divorce have a broken heart. PeggySue said, "And I have adult kids that are functioning, contributing part of society. I’m just so proud of them. I’d like to say that I had good material to work with. They’re doing well. But they will always have a broken heart." Not all kids have a broken heart over the divorce. In one poll done in my private Facebook group, The Life-Saving Divorce, 9 in 10 divorced parents said at least one of their children was supportive of the divorce, as being the only solution in a highly destructive situation.


  • In light of disgraced teacher Bill Gothard’s teachings, why would Baker Books choose a cover for a book based on Gothard’s infamous umbrella illustration? After watching the documentary “Shiny Happy People” and hearing about the 34 women who accused Gothard of sexual harassment and molestation, should we be platforming Bill Gothard’s toxic teachings and his signature umbrella diagram?


  • The word “divorce” is avoided and mentioned only 3 times. Lots of other euphemisms were used: “break up,” “spouse who departed,” “parents split,” “relationship split,” “chose out,” “left the home," etc. It’s tough to discern between frivolous and life-saving divorces when the word is avoided, as if the mere word conveys some evil power that is greater than God's power.


  • Jim Daly suggests that it’s important for sons of single mothers to be mentored by men in the church. While this is commonly asserted in Christian material, it’s not true. Emotionally healthy single mothers do just fine raising sons.


  • Jim Daly talks about fatherlessness, but in cases of divorce, children are NOT usually fatherless. They may not have a good father, but there is a father there. Children of life-saving divorces often know who destroyed this marriage. And in a happy turn of events, those children from the worst situations often personally value marriage and believe it is important, not the other way around.


  • PeggySue’s story may give some viewers hope that confronting a chronically destructive spouse will make them change or leave. (We never find out who filed for the divorce in her story.)  But many abusers, cheaters, and addicts want to have their cake and eat it too. Contrary to common wisdom, most abusers/betrayers don’t want to leave the marriage. They will fight tooth and nail to block the divorce. There's a lot of trauma in abusive marriages and sometimes divorce is the only option. You can wait all your life for an alcoholic to leave or get sober, and often they do not. Meanwhile the damage from fear, anxiety, and tension marches on, doing its damage to children and parent.


  • This video suggests that merely inviting children in troubled homes to church will help them, as if evangelism —  not time, friendship, and other support — makes a significant difference for kids. Also, many of these children may be from Christian homes already, and already know the Lord, and may feel guilt about the divorce, even if a divorce was necessary. They need comfort that their mother (or father, in cases where the father was the victim) did the right thing in the eyes of the Lord.


  • Very few children of single mothers have serious school behavior problems. Also, we know that fewer than 8 in 100 children in single-mother homes (it is about the same for single-dad homes) have school behavior problems serious enough to result in suspension or expulsion, so I don't think that's as common as this video series makes it appear.


Links to the original Focus on the Family 2-part video series and to the TikTok


Part 1:

Part 2:



Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book about spiritual abuse and divorce for Christians. Also, sign up for my email list below.



Start Here

Physical and Emotional Abuse & Infidelity

God Allows Divorce to Protect Victims


Does God Hate Divorce? No, Most English Bible Translations Don’t Say That


How to Find a Good Supportive Church


What If My Pastor Says It Would Be Wrong to Get Divorced for Abuse?


Divorce Saves Lives: The Surprising (Wonderful!) Truth About Divorce Nobody Told You

Will I Ever Find Love Again? Dating After Divorce: Good News

Finding Happiness and Health After Divorce


Thriving After Divorce: These Christians Tell their Stories

Self-Doubt, Second-Guessing Ourselves, and Gaslighting

Children and Divorce: Researchers Give Hope


High Conflict Divorce and Parenting

Recommended Reading List and Free Resources for Christians and Other People of Faith


Common Myths






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