The hard-hitting reality of kids who grow up in broken families.
The subject matter that I am going to talk about is something that I have held very closely to my heart. It’s a sensitive topic that I find hard to discuss with others as it doesn’t fit in with the ideal concept of living in a typical functional household where love is in abundance and care is the utmost priority.
I come from a family where my parents divorced when I was still at an early age. Exactly which age I was when my parents divorced, I will probably never find out. But that’s a story to be told another day. Truth is, I can’t remember much from my childhood days and even if I did try to recall the details of the earlier stages of my life, I would fail terribly. One thing that stands out, however, from the blurriness of it all was my parents’ divorce – and how my mum walked out on us three children.
A brief description of my family is as follows: I have an older brother and an older sister, both of whom I fondly admire as siblings, as well as my dad and stepmum. I’m not really close to my stepmum as I cannot picture her as my mum (so to speak) simply because she isn’t – in the sense that she’s not related to me by blood. And that’s the thing. Intellectually, I could accept her as my legal mum, but sincerely speaking, she’s not my mum. Not at all. She wasn’t the one I was breastfed by, nor was she the one who changed my diapers when I was still an infant. The bond that I formed with my blood mum from birth just isn’t there. It’s been a real challenge accepting her into my life, and I can say the same for my siblings as well.
I decided to get down to writing this post when I recently got this flashback to the time when my blood mum walked out on us. I was sleeping as usual one night and what appeared in my dream was the scene where my blood mum was bidding farewell to me and my siblings, before packing her luggage and walking right out of the front gate. To this day, that scene burns a hole in the deepest, darkest depth of my subconscious mind. It’s always been there and always will stay put right there in the very same spot that it stood more than a decade back. The scene was crisp and vivid – much like watching a scene in a movie where the dad bids farewell to his kids and goes to war, never to return again. It’s the same kind of emotions tied up together; those of fear, uncertainty and sadness all manifested in the forms of insecurity and loss of identity as I was growing up later on. It was a hard blow to my integrity not being able to be together with my blood mum as promised as part of my birthright. I felt robbed – both physically and emotionally. That was the day my whole world came crashing down onto my own desire to see my blood mum in my own adulthood.
But nevermind that for now. That’s the least of my concerns, at least in this article. What I truly want to discuss are the long-lasting impacts of parental divorce on kids when they’re young and as they’re growing up. In popular culture, we often talk about failed relationships and how divorcees get remarried thereafter. And case closed. But what happens to the kids involved in all the drama and conflicts of a marital breakup? Do they just vanish into thin air or get taken away by child care services and forever disappear down the bleak path that they are left behind with? No and no.
I’m no expert on divorce cases. But what I can say, especially since I witnessed one in my own family, is that the kids are normally adopted by either spouse. This process of either party taking full responsibility of the kids is called custody. In my case, my siblings and I were placed in the custody of my dad, while my blood mum happily remarried another guy in Australia. But that’s just surface level stuff. You guys have probably already read similar stories in the news before, so I’m not going to explain any further.
Now then, what happens to a kid who has been exposed to the turmoil of his/her parents’ failed relationship and what are the long-term effects that surround such a kid’s personal growth and development? For one, living in a household where neither parents are willing to communicate with one another is already a very bad thing for the child. Seeing them throw stuff at each other is even worse. And living under the constant pressure of a fight breaking out from nowhere is just simply inhumane. Of course, as a child, you’re taught to embrace whatever that’s happening around you and pretend that you’re both blind and deaf. But obviously, as experience has shown, that is not the case. Children are perceptive and can infer what’s going on in their parents’ relationships. They are therefore able to make something of it, which can then make them develop feelings of distrust and hatred towards their parents.
The most worrying part is where one parent decides to move out of the house and live elsewhere, because the relationship is no longer reconciliatory and both sides are calling in their lawyers to act as their representatives in court. Sadly though, when one parent decides to break off ties with the other and move out of the house, the kid will immediately feel this void that simply cannot be filled. No other relative – close or distant – will be able to restore this lost space that was once an intrinsic structure of the kid’s upbringing. I remember what happened after my mum left. For a while, my siblings and I continued living with my dad in a house that seemed to be so much bigger than before my mum had left. It was as though my mum had been this supersized figure whose character occupied one half of the house, while my dad’s occupied the other half. Simply put, my mum had been a huge part of our lives. And I didn’t like one bit of her walking out on us. Not one bit. So, we stayed put with our dad until, one day, he decided that he couldn’t raise us up alone anymore due to his job commitment and finally decided to introduce our grandma into the household. So it was, our grandma replaced our blood mum and did her due diligence of raising us up until my father remarried in 2007. My grandma effectively became our new motherly figure.
Growing up without my blood mum was hard. Really hard. I developed a complex where I would look at other kids strolling alongside their mums and think to myself, “Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I grow up next to my own mum and get to know her as an older person, and not just when I was a toddler who could barely speak a couple of words?”. This was my deepest regret – not of my own doing – but of my parents’. But no matter how much I brood over this subject of my parents divorcing from one another, I can never come to blame them for it, for I don’t really know why the relationship didn’t work out right, or what went wrong that turned the marriage into a disaster. In some sense, it made me feel innocent and naive, that adulthood and relationships should never go together in the same sentence. And this is what made me so adamant about never wanting to end up like my parents.
Then, as I entered my teenage years, my yearning for my blood mum suddenly rekindled and I was desperate to find her. I wanted to know how she had been all this while in our absence. I wanted to make sure that she was real and had played a role in our lives: in my life to be exact. It was more of an arbitrary notion yet to be fulfilled. There wasn’t really any logical substantiality to it. All I knew was that I had to see her. And my teenage years would be spent dealing with this false promise to myself that my life would be complete if I managed to reunite with my blood mum. Very fantastical indeed.
Over the years, and very fortunately, my blood mum did reach out to the three of us. As of now, we’ve met up consecutively on a yearly basis for the past 4 years just to catch up with one another on how things have been going on in our lives. The conversations are always superficial and revolve around how much we’ve missed each other. But we all know that there’s no chance that my mum will ever come back into my life permanently. It’s a lost cause. Should I even be concerned if that’s the case?
Divorce isn’t always the nicest thing to hear. We sympathise with parents when we find out that they’re going through a rough patch and need to take time off to deal with their own ‘personal agendas’. We know that their kids aren’t in a good position either. What we don’t know is how the kids will turn out after the divorce, whether it’s for the better or for the worse. It’s up to them to find that hope within themselves. Hope for a better future, that is.