As a counsellor at Care Corner, I counsel many children whose parents are divorced or are going through a divorce. The following experience was shared with me by 16-year-old Benji*.
“Who will you follow?”, “Who do you love more?”, “Who do you think is right?”, “Tell your father/mother this…”, “Don’t listen to his/her nonsense.”
When my parents got a divorce, I was devastated. Like a rubber band about to snap, I felt pulled in opposite directions, the tension at each end exerted by the very people who were supposed to care for me but ended up hurting me. The thought of my parents divorcing caused me great anxiety: my heart pounded, my head felt like exploding, and there were moments when I felt like I could hardly breathe. A part of me knew that my parents did not intentionally mean to put this burden on me, that they acted the way they did because they themselves were in pain. Nonetheless, the ache in my heart was difficult to bear.
I was angry! Angry at my parents for causing such disruption and upheaval in my life. Furious with myself for not being able to do anything to make the situation better. I would blame myself for being angry with them and for acting out. I also felt guilt — had I somehow done something to cause my parents to divorce? Maybe if I had been better behaved/smarter/quieter, things would be different.
I also felt intense fear not knowing how things would turn out after the divorce. What if my sister and I were forced to choose which parent to stay with? As much as I disliked my sister when she acted bossy and told me what to do, life would simply not be the same if we lived apart after the divorce.
So I ran away from my feelings and the triggering circumstances — by staying away from home as much as possible.
A zillion questions buzzed in my confused head: Will people view and treat me and my family differently, now that we lack that “completeness” of a typical nuclear family? Will I end up not seeing my dad or mom ever again? Will things ever feel normal again? Will I ever heal and be able to smile again?
I would cry myself to sleep at night, overwhelmed by the sadness of losing a complete family. I often wondered if my tears would ever stop flowing.
There were too many feelings inside me. I was not sure how I could handle it all, not sure if I would survive this. So I ran away from my feelings and the triggering circumstances — by staying away from home as much as possible. I buried myself in music, activities, the internet. I was afraid that a moment of quiet or inactivity might suck me into the abyss of emotions and I would drown in the darkness.
Friends were an occasional reprieve, bringing some light to the darkness that enveloped me. A few helped to distract me from my low moods, some were able to sit quietly with me and offer a comforting presence. Many however would make comments like “things will be ok”, “don’t think or worry so much”, or “you need to try and understand your parents and be good, not make things more difficult”. Such well-meaning exhortations minimised my feelings of sadness and disregarded the nuances of my complicated situation. Instead of feeling encouraged, I felt like I had to hide my real feelings. Sometimes, even when surrounded by many people, I felt alone.
A Significant Life Event for Both Parents and Child
Divorce rates in Singapore have been rising steadily in recent years. A total of 7,623 divorces and annulments were reported in 2019, a rise from 7,344 in the previous year.
Divorce is a significant life event, not just for the parents but for their children as well as they have to adjust physically, emotionally and psychologically. The long-drawn-out divorce process can be cordial and transitionally seamless, or acrimonious and tumultuous and bring much unhappiness to all parties involved.
Do you relate to Benji’s story? Are you struggling with some of these tensions, thoughts and emotions? Here are three important Rs to help you cope better:
1. Realise that you are not the only one feeling or thinking these things.
It is challenging when your parents do not get along, argue with each other, or draw you into their struggles. Perhaps they have decided to go their separate ways, leaving you feeling shocked, uncertain or angry. Maybe the divorce happened a while ago, but you are still reeling from the effects – feeling unsure about yourself; being fearful of intimate relationships or not allowing people to come close; or struggling with intense sadness or anger at the dissolution of your parents’ marriage. These feelings are typical and having them does not mean you are weak or going crazy. It just means you are hurting and in pain.
2. Recognise that you are not alone and do not have to struggle by yourself.
As Neil Gaiman puts it: “Pain shared, my brother, is pain not doubled but halved. No man is an island.”
3. Reach out.
Talk to your friends, or confide in a trusted adult such as a teacher, mentor or school counsellor. There are also many free mental health resources that can help tide you through this difficult time.
Resources for divorced parents:
Resources for youths in need of support:
- Fei Yue Community Services’ eCounselling Centre
- Tinkle Friend national toll-free helpline/chatline for primary-school-aged children: 1800-274-4788
- TOUCHline youth counselling hotline for cyber wellness: 1800-3772252
- Care Corner Youth Services Instagram Account (@youthxcarecorner)
- INSIGHT Care Corner Singapore Instagram Account (@insightccs)
- Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) 24-hour suicide prevention hotline: 1-767
* Name has been changed for privacy. Benji’s experience recounted by Bettina Yeap with consent.
The contributor is a senior counsellor from INSIGHT, the mental health department at Care Corner Singapore Ltd.