By: Catherina Wang
“I think both of you should get a divorce.”
Those were the exact nine words I told my mum over the phone 5 years ago.
It all started with my mum being unhappy with her marriage because of a decision that my dad made when I was very young, followed by an affair she stumbled into with a married man.
This led to a series of miserable drama-like events. It included my mum being beaten up by said married man’s wife, followed by death threat phone calls, and it eventually meant involving the police. In time, my then-depressed mum even attempted to jump off the balcony of our house.
I remember my dad breaking down in tears on his knees, asking God what had he done to deserve his second marriage to fall apart. I don’t know about you, but seeing my father cry for the first time in my life, broke my heart.
Some of you might question those nine words of mine to mum. Or maybe secretly condemn me for ‘breaking up’ my own family. There is even a Chinese proverb that says, “You may teach someone to hit his child, but you never ask someone to split with his wife”.
Somehow not long after my suggestion to divorce, both my parents finally went on to sign divorce papers. That is, after 7 long years of living separately (under the same roof) where their only means of communication was relentless arguments. Divorcing, I think, turned out to be one of their best decisions. It spared all of us from further misery.
So there you have it, I come from a broken family. A messed up family. Or whatever you call it.
And you know what? It’s okay.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the “this-is-happening-everywhere-so-it’s-normal” kind of okay, nor is it the “that’s-just-life-so-deal-with-it” kind of okay.
What kind of ‘okay’ then, you might wonder.
One question I am often asked is, “Does having a broken family make you lose all hope, causing you to be afraid to be in any form of relationship as you grow up?”
The short answer is, no it doesn’t. But having a broken family did leave me having insecurity and abandonment issues.
Kinda sucks, doesn’t it? And to think that this wasn’t even your fault to begin with. But, like it or not, here’s the ugly truth: you don’t choose the family that you were born into.
So what do you do? You either dwell in it and be miserable for the rest of your life. Or you cope with what you’re given and try to make the best out of it.
I chose the latter.
Call it the “glass half-full half-empty” or “make lemonade out of lemon” theory, all you need is that mindset shift to get you through.
I used to feel really jealous when I saw my friends having Whatsapp group chats with their family or when they had photographs of their latest family vacations across my Instagram feed. Growing up, I never had that. Comparing myself to them made me a bitter person.
I became angry at everyone, my parents, my brother and even myself. I hated the state I was in.I resented my mum for being the cause of the family falling apart (of course, later on I found out that it was more complicated than that, but what’s done is done).
The longer I was bitter, the more tired I became. I never knew being angry could be that exhausting and depressing at the same time.
Like the five stages of grief, after going through denial, anger, bargain and depression, I finally learnt to let go and to accept the things I cannot change.
It was at that point that I realised something. When you stop dwelling in a bad situation and instead, change the perspective of seeing things, it’s transformational.
Although I have not been able to experience yet what it is like to have a family whole, that’s not the end of the world. Instead of feeling angry, constantly comparing my situation to the lives of others and indulging in the pool of self-pity, I can look forward to the future of having my own nucleus family, of having learnt from the mistakes that both my parents made.
And just the thought of that makes me hopeful and excited for what's to come. At least now I am clearer on what I want in the path of life.
Apart from having that shift of mindset and finding good in the midst of the bad, there was another thing I was struggling with - insecurity.
That is the emotional baggage that I’ve had to carry ever since my parents separated. It is not something that you can just ditch to the side, or as time passes you forget it ever exists. Instead, it haunts your relationships, takes away the benefit of doubt, and turns you into an oversensitive and overthinking monster.
I’m not sure if I’ve managed to fully overcome that. But I do know that it’s so much easier when you’re able to find someone who cares enough to help you slowly unpack it all, so you don’t have to deal with it alone. And for that, I am thankful to have found that ‘someone’.
So with all that said, what did I mean by saying “It’s okay”?
It’s okay, because having a broken family doesn’t define you, unless you let it.
It’s okay, because having to suffer the aftermath of a broken family doesn’t mean that you should lose all hope of having your own family in the future.
It’s okay, because having a broken family doesn’t make you broken. Maybe a chip here, a crack there, but hey, that’s how light gets in (as quoted by Leonard Cohen), making life a little brighter and more exciting.
Life’s messy, whether or not you’re from a perfect family. Challenges are inevitable. You just have to fight through them, because let me tell you, you cannot outrun challenges. Life, like we know it, will always find a way to make more.
Cheering you on!