When I was six years old, I used to lay awake at night and hope. I closed my eyes, adamant in keeping the tears from falling, and said the following words like they were a magic spell: “I wish I had a family that loved me.”
Disappointment never failed to wash over me come morning. Life was, indeed, not a wish-granting factory.
The fights of my parents would constantly drown me and my brother in fear. They would slam doors. Arguments were always a shouting match. Both of them would not let up — ignited with this white-hot rage that the child in me could not fathom.
“Where are you going?” my father exclaimed, exasperated.
“To my mother’s house. We’ll come back when you’re done with your attitude.” My mother rushed us out of the door, hastily packing our bags. It was the middle of the night and despite the five-hour journey to my grandmother’s residence, we still made our way.
It is common knowledge to think that the separation of parents affects children heavily. Robert Emery, Ph.D., author of The Truth about Children and Divorce, argues that it isn’t always the case. Divorce can actually be a relief to children whose parents fight often. After divorce, the children can stop living in a hostile environment.
But in the Philippines, divorce is still not an option for married couples.
The Fight Is Over
I stood at the bus stop. Cars were dwindling on the road, the air was crisp and the luggage was weighing down on my shoulders. The world felt big as I held onto my mother’s hand like an anchor. I asked her when we were going home. It felt wrong to leave everything behind so abruptly.
She shook her head: “I don’t know.”
Desperate to make sense out of our situation, I read things, turned to experts instead of turn to my parents, let academic journals be the source of my enlightenment.
According to E. Mark Cummings, a psychologist at Notre Dame University who has published hundreds of papers on this subject, children pay close attention to the emotions of their parents for information about how safe they are in the family. When parents are destructive, the collateral damage on children can last a lifetime.
Marital strife can result in the following aftereffects within the child, according to Arthur Robin, Ph.D., director of psychology training at DMC Children’s Hospital in Detroit. It shakes the children’s trust in their dependence on their parents who now behave in an extremely undependable way.
They learn that fighting is the way to solve problems. Children imitate their parents, so in turn, they will solve their own problems with peers through arguing. They become emotionally distraught because the people they love are fighting. This triggers anxiety, depression, or episodes of acting out. Some children withdraw because they find it difficult to express their emotions.
Children often develop trust issues. They see adults hurting one another, and, as a result, they steer clear of relationships because they’re afraid of being hurt. Many therapists who work with adults spend a lot of time helping them undo the damage that occurred during their childhood years when they observed their parents fighting.
The Need to Move On
We went home after three days. Nothing had changed.
However, after four years of constant back and forth, they finally decided to file an annulment. Our father no longer lives with us and the tension that was once palpable ceased to exist.
Post-trauma, I often felt the need to compare myself with people who grew up with normal families. Like fairy godmothers in Disney movies, they were so open and loving — a stark contrast from myself. Walls are what I surround myself with instead of overflowing love. I do not have my heart, free for viewing, on my sleeve, I have a rotten apple. An apple that does not fall far from the tree.
To fellow children who felt like they grew up with the horrid realities of the world way too soon, I urge you to tap into your childlike wonder. Forget, just for a little while, your past horrors.
Imagine that you can depend on someone this time. You don’t have to square your shoulders and lock your jaw, ready for whatever the universe would throw at you. You now live in a home full of love. No biting remarks, no backhanded comments, no shouting, and no hitting.
Inch by inch, lower your walls. If you feel it’s too much, bring them back, but never stop trying to get rid of them. We do not have to follow our parents’ footsteps. We do not have to continue the cycle.
My mistake, as a child, was that I willed the world to change for me. On the contrary, life is what we make of it. We all have a freedom of choice: to follow a path laid down for you or to make your own.
[Entry 159, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Mariah Camille Oliveros, 16, was one of the students that our #BeyondTheNewsroom project reached when we went to Lagro National High School in Quezon City. She was the Editor-In-Chief of the school’s newspaper before transferring to De La Salle University-Manila for senior high school. She plans to take up Accountancy in college yet her ever present itch to write prose is what drives her to pursue writing as a hobby. She writes on her personal blog: marsandotherworlds.ml