For Anne*, things in her family are not always what they seem.
Her parents have been married for over 30 years. When they go out, they still hold hands.
From an outsider’s perspective, things look well. But Anne knew that this was all a facade when things between her parents took a turn for the worse two years ago — that was when her father’s affair came to light.
"My father is an easily-angered person, so Mum has learnt over the years that the less we tell Dad, the better," Anne described.
Recounting her growing up years, Anne thought that while hers wasn’t an exceptionally close family, it wasn’t all that bad. There was food on the table. She could still confide in Mum when she needed to.
In her own words, "This is the only family I know. My other close friend back then also came from a pretty broken family, where there was even violence and abuse. So relative to her situation, I thought we were actually not doing too badly."
But there were telltale signs. When she discovered her brother’s stash of porn magazines and promptly told her mother, her mother all but brushed it aside as a "teenage boy thing".
Then there was the alcohol. When Anne was a teen, she remembered her dad purchasing alcohol by the crate; sometimes the bottles of wine and whisky would be emptied within a week.
Instead of fond memories shared with Dad, she recalled the times when he would be a wet blanket whenever she was having fun with her siblings.
"Because my mum just let him be, there was no feedback at all given to my dad...So in a way, there was no avenue for him to learn alternate ways of parenting us."
The Years of Indifference
Since Anne was a young child, she has never once witnessed her mother stepping in to ease the tension or offer alternative solutions whenever her father disciplined them harshly.
"Because my mum just let him be, there was no feedback at all given to my dad — even when the discipline was way harsher than the "crime" that we did as children. So in a way, there was no avenue for him to learn alternate ways of parenting us," she said wistfully while also drawing comparisons with how she’s learning how to parent her two young children.
Perhaps it was this indifference, this letting him be, that led to even bigger mistakes, like the affair.
Even after the discovery, Anne’s mother could not fully come to terms with what had happened, at times oscillating between denial and dissociation, at times also ruminating over what could have been.
When Anne asked her how she felt, she often could not answer. Although her mum appears calm on the surface, Anne knows that it isn’t a complete reflection of what’s going on within.
“I feel completely secure with my husband, and he is very different from my dad. These factors alone give me great assurance, but I would say it’s also due to our shared faith and values.”
The Lessons Learnt From Brokenness
Since young, Anne felt that she was wired slightly differently from her family members. Never one to shy away from airing her true feelings, she believes honesty and open communication are key success factors in her marriage.
From her parents’ experience, she’s also learnt that feedback is often necessary, in order for change to take place.
"I value being able to say how we feel, especially when it hurts," Anne explained. "Sweeping it under the carpet will not magically make it go away."
At the same time, she and her husband of seven years will try to cool down and approach the other party when the time is right – usually when both parties are feeling calm.
When asked if she harbours any fears of infidelity or communication breakdowns in her own marriage, she replied with a firm and resolute "no".
She elaborated, "I feel completely secure with my husband, and he is very different from my dad. Our shared faith and values provide me with a great sense of assurance."
On Parenting and Looking Ahead
Today, Anne is a stay-home mum who tries her best to be a safe harbour for her children. She often turns to parenting accounts on Instagram for tips, and regularly reads articles on how to be a better and more intentional parent to her kids.
Together with her husband, she works to build a home where her children feel accepted for who they are.
Anne articulated, "I’m not looking to be a perfect parent but I do try to emulate and reflect God’s patience and joy to my kids. I hope my children know that we are here to support them. I hope they know that when I say "no", I don't mean to kill their joy. At the same time, I hope to say an exuberant "yes" to them often.
"As for my parents, I hope they will one day be able to be honest with themselves about how they feel and think, and also experience the freedom of giving and receiving forgiveness in light of the betrayal."
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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