Brother-and-sister team Aaron and Delia Ng, both youth trainers with Focus on the Family Singapore, went on 938NOW with Susan Ng to share their experience of growing up in a broken family. Here are the highlights of the interview.
Susan: Aaron and Delia are trainers in FamChamps, a youth development initiative by Focus on the Family Singapore. They are two of three siblings who themselves lived through a divorce when, as children, their parents separated. How old were you when your parents divorced?
Aaron: I was 10, and Delia was just 1 year old. My life changed overnight. One moment, I had a family, and the next moment, I didn’t. So much changed along the way: my thoughts, emotions and even my behaviour. I had to grow up fast and take on more responsibilities in the home. I needed to take care of Delia, while still doing my homework and maintaining my grades. It was a challenge!
I couldn’t understand what was going on. At that time, I was also going through a lot of transitions: puberty, and going to secondary school. I was growing and trying to find my identity.
Susan: Do you think you would have understood if your parents had explained what was going on to you?
Aaron: This happened in the 1990’s and it was a taboo subject then. People didn’t talk about divorce. In school, I kept up a ‘front’ - even my teachers didn’t know what was happening in my family. I smiled and portrayed that everything was fine. But I always wanted to understand what had happened, at least to help me process my emotions.
Susan: You all lived with your mum after this happened. Delia, did you know that something was different about your family?
Delia: Growing up I didn’t have a chance to know who my father was. I didn’t get to see any pictures of him. I first met him when I was 7 years old. It felt like I was getting acquainted with a random uncle. I felt no attachment to him.
My mum tried to fill both roles of breadwinner and carer, but I knew that something was missing in my life. Because my father left us, I received the message that I was unwanted. My coping mechanism was to take care of myself, as there was no one to take care of me.
Because my father left us, I received the message that I was unwanted. My coping mechanism was to take care of myself, as there was no one to take care of me.
Susan: How did divorce change your view of relationships?
Aaron: I told myself that marriage was a sham and I avoided getting into relationships. Of course, things have changed and now I have been married for 10 years. I began to see the beauty of marriage. I saw role models around me who displayed strong and healthy marriages. That changed my thinking. As a result, I am very deliberate in strengthening my marriage.
I saw role models around me who displayed strong and healthy marriages. That changed my thinking.
Delia: Growing up, I thought that adults could not be trusted. I had the perception that I had to protect myself, so I was very guarded against relationships. In my mind, the people who had hurt me the most was my family, and they should have been the ones who protected me. Our family didn’t communicate well. We didn’t talk about our emotions or how I was feeling.
Positive role models also really helped me a lot. We had family friends who showed me what family can be like, and I had the chance to see them interact in their homes.
Susan: You don’t just work with children from divorced families, but with all youth. How do your stories help you when you work with kids?
Aaron: When we share our stories with them, they see us as genuine people. The youths come from all walks of life. It helps them to see that adults can be real people who have emotions and struggles.
Susan: When you work with young people today, what kind of issues do you see come up the most?
Delia: A very prevalent area is a lack of communication, due to our busy lifestyles. Both parents and kids come home at the end of the day and just want to rest. Conversations are more functional, looking at what daily needs have to be completed rather than asking about each other’s day. This is a concern as communication is a way to impart values.
Conversations are more functional, looking at what daily needs have to be completed rather than asking about each other’s day. This is a concern as communication is a way to impart values.
Susan: You both have a common passion to help kids, and you’re running a youth development program, an initiative of Focus on the Family Singapore called FamChamps.
Aaron: One of the things we want to leave with the kids is that they must have a belief in family. In the world around us, families are not doing so well. Children are affected by what happens at home.
In the world around us, families are not doing so well. Children are affected by what happens at home.
Delia: The climate that youth are growing up in now is very tumultuous. They are bombarded by messages from all around them but are not able to make sense of it all.
Mentoring is at the heart of this programme. We do not want to tell them what to do or believe. We expose them to real life stories where people have journeyed through hard knocks in their family life, and talk about what it means to build relationships. We show them how to be the active agent in initiating change. We want them to not just attend a workshop but also apply what they’ve learnt.
Susan: As we talk about strengthening families, what are a couple of things we can do on a daily basis to keep our families and relationships strong?
Aaron: Singaporeans love to eat. Just have a meal with your family and while eating, have a conversation with each other. Enjoy each others’ presence without devices.
Delia: If it’s something valuable to us, we will maintain it. We buy a car and send it for servicing. In the same way, we should ensure that our relationships get the best care. Find opportunities to bond over activities or intentional conversations. Being present emotionally and physically, and engaging our family members in conversations will make a difference.
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