I want to step out of this negativity and find my own happiness. Do you have any ideas on how I can do so?

A student wrote to me with this heartfelt question:

I grew up in an abusive childhood. My father has been abusive towards every member of my family. My mothers is the sole breadwinner of the family (my father doesn’t work).

I have told my mother countless times to get a divorce, but she refuses to do so. And she constantly makes excuses for him saying that “he has improved compared to the past.”

I know it has been incredibly difficult for my mother, especially since she has to tolerate my father while working to support the family. But sometimes I can’t help but feel so angry. I blame her for not protecting my sisters and I when we were children. Sometimes I feel that I hate her and it would be accompanied by a feeling of guilt that I’m such a bad ungrateful daughter.

Now as I start to emerge into adulthood , I realised I have internal conflicts that I didn’t know I had. I have difficulties trusting others, and even myself. I’m fearful that I would let someone toxic into my life, and not find the courage within me to leave. I’m fearful that I would be just like either of my parents. After all, they made me.

I want to step out of this negativity and find my own happiness. Do you have any ideas on how I can do so?

Thank you for sharing, and I just want you to know that I feel your pain.

For starters, it will help to understand that it’s not easy for your mum to get a divorce. She probably comes from a generation where there’s a lot of stigma attached to divorce. So it’s not just an issue of leaving your father, but societal shame and all that. Also, divorces can get very ugly and expensive. One can lose a lot, including the house. Given how your father doesn’t work, the divorce could go south where you mother has to pay him a monthly alimony to financially support him even after separation. So it’s not an easy option. It might have come across her mind many times, but I’m sure she knows all the difficulties she has to face if she proceeds with one.

So do understand that her hands are tied in the matter. Getting angry with her and hating on her would make her feel more alone in facing the daily ordeals of her life. She already has it pretty bad. So do try to be more understanding of her situation. She’s really not the enemy, but someone who doesn’t know a way out of a difficult spot.

It’s good that you are aware of your internal conflicts and inability to trust others. If you start living on your own, you might also discover that you display traits in your parents that you despise. It was quite a horrifying realisation on my part when I started living on my own how I exhibited certain qualities I disliked in my own parents.

Awareness is an important step towards improvement. The fact that you are painfully aware means that you can take steps to avoid falling into it. For most people, the tragedy is that they completely unaware of the toxic qualities they’ve acquired from their parents and they repeat the errors in their own lives, never realising that the problem is them. So in many ways, you are in a better place. It doesn’t feel good to have knowledge of the awareness, but it’s valuable. Because now you have to remind yourself constantly not to be that sort of toxic person.

It will help you a lot not to rush into a relationship. So that way, you have time to regularly reflect on yourself and how you respond to people.

While I did not have a background like yours, I and a few other friends with dysfunctional parents made it a point to always be better than our parents. It takes a lot of constant reminders, and perhaps even some painful experiences with other people to learn some lessons. But always tell yourself, “I will be better than them.” And you use them as benchmarks on what never to do in your life. Always take a step back to reflect on your experiences with people, as that will help you evaluate what you’re doing right/wrong. But at the same time, be gentle and kind to yourself because we will always be our harshest critic.

I do recommend seeing a counsellor. Because they can journey with you and coach you every step of the way. The best I can do is to give you general advice that may or may not work, as I don’t know the full story, nor do I have the expertise to help you all the way to a life of happiness.

I wish you all the best, and do know that you if you need someone to talk to, I am happy to lend a listening ear. :)

Do you believe that a person’s attitude with his/her family is reflective of the type of person they are and the type of upbringing they will give their future kids?

A student asked me this question:

Do you believe that a person’s attitude with his/her family is reflective of the type of person they are and the type of upbringing they will give their future kids?

This is not necessarily the case. It’s important to recognise that not everyone has the luxury of growing up in functional and loving families. There are many people who come from very dysfunctional/broken families (myself included). You can’t fault them for having negative attitudes or resentment for their parents. They’ve been through a lot of shit. For the ones with a good heart, they are using their bad experiences growing up as important lessons on how NOT to raise their kids. And they know about the toxic behaviours to avoid creating a dysfunctional home.

I say this with confidence because I have friends who chose to be better than their dysfunctional parents, and they are now raising their kids very wholesomely.

So don’t judge people just because of their upbringing. We don’t get to choose our families. The lucky ones get to be born into wholesome homes, while the unlucky ones get awful parents by no fault of their own. I don’t think its fair to pre-judge the unlucky ones. At the very least, judge them based on the kind of people they want to be. Do they choose to be as toxic as their parents, or have they chosen to be better than their parents and are doing their best to be good people? If they chose the latter, then give them a chance.

How do you survive the tension at home after you’ve had a fight with your parents?

A student wrote to me, asking:

How do you survive the tension at home after you’ve had a fight with your parents?

I’ll be honest and say that I’m not the best person to ask about this matter. My parents are incredibly toxic people, and so to preserve my own sanity, I packed up my bags and moved out of the house to live on my own during my undergraduate days.

But I’ll try to give you some advice since you asked. One thing that makes this question difficult to answer is that I don’t know how great the tension you’re dealing with or the issue that you fought over. I’m going to take a guess that it must have been a really bad fight over something very personal, e.g. relationship, or over some thing that you value very dearly. Every one’s hurt and reeling from the harsh exchange of words, probably.

Before you care about making things right with your parents, you should focus first on yourself. Allow yourself to process your emotions and feel it as it comes. It’s a kind of self-care to do this. It’s also important to reflect on what’s going on and what has been said. It’s not useful to think in terms of who’s right or wrong. The fact is words have been said, actions have been made. There’s no turning back. What’s more important is to reflect and consider in what way you felt misunderstood, what triggered you, and whether you (mis)understood your parents’ point of view, or if there could have been another way to think about the issue.

Give yourself and your parents a couple of days to recover. If you are close to your parents, they will miss talking to you. And they will appreciate you taking the brave initiative to engage in small talk. Just do simple chit chat. Don’t go straight into the stuff that you all fought about. When you all are on good talking terms, then you can bring up setting an appointment to talk about it. You want to talk about the matter when both parties are mentally prepared for it, so either side won’t feel so defensive about it.

If it is a very serious issue, and one that both sides feel grossly misunderstood. Find someone outside the home whom your parents respect greatly and regard as a neutral party to be a mediator. The problem with us humans is that we can be very sensitive to some matters, and we can easily lose our minds the moment we feel attacked. So it helps to create a safe environment for both sides to speak their minds and to hear each other knowing that someone can put a pause before words get nasty. The mediator should give everyone equal time to speak, and safeguard the speaker’s right to talk. If the mediator can do more than that, then the mediator can try to rephrase things in ways that either side can understand, or highlight how one party might be misinterpreting the words/action of the other, e.g. “When X says A, he means B. But it seems that you are interpreting X to mean C instead.” These things are helpful in bringing attention to areas where miscommunication is taking place, and it helps to clarify what each one is trying to say to the other.

I hope this helps. I wish you all the best in this matter. Take care.

My girlfriend got pregnant, and we’re both still studying in university. What do you suggest we do?

An anxious student wrote to me, asking:

My girlfriend got pregnant, and we’re both still studying in university. What do you suggest we do?

I can imagine this must be a really anxious time for both you and her. Please make yourself wholly available to her and support her in this time of need. Let her know that you are someone she can count on as a pillar of strength and support. And if either of you need someone older to talk to, feel free to reach out to me. You can talk to me without fear of judgement, alright? :)

Many people tend to conflate wanting to “get rid of the problem” with the idea that it means “getting rid of the pregnancy.” That is not true, and that choice has its own risks and consequences that will affect her much more than it will affect you.

First thing’s first: don’t rush to solve the situation so quickly. The stress and anxiety can lead to a lot of bad mistakes that will haunt you both for life. I want you to know that there are three possible options you can explore: (1) keeping the baby and raising the child; (2) giving the child up for adoption to couples who can’t conceive and desperately want a child; (3) terminating the pregnancy.

I think one of the issues people worry about is the shame and fear of what’s going to happen. I want you to know that we are living in a very modern and understanding society. Both of your families may care enough that you have to deal with shame. BUT in the bigger scheme of things, events like this happen so often, it doesn’t really surprise anyone these days (I know too many stories of it happening left, right, centre). So I want you to know that it’s not shameful at all. Just so you know, I’m not judging. It’s just one of those things that happens.

Let me tell you a story… Every year during Chinese New Year, my cousin would bring his super hot girlfriend over. He got married eventually (I didn’t attend the wedding). The following Chinese New Year, he brought his wife and baby over. The wife looked very different. So I remarked to my mother how amazed I was that the lack of make-up could make someone look so incredibly different, since she didn’t look anything like the pretty person I remember in the years past. My mother then told me that that woman was a different one from the girl we had seen in the previous years. It was a shotgun marriage. Whoops!

Anyway… Accidents happen. Life happens. And we should just hold our heads high and learn to handle what life throws at us. That’s how we grow. In some cases, it’s lemons. In some cases, it’s a pregnancy.

Let me discuss some options to consider. It’s important you both make the decision together as a couple:

If you both are still unsure about having a future together, DO NOT rush into a marriage or force yourselves to raise the child together. It doesn’t end well. There are many single-parents because of reasons like this. And the one who has to suffer most is usually the mother as she will end up raising the child all on her own.

In such a situation, I personally would strongly recommend carrying the pregnancy to term and giving it up for adoption. There are so many couples in Singapore who try so hard to conceive but they can’t. They have a strong desire to have a child, but they are afflicted with the inability to conceive. That puts tremendous stress on them and it does strain their relationship. You have no idea how much good you can do for such couples, and you can use this as an opportunity to bring joy to another home. At least one great and wonderful good can come out of this incident. I really think this will be most worthwhile.

Fortunately, because of the pandemic, it’s going to be 100% e-learning for most modules this and next probably next semester. So you both can go through the pregnancy without attracting much attention.

Of course, if you both are sure you want to be together in marriage later on in life, then I think it’s worth thinking about keeping the baby. Don’t stress over the finances. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You might initially meet with parental disapprovals, but usually when the baby comes, their attitudes will change. I must stress that this is the usual case. If you both have dysfunctional families, then it may make it more challenging to raise a child under such conditions.

Regardless, it can and will be tough having to juggle studies and a baby at the same time. BUT, I want you to know that it’s very possible to have a happy and functional family. I know a friend who had a shotgun marriage during their undergraduate days. They both graduated since and they are still happily married after 10+ years, with more kids added to the collection. What’s important for this to work out is to get wide social support. Not just from your immediate families, but from friends, and other older people. You’ll be surprised to discover how many supportive friends you’ll have in uni. And like I have said before, come talk to me if you need to. We can figure something out together. :)

The last option to consider will be the termination of the pregnancy. It seems like the easiest option to get out of a difficult situation. But there is a really high risk that your girlfriend will have to live with the guilt and emotional baggage of termination for the rest of her life. There is also the risk that her physical health/fertility may be compromised too (there’s always a risk with such procedures). Many people have gone through this without much thought, and it does come back to haunt them later in their lives. So I don’t like to recommend this as an option. And please don’t take this option lightly.

All options are difficult. There is no easy answer. Your parents will get upset for sure. But you will definitely discover that you will have many supportive friends who will help both of you out. Whatever is it, please don’t abandon your girlfriend when she needs you most right now. She needs you. So be there fore here.

And whatever it is, it’s important to make the decision together on what to do with the pregnancy. It is a joint responsibility.

If you need someone older to talk to, or if you need help getting the necessary social support or whatever, don’t be afraid to come talk to me. We’ll figure something out together.

Take care!