From home to house. From family day to Sunday. From parent’s signature to guardian’s signature.
During my 15 years in the Philippines, I encountered and listened to the stories of many children of broken families. Often these stories are of grief, loss and pain. But at that time, I was not yet sensitive to the kind of agony or having that feelings of loss on a daily basis.
My emigration to the United States changed my perspective completely. My family which I thought was too strong to break apart, shattered to pieces. All of the anguish of each broken child I know, from the Philippines or the United States, that tried to let other people understand because of their situation started to make sense. Their usage of “house” instead of “home.” Their ordinary Sunday to someone’s extraordinary family day. The guardian’s signature that they use in school instead of a parent’s signature.
Perhaps some of us share a lot in common; broken children of broken families, the oddities of our world in comparison with the rest of the world. Being one of these broken children is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse in the sense that there is and will always be a missing piece of ourselves, faults and reasons beyond our control. When in the realm of what we do control, these shared experiences can be a driving source of creativity, success, and even hope.
When it comes down to how familiar these realities are, the National Children’s Rights organization, states that there are approximately 415,000 children in foster care in the United States. These statistics aren’t just numbers, they’re people, such as Kayla Ybarra, a 17-year-old junior who tells the story of her life growing up and out of a broken family, originally her with mother, father, and older sister (who has Down’s Syndrome and Autism), that turned into something Ybarra can no longer call a family.
“My biological father was never part of my life. He was around until I was about 2, but once my parents split up, it was a strictly over-the-phone relationship,” she shares. “Nearly 4 out of 10 children in America today are grow up without their fathers (Wade, Horn and Busy, Fathers, Marriage and Welfare Reform, Hudson Institute Executive Briefing, 1997).”
Unsurprisingly, the cause for his absence was addiction, which she believes lead her mother to move Ybarra and her sister across the country to live with a man who her mother had met in an online chatroom where “they talked about football,” she continues, “ I guess they liked the same team. She ended up marrying him within a year.”
Ironically, the new man in her life “didn’t end up giving her the white-picket-fence life that she fantasized about.” Ybarra claims that what her step-father ended up being was abusive and neglectful to Ybarra, her mother, and sister. She was forced to grow up fast and take care of her older sister.
Ybarra shares that she not only witnessed a myriad of domestic incidents, but also accompanied him on drug deals.
“I had to help him strip copper wire that he stole from houses in our apartment complex.” In fact, Ybarra mentioned that in one instance “he sold our beds to have money for drugs.
“I was 6 years old that time, laying on the floor, wishing I’d never been born.”
Children of broken families are nearly five times more likely to suffer mental troubles than those whose parents stay together, according to Doughty of the Daily Mail (2008).
This strongly proves there is no coincidence that both of us have needed counseling and therapy once in the past years, different timeline but same reasons; “compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological troubles,” according to Dr. Robert E. Emery, Professor of Psychology Director, Center for Children, Families, and the Law.
After hearing all of this torment that a broken child can face or have already experienced, one question you might ask is how can we see the blessings despite the misery. Well, being in the middle of this situation, I strongly believe that we are left with a choice. We can either dwell in the depths of loss and despair, or rise above all the affliction and wretchedness, and find for ourselves the missing piece that we are longing for.
Our experiences may have trembled our foundations, shook us all over, and made us frail for a while, but we consider these as building blocks in building our resilience and perseverance that can make the best and successful person that we could ever become. Speaking of success, Ybarra has utilized these blocks as she had a Presidential Academic Award when she was in the fifth grade, Speech and Debate National Competition Alternate in Student as a freshman novice, first places in Novice and J.V Speech and Debate Events, a scholarship to Kenyon Young Writers in the summer of 2016, and the list goes on.
For me, I may not have that many academic achievements, but I can proudly say that I have found my way back to my ambitions, becoming more independent as a teenager that can inspire and extend help to fellow peers who share the same struggles to step up and beat all the odds that hinder them to their goals.