“How are your parents?”
That was the question my friend asked me, as we sat in a ramen shop after wrapping up our worship training overseas. She had just shared with me about her family; she was raised by only her father after her mother passed away when she was young.
When that question left her lips, the noodles in my mouth started to lose their taste. I think my face must have twitched.
As she shared about her family dynamics, there were many things I resonated with. Wanting to escape from home, family tension, awkward Chinese New Year arrangements, loneliness, hopelessness for the future …
But my parents weren’t divorced or separated. They’re living together under one roof … mostly as strangers.
The last time my parents were on talking terms must’ve been in 2009.
My dad was suddenly hospitalised for a heart surgery in the middle of my O Level preliminary exams. As I clutched my social studies textbook, my family spent the night huddled in the ICU.
Some months later, I came home from school to find them in a heated argument about hospital bills and finances. In one moment of anger, some nasty words were said. My mom fled the room and slammed the door shut.
And ever since that moment, they’ve never had another conversation.
Refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama.
I became their middle man and official messenger.
Nowadays we only go for Chinese New Year visitations if I’m around. Everyone stocks up their own groceries in the pantry and prepares their own meals. It’s as though we are housemates.
It’s difficult living in such a complicated family situation. People assume that since my parents are still living together, my family must be more or less normal.
But we’re not. And my mum has become more dependent on me ever since the fallout. Her decades of being a housewife has probably cut off most – if not all of her social circle. She doesn’t like staying home alone with my dad, so I try to spend as much as time I can with her.
But my friends don’t understand.
Why you such a mummy’s girl? That was something someone in my cell group had once remarked in jest, after I said I had to leave early after service to have lunch with my mum.
Oh, you’re calling your mum again? Another comment from a friend, after I told her I had to FaceTime my mother to check in on her while we were overseas.
I also know that my dad isn’t entirely as bad as what he is described to be. He doesn’t say much to me unless needed, and he has his moments of anger. But he has worked without a break for decades, always pays the bills, and always makes sure I have enough.
Who could ever understand my family situation? I’ve always felt all alone. I turned to the Bible looking for some ray of hope, and was surprised to find messed up families just like mine in the Bible!
- Adam and Eve: Messed up the entire world; one of their sons murdered his brother.
- Sarah and Abraham: Got her husband to get their servant Hagar pregnant.
- Lot: Seduced by one of his daughters to commit drunken incest.
- Jacob: His sons conspired to kill their youngest brother Joseph, sold him into slavery.
And all the above happened in just the first book of the Bible. And as I read on, I learnt many lessons about how to live well in an imperfect family.
HONOUR THEM STILL
The Bible is clear about honouring our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). It is the fifth commandment, but the first that comes with a promise. It is the first commandment that governs a horizontal relationship – the only commandment that comes with a reward.
This also means that we refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama. There was one my mum was ranting to me about my dad, when I heard the Holy Spirit gently say: “Don’t dishonour your dad in the process of supporting your mum.”
My mum wanted me to agree with her about my dad’s faults. She wanted me to side with her. But I just quietly listened to her, and tried my best to explain the situation to her objectively. My dad had his faults, but if I had simply gone along with my mum emotionally, I would only be reinforcing negative ideas about him.
Honouring our parents requires us to submit to them as the parental authority God has placed over us (Ephesians 6:1). It means choosing to treat them as treasures, granting them a position of respect in our lives even when it seems like they don’t deserve it.
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
In every relationship, it is important to keep expectations in check. Unmanaged expectations will eventually lead to disappointment and disillusionment.
I don’t expect perfection from my parents because I know they aren’t perfect. I know that they, just like me, have their own issues and struggles that they don’t speak about. I raise and lower expectations according to how I’ve known them over the years.
There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess.
Another thing that is equally important is that we communicate our expectations … Telepathy isn’t a thing!
When I was in JC, I often came home late because my school was far away from home and my CCA usually ended in the evening. I never understood why my mum would get so upset about me coming home late, so I got equally upset at her apparently unreasonable behaviour.
After all, I was in school! It wasn’t like I was running around outside … Until I realised why she was so upset: She just wanted me to let her know if I was going to be back for dinner.
Uncommunicated expectations create more misunderstandings than needed.
KEEP ON PRAYING
But to be honest, even as I try my best to honour my parents and manage my expectations, it still feels really hard on many days.
It feels like something is amiss in my family, like there must be more. And many times I’m faced with a situation where I really just don’t know what to do … It’s usually at that point where this verse comforts me: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
And as I persevere in prayer, I know breakthroughs will happen. Situations will change. Hearts will move. None of our prayers are ever prayed in vain (Revelation 8:1-5). And if even Jesus prayed unceasingly (Hebrews 5:7), why shouldn’t we?
There is nothing else I can do but to pray and surrender my family situation to God. It is easy for us to give up on complicated family relations because humans are messy.
But the story of Jesus – a Saviour coming from a lineage of messy and dysfunctional families – is a lasting reminder that love and goodness can come out of the deepest of wounds.
There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess. And the end of all of it, it points us to our need for a Saviour.