Dear Thelma: "I'm tired of being the messenger when my parents fight"

When parents argue, children are almost always caught in the middle. One kid is tired of all the bickering.

I’m tired of being a messenger. What I mean by this is that I’m tired of being around my parents. Please don’t get me wrong, they are very loving parents. But there are times when they are cold to each other due to some minor argument or other. It is during these times that they choose not to talk or look at each other. Then, my younger siblings and I are expected to help them “pass messages” to each other.

It doesn’t happen everyday. But it is occurring more and more often. They would both flare up due to some small matter and not talk to each other for days. They would then accuse each other (and the children) of things they didn’t do. They would spout profanities at each other and even badmouth the other person.

My younger siblings and I have become their victims. We hear them every time, we see them argue, and there is nothing we can do to stop them.

I have tried listening to their problems, but it seems to be getting worse. The arguments have now come to the point where they are even thinking of divorcing each other.

That’s what scares us the most. I don’t know what to do if that really happens. I have no means of supporting my siblings just yet as I’m still in school. Please advise me. What should I do? — The Tired Messenger

Thelma: Firstly, it’s the parents’ job to parent and not yours. It is not your duty to worry about them arguing or fighting. It is hard when you are a child and have to witness these incidents. But, you have to understand that it is the adults who should find the solutions for these problems.

It is understandable that you are concerned about yourself and your siblings. But, why would you be thinking about supporting yourself and your siblings? I’m sorry to hear that your parents are thinking about divorce, but whatever the case, it is fairly certain that your welfare will be their priority.

It probably doesn’t seem that way when all you see and hear are the arguments. It also feels like you are the last thing on their minds when you are “used” as their messengers. But, I seriously doubt that this is the case.

Anyway, in any legal matter concerning families, the children’s best interest is the priority. You should not be worried about looking after yourself and your siblings. However, it is highly commendable that at your young age, you are thinking about protecting your younger siblings. Your parents should be very proud of how you turned out.

The sad thing about being adults is that conflicts will arise. One can hope that being adults would confer them better skills to deal with the conflict. As exemplified by your parents, though, this does not always happen.

It is terribly unfair of them to expect you and your siblings to act as messengers between them when they argue. It is unfair when they blame you when the problem is obviously between them.

There is nothing stopping you from telling them that you will not act as their messenger. You don’t have to be rude. Just tell them that you are uncomfortable playing that role. Also, when they start blaming you and your siblings, tell them that it is not your fault. You did not bring about their argument.

Typically, when children point out their parents’ unfairness, the parents may try to pull a guilt trip on the children. Expect it, but do not fall for it. You have to be respectful to your parents but there are limits to that. You are children and should not be expected to be the adult here when your parents abdicate their responsibilities.

Many people think that it is enough just to provide a home and all that money can buy for their children to be happy. They do not see that this is far less important than fostering a space where children can feel safe. That means that they are free from abuse and are free to be what they are – children.

Adults have adult arguments and it is their responsibility to sort this out. They should see that children are the victims of their inadequate problem-solving skills and not the solution. When they drag the children in, they are manipulating each other and only causing harm.

Perhaps, in time, your parents will be able to see the folly of their ways. It is likely, however, that it will be your task to tell or show them. You will have to overcome your apprehension of having to tell them so.

> Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Write to Dear Thelma, c/o Star2, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor or e-mail: Please include your full name and address, and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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