Staying Together for the Kids

Dr. Michelle Choi, Lost/Found

My parents told us that they were staying together for us, the kids.

They divorced when I was in college. While 50% of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce or separation, as a Korean-American back then, I didn’t know any other Koreans whose parents were divorced. I wonder if things got really bad the last 10 years of their marriage – the period of time when they were “together for us.” They had married a month after a matchmaker hooked them up, and, well- they were matched very badly. On our first and perhaps only U.S. vacay, I believe I must have been 12 yo, my parents fought constantly at Disney World- “the happiest place on Earth.”

They were a tumultuous pair. When the fights were really bad, they were violent. I remember one time during one of their fights — my brother and I, we must have been teenagers, and they were already sleeping separately — when my father had smashed my mother’s wedding photo, a picture of her reflection in the mirror in her Korean wedding attire. And I remember seeing the cracked glass of the photo frame, and just knowing that it was the beginning of the end. Neither my brother nor I screamed at them. We just watched them. I don’t think we were really capable of saying anything.

I remember praying for them as a kid. Praying for a possibility, praying for hope, praying for continued peace, praying that maybe we could be a family like on TV.

My parents were both living lives where they were really unhappy. Maybe my parents were doing their best for us, with what they were capable of doing. My father was always working. My mother became like a hermit. My mother showed her love for us by having food on the table, by feeding us. But I think with how unhappy they were as individuals, as partners, it impacted their ability as parents. They weren’t really there for us. I couldn’t even tell my mother I needed menstrual pads or a bra. And I came to hate Christmas. We rarely had a tree up, no Xmas lights, we didn’t exchange gifts. It was the most depressing time of the year for me. It was always a relief for me when it was over.

I’m not a Psychologist. But when I hear “Staying together for the kids,” it gives me PTSD. I wonder if it’s better to show our children what it means to LIVE, rather than to shut yourself down.

Michelle Choi MD