Published: October 2005
By Christine Joy Ferrer
For a project in her high school Psychology class, Lauren Getuiza was required to punch holes through an index card, thread strings in an out of them, and draw a symbol representing everything she was going through and everything she still hadn’t gotten over.
Once you had gotten over something, you cut a string. When the class was over, she still kept the card and continued clipping strings until she couldn’t clip anymore. Her hurts and frustration amounted to far more than the number of strings she could cut.
For Getuiza, the index card represented everything she was dealing with during her parents’ marriage and divorce, but it especially reflected the troubled relationship between her and her father.
It’s not a mystery that being a child of divorce isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s a constant struggle. Getuiza, 19, is one of the many Filipino Americans who has grown up as a divorce statistic; a disease that she claims had eaten away at her heart for many years.
Although the divorce rate has leveled off, about 1 million children a year still experience divorce. “It’s fine to screw up your own life, but it’s different when you bring children into it,” says Getuiza. Getuiza’s relationship with her father is what suffered the most.
Scared to look at him, scared to pass his room, scared to talk. Life with Jose, Getuiza’s father, was hell. Getuiza remembers constantly living in fear. She was a prisoner in her own home.
Jose was always angry and verbally abusive and physically abusive, He’d yell things like “Do you hear what I’m telling you or are you stupid?” or “No one would ever love you.” He would push her mother around, hit walls, and throw pots and pans at her and her sisters. If one thing irritated him, he’d lash out.
Getuiza parents divorced when she was 6 years old and from that spurred a flood of confusing mixed emotions. She felt guilty and abandoned, thinking the divorce was her fault. After the divorce she visited Jose, occasionally on the weekends, but his idea of quality time was leaving her at his relatives’ house while he went off somewhere.
“So many times I wish I hadn’t known him, I wouldn’t have the scars I have now,” says Getuiza.
Children of divorce can have a hard time pulling themselves together. Parents might think the issues are solved between them, but children can suffer for many years, according to Tom Spencer, a psychology professor at San Francisco State University whose field of study is developmental psychology. Things like trust, insecurity, and anger can become issues.
Jordan Ricasa, 23, admits that his parents’ divorce has affected the way he perceives relationships and how he wants to be treated. Ricasa reveals, “Like my mom, I’m very compassionate, but if someone hurts me, I’m reluctant to accept them back as a meaningful person.” He’s very independent of others and would rather do things on his own than ask for help.
He steered clear of serious relationships until he was 21. “I’m an observer and after seeing my parents it’s like anything can still happen, even though you think you know someone” said Ricasa.
But what may have been meant as something negative can become positive if one looks at it for what it can worth. Ricasa chose to let negativity inspire him.
“At first, [the divorce] was a negative connotation, but then it gave me strength and made me understand things in a different perspective. Like if I get mad for no reason, I’m able to take a step back and check myself,” says Ricasa. “I see it as strength within weakness.”
In 89 percent of divorces the mother becomes the custodial parent and suddenly, she’s required to transform into the role of both mother and father. And more often than not, she can prove as an inspiration to her children. If you’re a Filipino mother within a separation or an annulment, you bare the brunt of shame, according to Ruth Cobb Hill, a Filipino-American family and child psychologist in Berkeley, California.
The extended family, which includes everyone in your small town, makes everything their business. People are shocked, connections are broken, and both often leave. If one stays, they are pitied the rest of their life.
The same patterns and traditions repeat itself in America; however it’s not as rigid. Filipino mothers, who are usually shy, find courage in America. “They’re supported by the court, lawyers and friends and tend to grow stronger, but it’s the fathers who find it very difficult,” said Dr. Hill. “There’s a secret knowledge that the woman will somehow manage, ‘Siya ang digasalo.'” While everyone is trying to save the man from falling part, the woman remains strong to survive those accusations.
For Derek Datangel, this is what he saw from his mother when his parents divorced after 23 years of marriage. At age 13, Datangel remained with his mother. Because of it, he watched how she handled the divorce and other challenges in her life (She was also blind in one eye). She overcame them with a positive attitude and an open-mind. When it was hard for Datangel to forgive his father after all he had put them through, his mom encouraged him to forgive him.
Datangel saw that it was her faith in God that helped her. “There was a big emphasis on church. At 7 a.m. every day, she’d pray “Our Father” or “Hail Mary,” said Datangel. “She believed that in life you go through challenges and God sees you worthy of living up to those challenges.” This is what she instilled in her son and it’s what Derek believes.
“My mom taught me how to persevere, how to push through struggle and hardship. It made me think that I need to do that too,” said Datangel. “Because she never gave up, I never gave up and her beliefs and values made me who I am.”
All is not lost. Depending on the child, a divorce can still have a positive outcome if it’s not overwhelming. Children can learn to cope better and become more self-sufficient. Some feel they’d be getting cheated if their parents weren’t divorced.
According to Dr. Hill, Filipino American children can pull themselves together more quickly because there are more support systems in America. But time, along with accepting and letting go, eventually heals.
Back to Getuiza’s story, Jose left Getuiza alone for the last time when she was 13 and never came back. And finally, she was able to breathe and heal. She found safety and support from her two sisters and mother. She recently changed her major from Journalism to Psychology. She wants to help other people get through divorce and understand that it’s not their fault.
Divorce is something that can leave someone with a barrel of insecurities including depression, hurt, and confusion. However that same broken person can rise again. Somehow despite the intensity and aggravation of life’s battles, it can make a person stronger and instill character within them.
“I went through a lot of dramatic things by myself and no one could relate to me. It was confusing, but because of it I was able to understand myself as an individual through my struggles and I’m glad for it,” says Getuiza. “It may take years to realize it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and anyone is capable of overcoming whatever situation.”