In sixth grade, Chloe Santos noticed that her mom and dad had stopped talking to each other. Soon, she and her younger brother became their parents' means to communicate. "Naging semi-messengers kami."
The summer before her sophomore year in high school, her mom broke the news. "I called a friend the very next day. I remember whispering because I didn't want my parents to hear me ranting. I cried, but pretended to be tough afterwards."
Chloe never discovered the reason for the separation. She had never seen them fight, not even once, so her initial reaction was to blame her mom. "I was angry at her. I thought it was because she was always at work, or she didn't love my dad anymore. At one point, I blamed myself," she imparts. "There were a lot of what-ifs. It's tough ‘cause you don't get answers."
"Growing up with one parent is hard. I grew up with my dad, and I'm not saying what he gave me wasn't enough. But of course, a mother and daughter's bond is still different." These days, she stays with her mom on weekdays and her dad on weekends.
Breather In Disguise
Unlike Chloe, who never saw her parents fight, Phoebe Belmonte says she and her sister witnessed it all the time. It felt a lot like watching a telenovela. She was five years old then. At six, her parents separated. "We were too scared to ask questions about it. I guess it's a story that's better left untold."
Even then, Phoebe knew that the breakup had nothing to do with the children. "I believed that their separation was actually a breather in disguise."
Soon, she found herself living alternately with her dad and mom. But when Phoebe's mom remarried, things got complicated. "During the years when I lived with my stepfather, he was my greatest fear. He was partially shouldering our financial needs, but at the expense of us feeling like we were outsiders or nakikitira. It was tough. There were times I'd hide and cry, then pretend everything was fine."
Chloe felt it was pointless to ask her parents for an explanation, and instead sought her friends' company. She was also made to visit a psychiatrist. It was initially difficult to reveal her feelings to a total stranger, but the sessions provided her with an outlet.
Unlike Chloe, Phoebe didn't seek her pals' support. "I just thought that being in a broken family was normal. Unexpectedly, I even excelled in school and was proud to show my parents my hard work. Whatever pain I had back then was kept within myself. We coped by being positive and loving despite the circumstances. None of us resorted to rebellion."
Phoebe now lives with her biological father and two sisters, and she has gotten over her fear of her stepfather. "I know he's a good person, and he provided shelter for us. But living with his demands and criticism was too much. Yes, he is our stepfather, but he was never a father to us." It helps that Phoebe has three half-siblings whom she loves very much. "I've accepted the reality. Whatever makes my parents happy makes me happy for them as well."