A Child in the Dilemma


Case study: A Child in the Dilemma -- Extracted and translated from the book 夾縫中的孩子; Author: Oi Ling Wong, pp.107-123.

Case study: A Child in the Dilemma -- Extracted and translated from the book 夾縫中的孩子; Author: Oi Ling Wong, pp.107-123.

Hiu Fung’s parents divorced when he was five year-old. His mother has all along single-handedly raised 13-year-old Hiu Fung and his 10-year-old sister, Hiu Yee.

When Hiu Fung was 10, his father, began to meet the children irregularly. Coincidently, Hiu Fung started to have deviant behaviours, such as lingering in internet cafes until late at night, stealing his mother’s money and lost motivation in studies. Was the return of the father the root cause of Hiu Fung’s behavioral problems or was it indeed a potential resource to solve them?

Torn between Mum and Dad

By my observation, the conflict between the mother and Hiu Fung was mainly related to the father, even though the father was absent at our interview room. Unlike common teenage problems, the gist of the problem was: ‘as mother criticizes father, the son tries to defend him’. The more the mother blamed the father, the more vigorous Hiu Fung disputed and the more repulsive the mother became.

Although the divorce occurred eight years ago, the father still had an influence on the relationship between the mother and Hiu Fung. To the mother: she felt betrayed because she had put in a lot of efforts in raising the children on her own. To Hiu Fung: he felt helpless because if he argued with his mother, it would hurt her but if he did not, his beloved father would be vilified.

I attempted in vain to invite the father to the therapy session in order to verify the mother’s belief that he did not care much about Hiu Fung’s development.

Daughter and Son

In the second session, the mother would like to know if her ex-husband was a responsible father when he met Hiu Fung. She asked her son: ‘How did your father respond after knowing your misbehavior?’ Hiu Fung did not give her a straight answer. Hiu Yee, however, said, ‘Dad told him not to steal money; listen to teachers, and get home earlier from school.’
The mother doubted and did not believe that the father would teach their children to behave well. Both children took the side of their father and testified that he was a good father. I told them, ‘Your family has been divided into two camps. Mum doesn’t trust dad, contrary to the children.’

At this moment, Hiu Yee clarified her position, ‘I will not take side like my brother because if I defended father, I would be scolded by mother. I would not be so stupid to confront mom.’ I asked Hiu Yee whether this was also a difficult position: she dodged, trying not to offend her mother.

Touched by what her daughter said, the mother revealed that she had tried to avoid facing her ex-husband all these years. She now realized that such an attitude had made her children suffer, she decided to contact her ex-husband and invite him to discuss the children’s problems and find the solutions.

The Role of Father

When the father came to our session, Hiu Fung and Hiu Yee were happy to see him.
At the beginning, the mother raised a number of questions ’Who teaches Hiu Fung to request for more pocket money as the father has paid alimony? Who allows Hiu Fung to play before examination? Who teaches my son to get home late every day?’ The father dodged, ‘Your relationship with Hiu Fung is too tense and there is no room for compromise.” The mother retorted, ‘I am not confronting him, I am just urging him to revise for examination. Do you know how scary I feel every time the teacher calls?’ In fact, throughout the conversation, the mother’s counting of Hiu Fung’s problems was an indirect way of accusing the father. I found that if the father could not answer the mother’s questions, Hu Fung would interrupt and defended his father. 

I therefore needed to disrupt this vicious cycle. I first invited Hiu Fung who was sitting in between his parents to come to my side so that his parents could have a direct dialogue. When he continued to interrupt, I asked the parents, ‘Who can stop your son’s interruption, so that you can discuss how to cooperate effectively?’ Hiu Fung continued to interrupt until the father said, ‘Don’t speak right now.’ He faced the mother and said, ‘Would you allow Hiu Fung to stay at my home for a period of time?’ The mother felt shocked and seemed worried that her son would be ‘taken away’. The father supplemented, ‘Your parenting style is too harsh! He feels more comfortable to stay with me.’ Facing the coalition between father and son, the mother felt frustrated, ‘Your working hours are long. How can you take care of him?’ The father kept silent as he had not considered about the feasibility of his proposal. The mother turned to me for help.

Why did the father come to our therapy session? To find this out, I told the children to leave the room to provide an opportunity for frank communication among the parents. I requested the father to clarify his suggestion and he said, ‘I don’t intend to fight for the custodian right. I just tried to offer a buffer zone for the tense relationships.’  The mother felt relieved.

The father continued, ‘I’m in a difficult position. I know that I should support you and cooperate with you; but to be fair, harsh parenting is not good for Hiu Fung, as this only irritates him.’ After hearing the father’s sincere sharing, the mother replied gently, ‘I accept your advice.’ Encouraged, the father continued, ‘We need to listen more to him. As a parent, I only hope to provide a shelter for my son.’ The mother agreed.

I invited Hiu Fung and Hiu Yee back to the interview room. Their father said to them, ‘Listen carefully: I have reached a compromise with your mum. She will continue to take care of you two but you need to listen to her. Hiu Fung, I told you mum that you have already grown up and you have your own needs. She needs to listen to your opinions and adjust her expectations. You also need to respect her and not to argue with her all the time. Do you understand?’ Hiu Fung nodded. It seemed that his parents’ dialogue had sowed peace in his heart.

This was the first time both parents had a dialogue to reach a consensus. This session let both parents perform their proper roles, releasing Hiu Fung from being a defender. The mother also understood the importance of continued parenting in divorced couples, and the need to discuss with her ex-husband in order to provide a better growth environment for their children.

(Extracted and translated from the book 夾縫中的孩子)