Direct Answers – Adult-sized Burden


I am a girl, 15. My family is generally okay, not exactly warm and loving, but adequate. When I was 11, I found out my mother was cheating on my father with a doctor, who I knew and trusted.

I’ve kept quiet about the affair for years, but it remains a weight on me, refusing to disappear with the passage of time. I don’t know why I am this upset. Is it really something that concerns me? It isn’t. The only people involved in the affair are my mother, her lover and my father. Is it my right to be as upset as I am?

I have started scratching and cutting my wrist with a penknife. It is not as dramatic as some people would have it sound. The ritual brings me some peace, some sense of isolation, and some sense of relief.

I see it as a coping method. My mother does not know that I know about her affair or that I cut myself. It hurts. So please, would you tell me what to do?

~ Hua

Hua, a friend of ours, now deceased, was a child psychiatrist. This man was a perfect gentleman, always, known for his kindness and concern for others. We never met anyone who didn’t like him or praise him.

Yet once, when he was talking about the parents of troubled children, he said he often wanted to grab the man and woman by the neck and throttle them because they were literally killing their child.

Is your mother’s infidelity something that concerns you? It is. Do you have a right to be as upset as you are? You do.

Why? Because often, we would say usually, when children act out in harmful ways, the origin of the problem is their parents. A truism among child therapists says, solve the parents’ problem and the problem in the child often disappears, like magic.

Parents are the fabric of the world to their children. A tear in the fabric is a serious shock. Children know what parents are supposed to do and how they are supposed to act. Children are not easily fooled.

When a parent forces a child to live a secret life, the child will find an unhealthy way to cope. That’s the way this works.

That is why you are cutting yourself.

Are you to blame? No. This is something you have been forced into by your mother’s guilty secret. Cutting is a well-known, natural reaction to behavior like your mother’s.

Can you tell your mom what you know? Probably not. Tell her and she will deny what she is doing or threaten you. Can you tell your dad? Maybe not. Negative feelings attach to the messenger of bad news.

We see only one correct, though difficult, course of action with your parents.

This is their mutual problem. It is for them to solve. You need to give over the cutting and give over the secret. Put it where it belongs. Tell your parents together, at the same time, that you have been cutting yourself as a way to relieve the tension over your mother’s adultery.

If either of your parents blames you for telling, they are merely compounding the wrongness. That’s like blaming the shopkeeper for people stealing. “If he didn’t own that store, people would not steal.” That makes no sense.

As our late friend said, the key for a child’s well-being is finding someone who actually cares about them. Hopefully, one or both of your parents will step up and help you. But if neither does, find an adult who cares about you and who can teach you to cope in non-destructive ways.

~ Wayne & Tamara

Column for the week of July 13, 2015

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