A Singapore mum’s story of how she overcame physical abuse
"There are days when my mood is good, and there are days I'm a wreck..."
While she sat, contemplating how to start telling her story, I leant back and waited.
This time theAsianParent speaks to a single mum of 3 who is going through a divorce and is fighting for the custody of her children. Once married to a local artist who got entrapped in drinking and drugs, he left her to fend for herself emotionally and to raise the 3 kids on her own. Her family has given her the ultimatum to divorce her husband or leave.
She sighed, "Actually all marriages starts with love. I believed it in my heart that he was a very talented artist. Everyone said so, too. I was trying to help him achieve his goal."
She had just gotten back from Riyadh, working there as a cabin crew. With some funds saved up, she started working with a business consulting firm.
But within that first year of the marriage, she could see that he was struggling. She supported him mentally, physically and of course financially. She passed him spending money and gave him funds to record his own album.
"At first he was okay until he started to spend too much money on booze." She would tell him not waste money on beer. But when he stopped singing at clubs and just did recordings, the money started depleting. He was still drinking and abusing weed.
The Beatings Started
"I tried to change his habits, to stop his drinking. That was when he started to be aggressive. He started to slap me. It escalated to hair pulling, dragging, kicking and punching. All this because I was advising him. I was telling him to change."
She would only spend S$40 for a week for food supply because he did not allow her to work or to go out. From renting a house, they went to renting a room at his friend's house. She ended up borrowing here and there and selling her stuff - her money long gone. She was also pregnant.
She decided to go back to her hometown and stayed with her eldest sister while she was 7 months pregnant. Her husband showed up to see his son when he was born. He showered his firstborn with baby clothes and left for the city again.
Occasionally he would send S$100, but for most of the time, he sent nothing. For long periods of time he would not be reachable or contactable and so they lived like that and apart until her son was 2 years old.
But she didn't want to see her child grow up without a dad, so she decided to move back to the city with her husband. Bliss was short lived, as she only managed to stay with him for 2 weeks before the beatings restarted. She filed a police report in the middle of the night and took her son to stay at her younger sister's place.
He apologised and promised to change and she forgave him after some time. He continued to come and go whenever he liked.
She decided to return to her hometown again with her kids. She needed someone to look after her two kids while she returned to work. He contacted her again and he pleaded to move in with her and the kids. She relented again and made him promise to change and look for work to support her and the kids.
Why Do People Continue to Stay in Toxic Relationships?
"Yes, it hurt. But I didn't have a choice, I had nowhere to go and I had my kids. My family wasn't going to help me anymore. Nobody gave me advice or any support. He blamed me for our eldest son who is autistic. I felt lost and didn't know what to do."
She finally filed for divorce but he would not let her go. She had to continue to do his bidding or they would fight in the family home, which affected everyone. She worked, paid his debts, schooled the kids, while he continued his drinking habits and slept the days away.
She was expecting her 3rd child when a huge fight erupted between them and he was asked to leave her house by her parents. Having no one to care for her kids, she quit her job and started making curry puffs for sale to sustain herself and her kids. He called when she delivered their daughter, but he could not be contacted again after that. They have not met since 2015.
Things have gone tense for her and her family. Her brother was threatening the safety of her kids so she made a huge decision and uprooted her kids to move to the city again and is currently renting a place with her eldest sister.
The Curry Puff Business
She started making curry puffs again and doing some online businesses to sustain their living expenses.
"On some days I barely remember the day of the week just because I'm so busy trying to survive!" she laughs, sharing that she's been sleeping 3-5hrs a day, for 5 years now since she started her curry puff business.
"There are days when my mood is good, and there are days I'm a wreck," she shares, "There are days I just love my kids too much and then there were days when I felt like 'killing' them. Some days I am just too tired. My hands weak. My brain muddled. I just cannot will myself to produce anything. It's not just physical. The spirit is tired."
She usually prepares 2kg dough at a time. Without mixers, she kneads and rolls them out manually. When there are a lot of orders, she would have to knead up to 8kgs a day.
Rental costs her S$2100, utilities maybe another S$900. "Add money for food, all in all, I have to make S$9000 la at least".
That is equivalent to making at least 100-150 packs a week, or at very least 30 to 50 packs a day. But she cannot do that on a daily basis because she doesn't own a deep freezer. Back in her hometown, people would come and pick up their own orders, here everyone expects to be delivered to.
"On some days, we just have maggie for food. As long as my kids do not starve, it is good."
She has built up some loyal customer for her curry puffs, but sometimes she still has to owe some cash to buy food and diapers. She pays them back the moment she earns some money.
Cutting All Ties
She is finalising her divorce soon and is confident that she will win custody of her children. "He hasn't seen our daughter. She is 16 months and has yet to see her father."
The judge has advised her to file for fasakh, a divorce settlement that will happen whether he is present or not. He has failed to show up twice and she wants to cut off all ties. She no longer wants to be used as an excuse whenever he borrows money from other people. She was done paying his debts.
She will request for full custody of her kids since he hasn't provided financially nor has seen much of them. She doesn't hope for much alimony because he doesn't have a full-time job.
What Have People Given You, That You Treasure The Most?
"The Wings (Wings For Women - Women in Networking, Growing and Sharing) members gave me an oven, wok, fryer. Some gave clothes for the kids. But what I treasured the most was the opportunity Chia Wei gave me, to work with The Berani Project when I first came here. She gave me the shove I needed and promoted my curry puffs."
"She extended friendship without judgement. Many mums helped me in any way they could, be it kids clothes or even just moral support. All of it is priceless. I've learnt to make do with what I have - to make something out of what I have. Some days I just have to put up a brave front and ask to borrow money and then pay it back later."
She is planning to open a roadside food stall soon when she finalises her divorce.
When asked where she finds the strength she answered, "I do it for my kids. Wouldn't you?"