“I could have given up on life”: Overcoming chronic and complex issues of debt, marital and parenting woes

I could have given up on life

At the peak of the pandemic, Sheryl Tan* found her life falling apart. Her taxi driver husband’s income was hard hit by Covid-19, and the couple was chalking up debt to fund their three children through school.

Sheryl scrimped and saved while working as a kitchen assistant to supplement the household income. But the family’s financial woes compounded when Sheryl’s husband was diagnosed with cancer in August 2020, robbing him of his ability to work.

At the same time, bitterness crept into Sheryl’s marriage due to her shouldering the lion’s share of parenting and household responsibilities. That led to frequent heated marital spats in the household. With her family’s finances in tatters and her marriage unravelling, Sheryl flirted with suicidal thoughts in between episodes of self-harm.

By the time Sheryl approached MWS Family Service Centre – Tampines (Tampines FSC), she was $13,000 deep in debt. Medical bills were stacking up on top of her children’s education expenses. The cracks of anxiety and stress were palpable on her face.

Payment Overdue

Providing holistic care

To clear their debt more quickly, the MWS social worker not only helped Sheryl’s family apply for various financial schemes, but also placed them on a debt clearance and savings matching programme designed to lift families out of poverty. Under the MWS Family Development Programme (FDP), every $1 of debt cleared by Sheryl was matched with $2 by MWS. Through sheer determination and close guidance from the MWS social worker, Sheryl cleared the debts after two years and transited to savings matching.

Taking a holistic approach to casework management, the MWS social worker also worked with Sheryl to mend her marriage. Sheryl’s husband’s initial resistance towards marriage counselling waned after benefitting from MWS FDP’s support.

“Through couples’ therapy, my husband and I learnt how to empathise with each other and adapt to each other’s communication style. My husband also became more involved in our family issues,” said Sheryl.

Improving their communication led to fewer fights between them and more stability at home, giving their children a more peaceful, healthier environment.

The couple was also referred to the evidence-based Positive Parenting Programme (also known as Triple P) run by MWS Family Support Programme. Triple P equipped them with effective parenting strategies for a better parent- child relationship.

“We agreed that it was important to control our emotions when arguments escalate and not fight in front of our children,” said Sheryl. “We also learnt to change the way we discipline our children, to reason with and affirm them, instead of resorting to shouting and physical punishment.”

Today, Sheryl feels hopeful about the future and better resourced to face life’s challenges. “MWS not only helped me, but saved my family. I could have given up on life or we could have remained a broken family. Instead, MWS brought us from the brink of helplessness to having hope for the future,” she said. “I am thankful. I have more confidence to face what lies ahead and hope to be able to help others too.”

One good turn deserves another

A heart of gratitude gave Sheryl a desire to volunteer. She has since supported MWS Tampines FSC to deliver food rations to other clients and escort an elderly client for her medical appointment.

“I feel fulfilled and accomplished being able to give back and help others,” she said. “I also saw how there were others out there who were in greater need of help than me and that made me appreciate my circumstances.”

*Not her real name

Extending a circle-of-help to families in need

Families with complex and chronic issues like Sheryl’s need multiple types of intervention that tackle the root of their problems.

In Sheryl’s case, she benefitted from casework and counselling, parenting and marital support, and a debt clearance scheme—three distinct yet integrated programmes run by multi- functional teams in MWS.

MWS has created a unique continuum of family services from preventive to maintenance and remedial support to more effectively help our families in need. Our eldercare services which range from home-based to community and residential care, are also anchored on a holistic approach.

Find out more about how you can partner us to empower all to have life to the full by visiting www.mws.sg. To support our work, scan the below QR code to donate.

By the Methodist Welfare Services Communications Team. / Photos courtesy of Methodist Welfare Services