There are about 13.9 million Filipinos who are raising their kids as single parents.* Solo moms and dads have a lot more on their plate yet are expected to rear healthy, happy kids. How do they do it? Listen and learn from their heartaches, triumphs, and hopes.
• Coach Pia Nazareno-Acevedo Performance-management expert and certified life coach; mom to three boys, ages 13, 10, and 2
• Mayor Jun-Jun Binay 36 years old, mayor of Makati City, widower, and single dad to four kids, the youngest of which is four years old. He was married for four years.
• Marisa Yniguez Lerias 44 years old, general manager of British Airways Philippines; single mom to a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old. Her marriage was annulled after 16 years, but she and her ex-husband are in touch.
• Anthony Cruz** 43 years old, banker and single dad to a 12-year-old daughter with whom he has visitation rights. He was married to the mother of his child for three years before they separated.
• Jane Cruz** Author, editor, English trainer, and reading specialist; single mom to five children, the youngest of which is nine years old. She no longer communicates with the father of her children.
1. How would you respond to people who say that a child being raised by only one parent will grow up feeling incomplete and have emotional problems?
Marisa: I saw no such manifestation [of emotional problems] in my children. My kids know that a mother and a father being apart is merely a matter of geography, and it doesn’t change the depth of our love. There may be longings and frustrations, but I explain to them that even families with both parents present are not exempt from challenges.
Jane: Without bitterness or scorn, my eldest son has told me, “I’ve been more of a dad to my brother than my father ever was.” He’s still a child, but he has already stepped into a pair of big shoes. My kids help me establish a happy, whole family.
Mayor Jun-Jun: My kids are still very young, but one thing I am certain of is that all of them receive so much love, care, and attention not only from me but also from our [extended] family. While it is true that a mother’s love is irreplaceable, I can see how my kids, especially the two older ones, are gradually coping with the pain and longing. I am proud that they have been thoughtful ates to the younger ones.
Coach Pia: Single parents need to put a premium on what kind of environment they are providing for their child. Is it one that is filled with affirmation and love? That’s what they need. Their childhood would be incomplete only if affirmation, love, and respect are missing from their environment. One must have the perspective that emotional problems are bound to happen. It comes with adolescence and the added pressure of growing up with only one parent. Prepare for this early on.
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2. What’s the best way a single parent can respond to a child who is looking for the other parent?
Mayor Jun-Jun: The first year of my wife’s passing was extremely difficult for us. While I was struggling to rise above my own grief, I had to put on a brave front. However, there was no attempt to hide the truth from them or sugarcoat it. It was best to be forthright about the fact that my wife, their mother, was gone so that we could accept it and gradually come to terms with our loss. I did my best not to break the nightly routine we had when their mom was still alive: washing up together before bedtime, reading stories and saying a prayer together. Keeping this ritual helped give me and my children a sense of constancy that provided a healing balm for our aching hearts and wounded souls.
Coach Pia: Respect your child by really listening to his question. A single parent needs to answer truthfully but in an age-appropriate manner. We never say, “I’ll talk to you about it when you’re older.” “Age-appropriate” means not burdening a child unnecessarily. Talk about it in a way that he will understand. You’ll be surprised— there are some single parents who don’t even say the name of their child’s father or mother. That could scar the children.
Don’t make your child think that there’s a secret. It could plant a deep insecurity in him, causing a lack of self-worth. Don’t avoid and don’t evade the question because once you do, your kid’s self-identity becomes unclear. Ultimately, what I’ve seen is that the single parents who answer these questions best are those who are comfortable with the choice they’ve made to raise the child by themselves.
Lastly, don’t allow yourself to be ambushed by the question. Your child could pop the question just about anywhere, such as at the grocery store or while you’re driving. Respond by telling him that it’s an important question and you need to give ample time for the two of you to discuss it, for example, when you are settled at home.
Marisa: I do not deprive my kids of their father’s love. They have access to him anytime they wish. I have never said anything bad about their dad. They love him, respect him, and accept him for who he is. On the same note, I don’t claim perfection and my kids are much aware of my faults as a mom and a wife.