In the new book, Letters to My Children, 35 parents, from showbiz actors to athletes to politicians, write to their kids to impart wisdom, affirm their love, and share words of encouragement on how to embrace the future. It is probably one of the few times you'll see these public figures at their most joyful, hopeful, and, yes, vulnerable.
One of the letters comes from one of SmartParenting.com.ph’s contributors, Chary Mercado, who is an education consultant for teens, an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities, and runs a feeding and literacy center for indigent children. She is also an adoptive mother of two. Chary writes to her eldest child, a son now 16 years old, about the path she and her husband chose to become parents, the parenting goals they had in mind, and the one quality she hopes they were able to instill in him.
My dearest son,
When I was in my late 20s, I met a man who seemed to be on top of the world. He was rich, well-respected in the most elite circles, and was married to officially one of the loveliest women in Manila. But, one day, he confided in me that nothing gave him as much pride as his son. He loved him ferociously.
That stumped me. How could a 5-year-old boy who had not even had a chance to compete in school or sports do anything for his dad? That shows you how little I, as a married woman who had earlier eschewed the thought of having kids, knew about parenting. I’m not sure if it was the fear of missing out on life’s greatest roller-coaster ride, or if it was just a surge of maternal juices kicking in, but I started to look at all families with intense interest after that. I soon realized I wanted my turn to be someone’s mom. I wanted your dad to have the chance to share his brilliant mind and his corny jokes with his kids. I wanted to share beach blankets on the sand with a wriggly, water sprite. I wanted to teach someone the joy of ice cream and chocolate cake. There was so much “joy” and “wisdom” to pass on.
But I didn’t want to do things the normal way. I saw no reason to create my own biological child when there were so many unparented children in the Philippines. Ever the practical ones, your dad and I were keener to adopt, and we put the word out to a select few in the family.
It happened like in the movies. One random day, I got a call that someone had found a baby. It was you, of course! Would I take the foundling? I said yes and was so in a rush to tell your dad that I forgot to ask if the baby was a boy or a girl. As with traditional biological parents, there was nothing premeditated or engineered here. It was just a big “open arms” yes.
I may not have told you this before, son, but not everyone was as keen on this adoption idea as us. Some people were cautious because they had very little exposure to it. My parents had been pining for a grandchild for ages, but they didn’t expect the first one to appear in an instant. They never said anything negative, but I headed them off with a long letter that addressed whatever fears they may have had. I assured them that those fears could always be addressed with the help of professionals, if need be. Through the years, the assistance of various experts has indeed helped us address the things we didn’t know.
When we tapped all these people, we never intended to make you the straight-A kind of kid. We had other goals. When you were just a baby, we thought long and hard about what kind of child we hoped to raise. We zeroed in on only three qualities: happy, secure, and kind. Every time we were in a quandary as to which school to send you to or which hobby is best, we went back to these three goals to keep us on track.
You asked us a few years ago why we devoted so much time, energy, and money to finding those trains, robots, and cars to complete your precious sets. It’s because those things made you so, so happy, and seeing your delight was the ultimate drug for us.
But building your confidence and kindness was and still is a challenge for us. How do we do that? When we say -- and honestly mean -- that we find you so witty and handsome, does it make a difference? Or has our obvious bias whittled away the credibility of our praise? How do we set your heart at ease that as you are today, you are already the most amazing gift of God to us? You are a heartbreakingly beautiful reminder that He trusts me and your dad to be inspired lifelong guides to one of His greatest creations.
Teaching you kindness is something I particularly have struggled with. Thankfully, you have a generous nature, surprising your younger sister by bequeathing her your gadgets. But that is generosity. Kindness is something much harder to impart. Whenever I reprimand the household help too harshly, or laugh grudgingly at your nasty jokes, I wonder how on earth I can model the virtues I myself can’t get a handle on.
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So let me close this letter with a prayer. If love is indeed the greatest virtue, then thankfully that has never been in short supply in our house. Hopefully, that assurance of our unconditional love will boost your morale and self-esteem when your ego takes a hit from the many unkind people or painful disappointments that lurk. Hopefully, our love will multiply inside of you and spill out in the form of kindness to all you meet who are in need. Hopefully.
We are imperfect people and consequently imperfect parents. You are 16 and I know from my own experience that teenagers see the fissures and flaws of their parents in hyper-focus. For all our failings, I beg for your understanding. Perhaps it will help to remember that our journey together began as a leap of faith -- that with an abundance of love, the missing biological connections wouldn’t matter at all. They didn’t matter in the beginning, and 16 years into this parenting experiment, the adoptive nature of our first connection has become irrelevant, a postscript at best. You and your sister will always be our greatest treasures -- take refuge in the fact that that will never change.
Published by Summit Books, Letters to My Children (P295) is available at your favorite book store.