A family is kept intact by the joint effort of the father and mother. Ideally, that is. Nowadays, however, many families do not meet this ideal due to various circumstances: sometimes a parent has no choice but to do it alone because the partner is working abroad, they have separated, or the spouse has died.
When a family woman finds herself without the haligi ng tahanan, how does she deal with the combustible mix of career, household, and children all by her lonesome?
The absent dad syndrome “Children not only need a father, they long for one. Fathers are not just another disposable item in the nursery,” writes Jody Johnston Pawel, author of Effective Single Parenting: The Myths, Facts, Universal Issues, and Special Needs of Single Parents. A father’s absence has been found to have profound effects on a child’s emotional and mental development.
Nevertheless, there’s no reason why single parents can’t raise well-adjusted individuals just as well as their partnered counterparts.
Here, mothers and children in fatherless households share their coping skills for living normal and happy lives in non-traditional family setups.
1. Find support. Professor Estrella Agustin of the Family Life and Child Development Department of the University of the Philippines says that having a support system —- a stable source of strength and assistance -— plays a key role in effective solo parenting. It can help stem feelings of guilt or inadequacy that may arise from refusing to ask for help or trying to be too self-sufficient.
A single parent herself for 23 years now, Agustin shares how her family of orientation helped her deal with the difficulties of raising her son, Yaren, after her separation from her husband. “Wala na akong masyadong naging problema with regard to my finances. When I feel lonely, my family is there to make me feel cared for. Psychologically, I was helped.”
Equally important is for the child to be surrounded by people who understand his particular situation. Agustin stresses that it is essential to remind your child’s teachers not to treat him differently from kids of two-parent families. According to Agustin, it helped a lot that the administrators and teachers in Yaren’s school understood their family’s position and did not discriminate against the child. Yaren behaved well in and out of school, and even consistently did admirably with his academics.
2. Avoid bitterness. Aimee Ramirez, 19, reiterates that her mother’s openness and lack of bitterness helped her understand and cope better. Her parents separated when she was four, but she did not grow up resentful toward her father because her mom never kept anything from her and her older sister, not even that their father had another family. Neither did the mother say bad things about her ex. In their conversations, her mom even talked about their father with high esteem and respect. “Ang sinasabi niya lang lagi, hindi sila nagkasundo bilang mag-asawa. Pero she always says that as a father, okay talaga si Papa.”
Agustin agrees that discrediting the father will only produce negative feelings in the child and destructive manifestations later on. Asked how she discussed the separation with her son, Agustin says, “I answered all of his questions. I think it is very essential for single mothers to just be truthful about the situation.” Children can tell if something is amiss, and if the real score is kept from them, they will most likely come up with their own (often incorrect and even more damaging) conclusions.
3. Manage your own emotions. Kaye Paras was in her mid-teens when her father died. Her mother, Arlene, shares that while assisting Kaye in coping with the loss, she saw to it that she herself was able to properly address her own pain and anger. “I could not help Kaye if I did not get my act together,” she further explains.
Constant communication was a key to Kaye’s acceptance. Although obviously grieved by her father’s death, Kaye did not exhibit any of the negative effects that children and teenagers who experience loss commonly succumb to. “No difficulty in school, no running away from home, or withdrawal from friends...Kaye was very sad, yes, but she was [able] to ward off depression,” Arlene says.
More importantly, Agustin emphasizes, there is a need to constantly assure the children that you are there for them and that they will be secure “kahit nag-iisa ka na lang sa pagpapalaki sa kanila.”
Whether you have a partner to support you or not, what is important in raising happy children is making them top priority. Despite the impossible demands on your time and energy, set aside time to just be with them. Get involved in your children’s lives. Keep yourself updated with what’s happening with them. As Agustin puts it, “Quality time is quantity time. Children, especially your little ones, will not be able to understand ‘quality time’ if they do not see you often enough.”