It’s never an easy decision but for many Filipino families, it’s an unavoidable reality. A parent, either the mom or dad, has to leave to work abroad to sustain the family’s needs, resulting in a modern-day set-up wherein children and parents are living thousands of miles apart. But while this choice may be the answer to financial problems for many, it also brings with it a new set of problems (three words: Vilma Santos’s Anak).
Here, two experts share their tips and insights how to navigate the tricky world of OFW parenting, whether you’re the one leaving, or you’re the one who is left behind.
To the one leaving, find a consistent and effective caregiver for your child before you leave.
For married couples, it’s easy to assign the other parent to look after the kids. But of course, it’s a different story for more complex families. Given this reality, experts are keen to stress the importance of choosing someone who can be a constant and effective caregiver, whether it’s the other parent or a close relative.
“It is vital that there is at least one loving and consistent caregiver for a young child especially in the first years of life,” says Stella G. Manalo M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician. Anyone can act as a “surrogate parent” — whether it’s a lolo, lola, tito, or tita — but the tricky part is establishing consistency.
“Unfortunately, in many cases, the child is passed from one relative to another,” Dr. Manalo says. Such inconsistency, Dr. Manalo explains, can be damaging in terms of the child’s ability to develop attachments and relationships. “It [can also result to] numerous psychosocial, emotional, and mental health problems.”
The point: Whoever you choose, make sure that he or she is someone who can totally commit to care for and nurturing your child — no ifs and buts — while you’re away. Having this “steady” co-parent will greatly ease off the weight from your back, too, knowing that your kid is in good, reliable hands.
To the one left behind, it’s not going to be easy, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
In a recent study, researchers have found that being away from the mom is the most detrimental to a child’s development, largely because most fathers feel ill-equipped to parent on their own.
“Our study showed that most fathers don’t know how to parent, or have low self-esteem [when it comes to parenting]” says Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang M.D., clinical psychologist, National Scientist, and founder and president of MLAC Institute for Psychosocial Services Inc. This lack of confidence can easily translate to poor parenting, with the children getting the shorter end of the stick obviously. It is why Dr. Carandang stresses the need to prioritize the emotional well-being of the parent or relative assigned as the primary caregiver first, instead of simply dishing out parenting tips.
For their case study, “we helped reframe fathers’ mindsets through in-depth counseling,” says Dr. Carandang. This goes out not just to dads, but to moms as well. If you’re feeling unsure or doubtful of your role, don’t hesitate to talk to someone, whether it’s your partner, your other family members, your closest friends, or even a professional. There’s no shame in asking for a little help especially if it’s your family at stake.
To both parents, the magic word is “communication.”
We’re lucky to be living at a time when you can easily talk to someone at the opposite side of the globe with just a tap of a button.
“With the present technology of video-chatting (FaceTime, Skype, etc.), OFW parents can still bond effectively with their children,” says Dr. Manalo. It also makes it easier for moms and dads to co-parent as well as maintain a loving relationship.
For Dr. Carandang, there are only two things you have to remember when establishing communication rules for the family. The first is regularity. Parents, both here and abroad, agree on a schedule for your Skype or Viber dates and stick to it. “The predictability builds emotional security in the child,” she says.
Dr. Manalo adds communicate with your kids more to compensate for your absence, instead of lavishing your children with money and gifts. Giving your children material gifts teaches them it can replace love and attention — and you don’t want that.
Secondly, practice mindful listening. This is especially important for absentee parents. “When you are talking to your child, you should be totally focused and not doing anything else,” says Dr. Carandang. Since you can’t give your total presence, total focus can be the next best thing.
To know more about how to be an effective, positive, and loving parent or caregiver in these modern times, check out the Ako Para Sa Bata International Conference: “The Science and Art of Parenting Children Today” on November 30 to December 1 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City. Check out its Facebook page here.