Imagine this: your husband has finally landed a high paying job that can pay the bills and secure the children's future. The prospect of financial freedom finally seems to be within reach. There is only one catch: this high-paying job would place him in a different country.
Overseas employment has drastically changed the set-up of the Filipino family and the entire society over the decades. The pros and the cons are in a constant see-saw as to which outweighs the other. While a higher salary and better benefits are enticing, there are security issues and uncertainties in working abroad. Take, for example, the current situation where Filipinos from Egypt and other countries where civil unrest is rampant had to seek safety by flying back home immediately.
Still, most families are left with no choice but to endure the absence of a parent and the issues that come with it. In this article, five women discuss how it is to be the wife of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), and the joys and challenges that their families face.
On deciding to be an overseas Filipino worker (OFW)
Many Filipinos believe that the way to improve one's economic status is to work abroad. However, a lot of factors must be considered first, and it is important for both spouses to know what they are getting themselves into before making the decision to work abroad.
Rachel: "There are better employment opportunities abroad with higher pay. Working locally will not earn us as much to cope with the rising costs of commodities and getting better education for our children."
Nina: "it is difficult to work abroad but the decision is made much more difficult when the family is left behind. If you can bring your family or spouse with you abroad, do so. Find work for your spouse too. Stick together if at all possible."
On lifestyle changes
Any overseas worker will attest to the difficulties that they endure just to earn a living. This stresses the importance of saving up.
Jona: “Not only are our kids’ tuition fees fully paid, we could now afford to invest on an educational plan. If we were both employed locally and living on standard pay, maybe we won’t be able to go beyond maintaining a savings account. We could now buy our children the toys they like. However, getting a huge monthly remittance is not always a good thing. I know of people whose relatives take advantage of them; they think that just because you have a husband who works abroad, you are well off, which is not always the case. They think that giving them financial aid would not make a dent at your finances. This is usually where the conflict begins. "
Nina: "A lot of people, especially those back home, assume that OFW's are very lucky because they earn a lot. They should remember that the OFW situation is volatile and that the contract could be cut short anytime. While the pay may be higher overseas, the cost of living is usually higher, which is why some OFWs prefer to shop for pasalubong in Manila."
Click here to read about OFW parents on handling finances and on long-distance parenting and communication.
Read on about OFW parents on handling finances and on long-distance parenting and communication.
On handling finances
Arlene Abaquin, a financial adviser who now lives in New Zealand with her husband and children, gives a useful tip on how money handling can be planned and simplified. "It is important that both husband and wife set their priorities. They have to sit down and make a list rather than take things as they come. An effective way also is to monitor their expenses and how this goes up against their income. Make a realistic plan and set aside a few months’ worth of savings, in case of unexpected incidents like a lay-off or other family emergencies."
Nina: "In our two years here, I learned that it is important for OFWs (and for all) to value hard-earned money. Teach your family back home to spend wisely and save more. They should get rid of the 'feeling rich' mentality. Instead, invest and make money grow."
Jona: "I always make a list of my spending not because my husband requires me to, but so I know where the money goes. Upon checking, I realized that little things like trips to the grocery, newspaper and water delivery, weekend movies and knick-knacks could amount to thousands of pesos at the end of the month. It also reflects the kind of spender I am. Now that I am more aware, I know that I need to control my spending habits."
On long-distance parenting and communication
Gone are the days when keeping in touch was done only through snail mail, photos and voice tapes. Communication has changed drastically in a way that makes the world seem smaller.
Rhona: "Thanks to the Internet, my husband did not miss out on any of the important moments from the beginning of my pregnancy. He would record voice messages and lullabies which I let my baby “listen to” (from inside my tummy). It's amazing how my baby recognized her Daddy's voice when he came home at her birth date. We communicate regularly via Skype and other Internet-based programs. Daddy and daughter even play peek-a-boo and bahay-bahayan via video chat. I make sure I explain to my child why his daddy is not with us so when asked, my daughter answers 'My daddy's on the ship. He is working. He's saving money so he can buy milky for me and a house for mommy. He's working hard because he loves me.' Never underestimate a child's ability to comprehend situations. Always explain things to them in a way that they will understand.
Roselyn: "My son is very close to his Dad even if they have been miles apart for two years now. As he was growing, I made it a point to remind him of his father’s love for him in many ways. The present technology however does not always guarantee a smooth connection, which could disrupt the conversation. My husband and I often argue every time we chat."
Click here to learn more about OFW parents and their thoughts on fidelity.
Read on to learn more about OFW parents and their thoughts on fidelity.
Jona: "Even when I was still single and working in the Middle East, extra-marital affairs were common. I am aware of this risk, but I am confident that my husband and I will have no problem with that."
Nina: "Some OFWs have married locals while others have engaged in extramarital affairs to cope with their ‘loneliness’. I believe, though, that it’s only an excuse."
Nuna: "It's true, temptations are everywhere, not just for those who are abroad but also those who are left behind. I believe my husband whenever he tells me he doesn't want to be part of the majority of seafarers who engage in infidelity. I also believe that I have to do my part so he will not be vulnerable to temptation.
I try to be patient and understanding. I tell him how I love him, we talk about intimacy and I sometimes flirt with him. Technology is totally changing and there are many ways to keep the intimacy alive. Never nag. The sadness we feel is nothing compared to the sadness that they feel being away. Don't give them a reason to find comfort in somebody else. A tip I got from my husband: 'Never make assumptions'. It's the fastest way to destroy your relationship/marriage."
Making a major decision to work abroad is tough, and it’s even tougher when reality has set in. The Smart Parenting online community serves as a virtual support group that helps OFWs and their families in the many aspects of working away from home.
Rachel’s husband Roberto has been working abroad for almost a year now. They have a 2-year old son.
Nina works in Brunei with her husband.
Jona, 38 years old, is a former OFW herself. She takes care of her 2 kids while her husband Nath works abroad.
Nuna is the wife of a seafarer.
Roselyn’s husband has been working in Australia.
All attached illustrations are by the author