By Karen Galarpe
Celine (not her real name) was all dressed up while waiting to pick up her two kids at school. It was Valentine’s Day and she’s giving them a surprise. “I’m taking the children out for a date. We’ll go watch a movie then have dinner at a restaurant tonight.” When the kids saw her, they ran and hugged their mother. By the looks on their faces, it was clear that they’re happy being together just as they are.
Celine is a young, single mom in Manila. She made the choice not to marry the father of her two kids since she wasn’t convinced he would be responsible. For the past 10 years, she has raised them without a father. “It’s less problematic that way. ” she says. And they’re all okay with that.
These days, it’s not uncommon to meet single women raising their children alone — by choice. Some of them, like Celine, have opted not to get married. Others have gone the marriage route but due to various reasons, are now separated or divorced from the fathers of their children. Still others have become widows and have chosen not to remarry. And then there are also the few single women who have elected to have a child by artificial insemination or adoption.
One can find them everywhere. According to wikipedia.org, in 2006, 12.9 million families in the U.S. were headed by a single-parent, 80% of which were headed by a female. As of 2003, 14 percent of all Australian households were single-parent families. In the United Kingdom, there were 1.9 million single parents as of 2009. Statistics about the number of single moms in the Philippines are not available, but sociologists and family experts agree the number’s on the rise, following a global trend.
This has led to a redefinition of the word ‘family.’ Where before, it was regarded by Philippine society as consisting of a father, a mother, two kids and a dog named Tagpi, family nowadays means children and the loving adults who take care of them at home.
Stigmatized no more
It used to be that single moms were also frowned upon by Filipino society, referring to them as ‘disgrasyadas’ and their families as broken families. Now, thanks to the times, that is no longer the case. “Society today regards single moms as ordinary parents without partners,” says Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, family life and child development specialist, and assistant professor at the De La Salle University Manila College of Education. “The stigma used to be so strong. Several years ago, people would view a single mom like an outcast or somebody odd. But today, because of the growing statistics of single moms and the maturity and knowledge of society, the stigma is not as prevalent as before.”
Maybe showbiz has something to do with it, too. There’s megastar Sharon Cuneta, who raised her daughter KC alone after her marriage crumbled. There’s also Lea Salonga, who has reaped acting and singing awards from international bodies, and her equally gifted brother Gerard who is a respected and in-demand musical director. Both were raised by a single mother.
Anna, 32, a single mom to a seven-year-old daughter, works in Dubai as an executive assistant. “I have never regretted my decision to raise my daughter alone. Every time I get asked about my pregnancy, all I could remember was that I was a very happy pregnant woman and even happier when I gave birth,” she says. “I am proud to be a single mother. It has definitely changed me for the better.” Anna says she is stronger and has learned what it means to be selfless. Although some of her relatives were disappointed when she became a mom, it did not matter to her. Since then, she has never felt she was treated differently by society as a result of her status.
Eight years ago, Aileen, 40, a financial consultant in Dubai, gave up on her marriage after the relationship could no longer be fixed. And so she became a single parent to her two kids in their teens now. And she agrees with Anna that she has not felt any discrimination from people. Her family and friends, in fact, have even become more supportive.
It’s not easy being a single mom. According to Avelino-Tandoc, “There’s the issue of raising her kids single-handedly in terms of the financial aspect. That’s why it’s common to see single mothers having a sideline or having a second or third job aside from their regular employment.” Or they seek better-paying work abroad, as was the case for Anna and Aileen, who left their children back in the Philippines to provide for their needs. To deal with the loneliness, they call and make visits home frequent.
Another issue raised by Avelino-Tandoc is the lack of male or father figure at home, especially if there are boys among the kids. “This would stem to another issue. They are worried that their sons will have some sort of gender confusion.” Family experts say the answer to this is to find role models the children can look up to. Greg Cynaumon, Ph.D., in his book Empowering Single Parents, co-written with Dana Cynaumon, refers to these role models as “ParaParents.” Just as “paramedics assist doctors, paralegals assist attorneys,” he says, “ParaParents are intended to assist parents.”
The last issue raised by Avelino-Tandoc is the need of the single mom to be emotionally strong. “In a two-parent family, when they are faced with problems or crises, they have each other to lean on. But in the case of a single mom, she is alone. That’s why in some single parent families, children mature early, because their mothers tend to share with them the crises and heartbreaks.”
Triumphant and happy
In spite of the challenges facing them, single moms do have the oportunity to manage their families effectively and lead a happy and balanced life. Far from dwelling on her problems, Aileen chooses to be positive: “This is life, and I have to create more possibilities on my own to be a good mother.” Anna says she can’t say if there’s a difference in the relationship of a single mom with her kids versus that of two parents and their kids. “Each relationship is different. But what I can attest to is that when I decided to bring my daughter out into this world, irrespective of what challenges there are, no surer and stronger bond was formed.”
“Filipino single mothers can be so resilient, strong, creative and resourceful,” says Avelino-Tandoc. “We have been reeducated about a lot of things regarding family dynamics, including the concept of single motherhood. It’s about time too, that we learn to erase the negative stereotype that we have attached to single mothers and view them as mothers — loving, caring and nurturing.” Indeed, they have shown what it takes to succeed in life and raise children well. Difficult as it may be, it isn’t nearly as impossible as it once seemed.