Filipinos working abroad inevitably feel homesick while missing family members back home. Let alone those who have young children whom they have left behind in hopes of earning more for a better future. Others, like domestic helpers and nannies, may feel guilty about giving up time for children while taking care of other people’s kids.
In short, being an OFW is a tough situation to be a parent. Somehow, accepting a higher-paying job abroad meant sacrificing the joys of being a parent, rearing children, and looking after their needs. But does being an OFW mean irresponsible parents who neglect the basic needs of their children? In many cases, it is, especially when parents take the blame for misguided children who get hooked on drugs, flunking in school, or get pregnant early.
Of course, not all parents have wayward kids. It’s a matter of becoming responsible for OFW parents with a proper support system. While some OFWs are privileged and able to bring their children to where they work, most Filipinos working abroad — especially household workers who earn relatively lower wages — have to contend with leaving children back home.
A responsible OFW parent follows a simple yet challenging set of lifestyles.
In the 80s and 90s, parents have to contend with postal letters and brief and expensive long-distance calls.
The advent of modern communication technologies, particularly Internet communication means has allowed Filipino families to have more communication time. Social media, webcams, instant messaging, phone cards, and mobile communication enabled messages to be delivered much faster than old methods, notably even the telegram, which used to be the fastest way of conveying messages.
So what does it take to be a responsible OFW parent? More than the mere presence of modern technology, responsible parenthood, albeit remote, revolves around communication.
Share your plans.
Talk to your children about the reason why you are taking an overseas job. Despite their young age, it is necessary to be open and tell them the reality and your purpose. Duties in the Philippines are often lowly paid, and adjustments have to be made to meet the needs of the children — sending them to good schools, buying them their needs, and preparing them for the future.
You share your plans and goals (how long you will stay abroad, when will you come for vacation, how often will you call home, etc.). Doing so helps children understand better and cooperate better. Listening to their thoughts also makes them feel respected and heard. If children are too young to be told, convey the message to their would-be guardians like aunts, grandparents, or your spouse who will have to explain to your children at the right time.
Keep in touch regularly.
If you used to go out with your children on Sundays, make it a point to have an equivalent time with your kids while you are abroad. Skype chat, phone call, or Facebook chat are common ways to do this. You may not be in touch as frequently as you wanted to, but ensure that you diligently honor to your chosen time of communication. Children look forward to this arrangement.
Encourage more than discipline.
Ask children about their assignments, favorite teachers, and friends in school. Depending on children’s behavior, some may be more open while others are reserved. Encourage them to study hard while minimize scolding them for mistakes. Encouragement to do better through “surprise” gifts and small rewards motivate children while scolding them for minor mistakes might make them less open to sharing their experiences.
Seek help from guardians.
It is close to impossible to carry on being an OFW parent without help from close family members. So guardians must complement your actions. They may share with kids the old family photo or carry out activities you do together. It is also essential that children be mindful of the fond memories you had with them.
Share with them the importance of striving for a goal.
While many OFW parents tend to shower children with imported chocolates, brand-name clothing, and expensive shoes, do not encourage this practice. Doing so makes children materialistic and may lose respect for parents once the latter do not send them these material gifts. Instead, inspire them to study hard and get a good job and the perils of drugs, early pregnancy, and dropping out of school.
Make vacations memorable.
Whether simple or lavish, vacations to the Philippines have to be centered on bonding with children. You may go to your usual halo hang out in the neighborhood shop or trip to Bohol or Boracay. The common theme is that you spend your time with your children and try to catch up on lost time together.
Do not be ashamed to say ‘I Love You.’
For children who are used to hearing this, they won’t find it hard to reciprocate with more than just lip service. Saying these words affirm your love for them. The act doesn’t stop with verbal affirmation. It is manifested in your actions like staying away from troubles and temptations while abroad and being close to the family despite the distance.
Keep track of your child’s activities.
Did your child retain an interest in becoming a teacher or a doctor? What are his or her favorite subjects? Did she or he join the cultural show or karate tournament? Without being too nosy, it helps to get posted on your child’s activities.
You can share a personal experience as a way of advising and motivating them. Warn them of potential routes to failure. Ask them if they have boyfriends/girlfriends and assure them that it is beautiful while setting limits and remembering priorities. Doing so gives them a channel they can rely upon all the time.
Do not forget to instill the value of a good Christian. While on the phone, you can pray together and say your intentions for each other. Encourage them to practice kindness, Bible reading, and the importance of daily prayers for thanksgiving and supplication. God-fearing children have a more defined set of guidelines in everyday life.
As opposed to the common perception that responsible parenthood by OFWs only leans towards remittance and payment for bills and school expenses back in the Philippines, parenthood is beyond the provision of material things. It is keeping in touch with children and their well-being. After all, they also need emotional, parental love, even if only through long-distance phone calls.
While the government is doing its part in helping parents become more engaging with their children, the main responsibility is with the parents themselves whose children’s future depends on how they’re brought up in a family that’s fragmented. Many OFW parents have successfully established meaningful relationships and allow children to return the favor after their parents’ days as migrant workers conclude.