Earlier this week, my students and I were watching the 1991 Oscar-nominated film “The Prince of Tides” starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte as part of our unit on loss within families.
I was awed by how my class sat totally captivated and moved by a film that was made in the year when most of them were born. I suppose films about the issues that families face, more so when they are very well-made, knows no generation, time or space.
What exactly do we mean now when we use the term “family”?
In the Philippines, the face of the family has changed drastically over the course of the last 30 years due to many social realities—separations caused by annulments and the OFW phenomenon, and the many calamities and tragedies that have struck our nation in the last five years or so.
If you only have a mother or a father, or were raised by your grandparents, does that still make your unit a family? Yes, of course it does.
I grew up in a single-parent household for most of my life, and though I always felt a little different from my classmates and friends who had both their mothers and fathers at home, I never felt like we were not a family. I had friends who had complete sets of parents, who seemed whole on the outside but were very broken on the inside.
Growing up, I often wondered who among us would do better in the world later on. Thirty years down the road, I’ve found there really hasn’t been much of a difference.
I know now that there are many cases where families may appear to be whole on the outside, but in reality have so much brokenness on the inside. It is a brokenness that resonates and has repercussions in succeeding generations. And then there are families who on the surface suffer from the lack of one parent, but whose children are surrounded in love and raised with respect and kindness, who turn out more whole.
I believe in keeping families together, but I also believe that brokenness needs to be addressed. Verbal and physical abuse, for one, must never be tolerated. In such situations, it is often advisable for the wounded party to take himself or herself away from the situation to heal from the injury, and find one’s self once more before returning and making sure that the abuse will no longer be tolerated.
Serial philandering is another case in point. Once is forgivable, because “to err is human and to forgive is divine,” more so if there is an honest effort by the erring party to mend his or her ways. Two is too much, and thrice, well, you must have a pretty darn good reason for staying and setting that kind of example for your children. Bear in mind that unless you break them, patterns tend to run in families, and that we are always drawn and attracted to what is familiar.
So yes, families come in all forms, shapes, and sizes, and society needs to be more sensitive and receptive to these changes. Classes on sensitivity and tolerance for families in transition need to be taught; peer support and mentoring for children of OFW parents can be very helpful.
Children must be made to understand that the loss is never their fault. When children feel loved and secure despite the lack of one parent, they will grow up to become resilient, more compassionate and wiser individuals because early on, they have known how it is to feel loss and bounce back from it.
For families “in transition”—that period when you are changing from one marital status to another, whether temporarily or for good—open communication is very important so that children can safely navigate that difficult time when the parent is gone.
For OFW families, the advent of technology and all the many ways that people can keep in touch have made staying in close contact so much easier. There is simply no reason anymore for a parent who works overseas not to reach out to his or her child living even in the remotest barrio or island.
My daughter has an analogy for families in transition. “Parang Lego blocks iyan, ” she says. “Even if there are some pieces lost or missing, there are always new ways of fitting the pieces together, such that the end result is still a beautiful structure able to stand on solid ground.”
Children in transition must be given a venue to safely express what they feel inside. Let them rant if they must, and listen to them because all feelings are valid.
A transition can be a sensitive and difficult period because of the changes and emotions brought about by the loss or pending loss of one parent. Children must be provided with kindness, patience, understanding, and acceptance.
We best navigate the sometimes stormy sea when children are secure in the knowledge that we are in the boat with them, helping them row until they safely get to shore. And whether the boat has both a mommy and a daddy, just a nanay or just a tatay, it can still be called family.
The Jollibee Family Values Awards, a nationwide search for families who exemplify positive Filipino values and have inspired other people through their deeds, is ongoing until Aug. 31. The contest is open to all Filipino families with residence in the Philippines. Nomination forms and mechanics may be found on the Jollibee website, www.jollibee.com.ph.