As the first lockdown extended in 2020, Cristalle Belo-Pitt and her Australian husband, Justin Pitt, observed that their toddler, Hunter James, started to behave like most quarantined children.
Their once ebullient and sociable firstborn became anxious and withdrawn, having been deprived of socializing, play spaces and nature activities.
Justin then raised the idea of bringing the family to his hometown, Adelaide, in South Australia, for the well-being of Hunter and their newborn Siena Victoria.
“At that time, the number of cases in the Philippines was rising rapidly, while there were zero cases in South Australia due to strict border control, free mass testing and intense contact tracing,” recalls Cristalle.
In July 2020, the Pitts went to Australia with a plan to stay for six months. But the outdoorsy lifestyle of Adelaide, less restrictive pandemic measures and well-structured health system made them extend their stay. They plan to return to Manila in September 2022.
As managing director of the Belo Medical Group, Cristalle has been working remotely, although she devotes 70 percent of her time to family life.
“Being the primary caregivers of young children makes it challenging for us to get things done. I really need that one day off a week (with both kids in day care) just to recharge, rest and take care of myself,” she says.
Justin, on the other hand, has been procuring Australian wellness products that address pandemic concerns, which he plans to sell in the Philippines. He recently secured the Philippine distributorship of Aurum Plus, a natural medicine that helps reduce anxiety and depression, and is collaborating with chemists on an immunity-boosting vitamin range.
Starting life in Australia, the couple took Hunter to different parks, but he still remained cautious, unlike the adventurous boy that he was. They enrolled him in a school where he was initially very reserved. Although he joined activities, he didn’t speak to his teachers and classmates.
“After a few months, he finally warmed up and got used to being social again,” writes Cristalle in an email interview. “Moving to Australia was the best decision for our children who can go out freely, explore nature and socialize with others their age. It has also been good for me, Justin, and our mental well-being.”
In a lifestyle without helpers and nannies, Cristalle easily adapted, since the couple have shared responsibilities. “I’m so lucky to have a husband who is so hands-on with the children and who loves to cook! Hunter is assigned to him and Siena is assigned to me. I do the cleaning, laundry and dishwashing, while Justin does the cooking,” she says.
“On a typical day, we bring one child to school while the other one stays with us so they both get their ‘only child with both parents’ days throughout the week. There are days when we have both kids and just one day without any kids to be able to get some work done (meetings are also scheduled on that kid-free day). Every day, we make sure the kids get nature play in the park. Luckily, there are so many parks and playgrounds here in Adelaide. When we get home from a long day, Justin cooks dinner and we wind down by getting into our evening routine—bath, books then bed.”
When the children are in bed by 7:30 p.m., the couple continues household chores or work, watch TV and, if time permits, go on a date at a restaurant.
It’s a bonus that the home of Justin’s parents is a 15-minute drive from theirs. “We get the family support that we need, especially when it comes to helping out with the children,” adds Cristalle.
Although Hunter is 3½ years old and Siena is turning 2 in March, the Pitts don’t believe in infantilizing. Describing their strategy called “respectful parenting,” Cristalle explains: “We acknowledge that we don’t ‘own the kids.’ They are little humans who have their own choices, opinions, emotions, and we respect that. We don’t impose things on them.
“As much as possible, we give them options for them to make a choice. We understand that they are going through waves of emotions (little humans with big feelings) and sometimes need help dealing with those feelings, so we guide them through the emotions. We are firm but loving. We set limits early on. Setting limits and sticking to a routine is important to us. Not having help, we want the kids to be as independent as possible, and this allows them to do so because they know what to expect.”
The discipline is balanced by love as Cristalle is a touchy-feely person. “More than words, the family feels my nurturing side through physical touch. Justin and I share that as a love language. We are very cariño with each other and this is how we express that love to the children.”
To introduce them to Filipino culture, she befriends Filipina mothers with children close to her kids’ age. “We get together weekly and speak Tagalog to the children. I’ve also found a supplier in Australia for Filipino books and flashcards (Abakada Australia), which helps me teach kids some Tagalog words,” she says.
Ultimately, a year in quiet Adelaide—away from the social whirl and conveniences of helpers in Manila—has brought out the innate flexibility and patience in Cristalle. Family life becomes her. —CONTRIBUTED
Cristalle’s parenting insights
1. The children are little human beings who deserve respect. Don’t expect them to be like you. They have their own ideas, desires and emotions. Acknowledging that changes the way you approach the children.
2. Mental presence makes a world of difference. Moments when you are listening to them, acknowledging their emotions and trying your best to understand their ideas mean a lot to them. They will respect and listen to you more if they feel they are being heard and their “needs and wants” are taken into consideration.
3. Be authentic. Parents are also human beings and are not perfect. There are times I find myself apologizing to my son Hunter because I misread what he wanted and did something else. We are very chill about these moments, and misunderstandings don’t become a big deal.