As if seeing their parents go their separate ways isn’t bad enough, a growing number of children have had to deal with the added trauma of seeing one or both their parents start new relationships with people who are virtual strangers to them.
Because of society’s expectations, the burden is decidedly heavier on the mother. While some choose to suppress their love lives and instead spend every waking hour taking care of their kids, others have taken the trickier path of entering into new relationships while playing the role of both mom and dad.
Such a balancing act knows neither education nor social class. Vicki Belo, who has chosen to marry long-time beau Hayden Kho Jr. despite her adult children’s objections, isn’t alone, as these mothers who shared their experiences with us prove.
How does a mother reconcile her love for her kids while allowing someone new to enter her life? Is such a balancing act even possible without severing ties that bind her to her children? Here’s what they say:
I keep my ties with my boys by involving them in what I do and by sharing with them common interests. At the same time, I try to keep a safe distance. It’s a tricky balancing act because I don’t want them to feel that I’m “hovering” over them.
However, I am lucky for being able to foster a great relationship with them. Ever since they were little, when I was newly separated, I would talk to them like adults, citing examples easily understandable to their young minds.
For instance, I used to cite their favorite toys, which broke beyond repair, to make them understand the relationship I once had with their father. Of course, it was frustrating at first because they were still hoping for a reconciliation. I didn’t give them false hopes. I believe these series of talking points paved the way for us to communicate constantly.
Of course, they also have their secrets, and it’s okay. We’re like a barkada of three. We go to the movies together, discuss politics, raging issues, even our crushes and heartaches.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have been this lucky if I were not strict. But at the same time I tried to be flexible enough. I allow them to make mistakes because that’s the only way for them to learn.
After the separation, there was a lot of crying and arguments. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes you just lose it. But after all that, I talk and explain. They listen.
They’re okay if I choose to see someone. But as of now, I’m not dating anyone. As for them having a stepdad in the future, that would be unlikely, as I no longer entertain the idea of ever tying the knot again.—Ruby Gan, entrepreneur
For kids in their formative years, meeting a parent’s new partner can be a traumatic experience. I believe it’s one of those things you really need to take your time with, and test how receptive your child is to the idea by “feeling” him out and asking him questions. It’s also crucial to test the relationship and make sure that it has a fighting chance to survive.
As a single parent trying to reconcile this delicate situation, having a structured schedule is important for both parent and child. As a mother, having your child spend the weekends with his dad gives you the time and space to recharge from all the week’s frenetic activities and prepares you for the coming week.
One can only be a good mother if one takes care of herself—I would always make an effort not to overextend myself in order to be equipped at being both a mother and working professional. Balance and patience are keys to maintaining the best relationship with your child.
As a single parent, there is more pressure for you to be present for your child and to nurture the relationship. After all, as one tries to be both mother and father at the same time, she’s, in effect, compensating for an absentee partner.
On a positive note, a stronger bond is likely to develop between parent and child. Both, including the parent, become more appreciative of all the efforts poured in by both to make the relationship work.
Children are more resilient than we tend to think. I would never have imagined that overcoming all those trials would result in being blessed with such a responsible, balanced and inspiring individual, which is exactly how my son has turned out to be.—Carla Sibal, editor in chief, Spark magazine
My kids and I have a very loving, open and trusting relationship. If and when I decide to seriously go into a change of status, I will have to ask for their blessing. It has to be a consensus.
It will be very hard not to involve them in decision-making, considering that for the last 13 years, I’ve never acted on my own.
I have four adult kids, three of them with spouses, who are always dispensing advice and tips, giving me a better perspective of how to view things, people or the world, introducing fresh ideas that connect me to the real world.
As a mom, it’s important for me to keep the family intact and happy. It can’t be otherwise. I had been used to it for the last 36 years, and old habits are hard to shake off.—-Jingjing Romero, publicist
First, avoid having a boyfriend soon after your separation. Look forward to something else aside from a boyfriend. There are lots to do out there either for yourself or for your kids. Your kids are affected, whether they show it or not.
Give them time to adjust to you as a single parent before they start adjusting to a stranger. Next, communication and devotion to your kids are most important. Be sensitive to their words and actions. Even when you know they feel secure, you still give them all your love. That’s a major step. Practicality and acceptance is also important to everything that comes your way. Then, remember to pray.—Lulu Tan Gan, fashion designer
With my kid, my separation with her father wasn’t really an issue. I’m thankful that she understands the situation that we’re in. Since the start, she could comprehend what was happening. I tried to explain to her why it happened and our present setup was. I also impressed upon her that she will be always loved, and that both of us will always be there for her.
Again, I’m thankful that I’ve been able to raise my daughter to be very open-minded. We’re close and would always talk about things, be it about her school, her dreams, and my personal stuff.
She would giggle every time she hears that mommy has a number of suitors or admirers. I make it a point to let her know that she will always be the first to hear news concerning my love life.
My daughter is also very observant. There’s no escaping from her whenever I feel sad or happy. She’s always excited for me if she senses that I’m happy. But she will always be my utmost priority. If someone comes along, he will just be a bonus.—Precious Ruby Asoy, publicist
Our separation was really difficult for the children at first, especially for the younger one, who was not even 10 years old at that time. My ex and I had this image of a perfect couple with the perfect family, which was far from reality. So, he had a hard time accepting that things couldn’t be worked out.
The youngest would always ask that we try and get back together; he has stopped asking that only at the start of 2011. It was hard to respond to him, but I always answered as honestly (but as gently) as possible. I never gave him false hopes, because there’s none, but I always reassured him that no matter what happens between my ex and I does not affect the love and devotion we have for him and his siblings.
As difficult as the separation was for all of us, there were a few things that helped keep us sane during the hardest, loneliest moments.
Open lines of communication and honesty. I always encourage the kids to tell me how they feel, be it good or bad. There were/are a lot of things to process, and I wanted them to know that I will always be here to listen with an open heart (no judgments) and help them through this difficult time no matter what. It was difficult for me to do this because I had my own demons to fight, but with God’s help, I managed and still manage to step out of myself and be there for them.
Unconditional love and acceptance. At this point, my kids know that I love and accept them with all my being no matter what they think, do or feel. Not to say that I will not scold or punish if I have to. The best part is that I know they love me the same way.
Consistency and tenacity. It’s as simple as this: The kids are my priority, so if I have a date/dinner/weekend or whatever activity scheduled with them, I will not cancel or forego unless absolutely necessary (read: almost never!). It really helps the children to know that they can count on me even though the world, as they know it, has crumbled around them.
How does a single parent like me reconcile my affairs with my kids? For one thing, I will never expose the kids to any relationship that I don’t feel would progress into something serious or long-term. They’ve already been through so many changes, and I don’t want to add any more stress.
I am more open with my eldest (who is almost in her 20s) and would let her know what I’m doing. I always ask her to share her thoughts and feelings on the matter and she always says that she just wants me to be happy.
My eldest saw me through the most difficult moments in my marriage, so she’s aware of what sacrifices I’ve made to try to make it work. At this point, her generous and selfless soul is shining through, as she wishes me happiness, even though her situation is far from perfect.
Just recently, I finally gathered the courage to introduce the kids and the family to the person I’m seeing. The good part is that we started of as friends so everyone knew him or of him already.
The eldest is happy for me, as long as I’m happy. She’s very supportive and just wants me to find someone I love and who will take good care of me.
The youngest does not yet fully grasp the situation. I don’t think he understands that this new person in my life might eventually be his stepdad. For him, it is a love-hate relationship. He gets along really well with the person I’m seeing, but he is also quite protective of me. Whenever my youngest senses that I’m sad, he always asks if it’s because of the person I’m seeing. He always says he will punch that person if he makes me cry.
It helps a lot that the person I’m with now understands the situation. He, therefore, goes out of his way to establish a strong relationship with the kids and my family, and to show them how much he cares for me and the people I love most.”—Name withheld upon request
It’s important for a single parent to assure his/her child that he/she cannot be replaced by anyone in a parent’s heart. My daughter has no insecurities in this regard, because she knows her interest is foremost and that no man can ever stand in the way of my relationship with her.
My daughter knows she is the priority. I have assured her that she is my own flesh and blood, and that my boyfriend is replaceable. My daughter is not. My boyfriend is an Australian. It is a long-distance relationship.
It was not really a problem when I introduced him to my daughter. There was no hostility during the first meeting. She was pleasant to him. It’s because before I plunged into the relationship, I had emphasized time and again that if it ever came to a point in which I had to choose, I would always choose her.
It can be lonely, but I am not afraid of growing old alone—if that is God’s will. Let His will be done. I had been married for almost 17 years and have been separated for nearly five years now. In the years of my separation, I have gotten used to having no one looking over my shoulders or having to ask another person’s permission to undertake home renovations, attending to friends’ gatherings, etc.
I have been a stay-at-home, work-at-home mom since my daughter was a child. My daughter did not have a hard time adjusting to my separation because of this. I was always around for her. I have always been there for her. Her lifestyle did not change. An elderly, erudite friend of mine had assured me that my child will not be traumatized by any separation if his or her lifestyle will not change for the worse in the process. My friend was right.
My daughter still goes out with her father. They have regular bonding moments. I always remind her to give him presents during his birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day, etc. My daughter knows there is no hope for reconciliation between her father and myself. My daughter is of legal age now. Just recently, she told me it is a shame that the Philippines has no divorce law. I read one of her tweets, and it went like this: “Legalize divorce, if only to stop the Philippines from being the answer to a ridiculous trivia question.”