Describe your family dynamic from your childhood vs. your family dynamic now.
I grew up in a very close knit family, but both my parents were busy running a family business. I was the eldest of three children born successively (1966, 1967 and 1969) so we were all playmates. We were also room mates. We did everything together even if my sister and I went to a private girls’ school, and my brother went to an all boys’ school.
We always ate our meals together and played with each other. While our parents were busy, we were fortunate enough to have had a paternal aunt who was a former nun stay with us through most of our growing up years. (Our Auntie Lydia was Sister Eduviges with the Oblates of Mary, and also makes an appearance in another list for this journal project as one of three people who have influenced me.) She took care of making sure that our nannies fed us, bathed us and got us to bed on time. She would help us with homework, read books to us and took us out on movie afternoons when Mom and Dad could not.
Despite being busy making a living, we had our routine of going to movies and dinner out on Fridays. Saturdays were spent at home or roaming the shopping center (not quite the malls that sprouted in later years). Sundays, we went to mass, then headed to lunch or dinner, depending on which mass we attended. Religion was a focal point of our family life. During the Rosary month of October, we would pray the rosary together (usually without my Dad, though, who would still be out of the house before dinnertime), and we could each lead prayers based on memory.
Filipino families are very conservative and the word of your parents was law. We were not allowed to talk back, and we followed our parents wishes. There were parents who did not spare the rod, so to speak, when called for. We continued to be respectful even as we grew up, and there was always a healthy deference to authority even as the children became adults themselves. In our culture, parents and children are never equal. Parents were always a source of love and authority.
My mom would sometimes get the chance to actually take care of us herself, and she would scrub and bathe us in a way our nannies routines often paled in comparison to. We had a cook but she would take to the kitchen for certain special dishes. It was, however, not the norm. As a couple, my parents had their marital spats, too, and one thing I was not appreciative of was that while they were never physically abusive towards each other, they did a lot of verbal tussling and would often involve having all three of us in front of them as an audience of sorts.
Birthdays were always an occasion to celebrate, and so was Christmas. We held many parties in our home, inviting extended family. My mother was painfully shy but was a great party host, making sure her table was overflowing with good food — not just regular dinner or lunch fare. Christmas saw relatives and friends knocking on our door to partake of the christmas spread and to get their holiday gift which was usually some cash in an envelope. My parents showed us that family always meant looking beyond just the five (and later 6) of us.
Growing up, I was close to my mom, but we always had that Mom-Daughter dynamic where I was always obligated to follow her. I have to admit that there was some resentment, but none of us rebelled against authority like some others who resorted to shennanigans with their peers, resorting to drinking and the usual dalliances with drugs and parties. I grew up closer to my Aunt. If I had a problem, I would go to my Aunt, not my Mom.
My current set up is very different because I am basically on my own taking care of home and family. While both the hubby and I work in the city, we have pretty regular schedules that free up the weekend. So work, in general, does not interfere with quality time with the family.
Unlike my upbringing where I had Auntie Lydia and the nannies through the years, I am very hands-on with Angelo and housework for lack of househelp. As a result, I get to interact with Angelo directly from the cuddling to the serious business of homework and life in general. We have our weekend routines, too, which revolve around family. We do our errands together, usually setting aside time to do our “own thing” during the weekdays more often than not.
I know that the disparity between the way we were as a family when I was growing up and the way I’m raising my family now is largely because of the locale where I was and where I am now. It makes a big difference, though, in terms of how much closer I am to my son than I was to my parents. I guess the absence of other parties beyond parent and child has helped me relate to Angelo in a deeper sense. In a literal and figurative way, there’s just us.
I plan my schedule around when he needs me. I’ve been invited to after-work drinks and sometimes girls’ night outs but have had to decline and rush home because Angelo was waiting. I do my errands in the city during my lunch break so that I don’t have to spend an additional 20-30 minutes later in the day instead of hopping on the next bus to take me home.
As a parent, I try to instill the same healthy respect for authority in Angelo, and he is by nature, an obedient boy. He is very good-natured and always mindful of not offending others. Perhaps it’s also because I’ve reminded him time and time again that he needs to think of other people. I try to instill in him a respect for others, and more importantly, a respect for his parents. Sometimes he would kid me by saying he wants to be my friend — my response to that is simply I can be his friend but I’m going to stop taking care of him, making his meals, and being his Mom. And without batting an eye, he’ll say he’d rather have me as his mom.
I try to define the roles in a positive but firm manner. In that way, he knows that he has to obey what we say. I am fortunate that he doesn’t talk back to us, and once he sees that my voice is starting to take on.
While I am not overly involved in school, I make it a point to be on top of his homework and school load. My parents attended all events and caught my performances but homework was Auntie Lydia’s turf.
I’d like to show my son what an extended family is, but beyond his paternal grandmother living with us, he is always a vacation away from his other (and favorite) grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins back in the Philippines. That is one thing I wish I could give him — the feeling of being part of a bigger family. To make up for this, I have tried to keep him connected with them back home. In a sense it has made his interaction with them even more special. He knows that he needs to cherish and make the most of time spent with them, because of the actual distance separating them.
I wouldn’t say my family dynamic then or our family dynamic now is better or preferred — they both had their pros and cons. But I guess the fact that my siblings and I turned out to be responsible adults who cherish those memories and try to build on them for our own families now only goes to show that part of that remains with us and will be passed on to our children.