Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guilty Ka Rin? by Isabelita Manalastas -Watanabe

Guilty Ka Rin?
by Isabelita Manalastas -Watanabe

Bago ang lahat, isang pagbati sa lahat ng mga nanay, lalo iyong mga working mothers, at saka iyong mga nanay na malayo sa piling ng kanilang mga anak.

I fall in both categories, having worked all my life since after graduation from the university.  And for the past seven (7) years, I have been away from my son.  Still am…

Even during the time I was living with him, actually even from the time I have brought him into this world without of course his consent, without assurances that I could give him a loving, secured and a happy life, I have asked myself, kaya ko ba?  Will I be a good mother?  Will he turn out alright?

Guilt, guilt, guilt.  Tons of it.

Guilt: for not being able to take care of my son myself.
Envy:  for the affection he has, obviously much more than he had towards me when he was a toddler, towards his yaya.

Shock: during the time I went home to the Philippines to take him back to Tokyo after 1 ½ months of stay there for his orthopedic consultations, he did not recognized me as he run towards his yaya.

Shame: when I come home from my very long hours at work, tired and hungry, and just wanting to lie down and sleep, and not having enough patience to listen to the little nothings that he wanted to say to me, or to respond when he tells me “Mama, let’s play.”

Shame: for having lost my temper, raising my voice reprimanding him after what was a nice day with him in Disneyland, because he has become so grouchy, and having all those tantrums.

I read a lot of books, having had no experience on how to raise a child.  I found out that it is not really the number of hours spent with our children that really matters, but the quality time we are able to spend with them.  Better have one solid hour of good, happy, and enjoyable moment with our children, than having a lot of time but not really giving them full attention and loving care.

I started to change.  I should not feel guilty being a working mother.  My son, from his very early age, knew that I was out the whole day, only because I had to work.  He knew I did not go to parties, I did not spend time socializing with friends, only home – work – home.

Of course, as all “guilty” mothers like me probably do, I have bought him a lot of toys, and other material things money can buy.  To compensate maybe for my lack of time with him? The same as what many Filipino mothers in Japan whose children are in the Philippines are probably also doing? Remit money to their loved ones there, not only to pay for basic things like food, education, clothing and shelter, but to buy their children toys, and all those modern gadgets like cellphones, computers, etc.?

Last time, I went for consultations with my Japanese lady doctor. She told me she now has a person helping her take care of her small daughter.  She told me that this Filipina baby sitter is a very nice lady, and confided in her that this Filipina lady is herself also a mother of small children whom she has left in the Philippines, to come to Japan, to earn and support their daily living and soon, their educational expenses. Imagine, one mother taking care of another woman’s child, so that she can also “take care” of her children living thousands of miles away.  Isang dakilang ina.

So all mothers out there – let us not feel guilty being away and working our butts, trying to give the best that we could, to our children back home!

If our children know that we are away from them only because we have to, and that we are abroad only because we could find better employment here, and that we are not here to enjoy but to also make a lot of sacrifices, that with a sufficient income we can support our children’s many needs, including giving them the best education there is, then they will turn out to be good kids. 

I read a study made in the Philippines (sorry I could not recall the proponent) on children of OFWs.  The study’s objective was to compare how children of at least one absentee parent fare in school, as compared to children with both parents staying with them.  The theory was that children with absentee parents will fare lower in academic achievement, than those with both parents there to guide the children.  The results?  There was not that much difference.  In fact, the children of OFWs fared even much better in some areas. 

My son was 16 when I left Japan for Europe for an assignment lasting four years.  He was then in junior high here in Tokyo.   We decided that it is better for him to stay with me wherever I will be based.  My husband and I met with the principal of Marymount International School in Rome, for his enrolment there.  But as things are in Italy, it took a long time before I could get my work permit and when I finally got it, there is not enough time anymore to petition for my son, in time for the start of school. 

We decided to enroll him in the US,  so that he could already establish his residency there, for cheaper cost of tuition when he enters university.  While he was safe in the care of his ninang and my best friend, he was at that tender and difficult age, when we parents worry endlessly about them being involved in drugs and sex.  Another of those experimentation we parents are subjected to, at various stages of the growth of our children – should we be very strict? will it be better if we are lenient?  

I read, read, and read, many books on child rearing and parenting.  I consulted time and again, my own mother who herself was also a working mother when we, her 6 children were growing up.  And of course, I prayed, and prayed very hard for  guidance and strength, so that all those trials and errors I had to do will result in more good things than bad.

But at 16, children are already mature and old enough to know and feel that we really love and care for them, despite the fact that we are away, or unable to spend long hours with them.  They know that whenever and wherever we could, we spend quality time with them.  And they also realize the conveniences brought by those various material things which could afford to buy because we are employed.

Fast forward to the present

JC is now 21.  He continues to do very well in school (graduated with honors in high school, and is now enrolled in one of the best universities in the US). He passed the stage of a puppy love; fell in love again, and fell out of love.  We are still unable to talk frequently because of the time difference, or due to our conflicting schedules. But when we do, and when we exchange emails, we both know we miss each other very much, that we both love and respect each other, and that he is the son that any mother could be very proud of.

Yes, proud of a son who returned back to me all those post-dated cheques I have issued to him, for his monthly allowance, telling me “Ma, I have enough,” referring to his income earned doing part-time work after school, in a movie house, selling pop-corn and sweeping floors.

Yes, I felt guilty many, many times in the past.  I have committed many mistakes along the way, trying to succeed in my career, while also doing my best to be a good mother.  I still feel somewhat robbed of all the good things I could have shared with my son – those school plays I missed, those times when I could have sat with him to help him do his assignments, those happy and memorable moments that could have been much happier and more memorable, had they been shared with him.

By the time this article comes out of the press, I will be with my son, spending few but very precious moments with him.  In another year or so, I hope to be there with other parents, to witness his graduation.  Maybe even to meet my (final, future) daughter in law, who I hope I could share with, all those parenting trials and errors, so that my future grand children, can turn out to be the best of them all.


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