IN DE­FENSE OF SIN­GLE MOMS, BYSIN­GLE­MOMS

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - MOTHER’S DAY - By Michelle Velete

Be­ing a sin­gle mom is not with­out its un­for­tu­nate stigma. This is in fact con­firmed af­ter Sen. Tito Sotto’s misog­y­nis­tic joke about sin­gle mothers dur­ing the re­cent con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing of So­cial Wel­fare Sec­re­tary Judy Tagui­walo.

The good thing that came out of it was it started a much­needed con­ver­sa­tion about in- de­pen­dent moth­er­hood in the Philip­pines.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2008 data from the Philip­pine Sta­tis­tics Au­thor­ity, about 38 per­cent of 1.8 mil­lion ba­bies born in the coun­try—or at least 666,000—had un­mar­ried mothers. Mean­while, in a 2015 World’s Women study by the United Na­tions Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and So­cial Af­fairs, in­creas­ingly, hav­ing chil­dren is be­com­ing delinked from for­mal mar­riage, as one-par­ent house­holds, among which sin­gle mothers with chil­dren make up more than three quar­ters, are be­com­ing com­mon in both de­vel­op­ing and de­vel­oped re­gions.

As the pop­u­la­tion of sin­gle mothers con­tinue to surge, a com­monly shared idea (al­though spo­ken in hushed tones) lies in the con­text of moral­ism, es­pe­cially in a fun­da­men­tally con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety. De­spite the re­al­ity of the fal­li­bil­ity of unions and mar­riages, and the gen­eral frailty of hu­man re­la­tion­ships, it is still dif­fi­cult for some peo­ple to process and ac­cept that no fam­ily struc­ture is per­fect. On this front, there is no guar­an­tee of hap­pily ever af­ter.

To talk about sin­gle moms is to know one. The In­quirer got the op­por­tu­nity to talk to seven,

and asked for their per­sonal in­sights about sin­gle par­ent­hood, what they feel about Sen­a­tor Sotto’s joke, and what they love most about their unique and blessed journeys.

Meet 38-year old mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional Karla Maquil­ing, mother to Jacob, 16; 36-year old model/host/per­sonal trainer Hil­lary Isaac, mother to Asher, 5; 36-year-old writer Mels Ti­man, mother to Reef, 15 and Sky, 11; 32-year-old project man­ager Mara Sarmiento, mother to Antoine, 6; 31-year old tax lawyer Atty. Nina Asun­cion, mother to Avi, 11; 31-year-old en­tre­pre­neur Ranzel Mon­tanez, mother to Isey Ir­ish, 12; and 31year-old ESL on­line teacher Mar­galita Dalit, mother to Si­mone, 22 months.

These strong women are either sin­gle by choice or by cir­cum­stance, and gladly shared their most chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ences as a solo par­ent, armed with beau­ti­ful life­long lessons no amount of of­fen­sive jokes can ever un­der­mine. Take us back to the mo­ment you re­al­ized you were preg­nant.

Karla: I was 22 when I found out I was preg­nant. There was some pres­sure to get mar­ried, to “make it right,” as they say, be­cause my par­ents are de­vout Chris­tians (and my fa­ther is a preacher). But my ex and I were no longer to­gether at the time, and there were many fac­tors to con­sider. I felt I was not yet ready to com­mit to mar­riage. I was just start­ing my ca­reer in pub­lic re­la­tions at the time. I kept ask­ing my­self, “Do I want to spend for­ever with this per­son?” I was un­sure, be­cause we had dif­fer­ent be­liefs. He also had per­sonal is­sues to sort out, and he was al­ways ab­sent. I didn’t want to wait for him to make up his mind, be­cause I re­al­ized that noth­ing would hap­pen if I kept wait­ing for him. I had to take mat­ters into my­own hands. Hil­lary: Asher was a to­tal sur­prise. I found out I was 15 weeks preg­nant around a month post-breakup with my son’s fa­ther. I had a pretty ideal life for a sin­gle wo­man—suc­cess­ful, in­de­pen­dent, mo­bile and I have a good so­cial life, so find­ing out I was go­ing to be a mother dev­as­tated me at first. I was about to lose my free­dom. I felt like I dis­ap­pointed and dis­graced my fam­ily, and ul­ti­mately felt like I had dis­qual­i­fied my­self from the best of God’s plans for me. Mels: I was 21 years old. Since it was a planned preg­nan- cy, we were both happy to find out about it. I mar­ried my boyfriend who was 10 years my se­nior. I got preg­nant af­ter our wed­ding. But I be­came a vic­tim of do­mes­tic abuse. Separat­ing from my ex-hus­band wasn’t an easy choice. I never had a ca­reer af­ter grad­u­at­ing and I sin­cerely doubted my ca­pac­ity to raise my kids on my own. The emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma of the re­la­tion­ship also left me with a se­ri­ous case of self­doubt. Thank­fully, with the help of fam­ily and friends, I found the courage to leave him and es­tab­lish a bet­ter life for my kids.

Mara: I was 25 years old when I got preg­nant. It was un­ex­pected and un­planned, to say the least. I was scared of the fu­ture, scared of what my fam­ily would say, scared of what peo­ple would think of me, and scared I would lose my job -they would all think I’m a dis­grace. I grew up in a con­ser­va­tive Catholic en­vi­ron­ment so this def­i­nitely was not a sit­u­a­tion I pic­tured my­self in.

I was see­ing my “sperm donor” (as me and my friends call the fa­ther) for just three months. No sur­prise that he didn’t want to have the baby. He told me to get rid of my child as he wouldn’t sup­port me. That was the last time I saw him.

Nina: I learned I was preg­nant when I was 19 dur­ing my grad­u­a­tion year in col­lege. It was very hard for me. I was so scared of what my fa­ther would say and do. He had big hopes and dreams for me and I knew that most of them would not hap­pen any­more. In my des­per­a­tion and be­cause I did not know any bet­ter that time, I thought of run­ning away and even get­ting rid of my baby. How­ever, af­ter some deep soulsearch­ing and the coun­sel of my un­cle, cousin and clos­est friends, I changed my mind. I could not, for the life of me, bring my­self to do anything to hurt my child.

The fa­ther of my child was my first boyfriend. As I was not al­lowed to be in a re­la­tion­ship then, I kept him se­cret be­fore I got preg­nant. Af­ter giv­ing birth, we stayed to­gether but then dif­fer­ences in val­ues, be­liefs and goals in life made us drift apart. I broke things off with him dur­ing my third year in law school.

Ranzel: I found out I was preg­nant when I was 18. My con­cern was how to tell my mother. I was not wor­ried about me. I was wor­ried be­cause I know the pain it would cause her. I know that I dis­ap­pointed her and that hurt more than anything else. The pain I en­dured giv­ing birth is noth­ing com­pared to the sad­ness I gave to my mother. I moved in with

the fa­ther of my child to try and be a fam­ily, but it didn’t work out. Our val­ues and per­son­al­ity just clashed. There’s no third party. Com­ing from a bro­ken home, I didn’t want that for my daugh­ter so I tried to make it hap­pen. It didn’t work and I ended up go­ing home just af­ter months of giv­ing birth to my daugh­ter. Marga: I was 29 when I found out I was six weeks preg­nant. It wasn’t a happy mo­ment for me be­cause I wasn’t ready at that time. The fa­ther had no idea I was preg­nant un­til I gave birth. He did not ac­knowl­edge his kid with me be­cause he did not be­lieve it was his. How did you man­age to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially af­ter you re­al­ized you may have to raise your child on your own?

Karla: I learned to be prac­ti­cal with my money, with the thought that there was no­body else who would help me. My firm did not have health in­sur­ance, so I had to pay for lab­o­ra­tory tests out of my own pocket. I was ready for a life with my kid—just the two of us and no sup­port from any­one (I was too proud and didn’t want to be crawl­ing back to Mom and Dad in Cebu!). I didn’t think they would ac­cept Jacob and me. But I’m hum­bled to share that when I gave birth to Jacob, all the fam­ily came to­gether. I felt grate­ful and hum­bled, and took it as a sign that they had for­given me. De­spite all the fam­ily drama on his end and against the wishes of his fam­ily, my ex was there, and he signed Jacob’s birth cer­tifi­cate. It was im­por­tant for me that he sign the birth cer­tifi­cate be­cause I didn’t want my kid to grow up be­ing judged that he didn’t have a fa­ther. Now look­ing back and this sce­nario now many, many years be­hind me, it doesn’t mat­ter any­more.

Hil­lary: When my son’s fa­ther and I found out we were hav­ing a child, his so­lu­tion was for me to ter­mi­nate the preg­nancy. He in­sisted re­peat­edly for me to con­sider but my prin­ci­ples in life do not al­low me to even con­sider it. I’m not re­li­gious at all, but I was ve­he­mently against it and it was cause for a com­plete 180-de­gree turn of what our re­la­tion­ship and re­spect for each other used to be. At no point upon dis­cov­ery of my preg­nancy did I ever con­sider not go­ing through with it or keep­ing my child. I had im­me­di­ately made up my mind to step up to the plate and pre­pare for moth­er­hood.

Nina: I had to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for ev­ery­thing. Dur­ing my preg­nancy, I felt that I could not be like how other mothers are -spoiled and pam­pered. I had to show peo­ple that I could han­dle my­self well. I fin­ished my col­le­giate and law stud­ies, and even­tu­ally be­came a lawyer. When I broke up with my daugh­ter’s dad, I al­ready had the con­fi­dence that I would be able to give my child a good fu­ture even as a solo par­ent. One great fac­tor was that I have a sup­port­ive fam­ily who contributed so much time and ef­fort to help me raise my daugh­ter.

Ranzel: I’m very grate­ful and blessed to have a sup­port­ive mother and sis­ter. They helped me through it all. It was a tu­mul­tuous and blurry part of my life but they were my rock. We three have been to­gether ever since. I lit­er­ally could have not done and sur­vived this with­out them. They both have such big hearts for be­ing able to for­give and ac­cept me even af­ter all the dis­ap­point­ments I gave them. Whose help and ad­vice did you seek? Nina: While my friends were there to re­mind me to still en­joy my youth, I also be­came friends with other mothers who were older and wiser. I also had one pro­fes­sor in col­lege whom I be­lieve was God-sent to me dur­ing those try­ing times. She was my pro­fes­sor in Mar­riage and Fam­ily and her words about mar­riage and how it should be in­vi­o­lable and its sanc­tity pre­served stuck to me. She as­sured me that it was okay to not marry if I knew in my heart I was not ready. Hil­lary: I spoke to older friends of mine who were mar­ried and had kids, and whose faith I found en­cour­age­ment and in­spi­ra­tion from. My col­leagues at the preschool where I was teach­ing at the time were very sup­port­ive and cov­ered me in prayer and con­stant en­cour­age­ment. Marga: My best­friend for 10 years helped me go through whole nine yards. Zara was so amaz­ingly sup­port­ive of me when I was ex­pect­ing. She was one of the very first peo­ple who knew I was preg­nant. When I re­al­ized my preg­nancy was a lot to han­dle, she gave me a fresh start. She prac­ti­cally stepped in and pro­vided for me. Howwas the first few years rais­ing a kid on your own? What were the chal­lenges and how were you able to come through? Mels: The first year was dif­fi­cult be­cause the kids and I were still heal­ing from be­ing in an abu­sive en­vi­ron­ment. Be­ing a mother, your nat­u­ral instinct is to pro­tect and nur­ture. But how do you do this if you are com­ing from a place of de­ple­tion? It was a huge chal­lenge for me to si­mul­ta­ne­ously over­come my own trauma and help my kids han­dle their own. It still is a strug­gle but we are all get­ting bet­ter daily. Med­i­ta­tion and the prac­tice of mindfulness helped a lot, as well as an ex­tremely sup­port­ive net­work of fam­ily and friends. Their un­con­di­tional love kept us from suc­cumb­ing to neg­a­tiv­ity.

Marga: I thought it was go­ing to be easy be­cause my mother was around when I gave birth, but it was when they left that I re­al­ized how dif­fi­cult it is to do ev­ery­thing on your own -from wash­ing bot­tles, putting a cry­ing baby to sleep, to pre­par­ing ev­ery­thing be­fore she even wakes. I wasn’t truly pre­pared, too, for how in­cred­i­bly alone I would feel.

Mara: Be­ing an OFW, say­ing it was tough doesn’t seem to cut it. Af­ter giv­ing birth, I was only able to spend time with my son for two full months. The pain of sep­a­ra­tion is in­de­scrib­able. There was the phys­i­cal pain, too, be­cause I was breast­feed­ing. Some peo­ple may not talk about it, but hav­ing un­con­sumed milk in your breast feels like a bal­loon in­side of you is about to ex­plode.

The biggest chal­lenge for me is distance and fi­nances. I knew from the begin­ning that I would need to be both mother and fa­ther to him. I opted to con­tinue work­ing abroad to pro­vide bet­ter for my son. Be­ing the sole provider, money didn’t go a long way. There were times when I had to bor­row from my friends to pay for the in­creas­ing ex­penses. On top of my reg­u­lar job, I started do­ing mod­el­ing for pho­tog­ra­phy en­thu­si­asts on the side to earn a lit­tle bit more. I also made it a point to travel home ev­ery three months as I didn’t want to miss his mile­stones. What are you most proud of as a sin­gle mother?

Karla: I’m proud that I stayed and raised my child alone, when it’s so easy to walk away and for­get your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties like some par­ents do (I’m not say­ing only men walk away; some women do, too). It takes com­mit­ment to stay. It’s a for­ever thing. You can’t bail out half­way through. Af­ter watch­ing the movie The Hours, I won­dered how it was like to just walk away from your child. Have I ever wanted to? No, be­cause hav­ing Jacob was the best thing that hap­pened to me. I am a bet­ter per­son for it.

Hil­lary: What I am most proud of is how my son is af­fec­tion­ate, ar­tic­u­late with his thoughts, em­pa­thetic and sen­si­tive to­wards oth­ers, kind, and joy­ful. Those at­tributes sug­gest to me that I’ve been do­ing a pretty de­cent job at pro­tect­ing him well from bad el­e­ments of life and so­ci­ety. Some kids that he meets in play­grounds and parks can be mean lit­tle ter­ror­ists but I’ve wit­nessed my son stand his ground, smile, and tell a bully in the park, “It’s okay if

you don’t like me. I still like you be­cause I’m a pos­i­tive boy. I like to be happy.” Such a sim­ple sen­tence, but how many of us “ma­ture” adults can re­spond to adult bul­lies that same way? That he is aware of our life sit­u­a­tion as a sin­gle par­ent and sin­gle-in­come fam­ily, and yet he har­bors zero ill will to­wards his papa (as he fondly calls him) is my proud­est ac­com­plish­ment.

Marga: My en­tire per­spec­tive changed. Just like that, I gained a new form of clar­ity in my life that I didn’t know be­fore. My iden­tity as a sin­gle mother took on an en­tirely new mean­ing. Now I wear it as a badge of pride, not a veil of shame. Mak­ing the de­ci­sion to be­come a sin­gle mother is one of the most self­less things I’ve ever done and the best bless­ing I have ever re­ceived.

Mels: I am proud that I was able to find the courage to leave and carve out a new fu­ture for me and my chil­dren. I am proud that we have grown rather than be lim­ited by what we went through. In light of Sen­a­tor Sotto’s con­tro­ver­sial joke about sin­gle mothers, what do you ad­vise sin­gle moms, es­pe­cially in han­dling com­ments that spring from so­ci­etal stigma and pa­tri­ar­chal be­liefs?

Nina: I have also been a tar­get of this. I was seen by the mom of a friend as less than what I am be­cause “may anak na.” My ad­vice is you should just con­tinue moth­er­ing. I think ev­ery­one wants the ideal fam­ily. No­body re­ally wants to be in a sit­u­a­tion wherein you have to sin­gle-hand­edly raise chil­dren. I would never pro­mote or wish solo par­ent­ing to any­one. But things hap­pen and we have noth­ing else to do but to ac­cept, stand up and con­tinue moth­er­ing. I think sin­gle mothers should al­ways be self-as­sured and con­fi­dent as a par­ent. While it is not the ideal set-up, it is the fam­ily you are given. When you’re sure of your­self as a par­ent and you’re con­fi­dent that you are giv­ing your child the best, these judg­men­tal re­marks would never bother you.

Mara: Be­ing a sin­gle mom is al­ready a tough job as it is and not just for women but all sin­gle par­ents. You lit­er­ally have to do ev­ery­thing. Then hav­ing to deal with sham­ing and so­cial stigma on top of that? One thing I’ve learned from be­ing a sin­gle par­ent is sen­si­tiv­ity. The strug­gles that I’ve faced def­i­nitely changed my per­cep­tion of things and made me more em­pathic to the dif­fer­ent strug­gles peo­ple may have. It’s never our place to judge things we know noth­ing about.

Ranzel: I ex­pe­ri­enced all judg­ments there is when I was 18. From gos­sips to peo­ple star­ing. It was weird go­ing to PTA meet­ings be­cause I was the youngest one there. You could tell from ev­ery­one’s looks they’re won­der­ing what I was do­ing there. Peo­ple can be cruel es­pe­cially if they don’t know you. Peo­ple think that when you’re preg­nant at a young age, you’re ma­landi. My ad­vice is

don’t let any­one dampen your spirit. We don’t owe any­one an ex­pla­na­tion as to why we’re liv­ing our life this way. As long as you’re not hurting any­one, just live your life and keep rais­ing a good kid.

Hil­lary: Sotto is just a speck, a tit­tle in a sea of talk­ing heads and self-ap­pointed ex­perts at life who will all too eas­ily be ready to cri­tique your life choices and life­style. It doesn’t ben­e­fit you to pay that kind of talk any mind. Moth­er­hood is dif­fi­cult, whether you’re mar­ried or sin­gle. Par­ent­hood is dif­fi­cult. All the more be­ing a sin­gle par­ent/mother, your re­sources are lim­ited but con­stantly re­quired. Be wise about how you spend them and who you spend them on. I used to vo­cally show my ab­hor­rence for ig­no­rant com­ments to­ward sin­gle par­ents like my­self. Even­tu­ally, I de­cided that since those peo­ple don’t feed, clothe, or shel­ter me and my child, their opin­ions don’t get to be pri­or­ity. You are all your kids have, so don’t let them down by al­low­ing other peo­ple

who didn’t strug­gle for you and with you to put a chink in your ar­mor. Life is hard, so you’ll need to be tougher! What do you love about your child? What do you want to re­mind him most about life?

Karla: I al­ways say that Jacob is a bet­ter ver­sion of me and his dad. That’s an im­prove­ment!

Jacob is kind and gen­tle, but he is also out­go­ing, funny, and talk­a­tive and he speaks his mind. I love that he has to­tally changed the dy­nam­ics at home. We used to be a quiet, se­ri­ous fam­ily of aca­demics. Now we’re a lit­tle more re­laxed and able to have a good laugh, thanks to Jake. We’ve also be­come more af­fec­tion­ate. I al­ways tell Jake that he could be anything he wants to be, but he needs to work hard, be­cause the world doesn’t owe him anything, and it’s not go­ing to make an ex­cep­tion for him. Con­nec­tions will only open doors, but you need real talent to stay.

Nina: I love that she ex­ists and that she is teach­ing me a lot of lessons about life. I would like her to al­ways re­mem­ber that I am al­ways do­ing my best for her, and that be­ing raised by a solo par­ent is never a weak­ness. What mat­ters most is what you make out of life de­spite this cir­cum­stance.

Mels: My chil­dren re­mind me that there is still good in the world. De­spite what they have been through, the two of them es­caped rel­a­tively un­scathed. They are both con­sis­tent honor stu­dents and have clar­ity on what they want out of life. If there was one lesson that I want to im­part, it would be that they are au­thors of their own nar­ra­tive and masters of their own des­tiny.

Marga: There’s no pret­tier child to me, in­side or out. Her com­pas­sion­ate heart, ad­ven­tur­ous spirit, and bright eyes re­mind me ev­ery day that there is still good in this world. I would brag about my daugh­ter of­ten, and I’ll never apol­o­gize for it. I want the world to know that this beau­ti­ful, lov­ing, smart and tal­ented child be­longs to me and she’s my great­est source of pride and joy. I’ve failed mis­er­ably at a mil­lion things in life, but she’s the one thing I got right.

Mara and son Antoine, 6

Karla and son Jacob, 16

Nina and daugh­ter Avi, 11

Hil­lary and son Asher, 5

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