This article was written for the Center for Family Ministries in Ateneo and was printed in the Philippine Star last December 9, 2008
by Melissa Cruz

I remember being struck by a song in a popular children’s video I was watching with my daughter. The song was about families and how we have different kinds (there was one where the dad was “far away”, one where the head was the grandma, etc.). The main theme of the song was for us to accept that families now come in “all different sizes and different kinds”. Some families have both parents; others live in a single parent household; some live with a caregiver. And in all instances, you are still a complete family. The song made me realize that we now live in a very different world from when there was typically a Father, a Mother and Two Children.

There are definitely many new situations that modern Filipino families face, and stressors that were not there before, or have been magnified by the times. Two-income families are more the norm now, especially in big cities, and for many, this is not a choice. Single parents are on the rise, whether by separation, accidental pregnancies (or planned), or other reasons. The OFW phenomenon has brought with it a new breed of challenges for the Filipino families left behind. Many OFW children grow up “parentless”, with guardians often being poor substitutes for the real thing. The spouses left behind, too, are often confused with their role as both Mom and Dad, and many are overwhelmed with the responsibility left on their shoulders.

Despite these “modern” issues, Filipinos in particular have traditionally had very strong family bonds. It is said that the Filipino’s world often revolves around his family, and that holds true for many today. Even the scions of our business industry, and even our politics, are made up of families.

Many of us have long realized that keeping a family together is no easy task nowadays. Where there used to be a wide network of emotional support from extended family and friends, many are finding themselves quite alone to face their issues. The media does not help either, with numerous shows glorifying things that may be damaging to the family, such as extramarital affairs, and premarital sex. Many magazines show half-naked women on their covers, and are seen in popular bookstores and check-out counters in supermarkets, where minors are exposed to, and eventually, desensitized, to such things. The internet has brought with it its own brand of challenges for the modern family, with many family members preferring to network with cyber pals (not to mention that a rather huge portion of internet sites are pornographic as well) rather than have face-to-face conversations with loved ones at home.

Some of the basic family values of Communication, Spirituality, and Mentoring are, if not lost, minimized by society. In many families, for instance, Communication becomes a one-way street, and for countless individuals, the art of listening has been lost. As for Spirituality, God-centered families are being replaced by Consumerism, and spirituality takes a back seat to what may seem “important” for the moment. And because of the need for two-income families, the value of Mentoring between parent and child has been replaced by children being “mentored” by the media, and the caregivers, and many of these children end up with the values of their mentors.

One of the greatest paradoxes also lies in the Filipino OFW phenomenon. One leaves so that one may provide for the family, but in the end, it is also the family that suffers the most, and often times, ends up broken.

Despite the modern-day challenges, and the temptation to feel sentimental about the time-honored families of the past, we must acknowledge that the modern climate carries with it many opportunities that were not there before, especially for families. For one, in many households, spouses are now seen as equals. In the past few years, OFW women reached a peak of more than 70% of the total (with men recently catching up), making a breadwinner of the traditional Filipina mother. Conventional man-woman roles now seem fuzzy, and we see more dads changing diapers in this era, and taking an active role with their children, than ever before. There are more studies about relationships and parenting in this day and age, as evidenced by the many books written about the topic. There are also many places nowadays where one can get help, or, opportunities to improve on the status of their existing relationships and families. The Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University, offers such help and support. This ministry started as Fr. Ruben M. Tanseco, S.J.,’s personal apostolate when he introduced Marriage Encounter (ME) in 1969, and is now the Society of Jesus’ official ministry to families. Since then, CEFAM has pioneered in a psycho-spiritual approach in their counseling services, and, not only do they counsel individuals, couples, and families, but they also hold growth seminars and academic training programs for those who wish to be trained as counselors.
They hold Positive Empowered Parenting workshops for Teens and Kids (PEP Teens and Kids), Pre-Cana Seminars and Discovery Weekends for pre-marital couples, and of course, the Marriage Encounter for couples looking to enrich their marital experience.

All of us want to have healthy families. But in order to make it work, we have to realize that having a healthy family entails a lot of conscious effort, because happy families don’t happen automatically. I remember the time when my teenage daughter would cry herself to sleep at night. So many things were happening in her life. She had changed schools, had friends who had problems, and, her lolo was diagnosed with cancer. She saw a counselor in CEFAM who listened to her, cried with her, and who later told me that my daughter was experiencing multiple grief, the greatest of which, was lolo’s cancer. She was given some practical tips on how to deal with these, and to this day, she still follows the practical guidelines, and she looks forward to the next counseling sessions. If your family is in trouble, take the necessary steps to make it better. Do not be afraid to seek help. If you are happy, then bring your family to the next level. Families are the cornerstone of our society, and, as Fr. Tanseco always says, when there is love and justice in the home, then, we find peace, even in our troubled world.

Oh a family is people and a family is love, that’s a family
They come in all different sizes and different kinds
But mine’s just right for me,
Yea, mine’s just right for me.
– Barney

About Melissa Cruz

Melissa Pizana-Cruz currently works as a UNDP consultant. She is a published author and has a Graduate Diploma in Family Counseling from the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) at the Ateneo de Manila University and also holds a Certificate in Life Coaching from the Ford Institute for Integrative Coaching in the USA where she graduated as a scholar.

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