To paraphrase a Style Council ditty, children turn to teardrops, especially when their parent or parents working abroad come to mind.
Indeed, children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) find it difficult to manage the ever-changing modes of their existence: the sudden influx and outflow of resources entering the family coffers and the unannounced absence and unscheduled arrival of a key household member.
“Growing up without a father by my side has been tough, especially as I am the youngest among us three,” Krisha, a 19-year-old college student of Adamson University (AdU) said.
Schoolmate Mae shares the same predicament, but said in a separate interview that hers is more difficult, “since my parents are already separated.”
“Nine months without him is hard for us as, for most of the time, we can’t contact my dad, since [cellular] signal in the mid-sea is intermittent,” the junior AdU student said. The 19-year-old added it will take a month “before we reach him when the ship docks to the pier.”
“Back then, I really don’t have any idea what my dad has been up to. I thought he was just leaving for a short period of time,” Mae said. “But in the long term, I realized that he is doing that for the sake of us, to have a better future.”
MILLIONS of migrants are leaving every year, as working overseas assures higher income that can provide their family’s daily needs and have a better educational opportunity access to their children. Even though they provide for their family, the major concern is the cognitive impact of the parent’s absence to the child and its influence on the child’s way of managing financial resources.
Filipino families encounter different issues regarding sudden changes to a typical family set up.
“Our life back then was a mix of best and less,” Krisha said. “Best in a way that we have higher income and got to experience and have all the things that we desire. Less, because I did not develop a close relationship with my father, since he’s was already working abroad when I was born.”
Based on several studies, there are approximately 9 million Filipino children under the age of 18 who are left behind by one or both parents to work or live temporarily or permanently outside the Philippines.
According to a recent report by the World Bank, migration of workers is motivated by the search for economic opportunities.
“Most migration in the region consists of low-skilled, often undocumented, migrants looking for better-paying jobs,” the report “Migrating to Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Labor Mobility in Southeast Asia,” said. “These opportunities manifest themselves in a variety of ways.”
Citing a 2013 data by the International Organization of Migration, the World Bank report said the Philippines “is not only a significant sender of migrants to the Middle East and the United States but also the origin of about a quarter of the world’s ship crews”.
THE World Bank paper written by Mauro Testaverde, Harry Moroz, Claire H. Hollweg and Achim Schmillen noted the significant impact of remittance sent by OFWs to the country. The report said total remittances are 10 percent of GDP in the Philippines, 7 percent in Vietnam, 5 percent in Myanmar and 3 percent in Cambodia.
“In the Philippines households that are able to send a member abroad have twofold or threefold greater odds of escaping poverty,” the World Bank report said. “Similar positive impacts on poverty have been found in Indonesia and Vietnam.”
“Back then, [when my father was abroad], we haven’t had any savings, [but] we prioritize our immediate wants and choose to pay for materials and experiences that will enhance our present, rather than focusing on our future,” Krisha said.
According to Mae, the allowance she and her siblings get is “handled by my mother.”
“She gives P1,000 every week, and it’s up to us how we will manage to [make that money] last a week,” she told the BusinessMirror on request not to mention her surname. “We receive our P25,000 allotment every 15th of the month. The allotment is for our household needs, necessities, food and education fees, while our allowances are from my mom’s salary.”
A 2016 study by the World Bank has noted that remittances to the Philippines “support domestic consumption, a key source of economic growth, and keep the current account in surplus.”
In 2015 the Philippines ranked third among the largest remittance-receiving country with an estimated $28 billion. India was the largest with $69 billion in 2015, followed by China ($64 billion).
A study by the United Nations has said that overseas remittances ranged from P5,000 to P20,000 monthly, quarterly or as the need arose. Remittances were normally allocated for basic needs and school allowances; any extra money was set aside as savings.
NOT everything is rosy, however.
Take Mae’s case.
“There are instances when my dad fails to send our allotment on time,” she told the BusinessMirror on the condition we keep her anonymous. “It’s a good thing we have our savings to back us up every time it happens.”
On the other hand, Don, a 20-year-old college student of Far Eastern University, expressed a different experience in handling financial resources.
“We were not a wealthy family before,” he told the BusinessMirror on the condition of anonymity. “My mom’s salary is not enough to sustain our educational needs, kaya sinanay talaga kaming magtipid, bata pa lang ako.”
Krisha said the difficulty lies in how children are raised. “We were not trained to save such money because our parents believe that we should not experience what they’ve experienced before.”
Likewise, Krisha added the financial agility the family acquired when her father worked abroad changed “when he decided to stay here in the Philippines.”
“He thought he is no longer capable of working abroad due to his age, as well as his health condition. Also, he is challenged by the young and fresh graduates,” she said. “Now that he is no longer a seaman, we are having a hard time adjusting and dealing with our current situation.”
FAMILY is the basic unit of Philippine society. Each family has its own way of deciding who will have the power and authority within the group. Each family also decides on the rights, obligations, privileges and roles of each member, sometimes following long-held traditions and beliefs. As expected, parents have the authority and control of all the responsibilities and children are expected to be obedient.
In a traditional Filipino family, the father is called the Haligi ng Tahanan (foundation of the home), and considered the head and provider of the family. The mother is the Ilaw ng Tahanan (light of the home), and takes the responsibility in domestic needs and caring for the children.
In a typical Filipino family, children are someone the family can rely on to perform household chores, follow norms and value education. Both parents have something to do with the children’s development on how they raised them according to their ways, psychologists explain.
However, these views are thrown out in the case of an OFW family, where the father, mother or both parents are not present. Major adjustments occur, like who will take over the responsibility of the absent parent. Children will particularly have a difficult time accepting the sudden changes in their family.
COMMUNICATION with a parent working abroad is difficult, as teens are unable to share deeper anxieties and doubts with the parent due to the limited time afforded by phone calls.
However, children hesitate to tell parents about their opinions for fear the parents will not listen. A teenager notes that parents undervalue the suggestions of children, and are even angered that children dare to order parents.
Most children feel parents dislike being contradicted, especially by children whose opinions are traditionally not heard in the family. This lack of open communication reinforces the feeling of alienation caused by long periods of separation between children and parents.
During the adolescent years, children are most vulnerable to peer influences and drawn to experimentation in all kinds of risky behavior in rebellion against parental control. While fathers are away, children, particularly male children, are less fearful of mothers, taking the mothers for granted and rebelling against maternal authority.
“Parents make a big influence on child’s perception of money. Una nating nakikita at naiintidihan ang paraan sa paghahawak ng pera sa ating mga magulang. [We first see and understand the way of handling money with our parents]” Mr. Joseph Terell, a psychology professor of AdU, said in an interview last Tuesday, May 30. “Parents taught us how to save money. That is why they are very influential when it comes to financial resources. They are the ones who taught us not only how to save and invest, but also getting out of debt. Third is spending less, living on a budget, this is the perception that our parents teach us that simply prioritize what is needed,” he added.
Catholic priest Atilano Fajardo believes it is true that children will most likely be luxurious and parents will give the things they desire because they assume that it will fill the void of their absence.
In this way, the child will perceive material things as a form of love, said Fr. Fajardo, also AdU Integrated Community Extension Services director. “It will affect their relationship with others because they think that providing material things is a form of giving love.”
JOJO Alberto, lay minister of Caritas and head of the Ministry of Public Affairs of the Archdiocese of Manila, said modern technology plays a big role to a family of a land-based or sea-based OFW.
Before, they just write letters to communicate to their family, and that takes time, Alberto told the BusinessMirror. But, with the help of social media, families can still keep in touch and maintain close relationships with each other, he said. “It also helps with the improvement of the seafarer’s morale and relieves stress with their work.”
According to Krisha, every time her father calls and asks how they are, “I always say I’m alright even though I’m not, because I don’t want to give him any stress.”
“I just want him to be proud of me, which is why I try my best to study hard to get high grades and pay back all his hard work,” she said.
Alberto, however, said it’s better to feel the presence of parents rather than relying solely on communicating through social media.
“Sometimes, if the migrant parent does not return for a long period of time, children, will have a hard time recognizing them,” he said. “On the other hand parents have a hard time to fulfill their duty as a parent to their children, and it’s hard to recover those years that their parents are not their on their side, that they should have allocated to their children when they were around.”
Mae said she definitely misses her father, despite claims of having gotten used to not having him around.
INDEED, it is emotionally and physically challenging for the children to accept that their family setup is not the same with other families. But, as the child matures, he begins to understand why the parent has to work abroad and is able to get back on track and take on the responsibility of managing their household and family life on their own. Often, they attempt to make up for their migrant parents’ hardships by maintaining close bonds across great distances, doing frequent calls and chats through social media, as stated by Alberto. Still, most of them feel that such bonds could never possibly draw their distant parent close enough.
Their efforts are frequently sustained by the belief that such emotional sacrifices are not without meaning, and they are ultimately for the greater good of their families and their future, Alberto said.
Over time, both the OFW parent and the families left behind will learn to adapt, adjust and finally accept separation as a part of family life for a long while.
DON, who spoke to the BusinessMirror on the condition of anonymity, said he believes things are different between male and female children of OFWs.
“Hindi kami masyadong maluho pagdating sa gamit. Kahit sa pagkain hindi din kami mapili dahil hindi naman kami ganon kayaman. [We are also not too extravagant when it comes to things, not even in the food we select because we are not that rich],” Don, the oldest among three children, said.
Don added his family maintains a neighborhood store “but [the earning from it] is not enough to sustain our allowances, which is why my parents trained us how to save and invest money.”
Don and his siblings studied and graduated primary and secondary level in public school.
“But, when we reached college, my father wants us to transfer in a well-known private university. That is when he decided to work as a seaman for him to be able to sustain our educational needs,” he said. “Eventually, my dad’s income is gradually increasing but, despite of that condition, we still manage to budget our allowances because we were trained to be thrifty.”
ACCORDING to Krisha, after her father decided to return, the family experienced managing a tight budget. “Needs come first; there are times that we are unable to pay the bills on time and eat proper food because my mother’s income cannot comply with all the [required] expenses in the house like loans, debts, food and tuition.”
The WB report notes there’s an alteration that migration and remittances, especially the flow, bring to the family. Citing a 2001 study, the report noted evidence that having a migrant in the family reduces the labor-force participation of stayers by almost 28 percent.
“This finding appears to be particularly important for left-behind wives; in the absence of the migrant husband, women in the Philippines have been shown either to switch to part-time jobs or to completely withdraw from the labor force.”
Eventually, Krisha said, her father found a job that is not the same as the one he held before.
“But things got better,” Krisha said. “It might be a struggle for us, but we are surviving together, and I think that’s what really matters.”