Long-Distance Rearing: On Raising Your Child From Abroad



By JEFF LIZARDO

One of the most heartbreaking parts of being an OFW is living months or even years away from your loved ones back in the Philippines. The distance can be especially difficult for OFW parents, whose absence makes it harder for them to give their young children the care and attention they need.

Issues could easily arise from this. Some experts agree that OFWs' kids are prone to emotional problems, insecurities and drug dependence. Even though studies suggest a higher percentage of OFWs' children being academic achievers when compared to non-OFWs' kids, I couldn't personally see this as good. Speaking for myself (I was a consistent top 1 student), I did it to get my parents' attention. I just wanted to be acknowledged.

My father's absence made me accustomed to not having him around. I even grew uncomfortable when he's home. It was a sad state of mind. I and most of my friends who had parents working abroad actually believed that our parents only cared about money and never really about us. For a child, having a father to teach you to ride your first bike is more important than actually being an owner of one. Having a mom to talk to about your first crush makes the experience a bit more special. All the toys, chocolates and new clothes couldn't make up for the emptiness we felt inside.

You must remember that simply buying your family's happiness with food, shelter, and expensive gifts is not enough. Some of the most common issues of OFW kids - such as teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, and bullying - can be avoided. The key is to keep an active presence in your child's life to help avoid these despite your job.

Here are four other ways how you can support your children aside from just sending back money:

Always keep in touch

Regular communication is crucial for OFW parents, even if they can only spare a few minutes at a time via cell phone or Skype. If you've ever watched the movie Anak, then you would know how emotionally damaging it can be for a parent to get cut off from their children and vice versa.

No matter what's going on in your busy line of work, you must always maintain an open line of communication to your family. Your son or daughter needs you, even when seem to be very young. Believe me attention was very valuable to us. I and my best friend agree that growing up, a call to congratulate us for our academic achievement is actually more exciting than the awarding ceremonies.

Look for a steady prepaid plan or Internet connection, and set aside some time during the week to call home. If possible, check in every day or every other day. It's a good thing that it's now easier more than ever to get connected with family half a world away, thanks to the Internet and mobile devices. Apps like Viber and Skype are easy to use and don't require fees outside your Internet plan.

Don't just stop at basic conversations like “How are things?” and “I miss you” – make an effort to stay involved in your child's life by asking questions like what subjects they're having trouble with at school or where they went with their barkada over the summer. Don't let distance get in the way of bonding with your child.

Pay attention to your child's emotional needs

One good reason to maintain regular contact with your children is to minimize the psychological issues that frequently affect the families of OFWs. Some children suffer from Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) when one or both of their parents leave the country. Other children become materialistic or dependent on illegal drugs due to lack of parental guidance.

Troubled children, however, may also show distress in less obvious ways. Many become insecure in their personal identities, which could lead to them falling in with a bad crowd or becoming victims of bullying. Others choose to fake happiness and hide their bad feelings instead. This could develop into clinical depression, suicidal tendencies, or other serious psychological disorders.

You can do your part as a parent by being more sensitive to your child's emotional state. Even if they appear perfectly fine on the outside, don't hesitate to show your concern and ask if there's anything troubling them. Do your best to reach out and be there for them without being judgmental.

Be a Parent

Of course you're already their parents. What I mean is be in-charge of raising your child. You may assign a guardian, whom commonly is their grandparents, but be the one to make strictly parental decisions. Talk to the guardians and tell them to help you maintain the parent role. It is very easy, especially for grandparents, to become mother or father figures to their grandchildren. There is nothing bad about this, but they should always remember that you are the one most responsible for raising your kid.

Never argue about parenting decisions in front of the kids, as this will never turn out fine. Whatever disagreements you have with the guardian, talk about it in private. This will help you prevent antagonizing yourself in front of them. If a guardian is spoiling your kid and you disagree, letting your kids hear the argument will somehow compel them to favor the more lenient parent figure.

Of course, we always go back to communication being the most important part. Explain every decision to your child. Every yes and every no should have their corresponding explanations and clear conditions.

Be honest with your child

While they are well-meaning in their intentions, far too many OFWs compensate for their absence by either showering their children with gifts or sugarcoating their reality. Without proper communication, these tactics make it even easier for children to feel detached from both their parents and the harsher truths of life.

As the saying goes: If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Why not try using your current situation as an opportunity to show your child important life lessons? You must always let your child know how much you love them, while also teaching them the importance of being practical and taking responsibility.

If you're struggling with what to say to your child, think back on your own experiences. No OFW wants to be separated from their families, yet many still end-up where they are due to circumstances beyond their control. Your child must understand both of these truths as they grow up.

Be more financially responsible

Both OFWs and their beneficiaries back home should be informed in money-saving to keep their sacrifice from going to waste. Even if you earn a huge paycheck, all of your hard work could be for nothing if you fail to set aside just a small fraction of it for the future. What's the use of spoiling your child with an expensive iPhone today if you can't send them to college tomorrow?

Clueless on how to be more financially literate? Start by setting specific goals or money targets. Aim to save enough money to come home for good, pay off all your debts, buy a new house, start a business, or fund your child's college tuition. Once you have a goal in mind, build your entire budget around meeting that goal.

You can open a separate bank account devoted entirely to savings, which you do not take money from no matter what. Once your paycheck arrives, make it a habit to immediately set aside a fraction for your savings before sending the remainder back home for your family's expenses.

Other financial strategies you can try include building a separate emergency fund – and we mean real emergencies, like natural disasters or hospital bills – and learning more about investment instruments like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Extend what money-saving lessons you've picked up to your children by encouraging them to be more responsible with their allowance.

While physical distance may prevent you from fulfilling many of your duties as a parent, you can still be there for your child by keeping their positive growth and happiness in mind. It's important they understand that the sacrifices you make are for them. Express your love openly while still guiding them down the right path whenever you can. By showing your child how important they are to you in different ways, you can lessen the heartache that comes with working away from home.


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