When Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) leave the country, they also leave their families - their children included. In 2007, UNICEF estimated that there were 5.25 million Filipino children left behind by OFW parents. While parental migration brings in many rewards, mostly monetary, it also comes with other costs.
Estranged from daddy
When Rachel, 21, was growing up, she thought it was normal that her dad was not around. She was only two years old when he left to work in Saudi as a veterinarian. As a result, she wasn't able to develop a good relationship with her dad. "We never had a chance to bond. I grew up hating him."
It's hard for Rachel to imagine how things would have been if her dad had been around, but she believes she would have seen him differently."If he was around, I wouldn't just look at him as a father who sends money, or brings home Toblerone," she shares, noting that their relationship has become based on material things.
Rachel has also had to deal with family breakdown. Though not legally separated, her parents called it quits in 2000. But Rachel shares that her parents' marriage had been shaky for a long time. She remembers seeing her folks fight on Christmas Eve when she was a child or waking up to the sound of them arguing. Her parents are no longer on good terms. When her dad comes home, Rachel and her siblings do not tell their mom, and just meet their dad elsewhere. "Mommy just finds out years later, "she says.
Parental migration can have emotional effects on left-behind children, as in the case of Aileen,20, whose mother, a nurse aid in Jeddah, has been abroad for eight years. "I'm very sad, until now, "she shares. "I'm a mommy's girl. Since she left, there is this empty space inside me that only she can fill."
Aileen's mother is her sole inspiration in her academics. She admits that if not for her mom, she would have quit school long ago. She cites the difficulties of her current living arrangements - the same year that Aileen's mom left, her parents separated and her father had a second family, with whom she now stays. "There's no one at home to guide me," she says. " My dad and I barely talk. Yes, he gives financial support, but nothing more than that. That's not what I nee. I need love and understanding, which only my mom can give."
Aileen deals with her situation by thinking of her mom, and of the consequences she'd face if she were to neglect her studies. This inspires her to do well, so that her mom can come home sooner. "It's painful to see other people with their mothers, " she says. "That's also why I'm more determined to finish school, so I can be with her again."
All his life, Danny, 25, has been moving around with his family because of his father's diplomatic work. When he was 21, his dad got posted in Vietnam. Both his parents moved, and his brother left to study martial arts in Thailand. Danny was left behind. "After living in several countries, I was left alone for the first time, "He recalls.
For Danny, whose family is close-knit, the loneliness was hard to take." No matter where we went, how much we moved around, the constant thing in my life was my family. So I took it hard when they left." Dreading going home to a quiet, empty house every day and not wanting to face his situation, he started clubbing almost daily. "I would end up partying, consuming large amount of alcohol, and wasting money."
It didn't help that Danny always found people who would go bar-hopping with him." I would exhaust myself, come home, pass out, wake up, go to school, then do it all over again," he says of his routine then.
After a year and a half, Danny realized he had to kick the habit. " I got burned out from getting drunk all the time," he says. He didn't recognize himself anymore when he looked in the mirror - he felt so tired, and he looked so old.
Dealing with it
One notable similarity among Aileen, Rachel and Danny was that despite their grievances, they all came to realize that no parent wants to be separated from their child, and that their parents' toil is for them. Once they understood that, it became easier for them to handle their situation more constructively.
All three agree that the best way to deal with parental migration is to make their parents' sacrifices worthwhile. It's very important to strive hard and do well in school."Stay in school," advises Danny. "That's the reason why they're not around, so you can get a good education."
"Just be a good kid and do your part," suggests Rachel.
"Love them," adds Aileen." Tell them how much you value their sacrifices."
It's important to remember that there's a rich variety in the experiences fo left-behind children - some have it better, while some have it worse. But you can always do something about it. At the end of the day, it's what you do with your situation that counts.
Sort out your sitch
Communicate regularly with your OFW parent/s. Texts or e-mail messages may not seem like much, but they sustain your relationship.
Find an adult whom you can approach and confide in. If not your left-behind parent, this can be a teacher, an aunt, or a family friend.
Find peers who can keep you on track and provide support and understanding.
Let your feelings out. It might help to share your sentiments with people you trust, or even to connect with other children of OFWs.
Think positive. Learn to appreciate your parents' sacrifices. Be thankful that your experiences help you grow and be more independent.