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Solo parenting

/ 12:18 AM April 01, 2016

Last Holy Week I found myself being a solo parent to an extreme, with caregivers and a driver all asking to go on leave.

My son had already arranged to go off with a best friend to Abra (despite my warning him there were no malls there), so I guess I was emboldened when my household staff asked if I could handle three daughters from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday morning.

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“Sisiw,” I boasted. “If I’ve been handling one son 24/7 (he’s home-schooled), I can handle three girls.”

It did turn out more challenging than I’d anticipated. I’ve changed more than a thousand diapers, spent sleepless nights with crying babies, prepared hundreds of bottles of milk formula (I can’t breastfeed, in case you’ve forgotten), but I’ve forgotten that was the easy part.

Girls ask many more questions than boys and hold higher standards for everything from food to movies.

I did survive, and was just happy being able to spend much time with them. But it reminded me of how difficult it was to solo-parent so many children.

Single Parents Day

The afternoon the girls returned to Laguna, where they live during the week, I checked the Internet if there was such a thing as a Single Parents Day. And—surprise, surprise—there was one: March 21, which was the start of this year’s Holy Week. Talk about penitence: I think I earned enough points solo parenting to skip Purgatory.

The Americans’ Single Parents Day started in 1984 with an organization called Parents Without Partners, which was itself founded on March 21, 1957. Single Parents Day has a long way to go to getting officially recognized, but it does make sense as Fathers Day and Mothers Day tend to be for married people.

The Americans’ Single Parents Day refers mainly to people who are divorced and not remarried, and those who have a child outside of marriage and are raising the child alone. The term “single parents” reminded me of the debates between the term “single parents” and “solo parents.” In the Philippines, “solo parents” is more politically correct. This is because “single” carries the stigma that comes with having a child out of wedlock. “Single” is used here to mean the opposite of “married.”

I was also reminded that in the Philippines there is a Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000, which extends many benefits to such parents. There are several categories named: a woman who gives birth as a result of rape and other crimes against chastity; a parent left solo or alone due to the death of a spouse; a parent whose spouse is detained or serving a sentence for a crime; parents who are legally separated or de facto separated; a parent abandoned by a spouse; an unmarried mother/father who prefers to rear his or her own child instead of having others care for them; any person who solely provides parental care and support to a child; and, a catchall, any family member who assumes the responsibility as head of the family because of the death, abandonment, disappearance or prolonged absence of the parents or solo parent.

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That’s a lot of categories, and yet I found myself not quite fitting into any of them. The fact is that there are still other types of solo parents. Just think of the millions of overseas Filipino workers who had to leave young children behind with a spouse or partner.

Did you know you can actually apply for a solo parents’ identification card from the Department of Social Welfare and Development? Mainly, it entitles you to livelihood skills training, counseling, parent effectiveness services, special projects like temporary shelter, medical care and even “ego-building” and “critical incidence stress debriefing” (I felt I needed that last Sunday, but more because the house suddenly became so quiet and empty).

The Solo Parents Act is also very progressive in requiring employers to provide a flexible work schedule and additional parental leave of seven working days each year to solo parents.

The law also forbids work discrimination, but I worry that its provisions of extra leave and “flexitime” might actually lead to more discrimination against solo parents who apply for work.

Models, partners

With or without the ID, which seems to be meant mainly for those who are low-income, it’s important that workplaces give special consideration to single or solo parents. Of course, all parents with young children have their special needs, but these needs are more acute, and more unpredictable, with solo parents.

I’d also make a special pitch for solo fathers. I often share this story about how, two or three years back, my department at the University of the Philippines got all excited at a meeting because one of our faculty members had adopted a child. People were telling her she could handle less classes and committee work so she could give more time to her new son.

Slightly irritated, I protested. Here I was, having gone through several adoptions, and each time I did, people in the department did get very excited. But did they offer to lighten my work? Nope. They continued to insist I handle certain subjects. Not only that, they conscripted me to become dean and, later, joined other conspirators who plotted to get me sentenced to the chancellorship of UP Diliman!

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m not the type who runs away from duty. But I do feel that fathers—solo or not—need to be recognized, too. Not all of us leave parenting to the women (mothers, wives, nannies), and when men do choose to do solo parenting, we are handicapped by a lack of role models. That includes not being taught how to mother or father, as well as not seeing too many other solo fathers.

I learned how to change diapers on my own, and I can tell you the initial attempts were quite messy, and funny. Preparing milk was not easy either, and one time, tired from a long workday, I ended up pouring boiling water on a hand which I thought was holding the milk bottle.

As the kids grew up, there were more challenges. I still don’t know how to groom my children’s hair, and have written about how my son figured out how to tie a bun… and insisted on doing my hair, too. Cooking is a nightmare, with each kid having his or her own preferences, and I sometimes let out the threat my mother used to say: Eat or starve.

I could go on and on, but I want to say I have no regrets. I could rush to find a partner, as my son keeps pushing me to, but being a solo parent makes me set very high standards. I once thought of joining an Internet dating site and specifying “must love dogs, and my kids.” But I decided, No, I’ll wait till my kids have their own families. By then I’d be only about 80 years old.

At least I’m certain my kids would have had a role model—good practices as well as lessons from mistakes—for parenting, solo or couple.

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TAGS: Family, Parenting, single parents, solo parents
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