My daughter recently volunteered me to talk about "How to be a Good Parent" in her class recollection. I was hesitant at first, aware of my limitations and imperfections as a parent. How can I talk about parenting to some 40 parents who are most likely doing a better job than I do? Nonetheless, I accepted the invitation with the premise that I will not "lecture" and that talking about how we win our everyday struggles as a solo parent-family will not only make my daughter happy, but also magnify the goodness of God.
Earlier in the homily, Fr. Anthony ascribed a quote to Jewish French philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who was significant in my young adult education at the university: Parents get the children they do not expect.
My message to my child in her recollection letter revolved around the same theme. Ever since I was young, I have always loved children and thought that I would love to have at least one of my own in the future. However, God blessed me with a child, albeit unexpectedly and quite too early. Even so, I held no ifs nor buts; I loved my child then and thought that I would love her still even if I did not know what she would turn out to be. Would she be a boy or a girl? An artist, a scientist, or a writer? An easy child or a difficult one? (Thankfully, she is the former.) I love my child, and it is all that matters.
Acknowledging my daughter's uniqueness, as well as that of our situation – I am raising her as a solo parent – made me decide that I would not be boxed within norms and advices on which parenting styles work and what do not. I made a conscious decision to treat my child diplomatically through a democratic relationship, which entails that we would be friends and equals most of the time while knowing when and where to put my foot down as her parent. This means that I empower her to have a voice when decisions are to be made. These decisions can be major ones like, "Are we moving homes or switching schools?" Or it can be minute ones like, "What restaurant are we having dinner at?" or "Where are we going on a vacation"
Reflecting upon our unique situation made me uncover some principles that help us get by. I summarize them simply as my 5Cs to raising my daughter:
1. CARE – The first C stands for self-CARE. As a parent with many imperfections, and whose temper and patience are perpetually tested, I ask myself these questions whenever I reprimand my child: Did I scold my child because I wanted to correct her or was it because I was tired and ran out of patience?
Self-care by getting enough rest and sleep, eating well, and exercising while managing to reach my career aspirations enable me to be physically, mentally, and emotionally present to my daughter.
2. COMPASSION – Most of my girl friends now are women in their 50s and some are in their 60s or near-40s. For those who have children, we share the same aspiration for them. You see, we do not want to raise children who will be just successful. Of course, we want them to have success in life but our bare minimum is, we want them to grow up as compassionate adults who will look after their families, friends, and "the least, the last, and the lost" of the society that they move in.
What my daughter does not know is that while I may be her first teacher, she has taught me many things about life that could not be learned in the classroom. She taught me to exercise compassion towards others so I can teach her the same; she taught me how to let God's grace work in our lives so I can forgive those who have wronged me and at the same time, seek forgiveness and reach out to those whom I have wronged.
3. COMMUNITY – An African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child. To my daughter and I, this village or community consists of our family who gives us moral support even from across the miles. My US-based parents are constantly in touch, utilizing mobile applications such as Facebook Messenger to check on my daughter whenever I have to work late. My sisters also provide physical support by picking up my daughter from school when needed or taking care of her when I have to travel for work.
Community, for us, also includes my workplaces. I was fortunate to have had bosses and employers who were understanding of my situation. I remember facilitating corporate planning sessions with my daughter on my lap, working away while my daughter snoozed on the office couch, and just this summer, giving some small paid tasks to her like organizing my drawers. My bosses then allowed me to become more productive by showing my daughter and I lots of kindness and compassion.
Lastly, community is also the school to which I share the responsibility of imparting the values of simplicity, truth, and godliness that I desire for my child.
4. CONSTANCY – One of the great things that my parents did to help build my confidence as a child was their constancy. Up to this day, my parents are constantly present in my life, fulfilling their God-given roles despite all of the odds that time, age, distance, and mistake have created. I am a secure and confident adult because my parents have shown me the constancy of their unconditional love.
5. CREATOR – If there will be just one legacy that I would like to leave my daughter in this lifetime, it will be this: the love and fear of God.
The love of God will make her work on building a relationship with him and aspire to live out His good plans for her. Fear of Him will grant her her conscience which will keep her grounded with the sense of what is right and wrong.
I know that I will not be always around and that my relationship with my daughter will not be smooth-sailing all the time. She might go astray, as we all do as children of God, but love and fear of the Lord will be the compass that will guide her home.
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well."
Psalm 139:14, NIV