Our obsession towards the ideal and why it just doesn’t exist
I grew up an only child with a mom and a dad. As I got older, I learned that I had a brother through my dad, from his first wife and—bear with me, it might get a little complicated—a sister, through his first wife’s first husband. And because I went to an all-girl Catholic school, I was only exposed to “ideal” or “normal” families. It was just me and another girl (that I knew of, at least) out of the 500 students that come from “broken homes.”
Broken. Imagine growing up being told that you come from a broken place or have other moms from school talk about your mom to their kids and use words like “kabit.” Kids being kids, repeat what they hear and utter the same words to you during a playground scuffle.
The concept of an ideal family became something I hated with passion but (maybe?) secretly wanted. It took years, my mom’s resilience, a shot of the truth, occasional therapy and a couple of self-help books to dissolve all that loathing and desire. There is no ideal, normal or perfect family.
Modern Times, Modern Families
Over the years, the ideals and expectations of families have changed drastically. Decades ago, the ideal was that of a man, a woman and at least two children (because god forbid you get an only child and he or she grows up weird or different). We were all expected to settle down, not have sex until we’re married and remain together for the rest of our lives. But as things like feminism happened, gender roles evolved and acceptance of different sexualities became the norm, typical family dynamics have changed, too.
Thanks in part to TV series like Modern Family, familial differences and unconventional relationships have become more apparent and (hopefully) accepted. In Filipino culture anyway, whether or not you come from a “broken” home, extended families play a significant, sometimes prominent role in raising and shaping children. It’s never just been mom and dad doing the parenting. In fact, in my early years, I was mostly under the care of two loving aunts, while some of my cousins grew up under the guardianship of our lola.
What It Means To Be Broken
In the research I’ve done, I’ve come across plenty of articles about single parenthood, more so on ‘can a single parent raise a successful child?’ as if to say kids of single parents are doomed to fail. But “children do well with a single, loving adult role model…Whether you're a single parent or partnered, if you spend time with your child, she or he is more likely to be happy and mentally healthy,” according to this Australian parenting website. What’s of utmost importance anyway is that children are provided with a secure emotional base, protection, the support of a trusting and loving parent, an established routine at home and the encouragement to learn. A healthy family has less to do with parenting circumstances and more on a person’s ability to be there for his or her child.
Building A Healthy Family
As I raise a family of my own, I realized that many to this day pay more attention to living up to a norm, that if their son is more exposed to his mom or ate, there is a legitimate fear that their child will grow up unmanly or gay. But in building a happy and healthy family, shouldn’t we be fostering respect and good communication instead of reinforcing heteronormative roles and telling kids that ‘pink is pang-babae (pink is for girls)?’ Why wouldn’t they want their sons to appreciate the color pink anyway other than because society dictates it’s feminine? (In case you didn’t know, pink actually symbolizes love of oneself and of others; it also represents friendship, affection, harmony and inner peace.)
“Healthy families engage in positive and meaningful communication,” per Laura Revilla of Healthfully, a resource for healthy lifestyles. This means the family listens to one another; parents’ focus on establishing a deep connection with each member so that kids are able to share feelings, goals, accomplishments, experiences, etc. without guilt or fear.
Each Family is Unique
There is no ideal, normal or perfect family. Family doesn’t just mean mom and dad with their biological children; it can be a married couple with adopted kids, unmarried couples, gay or straight, raising their own, single women choosing to have a child without the help of a man, lolo and lola taking care of their grandkids because their parents work abroad—the list goes on.
Each family is unique; there is no template or manual, and definitely no such thing as perfect. The sooner we come to terms with that, the better and kinder the world will be, if not for us, for our children.
Art Alexandra Lara