Parents Working Overseas (“OFW’s)

(First in a series.)

Back in 1967-68 I wrote a Master’s thesis on how a hippy-type church in Berkeley, CA., communicated with hippies, dropouts who followed the “beatniks” of the 50’s. They believed in free food, free drugs, free love. Most of them were addicted to marijuana. Their motto was “MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR!” The Vietnam War was still raging, and many war protests.

In my research I found many hippies came from wealthy homes back East, but they felt gypped by their parents who gave them money and things rather than attention and love. In other words, they felt emotionally abandoned by their parents, whose hearts seemed to be set on having more success and stuff. (A Protestant Reformer said The human heart is an idol factory.)

Whereas the hippies abandoned their parents, many Filipino parents seem to have abandoned their children. The estimated statistics vary wildly, from 2.3 million to well over 12 million, and counting. Reportedly 6,000+ leave for overseas work each day, so I would go with the higher figure. Between 50-53% of them are mothers. An administrator in a network of Christian schools here told me that at least 50% of the school kids have a parent overseas.

We are all motivated by something. But as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Are the motives of the OFWs ever deeply examined? My brother-in-law says that often a spouse will seek overseas employment to get away from an unhappy marriage, but she likely won’t admit it. More often it’s for economic reasons: the parents are poor, and they want to provide school money for the kids, or to build a nicer house. Usually at least one/fourth of the OFW’s wages are sent to the family at home.

Another report stated, The biggest attraction and the most tangible result of overseas employment are economic benefits. Remittances by OFWs to their families can have a radical effect on people’s lives – building houses in depressed rural villages, paying off medical bills, sending little brothers, sisters and cousins to school. In 1997, 6.2% of Filipino families derived their main source of income from remittances.

According to a study conducted  to examine the changing face of the Filipino family, one OFW mother was pleasantly surprised to find that her child was the most popular kid in school and in the neighborhood. She said, “it’s because he always has money.”

The study noted that working moms feel that providing their children with material things would make up for their inability to spend much time with them. (Philippine Star, January 28, 2008:  “OFWs using ‘materialistic approach’ to child rearing”.)

Money is a poor substitute for love, however, and it doesn’t fix feelings of forsakenness. Parental absence is experienced particularly as a sense of loneliness and abandonment. (Battistella and  Conaco, 1996.)  BSU English teachers tell me about increasing anger seen in student writings, and teachers on all levels, and counselors, report increasing behavioral problems, stemming largely from family breakdown. If your parents or you have worked overseas, I’d love to hear about your experience, c/o hpkuiper1@gmail.com.

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