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Family life during the pandemic: Challenges, blessings and lessons
The author with wife, Yasmine, spending time at home on a weekend.
Alfred Vargas via Instagram

Family life during the pandemic: Challenges, blessings and lessons

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE? - Alfred Vargas (Philstar.com) - November 9, 2020 - 1:00am

In the midst of this pandemic, how can I make everything all right for my family? This is the question every provider struggles to answer.

How can I make it all work? How can I manage this crisis? And just like all the other dads in this world, how can I be a good provider, protector, and anchor of my own family in this very critical time?

I am a father of two girls and a young boy of almost two years. Lucky for me, I have a very wonderful partner in my wife, Yasmine. This is key to establishing a strong foundation for your family, especially in times of crisis. When you and your wife face ordeals together, the struggle becomes less heavy because you have a strong ally. 

Challenges

When I talk to myself, which I find doing a lot of these past eight months, I have a multitude of questions and a tremendous fear of what’s to come. There are no clear answers. Especially when it’s just me and the ceiling having a conversation every night while everyone is asleep.

There was this time when Yasmine woke up in the middle of the night and saw me in deep thought. She found it peculiar because, out the day’s exhaustion, I usually fall asleep 10 to 15 minutes soon after going to bed. This time, I couldn’t sleep out of tiredness, stress and worry compounding inside me.

She sensed it right away. She asked what was wrong. I tried shrugging off her concern by pretending to be okay and told her I was just about to sleep anyway. I didn’t want to burden her with my trepidations.  As the head of the family, I had to be strong. Or at least appear to be strong. I sensed something back. I knew she wanted to say something to make me feel better. But, being the wife that she is, and understanding the connection that we have, she decided to respect my space. She hugged me tight like a pillow and went back to sleep. It all happened briefly in the silence of the night. Little did she know that that embrace of hers made me shed a tear, enveloped by her love and warmth, and strengthening my resolve to be strong and resolute no matter what. Yasmine always had a way of making things right for me even without her knowing it. She is in many ways my home, my fortress and my refuge.

The following days, the pondering continued. How can I keep my family protected from the virus? How can I ensure their health and safety? When will this pandemic end? Until when can I rely on my “rainy day” fund to sustain us?

Then come the questions on parenting. How do I help my children cope with online schooling? How do I keep them engaged at home? What are my children going through right now? What are the things I can do to help make up for their lost opportunities like meeting new friends and playing outside like normal kids? And just like most of you, sometimes, I resort to Google to know the answers. But alas, the answers are contradicting, and I find myself even more confused and helpless.

Then come the questions on how to be a better husband. How can I make my wife feel special on her birthday if we cannot even go out? How can I give her flowers if there’s a possibility that it can carry the virus? How can I make every day special for her?

Then come the general household questions. How do I make sure everyone in the house follows the safety protocols?  How do I ensure everything is sanitized? Are we doing the right things in adjusting for the new normal?

These questions just keep piling up. Doubts find their way to creep into everything. And as the head of the family, it is my duty to ask these and try to get the best answers I can arrive at no matter what.

But after talking to other dads, constituents, friends and colleagues, I realized I was not alone. They too feel uncertain, desperate, worried. Everyone is trying his best to cope. And after some time, I realized, it’s all okay. At the end of the day, the important this is that we are all trying.              

Hidden blessings

The good thing about this quest for answers in living the new normal is that several unexpected blessings came along the way: More time with family, more time for myself. I got to know my children better, now more than ever. I realized my shortcomings as a father and husband. I’m now aware that I focused too much on providing for my family and not exactly on “being there” for them.

There was this time that I saw how bored my daughters were already. Alexandra and Aryana were so bored they would find petty things to quarrel over. So, I arranged a video call with their cousins. They were so excited to see each other onscreen they kept laughing, shouting and talking non-stop. They even played, to my astonishment, hide and seek online! After the video call, my daughters rushed to me and said, “You’re the best, Daddy. Thank you so much! We really had fun. Can we do it again next week?” Naturally, I said yes.

Meanwhile, Yasmine turned out to be this terrific chef and baker, bringing happiness to all of us through her Italian and Pinoy dishes and pastries. Though I’ve been on a strict diet since March, Yasmine made sure to indulge me with everything I want to eat every Sunday, my cheat day. Her authentic Italian lasagna is irresistible, her own pandesal is perfect and her ube gelato is my all-time favorite. The whole family would eat three full meals together every day. Sometimes even four or five if you include merienda and midnight snacks. Before, I used to dine with them only once a day, and that is if I’m not too busy. I would never trade any meal even in the finest of restaurants for this.

The family bonded. We even have game nights playing Pictionary, Monopoly, charades and card games every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday! The essential things in life can now be seen more easily and with more clarity. Love, faith, hope, and family.

Lessons learned

As a father, I learned that, if given the confidence, my daughters can be excellent communicators. They are talented. And I now have a better understanding of them: their strengths, weaknesses, potentials and personalities. I can see who of them may opt to follow my footsteps in the arts or in public service and who among them will blaze a new path. I now have a clearer idea on how to raise them better, according to their personalities and character.

As a husband, I learned that my wife will always be there for me. I can see it in her eyes every day, that in many subtle ways, she’s very happy to see me and be with me 24/7 during this whole pandemic.

Ever since we met in 2008, I was always busy with shootings, tapings, photoshoots, campaigns, doing projects for the district, finishing my graduate studies, and many more. Now that I have all this time with her and the children, it just makes her completely happy and content. She once told me that she’d rather have a simple life with me than a fancy and glamorous life, if it means being able to spend more time together. I agree with her.

Now is the best time to dig deep inside your heart and reflect. Repair your relationships. Value the people in your life. Show them and tell them how much you love them. That is what it’s all about.

ALFRED VARGAS FAMILY PARENTING RELATIONSHIPS
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