As we have discussed in the previous articles in this series, the Philippines will continue to enjoy its demographic dividend for at least the next fifty years till 2075 when our total population will reach a maximum of approximately 150 million. Will our country after that follow the same path as the developed countries today that are suffering from a population crisis and rapid ageing such as the Northeast Asian and European countries? The answer will depend on whether or not we can continue to nurture the cultural and spiritual values of our society that are pro-marriage, pro-family and generally pro-children. These values were discussed in Part 2 of this series of articles. We should do our best not to allow the hedonistic, consumerist, and materialistic trends, coupled with a contraceptive mentality, to erase these cultural and spiritual values. By preserving these values, we will ensure that our fertility rate will remain more or less at the 2.1 babies per fertile woman indefinitely into the future. At the micro level, I usually advise all the young married couples I know to target, God willing, at least three children each—not an unreasonable number for a population that will be enjoying upper-middle income status in the coming decades.
It is obvious, however, that continuing to enjoy a generally young and growing population will not necessarily be converted into a demographic dividend if the quality of the human resources are deteriorating because of the poor quality of our educational system, which is one of the greatest challenges today to our national economy. As regards technical and professional competence, the solution is to invest more in education especially in the public education sector which accounts for 90 percent of our basic education enrollment. There should be an increase in investment in education from the very low 3% of GDP that has prevailed in the past to the East Asian regional average of 6 to 8%, to be spent on improving the salaries of teachers and providing the schools with better physical resources, including the digital infrastructures that are essential to learning in today’s Industrial Revolution 4.0. Equally important, however, is the role of the family, especially the parents, in inculcating the work values for which Filipino workers abroad have been praised to high heavens by some of the world’s leaders during the pandemic. Such qualities as the spirit of service, kindness and other soft skills, perseverance and resilience, good humor and optimism are attributed to Filipino workers, especially when they are compared to other nationalities. These human qualities are forged within the family, rather than the schools. Here again, we must preserve the family as the first source of human formation in these attractive qualities that make our OFWs stand out wherever they are.
In a “bright and cheerful home”, to use a phrase coined by St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, people treat one another in a simple and trusting way. The world’s future is forged not only in major international decisions, however crucial they might seem. It is decided especially in small daily struggles, the “patient love” that is the discreet work of grandparents, parents and children. The project of growth, a growth that is above all “on the inside,” lasts a whole lifetime for each person, and is always a matter of teamwork. In a family that is inspired by the Christian faith, jobs, concerns, successes and failures are all shared. Everything belongs to everybody, while each one’s personal interests are also respected. Children are taught to be themselves, but to avoid isolating themselves (especially in today’s digitalized world where the smart phone is omnipresent) in their own tastes and preferences. Importance is given at home to whatever can unite, like fresh air allowing each one to breathe freely, to fill their lungs and develop.
Building a bright and cheerful home should be a collective effort, including even the youngest. Especially in economically comfortable households, it is good to give children little responsibilities, in keeping with their age. This may actually be facilitated by the increasing difficulty of getting household help in a more industrialized and modern society in which there are more job choices. Assigning jobs to children will help them to get out of themselves and discover that the smooth functioning of the home requires working together: for instance, watering a plant, setting the table, making one’s bed and tidying one’s room, taking care of a younger sibling, or going shopping. Little by little, they are made to share in making decisions. Family plans should not be simply imposed, but presented in an attractive way. Thus no one is left out, and children are helped to be open, generous, and concerned about the world and other people.
Filipinos, at home and abroad, are known to be usually affectionate people. In fact, sometimes, feelings may get the better of us. In general, affection is highly appreciated in inter-personal relations. Affection leads to living united, to sharing with others the new episodes of each one’s own life story. It can be helpful to share times of rest and recreation in common, with activities that unite and allow the enjoyment of so many good things, such as wholesome films, sports, recreational activities, etc. Then when sorrow or misfortune arise, charity—supernatural affection—leads us to want to share the weight or burden. As we read in the Bible: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” No one can live as a stranger in one’s own house. Each one needs to have initiative, and open his or her own eyes and pay attention to the needs of others, to their hobbies, plans, friendship, work, concerns. Without doubt, this requires devoting time, which is truly the thing that parents can give their children, and vice-versa, children can give to their parents and siblings.
In a bright and cheerful home, people treat one another in a simple and trusting way. And they strive to ensure that their closeness does not give way to insensitivity or insolence. All of us have defects. We can make a mistake and wound others, but we have the capacity to overlook misunderstandings, and not harbor resentment. At every level, from parents to children, from children to parents, or among siblings, we have to focus on the positive, on what unites. Wherever people live with one another, at times arguments or quarrels arise. But it is worthwhile making the effort to end each day reconciled with the others. It is the moment to put into practice the teaching of Christ on not putting limits to forgiveness (i.e. forgiving seven times seven).
It is in the family that children learn how to understand and excuse others, avoiding violent reactions to the inevitable mistakes and weaknesses of the people around them. The good atmosphere is transported from the family to the world. To transform the jungle, we need to start with out own garden, with an “ecology of daily life,” given expression “in our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and the neighborhood.” The family is the place of an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family, we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressiveness and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm to others.”
The appropriate family atmosphere is especially crucial in the harmonious development of the character of the adolescent, oftentimes a difficult stage in the growth to maturity of a human being. It is normal that children, when they reach adolescence, need more scope for freedom, to form their own circle of friends and to learn to fend for themselves. Parents will always be their frame of reference, but their youthful vitality will make it hard for them to accept it at times. It is, therefore, important that parents be more than simply “the authority” at home; they need also to foster a friendly and trust-filled relationship with their children. Parents should encourage their children to make their own decision, while also pointing out possible pitfalls. Children should feel that they are trusted by their parents, because freedom flourishes only in a climate of trust. As St. Josemaria used to say, it is even better that parents “let themselves be fooled once in a while, because the trust that they have shown will make their children feel ashamed for having abused it. They will then correct themselves. On the other hand, if they see that no one trusts them, they will always be inclined to deceive their parents.”
It is also in the family that children learn to be concerned about others, especially the poor and the needy. This requires going out of the home and helping the neediest, such as visiting the sick and the poor, giving food to the hungry, instructing the ignorant both in secular sciences and the doctrine of one’s faith, and helping to construct shelter for the homeless. It is wise for parents to bring along their children with them when they are carrying out the so-called corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The family, a school of gratuitous and sincere love, is the “strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism.” Those who have grown up with the “healthy psychological prejudice” of usually thinking about others,” enjoy listening to, learning to understand, getting along with and solving the specific needs of their fellow men and women.”
Parents who are looking for ways and means of contributing to the common good of society need not look far from their homes. Many good people spend time and energy helping parents in their educative ask. Schools, youth clubs, and many other initiatives can be a decisive support in the effort to care for young people, and also for the elderly. In the same way that it has become common for very experienced business managers and executives to devote a lot of their time mentoring or coaching younger management professionals in the science and art of management, older and more experienced parents should coach younger parents on the art of parenting through such initiatives called Family Enrichment Programs and Educational Programs for the Upbringing of Children (EDUCHILD). St. Josemaria once told those who dedicate their lives to passing on to others their knowledge and experience in the education of children that they are “more effective educators than many university professors.” For comments, my email address is email@example.com.