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Celebrating Father’s Day: Single moms share their inspiring stories

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 20, 2021 6:00 am

Whether they’re single by choice, divorced or widowed, get to know these celebrity moms who suffered in silence, revel in the joys of motherhood, and celebrate their big and small (parenting) wins — on this special day — deep in their hearts.

Lifestyle and travel journalist Stephanie Zubiri

"Make sure your kids aren't lacking in love."

Modern families come in all shapes and forms. And the formula of mama+ papa+ baby is no longer a pre-requisite for happy children. Families nowadays are whoever and however you wish them to be.

For Stephanie, breaking the news was one of the most difficult and painful conversations she had with her sons Sebastian, 7, and Maxi, 5.

“It was a very painful moment for all of us, but I have always been honest with them,” she shares. “I also constantly reassure them that despite the changes, they are loved by both of us.”

Fortunately, the young boys adapted quickly. “Children are resilient and also extremely intuitive. They know without really knowing when things are not right, when their mother is unhappy and not herself.”

Her mantra: “Happy mommy, happy baby.”

“It’s the truth. Only when you yourself are feeling at peace, whole and truly happy inside can you give your best to your children,” she explains. “You owe it to your children to be your best self and to live your best life.”

I don’t know much about being a man (laughs), but I do know what a good person looks like. I am now both a good cop and a bad cop.

When asked what’s her biggest fear about becoming a single parent, Stephanie hastily replied: “To be honest, I was never afraid. I always knew, in my heart, that the love I have for my children would get us through. My biggest worry, though, is how will I be able to provide for them on my own. To assure that they can get the best education they need and deserve, the medical care and all the food that two growing boys need.”

Thankfully, the universe has been good to this doting mom and work has been consistent amid the pandemic.

“I’ve learned to be more frugal and to save,” she shares. “My other source of worry is to make sure that I live a healthy and long life so I can continue to nurture not just them, but my parents, too.”

Stephanie not only manages her household, but her parents’ — former Bukidnon Governor Joe Zubiri and Vicky — as well.

“I’ve started to take over all their administrative responsibilities. Plus, I have a full-time job and lots of side hustles,” she says with a hearty laugh. “I’m also grateful for my staff at home. They love my children as much as I do. I can’t do any of this without them.”

The current editor of Tatler Homes is likewise busy with hosting gigs and is currently working on a long-term passion project.

“Thankfully, the pandemic has allowed me to do more of this online hosting from the comfort of my home,” adds Stephanie. “The lockdown has also deepened the friendship between Sebastian and Maxi. Also, the time we spend together is more meaningful. We definitely miss the park and dining out. Traveling, too. But hopefully that will come back soon,” says Stephanie, who always makes sure that her boys aren’t lacking in love.

Stephanie admits that her biggest challenge right now is raising two boys.

“My eldest is growing up very quickly. And I’m anxious about the pre-teen and teenage years,” Stephanie adds. “I don’t know much about being a man (laughs), but I do know what a good person looks like. I am now both a good cop and a bad cop.”

After all, good parenting is not just all about keeping your kids happy and healthy, but also “properly raising them to be good individuals.”

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat:

"The best thing you can spend on your kids is time."

When she lost her husband in 2010, the petite and pretty head of the Department of Tourism (DOT) had to keep her tears back and postpone her grief for an extended period. Because, aside from being a widow at a young age, she had big shoes to fill in raising their two children, Maia and Vito, who were 14 and 13 at the time of Dave’s passing.

“Dave was a good man and a great father,” the lady boss says. “One of my biggest fears then (as a single mom) was how to fill the void. He was the most important male figure in their lives.”

  Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat with son Vito and daughter Maia

The thought of how Dave’s untimely demise would affect their children tore Berna’s heart into pieces. “But God is good,” she shares. “My kids never gave me any problems.” In fact, Maia and Vito seemed to have learned to channel the loss of their dad into something positive.

“My son Vito had always been overweight and was already suffering from high blood pressure at the time,” relates Berna. “He took up football with the same passion as his dad and lost 40 pounds.” Her daughter Maia also got into sports.

Sec. Berna believes that the best thing you can spend on your kids is time. And so the ever-busy Tourism secretary will drop everything just to have quality time with her children.

The support Berna got from her parents, siblings, in-laws and friends made her single-parenting journey a walk in the park.

“My family and in-laws stood by our side,” notes Berna. “When I was busy with work, they would take my kids out from time to time. My brother Roman even brought Vito to the US for a vacation.”

Still, Berna believes the best thing you can spend on your kids is time. And so the ever-busy Tourism secretary will drop everything just to have quality time with her children.

“Whenever I’m in Manila, we try to have family lunches during weekends like we used to,” enthuses Berna. 

Maia and Vito have both graduated from college, have flourishing careers and are leading their own lives.

“I guess I did a pretty good job raising them,” Berna says with pride.

Actress/TV host Candy Pangilinan:

"Children with special needs require tough love."

Parenting is hard work, especially when you have to do it alone. But being a solo/ working parent to a child with special needs is a different ballgame.

Comedienne Candy Pangilinan knows this too well. Her 16-year-old son Quentin was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) under the autism spectrum.

  Candy Pangilinan with 16-year-old son Quentin

“He has sensory coordination problems,” Candy shares. “Mahina din ang motor skills niya. When he was younger, it was harder because he couldn’t feel pain.”

It was through occupational therapy that Quentin’s senses developed.

When did you realize that Quentin was special?

“When he was nine months old,” Candy says. “We brought him to an eye specialist because he got cross-eyed. After some tests, the eye expert recommended that we go to a developmental doctor.”

Sec. Berna believes that the best thing you can spend on your kids is time. And so the ever-busy Tourism secretary will drop everything just to have quality time with her children.

There were other signs that pointed to autism. “I asked Quentin’s doctor, Dr. Francis Dimalanta, if I was partly to blame for my son’s condition. Yes, I wanted to blame myself.”

But Dr. Dimalanta knocked some sense into her. “He told me that time is of the essence in managing Quentin’s condition. Blaming and finding faults wouldn’t help. We had to focus on solutions and move forward,” she adds.

Candy took the doctor’s words to heart and prayed for guidance. But it was only when Quentin started attending therapy sessions that the doting mom realized that “my son needed all my attention and care.”

The comedienne started researching about Quentin’s condition, talking to other caregivers, therapists and parents who were there before her. She even started a vlog on YouTube (Candy and Quentin vlog) and authored Mommy Dear: Our Special Love to create and spread awareness on ADHD, and to stop the hate on differently-abled children. To date, Candy and Quentin already have 1.11 million subscribers.

“I remember I had to apologize whenever Quentin threw tantrums when he was younger,” she relates. “I cannot control what others think and feel. But I can control my emotions. As long as they don’t hurt my son, I’m okay.”

On disciplining Quentin, Candy resorts to “tough love.”

“I don’t easily give in to what he wants/ likes,” says Candy. “When he throws tantrums and has crying spells, I let him be. Having ADHD doesn’t mean he can get away with anything.”

This tough mama has only one wish for her only son:  “I want Quentin to mature, to be responsible and independent,” she says. “I hope that he’ll be able to take care of himself when I’m gone.”