In the middle of a bustling restaurant, Bernard Aviñante recalls losing his patience with his eldest child, Jia (a rare occasion), only to have his second, Joya, confront him afterwards. With a maturity that belies the six year old’s age, he told him, “Dad, I didn’t like the way you talked to my ate. That’s disrespectful. Please don’t do it again.”

The incident took Bernard aback, albeit in a good way.

“I was amazed that my son felt secure enough to express disagreement with me. It was a sign of our healthy relationship, and that Clarice and I did well to raise them using positive discipline.”

While born in the age of smartphones, their kids Jia, 10; Joya, 6; and Iana, 3 aren’t how you‘d expect children from Gen Z to be like. They order their own food courteously, ask for regular dates with their parents, don’t own iPhones and, until very recently, have never heard of the Avengers. One can’t help but ask their parents: how did you do it?

While not entirely superhuman, you could say Clarice and Bernard have a level of expertise. After all, she’s a certified Positive Discipline educator and he often audits her class.

“Respect for the child is the bottom line. Instead of raising your voice, understand the situation deeper.

The way the couple eagerly talk about raising respectful, responsible, and resourceful children, you would’ve never thought that they had initially not wanted kids in the first place.

From common friends to co-parents

Having met only once before, it was during a chivalrous chance encounter between the two (involving a towed car and a sudden invitation to join Clarice’s family for dinner) that they realized they “clicked.” Months later, Bernard started calling Clarice and, for the next three years, they simply talked on the phone and became good friends. It wasn’t until they both started working in Makati City that they saw each other again and eventually started dating. Another three years down the line and they officially tied the knot.

As Filipino relatives are wont to do, they often asked the newlyweds when they’d be having kids. The surprising answer was “never.” It was something Clarice and Bernard had agreed upon after getting married, with the consent of their parents: they did not plan on having kids. While this may strike some people as odd, looking back, Clarice said she realized this long period of being a childless married couple strengthened their relationship.

But when Clarice was turning thirty, the two decided to open themselves up to having a child for the first and only time. The fact that they got pregnant just months later affirmed that it was God’s will for them to have children. It was this milestone that led them to make conscious choices as new parents.

“One of the things that attracted me to her was she was very close to her family. I wanted that too. So we decided to raise a close-knit family. I’m happy that, when I get old, I can say that I saw my kids grow up.”

Indeed, when they first had kids, it was Bernard who was more hands-on, even as he and Clarice both worked demanding jobs. He even dared to do what few dads would—take out two of his kids on his own. But both Clarice and Bernard were intentional in raising their children, guided by the principle that “good starts with oneself.”

Dark night

After her first two pregnancies, both of which were difficult, Clarice was told that a third could prove fatal. But for some reason, she was able to have a third child.

“I was so scared. I kept crying, afraid that I’d leave the children. And because I was in a bad place, my kids regressed. Joya kept crying too, while Jia often complained about my crankiness.”

During that time, Clarice was invited by Breastfeeding Pinays, a group that advocated breastfeeding, to discuss natural parenting. It was while preparing for the lecture that she became reacquainted with the child theories she studied in college as a psychology major and felt called to shift towards positive parenting.

“I knew I didn’t want to shout at or spank my children, but why was I doing that?”

After giving birth, Clarice attended a Positive Discipline training online and, since then, she and Bernard have seen changes in their family life that can only be described as truly radical.

A positive shift

When the Aviñantes saw how well it worked for their family, they knew it would work for others too. Since becoming an educator in 2014, Clarice has been privy to incredible stories of healing among families. Students often tell her how their children have become more open with them and even say they love the new versions of their parents. Others speak of using the tools with their adult co-workers—to positive results!

One such tool that the Aviñantes use is having regular family meetings, complete with the minutes! During this time, they not only discuss schedules and activities, but also give each child an opportunity to say their piece if they have issues or concerns even if it’s as seemingly trivial as furniture arrangement in the house, or to simply express gratitude towards other family members.

The meetings aren’t just a tool for the family, however. Clarice and Bernard also have their own meetings as parents and as a couple, discussing their plans and goals as a family, what each child needs, and more.

“The meetings are a big help to our marriage because everything is clear. I’d ask him every now and then, ‘How can I improve as a wife?’ and he’d always tell me to be less messy in the house,” Clarice says.

“—But it hasn’t improved,” Bernard teases.

The road to ‘happily married’

Apart from their couple meetings, Bernard and Clarice don’t forget their own desires to remain “happily married.”

“At the beginning, we could easily say we were happily married. But after our first child, it took us both a while to give the same answer. And I was alarmed why we had to think about it.”

Despite her initial hesitation to leave the children behind, Clarice nevertheless submits whenever Bernard makes plans to have out-of-town trips for just the two of them. Apart from knowing how important the regular dates are, she has also seen the value of having the husband lead the family (thanks to a short stint as a stay-at-home mom).

Constant communication, a marriage rooted in friendship, and a shared calling to put family first are Bernard and Clarice’s secrets to their happily married ever after. That, and treating each other with respect, no matter how many times they forget to put those shoes back in the cupboard.

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