One of the harsher realities parents must face is having to accept that their children will eventually live grow up, find their place in the world, and start living their own lives. In most cases, this entails being away from the first home they came to know, more or less for good.
If they were to have a super power, it would be no exaggeration to say that many moms and dads would hope their little ones would stop growing and stay just small enough to be carried around in their arms – or at the very least, to slow down the pace of their growth spurts. But whether they like it or not, they will have to let them go sooner than they expect so that they can venture out into the world on their own.
This is a future RJ and Jo Anna Serra of Pasig City have consciously been preparing themselves for since they took their marriage vows and started a family.
It is no surprise then that these proud parents of five cherish every second they get to spend with Augustine, She, Benedict, Francis, and Faustina despite their work as real estate brokers. They know they’re parents first and foremost who just happen to be selling property on the side, and not the other way around.
If parenting were to be classified today as a hobby like fishing and collecting stamps, RJ and Jo Anna would no doubt be among its enthusiastic pioneers. So seriously do these real estate brokers take the task of being a father and a mother that one can almost imagine reading the words “We are parents and proud” tattooed on their flexed biceps as they carry a handful of toddlers to bed.
“We count the number of days that they will still be children. Before we know it they’re already in their teens. They grow so fast. The time left for us to bond with them is getting smaller and smaller. We want to make sure that we’re consciously present for them,” said RJ, smiling slowly, as if remembering the first time he became a father.
Of course, the vocation called parenthood does not literally end when the children move out of the house. However, it is childhood that doesn’t last forever. And RJ and Jo Anna cannot afford to see their kids leaving them one by one without the values and the education they would like them to have even when they’re no longer around to take care of them.
In a way, the Serras are quite a modern family of hipsters, but minus the craze and the excesses commonly associated with the 1960s. Theirs is a novelty that is deeply rooted in tradition – purposeful parenting that consciously limits modern-day distractions like TV and handheld gadgets. They embrace what’s good and wholesome in the new without turning their backs on the best that the old can offer. They’re the counter-cultural type in the sense that they go against the flow and refuse to let themselves be boxed in by the popular notion of what a family does on a day-to-day basis.
A typical scene in many Filipino homes these days would have the mother robotically chopping carrots while her children are either glued to the TV or to their cellphones or both. Meanwhile, the padre de familia is out somewhere watching basketball or having a drinking spree with his buddies.
This is precisely the reason why RJ and Jo Anna decided not to own a TV set a home, let alone one with cable.
“We notice in other families TV take away so much of their time … When you don’t have TV, the children go straight to you. And you have more than sufficient reason to bond with them,” explained Jo Anna, who, however, lets her kids watch a movie of their choice every Friday.
At the Serras’, not having TV is the rule, and they couldn’t care less if they’re not updated about the latest music video of Lady Gaga or the new boyfriend of Taylor Swift. They believe that there’s more to life than what the small screen shows.
What they have instead is books—and lots of them in fact! This way, their children get the extra knowledge they incidentally miss at school and won’t learn from TV anyway even if they had one.
“Whenever I’m out of the country I make it a point to buy my kids quality reading materials, especially those that can inspire them and teach them important lessons in life,” shared Jo Anna.
This also applies to the movies they watch during their regular movie nights.
It doesn’t mean though that RJ and Jo Anna deprive their children of gadgets and other things their peers enjoy. It’s just that they carefully limit the time they can use them, usually on weekends and only for an hour each.
Aside from reading, the Serras also play games together and go out on family dates as often as they can. These activities allow the couple to know each individual kid better, and vice versa.
“As early as now, we try to make them feel that our lines are always open for them. We let them know that they can share with us freely anything they want, whether it’s about something that happened at school, or about their friends,” said RJ.
According to Jo Anna, engaging one’s children in regular one-on-one conversations is an effective means to earn their trust so that they will one day enter adulthood assured that they constantly have their parents’ confidence and support.
Even with the need to earn a living, the Serras constantly find ways to prevent their job from interfering with their jealously guarded time with their kids. For them, “Family first” is not just a cute motto invented by a bored writer. It is something as sacred as life itself.
We see entire families fighting against the prevailing trend of massive media exposure and distracted family meals. For parents like the Serras, their mission is to give their best as parents. They know full well that their work doesn’t define them. Anyone can go out and take their place as doctors, engineers or sales representatives, but no one can take on their role as father and mother to their children.