The three-bedroom bungalow in Marikina where the Mendozas have lived for 25 years has the feel of a boodle fight whenever they’re all home eating. And that is just putting it mildly. Their table transforms into a smorgasbord, which carries a little bit of everything to satisfy the palate of individuals aged 13 to 24, even for 23-year old Ella who is vegetarian, and the combination of different human voices discussing school activities and other concerns of the day compete with the sound of spoons and forks. Welcome to the plus size Mendoza family of 11.
“Every meal is like a party! But the best perk [of having a big family] is that it is easier to teach our children the virtues of temperance and charity because they have become used to not getting everything that they want,” declared Manjoe, the 55-year old factory manager and proud father of nine.
His wife Lenette, 53, agreed, adding that a family as large as theirs means “a bigger work force”, meaning the children realize early on that they contribute to the household by helping out with daily chores and errands, not to mention it means they imbibe a sense of responsibility at a younger age.
She noted, “It’s more economical when cooking for a big group and more importantly, we feel the warmth and cheer in the home when everyone is around. I feel happy just by looking at them all grown up, sharing and trying to be present to each other.”
The Mendozas are nothing like the bleak picture the more cynical among us paint of a big family. There’s no angstsy dad downing his fifth bottle of gin, no mom who looks older than her age with hair that hasn’t seen a comb in years, absent too are the dozen half-naked kids who’ve never seen a
classroom. If anything, their home with a mini-library/study area of its own, is often a flurry of activity where the kids come and go, depending on when the next hospital duty, the pottery exhibit, or student seminar is. Obviously, many piping hot meals have been served here, many prayers have bounced off the walls and the countless stories and inside jokes, not to mention quite a few tears. A mini barrio in perpetual fiesta.
It may already sound cliché, especially to those raised in smaller households, but Manjoe and Lenette, who celebrated their silver anniversary last June 8, will tell you proudly that family is all the wealth they have in the world.
Open to life
“Some couples are afraid of having more children because it can mean a simpler lifestyle devoid of material comforts: no vacation house, no foreign travel, no luxury cars. What they don’t realize is that there is no greater gift that parents can give their children than the blessing of another sibling. They say the only treasure you can take to Heaven with you is your family. So why not a large family?” explained Manjoe.
From the eldest (24) to the youngest (13), their kids are as follows: Mari, a third-year medical student; Ella, who is currently finishing her second degree at the State University; Lisa, a fresh graduate looking forward to start her career; while the rest—Janu, Cara, Raia, Xavi, Paco, and Anjo—are either in college or high school.
To be honest, rearing nine kids wasn’t part of their plan when they married in 1990. They initially agreed on only four—two boys and two girls—like Lenette’s siblings, considering it to be a nice, even number. But once they began studying the teachings of the Church, they opened themselves to the possibility of having one more each time.
Given the number of their brood as well as the limited area of their house, it’s difficult to imagine how they’re able to survive 24/7 with their sanity intact.
Gadget-free family meals
Lenette gave us an idea by describing a regular week day routine that sounds like clock work but probably behaves more like a Geiger counter in reality. The Mendoza couple are up at 5:00 a.m. to say their morning prayers, and to wake up the smaller kids. They prepare breakfast with or without a helper, which they have gone without for months before. Once the kids leave for school, Manjoe and Lenette have a quiet house to themselves during breakfast. When he leaves for work, Lenette runs errands and keeps the home in order.
Once a day, Mrs. Mendoza, who used to work for a bank, takes the time to talk to her 89-year old mother. Manjoe arrives early enough to catch the 6:00 p.m. Mass with his wife.
“At dinner time, we talk to the children about their day or activities for the following day. After dinner, everyone finishes his or her work before going to bed. On weekends, we pray the rosary together after dinner,” shared Lenette, saying it’s Mendoza family policy to have gadget-free family meal times.
As a father, Manjoe is aware that each of the nine is unique, which means he had to tailor-fit his parenting style, depending on their individual temperaments and personality.
“When we started attending parenting seminars, we realized that there is no single approach that fits all. We used this to our advantage,” he explained.
For her part, Lenette shared she had trained herself not to be strict with her children. She became conscious of this tendency because she herself was raised by a mother who was overly so. And she didn’t want it for her own kids.
“It challenged me to exert effort to listen to our children. I try not to be authoritative because I know how it feels to just follow without being given an explanation. I always consult Manjoe to jointly decide on something important to our children. As a mother, I am sensitive to the needs of our children. I know if and when there is something wrong,” she explained.
A parent, not a BFF
Manjoe added:“I tend to be a disciplinarian sometimes to a fault. Lenette balances this with her warm approach. I think it works out. Lenette is quick to sense if there is something troubling our children so she is hands-on with the daughters and she passes on the boys’ concerns to me. … We try to be close to each of them without being their BFF. It is more important for them to have a mentor, guide, and encourager for a parent.”
According to the couple, they realized only after their fourth child and many parenting seminars later that helicopter parenting, also known as overly protective parenting, is wrong.
“We should have allowed our children to experience disappointments and failures early in life. By shielding them from negative feelings or preventing them from making mistakes, we were denying them learning opportunities. Adversity is part of life and to prepare for all the challenges that life will bring, they need to learn skills that will help them cope and ultimately grow from their experiences. Protecting children from pain and suffering does not prepare them for the real world. It took us many years to undo this child-rearing style,” shared Manjoe.
It’s no surprise that due to their number, the Mendozas often get unwanted attention which often borders on the rude if not the downright discriminatory. But Manjoe and Lenette have become experts in combating uncharitable remarks like “We’re already overpopulated” and variants of it with class.
“Depending on the level of our friendship, our answers would range from: ‘In what way is my large family affecting you?’ to ‘Our children will eventually grow up to be productive citizens who will contribute to society and later on, they will become citizens of heaven,” Manjoe said.
We often hear it mentioned that the “Philippines is getting crowded”, and that “we’re poor because we are too many” with millions of Filipinos fighting over resources that are inherently limited.
For many self-styled economic gurus, overpopulation is the root cause of Filipino poverty, but they ignore the elephant in the room: government corruption. Leaders blame the people for the monster they themselves created.
Ironically, our Constitution acknowledges and in fact extols the family as the bedrock of society which we expect to imbue us with the traditional values of respect and obedience. Thus, the State is duty-bound to strengthen and support this now embattled institution.
That said, it’s heartwarming to know there are still families like the Mendozas who won’t bow to social pressure or get swayed by public opinion. It’ll take more than that to convince them that there’s a sweeter party than a big, loud family one.