Inspirational Speech – Ako Para Sa Bata 2017 – The Science & Art of Parenting Children Today

Inspirational Speech by Pammy Godoy

Delivered at AKO PARA SA BATA International Conference 2017

“The Science and Art of Parenting Children Today”

1 December 2017 | SMX Convention Center Manila

Good morning everyone. Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.

Some of you may know me in my professional capacity as a United Nations officer and as an advocate for ending violence against women and children.

Today, I won’t be speaking to you from this position of professional expertise.

Today, I would be intensely personal with you by sharing my life story.

I wrote my book “Sex, Virginity, and Relationships: What I Wish I Knew in College” in 2014. With my introvert personality, I never dreamed that I would someday write about my life. But after many years of encountering teen girls as young as 11 or 13 who are already pregnant with their first child and young women in their 20s who have five children, I was compelled to write about my story as a teenage mom to serve as a cautionary tale…to give teenage girls a glimpse into the life of someone they can relate to, so they could hopefully make better choices.

I originally envisioned teenage girls and boys as my primary audience. But as I started giving talks to young people about my book, I realized that I could speak with them for a few hours and then after they may keep in touch with me via social media…but then I was thinking… who will guide them as they reflect on the lessons I shared with them and who will support them in making empowered choices about their future?

That’s when I was inspired to reach out to parents to help them…to equip them to becoming Askable Parents to their children when it comes to sexuality related concerns. It’s a tough call considering that in this day and age, parents are still highly uncomfortable when it comes to talking about sex and sexuality with their children.

So allow me to share with you my story first and then I will use it as a platform to cull out specific lessons on parenting. 

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I am a Daddy’s girl. I believe that my father was the kindest and most patient man on earth. I felt so loved and protected whenever I was with him. Since my mom had to work, my dad was the one left at home to care for me.

It was not a common arrangement, especially in the late 1970s. The mother is usually the one who stays at home and takes care of the child, but this is not a typical family. My dad was thirty years older than my mom. He was a widower with four daughters. My mom was just a few years older THAN his eldest daughter. For health reasons, my dad was advised by his doctor to stay at home. So he essentially became the house-husband and my mom, the bread-winner.

Despite the uncommon household arrangement, my childhood in Bulacan was very pleasant and memorable. We lived near the rice fields and my dad allowed me to play outdoors. I would leave our home squeaky clean in the morning and return home sweaty and dirty and happy from playing hide and seek, climbing trees and biking.

I remember going to a nearby elementary school. There were no nursery schools yet, so my parents asked for the principal’s permission to allow me to participate in the Grade 1 class as a “salingkit” or “salingpusa.”

My blissful and idyllic childhood was cut short when my father died. He succumbed to his second heart attack. I was 6 1/2 years old, and at that age I did not quite understand what was happening. One day my dad was alive and the next thing I knew someone was guiding me towards my dad’s coffin near the church’s altar. It was very surreal for me. After seeing my dad in a coffin, my world was blurred by my tears and I felt an overwhelming loneliness.

Whenever I would miss my dad terribly, I would dream of him taking my hand and bringing me to heaven, where we could be together. My mom was alarmed when I shared those dreams with her. She was afraid that I would not wake up again. Almost immediately after dad’s burial, my mom decided to uproot us from Bulacan to live with her younger brother in Laguna.

That was the start of our nomadic lifestyle, which ended up with me studying in three different schools just for my elementary education. When I was just beginning to adjust and make new friends, it would be time to move again.

So I grew up fatherless. My father’s death left a void in my heart. I never knew what it was like to feel the love, care, and affection that only a father could give.

I felt ever more intensely the absence of my father when I was sexually abused in several occasions between the ages of 8 and 9. I kept thinking I could not have been sexually violated if my father was alive because he would be there to protect me.

I did not realize then how deeply the death of my father and my experience of sexual abuse wounded me and how these events would negatively impact my life.

I was still struggling with fatherlessness when my mom felt that she needed to go abroad to support me and my education. By third year high school, my mom left for Japan. I felt that I was not only fatherless, I was also motherless.

Growing up I struggled with feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem. I craved for words of affirmation and validation. I longed for attention. I looked for love in the wrong places. This led me to a series of bad decisions about my body, my sexuality and my intimate relationships.

When I was a first year college student in UP Los Baños, I was drawn to this man who exudes the “bad boy” VIBE. His frat mates nicknamed him “Dick” because of his playboy ways. Aside from girls, he also struggled with drug addiction. So he was into sex and drugs. I should have stayed away from him. But I was not just a girl craving for love, I was also delusional. I thought I was THE GIRL who could transform him from being a “bad boy” into a “good boy.”

So we became boyfriend and girlfriend. As to be expected, it was only a matter of time before he started pressuring me to have sex with him. Perhaps, the constant insistence and emotional blackmailing of “If you love me then you’ll have sex with me,” came from his need to maintain his reputation of being a “Dick” to his frat mates.

Looking back, I realized that when I said “yes” to having sex with him, it was not just my 17-year-old self who was coerced to say “yes.” It was myself who longed my entire life for the love and care of a father. It was also myself who felt I was responsible for the sexual abuse and since then I was dirty and unlovable.

I had no recollection though of the night we first had sex because I was so drunk that I passed out.

A few months later, I realized that I was not having my period.

I got pregnant at the age of 17.

I was six months pregnant when I celebrated my eighteenth birthday.

Ten weeks after my 18th birthday, I gave birth to my eldest son. I was not overflowing with joy and tenderness when the nurse handed my newborn son to me. On the contrary, I was petrified and scared. He looked so fragile. I had no inkling how I would take care of this tiny human being.

Three weeks after I gave birth, I was in the office of our city Mayor. I did not really want to get married but I did not want my son to grow up being labeled a bastard.

So there I was, a young girl who just turned 18 and not only was I a mother, I was also a newly married woman.

Childbirth and marriage. Marriage and childbirth. Two major life changing events happening to an 18-year-old girl.

I will stop my story here but I want you to know that the following years were extremely difficult for me. I was struggling day to day as a single mom. I was fighting a custody battle. I was trying but failing to make ends meet. My 20s were filled with pain, sorrow and heartache. It is only with God’s grace that I’m standing here in front of you.

So here are my four action points for parents and for those of you who work with parents that I have culled out from my life story:

FIRST. Raise boys to be men who care.

SECOND. Reach and engage fathers.

THIRD. Equip parents to become their children’s primary sexuality educator.

AND FOURTH. Build parents’ ability to protect children from abuse.

#1 Raise BOYS to be men who care

We should stop sending the message that their manhood or “pagka lalaki” is measured primarily by the number of their sexual hookups and partners. If not, we will continue to have this situation where boys coerce their girlfriends to have sex with them. And we know that coercion comes in various forms. It can be boys pressuring or forcing their girlfriends to digitally send sexually explicit photos. It can be boys being persistent and emotionally blackmailing their girlfriends that they either have sex with them or they will leave them for someone else. It can be boys having sex with girls who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “YES” or “NO.”

We should stop excusing and justifying boys’ bad behavior by saying that “boys will be boys.” We should build the skills of boys to express their feelings without becoming violent instead of telling our boys not to cry and they should be tough and aggressive. We should encourage men to be positive role models for boys and young men and teach them about healthy and respectful relationships.

#2 Reach and engage fathers 

There seems to be many children who are growing up asking “Where is my father?” The founder of The World Needs a Father movement, Cassie Carstens, has been emphasizing that fathers are enormously important in the holistic development of their children.

But where are the fathers?

Some could be “sumakabilang buhay” while others could be “sumakabilang bahay.”

Some may be unaware that they are fathers because they didn’t know that their one-night-stand produced a child.

Some may be working abroad as Overseas Filipino Workers.

And sadly even when some fathers are physically present in the lives of their children, they do not fulfill their expected role.

We need active and involved fathers. Children with involved fathers have higher self-esteem, better cognitive and social skills, fewer behavioral problems, and higher academic achievement. This is true at every income level and regardless of how involved mothers are. When fathers participate in their lives, daughters have higher self-esteem and are more willing to try new things AND sons are better equipped to cope with stress and less likely to fight. What’s more, teenagers who feel close to their fathers end up in happier and healthier marriages.

The ways men father their children usually are a product of the ways they were reared in the past. We should help men rethink and reshape the deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviors that foster toxic masculinity.

We must create a supportive environment to help men integrate values of care into their masculine identities. Policies promoting fathers’ involvement at home should be passed and implemented. For instance, paternity leave has positive effects on the child’s development and helps break down traditional social attitudes of men as breadwinners and women as caregivers. In Sweden, fathers get 90 paid paternity days. In the Philippines, fathers get only seven days. We need to change that.

We should likewise make a conscious and deliberate effort to reach out to teenage dads. We should give the appropriate support to teenage boys so they may play a major role in their children’s lives even when the relationship with the mothers of their children did not work out.

#3 Equip parents so they may be ‘Askable Parents’ to their children on healthy and value-based sexuality in a porn-saturated society

So much violent and degrading pornography is free and unfiltered on most digital devices that the average age of first viewing porn is estimated by some researchers to be 11.

Pornography has become de facto sex education for children given the frightening lack of confidence and competence among parents when it comes to talking to their kids about sexuality. Parents are often reluctant to engage in discussion of sexual matters with children because of cultural norms, their own ignorance or discomfort.

Unfortunately, after 40 years of research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes—for the worse—how we think about sexuality, relationships, intimacy, gender equality, and sexual violence.

Let’s help parents resist the idea that there should be just one conversation about sex and sexuality. It’s not one talk. It is a million talk and a series of loving parent-child conversations about relationships, sexuality, intimacy that should begin early in a child’s life and continue through adolescence.

#4 Build parents’ ability to protect children from abuse

Teenage pregnancy risk is strongly linked to sexual abuse, especially for those who have experienced sexual abuse BOTH within and outside the family.

When a child has been sexually abused by someone outside the family, supportive parents can help in dealing with the trauma. On the other hand, when a child who has experienced incest, a supportive relationship with a caring adult outside the family may foster resilience and healing. However, when a child has been sexually abused both outside the family and within the family, who can the child trust to help?

I was sexually abused by someone outside the family. My mom was working and she would leave me in the care of our neighbor. Our neighbor has five children, one of which was a young man in fourth year high school. He was one of my abusers. I was not able to tell anyone about this.

I was also sexually abused by someone within the family. He was my stepfather; my mother’s live-in-partner. I was able to disclose it to my mother. I was expecting that she would immediately leave my stepfather but she did not. She only told me that if ever my stepfather would attempt to touch me again then I should call him “Papa” to alert him that it was me that he was trying to have sex with and not my mom.

We should engage parents and other caring adults to be partners in preventing childhood sexual abuse. For instance, we can teach parents on how they can respect children’s highly intuitive personal boundaries by NOT forcing them to kiss, hug, and even sit on the laps of relatives or people they hardly know. Child protection experts agree that when children are obligated to be affectionate even if they don’t want to, it makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse later on.

We should equip them to handle disclosure of sexual abuse from their children. My mother loves me very much but sadly she was not equipped to handle my disclosure. Parents’ reaction to disclosure is crucial. The abused child should feel that he or she is heard, believed and valued. Parents must be able to convey that they believe the child AND they will do everything in their power to protect the child from further harm.

I did not reveal in my book my experience of sexual abuse. I was not ready. For the longest time I just have a head knowledge that perhaps my life was negatively impacted by the sexual abuse but there was no heart recognition of the connection between the trauma of the sexual abuse and the disempowered decisions I made with regard to my body, my sexuality and my intimate relationships. That is until I participated in an emotional recovery and healing program organized by our church, the Christ’s Commission Fellowship or CCF, in 2016. The program helped me find my way in overcoming years of guilt and shame. Most importantly, God’s unfailing love and unrelenting grace healed me and restored me in ways I didn’t think possible.

This year, I participated again in this recovery and healing program of CCF but this time as a Life Coach. I am grateful for the opportunity to hold a safe space for women to finally tell their stories of abuse, which they kept hidden for decades. I am deeply humbled to be an instrument for God’s compassion as I help other women and girls go through their own journey of healing.

I pray that you continue to be passionate about your work. God has special assignments for each one of you that only you can fulfill. The future of our country will depend on our children’s choices and circumstances. And our children’s choices and circumstances will largely depend on how parents parent and how invested and intentional they are about parenting their children. Together we can create a circle of support for parents…one parent at a time…one family at a time.

Maraming salamat po.

At left is Dr. Bernadette Madrid, Executive Director, Child Protection Network Foundation, Inc. and at right is Dr. Stella Manalo, Conference Chair, AKO PARA SA BATA International Conference in Manila 2017
Photo by Claro Cortes IV
Inspirational Speech – Ako Para Sa Bata 2017 – The Science & Art of Parenting Children Today