Manila and motherhood: I have learned so much

Michelle Ressa-Aventajado

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As I discover all the beautiful people and places, I'm discovering parts of my mother as well

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. The author (right) with eldest child Gia. Photo by Nino Aventajado

MANILA, Philippines – Moving to Manila has provided many gifts for me. These gifts have helped me become a better daughter, wife and, most of all, better mother.

We moved our family to Manila in 2006. Actually, when I fell in love with Nino, I also knew that eventually, I would end up living in Manila at some point in my life. 

When you consider moving to another country, you assume that major changes will take place — not just geographically…but physically, emotionally, and mentally. While some cannot even fathom the changes that will occur as they settle in foreign country, I actually welcomed it.

The fact is, I didn’t think it would be extremely difficult. I married a Filipino. I was Filipina-American. I cooked a mean version of adobo. I ate kare-kare, lots of rice, halo-halo, and enjoyed singing karaoke. My family is clannish…we all look after one another (maybe a bit too much) and I thought that my inability to speak Tagalog wouldn’t hamper moving around too much because English is spoken so widely.

Seven years have passed and while the adjustments I have made turned out to be many more than I expected, many have been for the better. Leaving what you know is familiar and comfortable is always a challenge. The changes and adjustments you will need to make is what pushes you to your edge.

In yoga, we constantly push ourselves to our “edge.” Consider moving from one neighborhood to the next; the challenge is to find your balance and routine again: the right laundromat for your dry cleaning, the right supermarket for your family’s needs, and even finding the right neighbors to become friendly with may take some time. 

Gift of understanding 

My mother moved to New York when she was in her early 20s. She gave birth to me in New York and I grew up there. There are many changes my mother made to blend into the American culture, yet there are many parts of Filipino culture that she clung to.

There were some parts of my mother that I didn’t completely understand. At times, I questioned my mother’s reasoning because it wasn’t how my friend’s moms would reason or because it was so different from what the norm was in the suburb where I grew up.

I would sometimes remind my mom that we were living in New York and not in the Philippines. She would offer me explanations as to why we did things a certain way and it seemed old fashioned.

MARIA AND MARY JANE, 1973. Mom left Manila when she was still quite young. I don't think she ever looked back.

Thankfully, I now have a deeper understanding of Filipino culture. The nuances, the unspoken words that can carry more meaning than I previously understood. The “best effort,” and the importance of my children making mano to their elders. The reading between the lines, and the ability to say no, with a smile and sweetness that a New Yorker would never dream of having.

I understand the changes and the sacrifices that my mother made, not just in her motherhood but in living in another country different from what was familiar to her. I understand this twofold. I was gifted with 4 wonderful children and my first baby was born in 1999. And that saying, “You’ll understand when you have children of your own?” Yup. Well, it couldn’t be any more true. I get it, Mom — I know what you meant back then!

The other side to that newfound understanding is that I respect my mom for making life in New York, simply because I am a foreigner living in Manila. I can only imagine the culture shock she experienced all those years as a young woman trying to find her way in a foreign country.

Although I have slowly found my way here, I realize that there are times when I am even a little more Filipino than my mom. My mom imbibed parts of the American culture to ease her survival in a foreign country. I do the same here in Manila. We take the good parts of our environment and combine that with what we know.

MOMMY AND KIDS. My mother embraced American-Italian culture as she made her life with my dad in New York

I now understand where my mom comes from. I understand parts of the history of the Philippines that shaped my grandmother, my mother and my Titas and Titos. I probably could’ve studied this before while living in New York, but learning about the history of the Philippines (with my children, while living here) has given shape to my heritage that would have been impossible if I were still living in the US.

Gift of time

Living in Manila offers mothers the ability to delegate and multi-task twofold with the assistance of household help. If I plan well, I can manage the household, prepare dinner, do the homework with the kids, pack their lunches, and spend the quality time at night after baths and before bed feeling accomplished.

With a little guidance, ingredients are prepped for dinner so I can cook quick and nutritious meals for my family. I can oversee the proper ways to keep the house clean, devoid of clutter, and the children’s clothing will be washed and pressed to my liking. I can enjoy packing lunches for the kids and minding our youngest who is still too young to go to school because I have the help in the kitchen in the morning. 

After sending my big kids off to school, I can even take the time to attend yoga classes for myself. While there are many pros and cons of having household help, I have learned that the ability to delegate the jobs I’m not so fond of when it comes to household chores can make for a much happier mommy. On a good day, I can balance the needs of my children, my home and my other jobs…teaching yoga and writing. I can bake, and maybe even catch coffee with a girlfriend.

The gift of time also shows in my relationship with my husband. Investing time in our relationship models what a healthy relationship should be for our children. Children choose their partners in life based on what kind of relationship their parents model. It’s important for Mommy and Daddy to have some time together too! 

Gift of yoga 

Because I have more time to myself, I have more time to practice yoga. Because I have more time to practice yoga, I have more patience. I believe I am kinder. I can work on myself, which leads to improved relationships all around. Enriching my understanding of yoga, allows me to deepen my understanding of myself. Yoga is a practice of looking inward. 

I am kinder to myself. I know I’m not perfect and while I may strive for some sort of “perfection” in balancing motherhood, my business and work, and being a wife and a daughter, my practice of yoga has taught me to forgive myself if I don’t meet that standard of perfection.

More time allows me more room to explore my practice. Exploring my practice has shown me that while I may push myself to my edge — every day is different…every practice is different, depending on what I’m carrying around at the time.

Gift of perspective 

When I first moved here, I began many of my sentences with the same few words: “In New York, I could….”

Well, once I accepted that I wasn’t in New York anymore, my life became so much easier. I was able to see things for what they are, and know that there is, of course, more than one way of doing things. Moving here in my 30s, did for me what traveling in my teens and early 20s did. 

AT THE COLISEUM, 1993. When I was 18, we spent 21 days traveling across Italy. I was a different person after that trip. Traveling can do that to you, just like living in another country.

Manila has broadened my perspective. 

Gift of discovery 

I am so lucky that I get to discover the Philippines with my children. We can visit places and learn about their history together. Moving to the Philippines has gifted me with the ability to learn more about my mother’s homeland WITH my children. We can explore its 7,107 islands together.

I am seeing it with an appreciation that is much different than if I was visitor. The Philippines is my home now, so as I discover all the beautiful people and places, I’m discovering parts of my mother as well. And that understanding and discovery of my mother enables me to be a better mother to my own children. 

MORIONES. The Moriones Festival in Marinduque is a family tradition. Discovering the festivals and fiestas all around the Philippines is an activity we all learn from. 



Michelle Aventajado

Michelle Aventajado is a Filipina-American who grew up in New York and now considers Manila her home. When she’s not busy raising her 4 children, she enjoys teaching, reading, and writing about her passions. Follow her blog Momma ‘N Manila as she documents her adventures and growth in parenting. 



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