Celebrating children and migrant domestic worker mothers
APRIL AND MAY are abuzz with important celebrations across Asia, though such occasions can be bittersweet for migrant workers in Hong Kong who are unable to be home to celebrate with their families.
Many migrant workers are mothers. For mothers, not being able to see our children on these special days can be particularly tough.
“It’s difficult to express how I’m feeling,” says Cik Haditiningsih, when asked about celebrating Ramadan away from her children, “[it’s] a mix of emotions: sad but happy too. I’m raising them from afar and I’m happy that they are independent and strong.”
"A mix of emotions: sad but happy too. I’m raising them from afar and I’m happy that they are independent and strong" - Cik Haditiningsih
(on spending Ramadan away from her children)
Hong Kong has opened its doors to migrant workers since 1974. For 47 years, many mothers have taken a leap of faith and made the difficult decision to be away from their children to create a brighter future for them.
“I left my children to work as a migrant worker in Hong Kong when they were still toddlers,” Mulyani Yunus (Yani) shares.
“As a mom who is away from their children, I need to find mental strength, including overcoming the pain/hurt of awareness that I should be by their side while they are growing.
“I believe this is uneasy for most moms. The sense of responsibility and hope for their brighter future gives me energy. Whenever I felt tired and thought about giving up, thinking about their dreams helped me [with] living and working in this foreign country.”
"The sense of responsibility and hope for [my children’s] brighter future gives me energy" - Mulyani Yunus (Yani)
Long-distance parenting is not easy. What are simple plans mothers can put in place to raise our children successfully from afar, and build a bond that can go the distance?
1. Entrust our children with responsible guardians who share our values
Caring, trustworthy and like-minded guardians in one’s home country play an important role in supporting mothers who work overseas. They provide nurturing care and guidance to our children.
Selecting the right guardian will give mothers assurance and peace of mind that their children are in safe hands.
Migrant domestic worker (MDW) Luzviminda Lupian tells us: “My niece, a school teacher, checks on my two teenage children everyday. She is very strict and makes sure they do
their homework and complete their daily responsibilities such as washing their clothes.
My niece, a school teacher, checks on my two teenage children everyday. She is very strict and makes sure they do their homework and complete their daily responsibilities - Luzviminda Lupian
“She also checks to make sure they don’t spend too much time on their mobile phones. If they don’t complete their tasks and spend too much time on the phones, she will take their phones for the day.”
2. Connect regularly and deeply
Go beyond questions such as, “Have you eaten?” or “Have you done your homework?” on video calls. Be curious about your children’s lives: ask them who their close friends are, and invite them to share stories about what happened in school.
“Parents working overseas have their own unique way of performing duties and responsibilities. Often, they hide the real situation to protect their children and show they are strong,” says Love Lee, another MDW working in HK.
“I choose to be different. Apart from ensuring they have a comfortable life, I want them to realise that life overseas is not always as smooth as what they see on social media, or as happy as what is shown in my pictures.
“I phone them whenever I feel tired, hungry, exhausted, or even during their bedtime, and tell them that their mom is still working. As a result, I have witnessed they are growing to be independent, contented and appreciative. They are grateful for the life that we have instead of complaining. They never demand especially material things. Whenever they need something, they will ask first if we can afford it.
Beyond their academic excellence, what makes me even proud is seeing them keep the values that I am trying to instil. Despite the distance, time and gap that separate us, I have my voice heard by my children, I have their respect. These are the values that I was carrying while growing up away from my parents.”
Often, [parents] hide the real situation to protect their children and show they are strong - Love Lee
Connection truly goes both ways. Many mothers don’t want to show our vulnerabilities to our children. As our children mature, try to engage in age-appropriate heart-to-heart conversations with them. Be open and honest about our challenges and feelings as a MDW. This can draw us closer to our children and strengthen their character.
Today and everyday, we celebrate all migrant moms and their children – for your courage, strength, resilience, and your effort each day to connect, despite the distance.