HUGE can of worms! We all love our kids, and we take our parenting very seriously. If you have kids, or if your lady is a single mum with kids, then you will have things you need to deal with. One thing is for certain and that is that NO kid will feel obligated to change and adjust to suit the situation. After all it wasn’t THEIR idea that mum (or dad) married this person. But they are human beings too, and their feelings matter. And as a decent man, you have to make sure they feel safe, secure, loved and accepted as quickly as you can.
Filipino kids will generally have an innate respect for adults, so you generally won’t have to deal with surliness or backchatting. But you will have other issues to deal with.
And please don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater! I’m emphasizing problems here, but that’s because no one has to “deal with” or fix something that’s good. Try to identify the things in the child’s upbringing (eg. respect for elders) which are good, and don’t encourage the child to swap them for negative traits, just because they are Aussie-kid things. Aussie society is becoming increasingly permissive when it comes to raising kids, and (in my opinion at least) it can have some very negative results.
On that topic of respect, note that Filipino kids are accustomed to having to treat adults with respect. They may not have the same table manners, and they may initially make a mess in the bathroom, but they generally won’t be surly or cheeky. And they will have grown up envious of other kids who had a dad at home. They need a dad, and a dad is what you need to become. They don’t need an “Uncle Steve”, or a large and hairy schoolmate-impersonator. If you let them do as they wish, with no rules, they’ll lose all respect for you and will run wild. So make sure you talk about these issues with your wife-to-be, and present a united front.
You will have the language issue. Chances are that, just like mum, the child will have been taught English at school, but will speak Tagalog or the local dialect by way of preference. The child will have as much difficulty with Aussie mumbling as any other Filipino, and may not understand much unless you make a strong effort to speak clearly. And be prepared for the kid-habit of saying YES when you ask “Did you understand?” even if he/she understood nothing at all.
We brought our young daughter to Australia a number of years ago. I married a single mum myself, so I’ve been there and done that! Now, some may disagree with this, but we made a strict rule of English-only speaking in the house. The only time her mum would revert to the local Bicolano dialect would be if our daughter really didn’t understand something. Within 6 months she spoke perfect English. In less than a year she had an Aussie accent you could cut with a knife! No one at school believed she came from overseas. Kids are wonderfully adaptable. But don’t hold them back by not encouraging them. If you have a shy child with a language refuge at home, he/she may have trouble fitting in at school. Better to toss them in at the deep end and let them swim.
And also keep in mind that you as a new dad need to quickly become the second parent, and an equal parent. You won’t do this if mum and child have their own secret little world they can disappear into. You will have no end of problems if this happens. The child may resent you, and you may end up resenting the child. Make sure that language is not a barrier.
And keep firmly in mind that kids at school can be very cruel. If a kid sounds “funny”, they can make the child into an outsider. There were times when they made fun of my daughter for weird pronunciation. And this was one more reason why I turned up the pressure on her English improvement, and it paid off. Life moves forward and not backward. Despite what people say about advantages of second languages, being completely fluent in the language of your homeland is far more important. And Australia will be the new homeland of your new son or daughter.
Food issues will also come up. They will be the same issues as you will have with their mum. Give and take!
But I have to say that the Filipino diet, especially for kids, is often appalling. Kids are usually fed mountains of white rice, with little scraps of fatty meat and little or no vegetables. It’s common to find Filipino kids, even from average families who can afford proper food but lack the knowledge, suffering malnutrition. Kids of 3 or 4 years old have rotting and grey-coloured teeth because of calcium deficiencies. There is often a very low resistance to whatever “bug” is going around. Kids are generally allowed to choose the food that THEY want to eat, and because it’s often fairly bland they don’t eat very much. And shrunken stomachs have low capacities anyway.
We have three kids. Two of them adopted. They all arrived with hollow cheeks and legs like sticks. We reduced the rice intake to about 1/3. We supplied about the same quantity of vegetables and same quantity of meat as the rice intake. They attained healthy weights and stopped getting sick within weeks. And they probably eat about double the previous quantity these days. Please do the same! Fill the plate for them. Say “finish what’s on the plate”. Problem solved. And reduce the junk snack food, and have a ready supply of fruit on hand.
Wussiness can be a problem. Filipino kids are often babied. Remember the point about lack of independence? It starts from childhood. 7 year olds can still drink out of baby bottles. 8 year olds can still sleep in the same bed as mum, and be terrified to sleep by themselves. A 13 year old may still have mum fussing over them at the dinner table. I met someone with a 7 year old who, after arriving in Australia, was happy to be pushed around in a baby stroller. How to deal with it? Patiently! You’ll have to deal with mum first, to make sure she can see that giving a kid a sense of pride in their independence is not an unloving thing to do.
The sleeping alone issue is a major one, and should be dealt with ideally before the child arrives in Australia. If you have the chance, try to bring it up before they even come to Australia. You REALLY don’t need an 8 or 9 year old in your bed! You definitely do not want a 13 year old in your bed either. Apart from the fact that you and your wife need time for romantic things, you simply can’t have kids in your bed in Australia. Yes, it’s considered quite normal in the Philippines. But in Australia we relate “sleeping with” somebody with having sex. One inkling getting out at your child’s new school about him/her “sleeping with” anybody, and you’ll have welfare people bashing down your door. And this includes siblings sleeping together too, remember.
Fear of aswangs, wak waks, onggus, white ladies, hairy men who smoke cigars and live in trees….these sorts of beliefs are common in the Philippines, especially amongst the less sophisticated provincial people. Hard to stop kids being terrified of creepy things in the night if their parents also believe this rubbish. You won’t be able to deal with the sleeping-alone issue until you can deal with this fear. Otherwise you’ll have a terrified kid! I had to deal with this one. Fortunately her mum had ceased to believe in this nonsense, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a hope. I used a combination of humour, with logical reminders that there are no photographs existing of flying aswangs, and that there are no clothing stores for aswangs, and that there are no aswang-food aisles in the supermarket. It took a few months, but we got there.
When should the child come to Australia?
Your wife will have culture shock when she comes to Australia. She will also have to adjust to being married and living with you, as you will have to adjust to living with her. She may freak out a few times. She may cry. She will miss her family, her previous home, her previous lifestyle and all she was familiar with. You need to have time and space to deal with these things. You’ll also be in this blissfully romantic state where you’ll want to be together all the time, and no doubt will spend a lot of time having mummy-and-daddy-cuddles.
It’s not fair on a child to have them trying to adjust to their new life while mum is doing the same and no one has the time to devote to helping THEM adjust. The child will not feel secure if mum is having a wobbly, or if she finds mum sobbing in the kitchen because she doesn’t know how to cook lamb chops.
Strongly consider you leave the child with granny in the Philippines for at least 3 months! Make sure that you and your wife are able to give the child the attention they need and deserve when they arrive.
And please speak to your Migration Agent about getting a tourist visa while the main visa is being processed. That way you can deal with the adjustment time, just the two of you, and still bring the child with you as part of the main visa application.
Aussie kids and all kids
And I sincerely hope that you start your whole process of your new life without the step-parent concept. I started off my relationship with my wife stating that I was a single dad, and that I expected our family to be a real and complete family. She would be a mum to my kids, and I would be a dad to her daughter. No “your kids/my kids” thinking. My daughter called me Daddy from the day I met her when she was 4 years old. Fortunately she never knew another father-figure, but I would have still insisted on this. And I also made it clear to my sons that Mila was not a guest in the house. She spoke with my authority, and that if she spoke then they should obey her as if her words were mine. Establish ground-rules with your wife and with all kids right from the start, otherwise they’ll soon become a wedge between you. You can’t have any “don’t speak to MY child like that” or “you’re not my father” attitudes if you want to become a fully functioning family.
With any kids of your own, no doubt they will feel that they’re being invaded. They will resent changes. They will resent somebody taking up their dad’s time and attention. Deal with them patiently but firmly. Your relationship with your wife must be paramount. Your kids will grow up and move out. Your wife won’t. Yes, you should put your kids basic needs first. That’s normal. But your loyalty and your solidarity must be firmly with your new life-partner. Make sure the kids understand this. The longer you’ve been a single-dad family, the harder this will be. And the same will apply to your wife if she’s been a single mum for a long time.