The Concept of the “Titang-Ina” and why they should be celebrated too

By Ica Hontiveros-Cheng

Luke with Nang-Nang Isay hanging out in Luke’s loft.

People often ask me: “How do you do it?” I have my regular job, I have been working the night shift as a Real Time Analyst for a BPO for almost 10 years now. Between the screenings and events that I attend on a weekly basis, the blog, and social media postings, feel like a second job entirely. This is  most especially true, when right after my shift, I sleep for about 1-2 hours before getting up to leave for an event/screening. Aside from that, I also help manage our photography and videography business, I would also take writing gigs on the side, and of course write reviews for movies and other media. 

So, how do I do it? Especially with a five (turning six on August 4) son, who is also diagnosed with GDD (Global Developmental Delay), at five years of age, Luke still has not said a single word. He was diagnosed during the height of the pandemic, he is also most likely on the spectrum, we haven’t been able to meet with his Developmental Pedia again, but he has been doing occupational therapy since his diagnosis.

This is something that I haven’t publicly posted or “revealed”. If you follow me on Instagram, and view my stories (also on Facebook) I have dropped hints here and there, but no official post. I have so many complicated feelings about Luke’s diagnosis, it’s like I took all of these ugly feelings (guilt, jealousy, helplessness, frustration) in a box, locked it, and threw away the key.

Making the time. Luke and I.

For better context, have you seen Barbie? Or at least have you seen America Ferrera’s monologue in the film? It’s so important and cathartic that it’s made its round around social media. Basically, it presents society’s impossible standards on women: There is a line that says: “You’re supposed to love being a mother, but you can’t talk about your kids too much.” and that line is just a scratch on the surface on the expectations on mothers. I am afraid of people saying/whispering: “Your son has special needs and is in the spectrum, shouldn’t you be spending more time with him?” “Why are you still attending all these events when you have a special needs child at home?” These perceived judgements about how I live my life may or not be true but the crippling fear is there. Growing up I was bullied because I was a fan of Japanese anime, but it was easy to brush it off and say “I like what I like” and be stubborn about it. But when people question you and judge you on being mother, that’s like being stabbed right in the chest.

Meet the villagers. Special shout out to my mom, who took care of Luke from when he was an infant, to Paul, who is now Luke’s primary caregiver and disciplinarian. My brother who babysits and who supports the village, just by being there.

I know that I don’t have to explain myself to other people, and so I won’t. Just know that I do all of these for our family as well, and I’ll leave it at that. But you know what, despite my busy schedule, Luke is still a priority, and I still make time for him. (See #MomGuilt is real, I said I wouldn’t explain myself, but here I am doing just that.) There are times when I have to decline invites to events because I have to make it up to Luke. So, going back to my earlier question “How do I do it all?” The short and simple answer is “I don’t do it all. I have a great support system that helps me.” It’s a team effort. It takes a village. And this post is for one of those villagers.

Meet Nang-Nang Isay

There are six years between me and my sister Isay. Melisa with one ‘L’ because our Dad said so, in official documents and ‘Nang-Nang’ (a play on the word ‘Ninang’ / Godmother) to Luke. She’s a geek like me, she’s read more comic books than I have, and we both love music, even if she’s the better singer. We are both adventurous when it comes to our hair, we bleach and color it regularly. Unlike me though, she likes MMA and racing.

She’s been helping taking care of Luke since he was a baby, before the pandemic, and both Paul and I still went to the office to work we would leave Luke at my mom’s house for the whole week and just pick him up during the weekends. That all changed when the pandemic hit, and we transitioned to working from home, at least now we can work and take care of Luke at the same time. But with an energetic and rowdy toddler, you will definitely need all of the help that you can get. During the renovation of our home, there was a spare room that became available, well the plan is that it will become Luke’s room eventually but for now, he still sleeps in our room (Paul, my husband and myself) so we had a vacant room available. During this time, my sister was living by herself, and renting an apartment, we talked it over and asked her to move in. And I guess you can say, that the rest is history.

Luke as a baby with Nang-Nang Isay

For this season of the ‘Write to Ignite’ project, we were tasked to “unmask” the story of others that they may have been longing to share, that each person is a mask brimming with hope, just waiting to be “unmasked” and told to the world. Because, in these hard and trying times, what else do we have but hope, hope to continue and fight on? Hope that one day, Luke will be able to speak, hope that he will be alright in this sometimes cruel and oftentimes frightening world.

So here I am, unmasking this story, and sharing it with you, dear readers, this is my sister’s story of her great love for my son.

What is your favorite memory while taking care of Luke?

Watch this compilation of home videos of Luke and Nang-Nang Isay

The moment that I had with Luke which I treasured the most was when I had just come back home after a horrible break-up. My heart felt crushed and I remember just staying with him in his loft. I would just lie beside him and hold him tightly, and I felt that everything would be alright again. He didn’t have to do anything special; his presence was enough to make me feel okay, even for just awhile.

I had been taking care of him throughout the years, but in those moments, he was the one who took care of me. When you are at one of the lowest moments of your life, knowing that someone is still counting on you can make all the difference in how you deal with these situations.

A cold-hearted man might have broken my heart, but here was this little boy who could put all the pieces back together.

As adults, we think that we save the children around us. We care for them and make sure that all of their needs are met. But there will be days when they will be the ones to save us. There will be days when we will need them as much as they need us. And in those days, we will be thankful that these children are in our lives, and it would make all the sacrifices worth it.

Those are the days that we realize that being a Titang-Ina or a Titong-Tatay is a blessing. And in one way or another, all of the love that we give to our nephews and nieces comes back to us tenfold.

Their entry for the Yayamaning-Tita trend

What advice can you give other Titang-Inas and Titong-Tatays out there?

Being a Titang-Ina or a Titong-Tatay is a role that is unique to the Filipino culture. In Western cultures, asking a sibling to take care of your children would mean that you would have to pay them just like you would a babysitter. It is rare for them to do it for free, or without expecting some form of compensation or a trade-off for caring for children that are not their own. Yet in our culture, we do it freely, without expecting anything in return.

It may be very challenging at times, especially when you have to take care of a child that is not your own, and the parents are not around to help you. It can be exhausting, and you may even lose sleep watching your energetic niece or nephew. But it can be fulfilling in its own way. Being with innocent children makes your heart grow; it helps you become more compassionate and kind. It instills a sense of responsibility in you, and it makes you become more patient. It fills that nurturing need in your heart and gives you a purpose. You may not have a child or a family of your own, but you have nephews and nieces that count on you, and they become your own family too.

It reminds me of those selfless aunts and uncles who did not choose to have a family of their own, but instead gave up their lives and resources to support their nephews and nieces through school and provided them with whatever they needed. We shouldn’t forget about these selfless aunts and uncles. They are parents, in their own way, after all.

To my fellow titang-inas and titong-tatay, I hope that we are proud of who we are and what we have accomplished for our families. Our nephews and nieces would not be where they are today, if it wasn’t for the sacrifices that we made for them. Whether it was the late nights or the physical exhaustion of carrying and chasing our nephews and nieces around, or financially contributing to their needs, we should be proud of the role that we have played in their lives.

Selfies with Nang-Nang through the years

Even if we have a huge responsibility with our nephews and nieces, we can’t forget to have fun with them. We have the freedom of not being as strict as their parents, so we can be a little more lenient, and enjoy the precious time that we have with them. After all, they won’t be that age forever, so it’s good to make the most of these special moments when we can.

The best advice that titang-inas and titong-tatays have to follow is to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves. We may get caught up in taking care of our nephews and nieces that we forget to prioritize our own rest and meet our own needs. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. And if you are an exhausted titang-ina or titong-tatay, you won’t be able to provide the best care for them. Though society may seldom celebrate us and the sacrifices we make for children that are not our own, we have to celebrate ourselves, and appreciate everything that we do for our families. And that means sharing the immense love that we have for others with ourselves.

Even though we see each other and talk to each other every day, its not so easy to talk about these feelings, if we did, we’d end up bawling and crying, so its easier to do it by writing. I am grateful that my son has so many people who love him, and care for him, that we have a great support system to get Luke the help that he needs. As my sister says, the concept of Titang-Ina and Titong-Ama is unique to our Filipino culture, I smile as I remember the videos of young Titang-Inas and Titong-Amas dancing to Cocomelon, and making complete fools of themselves just to entertain their nieces and nephews. Luke prefers The Wiggles (as seen in the photo above, and yes, we all know the songs) though.

Whenever both Paul and I are at event, most likely him doing photo/video coverage and myself both managing, and as a content creator, film critic, it is highly likely that Luke is at home with his Nang-Nang Isay and Nong-Nong (a play on ‘Ninong’ / Godfather) Brad, my brother.

In this day and age, it really is difficult to entrust your children to strangers, and with Luke’s diagnosis, you will need caregivers who are extra patient.

This post goes out to the many Titang-Inas and Titong Amas out there! This is to celebrate you! Coming from a parent, we are eternally grateful for the love and care that you give our children. You may not have a special day like Mothers, Fathers and Grandparents do, although you very much deserve to, but know that you are very much loved and appreciated.

May this story of love and hope, that has now been unmasked, inspire you dear readers. Like Isay, you may also be a fellow Titang-Ina, this is a salute for your hard work and the care that you give your pamangkins. On the other hand, you may also know a Titang-Ina, or a Titong-Ama, tell them that they are loved and appreciated, treat them to a coffee or pizza every once in a while.

So no, I am not Wonder Woman, or Black Widow who is able to juggle work with events and gigs, instead I am part of a super team, I am part of the Justice League, the Avengers and together we get the job(s) done. There’s a Super Mom, there’s a Super Dad, well, there’s Super Tita and Super Tito too.

This story is an entry to COMCO Mundo’s “UNMASKED: The COMCO Mundo Write to Ignite Season 3”.  The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities. “UNMASKED” aims to explore how each mask is a person brimming with hope and wonders to share with others, as well as why it is important to tell their inspiring journeys in life. The “Write to Ignite” Season 3 is made possible by COMCO Mundo League of Enterprises, with airasia, Babyflo, PHILUSA Corporation, Century Tuna, Licealiz, Lamoiyan Corporation, Rémy Martin, and Uratex Monoblock as brand partners.