15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

Motherhood Around the World: Philippines

For our next Motherhood Around the World interview, we talked to Amber Folkman, who lives in the Philippines with her husband, Jake, and their three boys. “I grew up in a small Northern California town,” she says. “But we really enjoy big city life in Manila.” Here, she talks about “malling” with her kids, karaoke parties and elaborate end-of-school performances…

Motherhood Around the World: Philippines

On first impressions: We moved to Manila eight years ago for my husband’s job at a tech company. Our first morning, everything felt new and bustling. We ate breakfast at a traditional Filipino restaurant where the bacon was so fresh there were a few pig hairs visible. We also tried tablea tsokolate, which is Filipino hot chocolate. It has a thicker texture and is not as sweet as the American version. To this day, it’s one of my favorite local drinks.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On friendliness: In general, the people we meet in Manila are warm and child-friendly. That’s one of the greatest perks of living here. When we go to restaurants, the waiters pick up my sons. Strangers give them high fives as we stroll by. And adults are very open to making friends. One day, I saw a craft workshop posted on Instagram, and I decided to give it a go. The women in the class immediately started inviting me to playdates, family BBQs and birthday parties, and I began hosting them, too. Children here, including my boys, refer to adults as kuya (big brother) or ate (big sister), and it’s so endearing.

On politics: For the past year, since President Rodrigo Duterte took office, this country has been involved in a deadly campaign against drugs. It has strained and divided people here. Many Filipinos support the president’s approach, but the people I know who oppose him are staunchly opposed; I have not met anyone who’s sitting on the fence. My husband and I are here on a work visa, which mandates that we not engage in local politics. We can’t vote or participate in political demonstrations. Still, we devour the news. I ask my local friends about their opinions, listen and learn. Recently we received a notice from our community association reminding us that if the Philippine National Police ever asked to search our home for drugs we should immediately comply. We haven’t been personally affected by Duterte’s drug war, but I know friends of friends who have lost loved ones.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On traffic: A recent poll showed that Manila has some of the worst traffic in the world. It’s also one of the safest cities to drive in — the roads are so crowded that cars often doesn’t move faster than 12 miles per hour! Just tonight, it took me two hours to travel three miles. Because traffic is notoriously bad, vendors on the roads sell water, energy drinks, soda and peanuts. I also keep snacks, toys, diapers and changes of clothes for traffic emergencies. My kids have definitely peed in empty water bottles. I plan many of our activities based on holidays when I know traffic will be light, and we don’t get in our car after 4 p.m., if we can help it. The government designated a system which prohibits every car from being on the roads one day each week, which means we can’t drive on Tuesdays. We do a lot of walking when we can.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On malls: Manila is a city of shopping malls. People even use ‘malling’ as a verb. (‘What did you do this weekend?’ ‘We went malling.’) Almost everything is located within the mall: grocery stores, movie theaters, banks, salons, hardware stores and pharmacies. I’ve done Zumba and yoga at the mall; I’ve held a sewing workshop in a mall; our dentist is in a mall. I could probably list 20 malls in a 10-mile radius off the top of my head! At first I tried to avoid them, but now I’ve embraced it. Every Friday, we go to the one by our house for dinner. The kids get to pick where we eat, which usually means the pizza place or a Japanese restaurant where you grill your own meat on a sizzling plate — they go crazy for it. This week, my middle son, Oz, had a cavity, so we visited the dentist. Oz and his siblings watched a movie while his tooth was fixed. After, there was a Lego event, so we played with legos for an hour. As you can tell, we’ve gotten into malls!

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On social media: Social media is huge here. When we got home from the mall that night, our dentist posted an Instagram photo of my kids, and I saw that she had more than 50,000 followers! All businesses have Instagram and Facebook accounts. People of all ages are on social media, from seven-year-olds to grandmas. Selfie sticks are also huge. Time Magazine recently named the Philippines the selfie capital of the world. My kids aren’t on social media yet, but I’ve been surprised by how big of a role it has played in my life as a mom. My social media accounts have allowed me to immerse myself in local culture, from understanding Filipino humor to making real-life friends. My oldest actually helps me translate my Instagram captions into Tagalog, the main language spoken here.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On yayas: Nannies, or yayas, are very common in Manila, and not just for the most affluent families. Some yayas even have their own yayas, usually a relative or a long-time friend to whom they pay a portion of their own salary. We are lucky enough to have Chanda, who helps with cooking, cleaning and watching the kids. Her salary, which equals around $350 per month, including health insurance and meals at work, is higher than average. Some families have live-in helpers, but Chanda lives in her own home. To be honest, it took about a year for me to get used to sharing household and parenting duties with Chanda. I used to think the only time I should be away from my kids was when I was at work. But it’s wonderful to be able to leave my kids in Chanda’s care for regular dates with my husband, individual time with each son, and to write, exercise and volunteer. She teaches us Tagalog and everything about Filipino culture. We love her so much; my kids know her better than they know their grandparents. We will eventually have to say goodbye, but I turn this part of my brain off because I can’t imagine our family without her.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On food: In the Philippines, people take care to use all the cuts of meat: face, head, belly, thighs, bones and skin. At first it was intimidating, but now we eat almost everything. I’ve learned to not inflict my cultural norms on my children, especially when it comes to food. My younger two love chicken intestine. Chanda brings her own lunch, and now Oz likes to eat fish and rice for lunch every day, like she does. She fries it to a crisp, and then he pulls the fish off the bone, packs it into the rice with his hands and eats it like she does without a knife and fork. All my kids eat with their hands now.

On rice: My older son Aaker isn’t into rice like his younger brothers. In school, where he is one of a handful of foreigners and the sole American, he is the only one who brings a sandwich for lunch. At our parent conference, the teachers told me they were worried about Aaker. I got nervous, then they said, ‘We’re concerned that Aaker doesn’t eat rice.’ It was a legitimate concern of theirs, but I was relieved when they said that was it. ‘Rice is life’ is a common phrase here, and it really is.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On school performances: At the end of the school year, all the children put on a song-and-dance performance for their teachers and parents. It’s a huge deal; our school rents out a theater for days. When Aaker was five, they did an intense black-light dance to One Direction, where they spelled out words with their hands. This year, the theme was Trolls, and they all wrote songs about being happy. My son isn’t a natural performer, but this has taught him to feel more comfortable on stage. He might have been shy up there, but he did it and said he had so much fun. I got teary-eyed watching him.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On personal hygiene: Our family has learned from the local emphasis on good personal hygiene. Many people brush their teeth in public restrooms after lunch — my sons have toothbrushes at school and brush along with their classmates. Kids often drape a little towel over the back of their collars during playtime or when they’re outside, so they can wipe away sweat. My kids have asked for them, so now I always carry a sweat towel with us. Most Filipino bathrooms have a tabo, which is a water-filled bucket that you can use instead of toilet paper. At first I thought it wasn’t for me, but when it saved us after my toddler had an accident at a public pool, our family has embraced it!

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On parties: The birthday parties we’ve been to here have been big, even when families don’t have huge budgets. They are family friendly, and everyone gets invited. First birthday parties are the biggest — they can have a host, a theme, a DJ, an event stylist and a magician. We just got invited to a farm-themed one six months in advance. A popular game is ‘Bring Me,’ where the host will say ‘Bring me a… [fill in the blank],’ like a cellphone or comb, and the first three kids to bring them up win prizes. Another one involves all the kids putting a dollop of Vaseline on their noses, sticking a cotton ball on it and shaking until it comes off. Oz loves that one.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On karaoke: Karaoke is also huge here! Almost every department store sells karaoke machines, and you can’t walk through a mall without hearing a sales clerk blurting out a ’90s love ballad. The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ is hugely popular. When we move and I remember the Philippines, I will think of that song. Manila has lots of karaoke bars with room rentals for around $20 a night, which includes a round of drinks. We recently rented a karaoke Jeepney for a big group of friends. The Jeepney drove us all over Manila while we belted out Shakira and Britney into the late hours of the night. It was one of those surreal ‘only in the Philippines’ experiences.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On women in the workforce: Women are big in the workforce here — it’s one of the aspects I love the most about Filipino culture. The country has had a female president, and many women hold high positions within companies or are health professionals. Our dentist, eye doctor, pediatrician, pulmonologist and ob-gyn are all female. Many women are the the breadwinners of their extended families, and it’s also not uncommon for women to move abroad to work as they can provide a higher income which will ensure a good education for their children back home.

15 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Philippines

On settling in: The first time my kids saw a water fountain in the U.S., they had no idea how it worked. Bathroom hand dryers spook them, and string cheese blows their minds! Although I do miss the States at times, I hope our family lives here for another eight years, or until our kids need to go back for some reason. I want to show my children that the world is so much bigger than one culture, and living abroad is an amazing way to do that.

Thank you so much, Amber!

P.S. Our full Motherhood Around the World series, including Iceland, Turkey and Japan.

(Photos courtesy of Amber Folkman. Interview by Megan Cahn.)

  1. Sinduja says...

    This was an amazing post! The culture of different places always amuse me. Reading Amber’s descriptions I realized I was involuntarily making connections with India (where I come from). Even we have a unique tradition and culture. The first time I stepped abroad I hardly knew what a water fountain does! My school always had something called an “Anniversary” where we put up huge show which used to be live telecast-ed in my school website. People are friendly here and you would see many vegetarians as we tend to make spiritual associations to animals and refrain from killing them.

  2. I was raised in the Philippines as an American expat and this article reminds me of home, now that I’ve left. Bittersweet.


    • Elizabeth says...

      I was too! I grew up there in the 80’s and 90’s…doesn’t seem like much has changed, minus social media which didn’t exist. I remember those once-a-semester pageants, too! And the malls! Oh man…the malls.

  3. What a great interview! I love the depth you expose for us, Amber. While not denying the crippling poverty in the Philippines, I love that you uncover all the beauty and strength of the people and the culture. The way you dig in and embrace it is inspiring!

  4. Hi Amber! Amazed by your parenting life in my country! I’ve been waiting for a “Parenting in The Philippines” post here in Cup of Jo and finally, here you are! I wish I could meet you and your family in person. I’m a Filipino mom who lives in Baguio City and your thoughts about Philippines is awesome! :D

  5. I spent a month in the Philippines, mostly in Iloilo. I loved the Karaoke bar’s, there is something about hiring a room with a screen, speaker and microphone and singing (or rather croaking) your voices out with friends and family. I loved it so much and somehow came to understand why Filipino’s are some of the greatest, though hugely underrated and undiscovered, musicians in the world. It was also fascinating to see people in Malls, testing those karaoke machines, like one would test a bed in IKEA. I found the contrast of malls and poor food shacks, opposite each other, quite disturbing but such is the reality of life in 3rd World countries.

    Visiting the Philippines, as a Black woman, was also a novel experience. I received so many curious stares everywhere I went. Like people actually gawking at me. With time I gathered that there weren’t so many black people in small towns like Ilioli, but to be honest, I have never felt so conspicuous in my life. I hated the stares, especially when I just wanted to ride a Jeepney in peace.

    I was also shocked by how much Pinoy’s eat rice. I mean rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 24/7. In the beginning, it was fun, but with time I started to crave a ‘normal’ breakfast.

    All in all, I miss the Philippines terribly. I had such a wonderful time visiting The Chocolate Mountains and some of the most pristine beaches in the world. Pinoys are what make their country great, their hospitality is on another level of graciousness.

    • Hi, I understand you…with the “stares” and all. Some Filipinos aren’t used to foreigners in Iloilo, I presume. Try visiting Baguio! It is a home of arts and artists, and there are a lot of foreigners here already. I’m sure you won’t feel so negative here. :)

  6. Becca says...

    I live in a rowhome next door to a Filipino family, so I hear them singing karaoke through the shared wall all the time. I have heard them sing the song Zombie by the Cranberries SO many times, sometimes multiple times in a row. Very funny to read about how that song is so popular!

  7. Alexandra says...

    I really loved this story, because Amber embraces Filippino culture, just as many other commenters stated. To those that criticize her for not mentioning poverty and naked kids begging in the streets: have you thought that there might be a reason for her not mentioning this? Perhaps criticism is considered “getting involved in politics”, and it’s not allowed under their work visa? Amber seems like a sensitive woman, and it seems that she hinted on the fact that she is a little limited due to being the holder of a work visa. Just my two cents.

  8. Cathy L. says...

    This one’s got me feeling a lot of feelings!

    I always look forward to my weekly CoJ emails, and as a Filipina at home in the world (born in Manila, raised as an expat kid in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, and the US), when I saw “Parenting in the Philippines” in bold, my heart swelled with joy for my motherland.

    But when I looked at the featured image and saw a white family, I have to admit, I think I heard the “womp womp” sound effect accompanying my disappointment.

    BUT—I quickly checked my own implicit bias against an expat/foreigner after reading through the post. Amber clearly has a deep appreciation for our country and its people, and has ingrained herself so much in local urban culture that she has even picked up on the funkiest bits about living in Manila. (My favorite is the ever-present ‘lampin’ or sweat cloth, carried and worn by everyone from sweaty tots at the playground to in-your-face jeepney drivers down Edsa.)

    Sure, not mentioning the rampant poverty and giving exposure to organizations that are doing good work on the ground (looking at you, Gawad Kalinga, UNWHP, Marillac Hills) was a miss, but I don’t look to this website for that kind of information. We can’t expect the team at CoJ to give us insight into something as frivolous as “The French Bra Trick” while literally demanding they do something to end world hunger, all in the same breath.

    Or should we? I don’t know. It’s something to think about.

    All I know is that I didn’t expect to like this post. Because, privilege. Because, [insert loaded issue Filipinos have been grappling with since being invaded by Magellan].

    But I liked the post. Any girl who embraces my country with open arms, is willing to sign up for eight more years of living there knowing full well it is flawed—truly, madly, deeply flawed—and learns to use a ‘tabo’—and says so publicly!—has earned the right to speak her mind on what it’s like to parent in the country. She never said it’s the only way, but it’s one way.

    Mabuhay ka, Amber. And Mabuhay ang Pilipinas. Always, always, always.

    • Catherine says...

      This comment is awesome!

  9. Tricia says...

    It would be fun to read a post about an expat mom from another country experiencing our culture in the US. Curious what they would say!

  10. Manila was the first post we lived when my parents started working for the state dept. I was in 5th & 6th grade there and i enjoyed it (ethiopia was my favoritest post). it was a slight culture shock for me – even though i’m asian, i had grown up in the US… i had a nanny who took me to church on sundays, we survived an earthquake and coup d’etat. i never took to filipino food or their way of eating, but in the last few years i’ve tried the food again and i’m regretting so hard not embracing it back then.

  11. Graes says...

    I am reading this blog late. Happy to read about Amber’s great experience from my home country. Everything she says are absolutely true! I live in the US now but last year, I took my 12-yr old and 11-yr old sons to the Philippines and spent the whole summer there – going to school and experiencing school first hand. They weren’t happy at first since they just came off from school and are now being taken across the ocean to go to school again. But after 1 week, they loved it! And like Amber, they embraced the food, the friends they made, and even the projects at school.
    Thanks, Amber and CupofJo!

  12. emily d says...

    i’m an american on the east coast, but we LOVE our yaya! we have been blessed with her for the past 2 1/2 years and she is the reason i am the mother i am today. a mother that feeds her kid rice (and chicken, yaya is from the mountains), bundles them up when it’s not cold, and trusts her superstitions – she was right about the gender of three friends’ second babies and ours by looking at the hairline at the nape of the older kids’ necks! haha. we are ending our time together soon and the whole family is HEARTBROKEN. yayas are the absolute best and i love this post : )

  13. Molly says...

    AJ!!!!!!! Love seeing you on this blog and love even more seeing you embrace a different country, turn into the best dang boy mom out there, and still stay authentically YOU to the core!! I’m blessed to know you and be inspired by you!

  14. I LOVED THIS!!!!! Important to note that “Malling” is important because it’s AIR CONDITIONED IN MALLS!

  15. Laura says...

    I just came back from the Philippines. I was on vacation and I’ve been in Manila and many other islands.
    This is a great interview and it illustrates many different aspects of the Philippino culture.
    BUT talking about Manila and don’t say a word about poverty and naked kids begging on the streets it’s almost insulting.
    It would be interesting to know how this family deal with the reality of an undeveloped country and try to rise their own kids. The reality there it’s so hard you can’t just ignore it.

  16. I love this post ! Especially the bit about the malls – is it just me who thinks those malls sound amazing? I used to live in Korea and some of the traditions there are quite similar, like brushing your teeth after every meal and the private karoake rooms – I went from thinking I would never sing karaoke to being an absolute convert! Man, I miss those private Karaoke rooms. They were the most fun way to spend a night ever.

  17. Okay, had to finally come out of my shell and post a comment here!

    I grew up in Manila from age 3 to age 16 – that photograph of all the uniformed children with the one white kid was totally me. :) I loved your persepective Amber – and I’m intrigued that you came from a small town in Northern California because I now LIVE in a small town in Northern California – Chico. How random is that?

    Just chiming in, my parents were missionaries in Manila – San Juan, Quezon City area, and also we were on a VERY limited budget (by US standards). We never had a vehicle, never had a driver, never could afford western bread and peanut butter, and some years couldn’t afford a yaya or any type of katulong. From the lower social economic bracket, I can tell you we took public transportation A LOT, and I got fairly ill at various times – my siblings had asthma, I had tuberculosis when I was 6 years old and an undetected burst appendix when I was 13, where three hospitals misdiagnosed and I was lucky to be alive. We were there through People Power, the Edsa Revolution and many coup detat attempts, but I wonder what life is like under Duterte!

    Manila is louder, sweatier, grittier and more crowded than any place you’ll ever go — and yet I absolute love the place and can’t wait to take my children back there someday when they are old enough. This post makes me dream of green mangos, calamansi juice, motor trikes and 50 cent movies (where everybody comes in the middle of the film, with no regard to start or finish!).

    Thanks for sharing! Mabuhay Pilipinas!

    • Sasha says...

      What a fascinating perspective! Your childhood sounds like quite the adventure. I’m so glad you survived!

  18. Rachel L says...

    I’m British but have experience of parenting in Australia too (not so very different!) and it’s really fascinating to learn of the customs and differences around the world via this series…I so appreciate it. The Philippines is a country that I know almost nothing about so this was especially interesting. I totally understand the comments relating to privilege and viewing parenthood through the eyes of mainly expats – and more posts from people of colour or different backgrounds would be brilliant but I’m just happy to read about mothers and their families and their day to day experiences wherever they come from or live. Human are endlessly fascinating and diverse. Thanks Amber & Jo x

  19. Rain says...

    What I meant to say.. I have been following Amber’s Instagram for a while now and I’m so glad to see her here! I admire that she has fully embraced Pinoy culture and her stories and photos make me miss my home country so much. Even this interview made me teary eyed a little bit. I’m not a Mom, but I appreciate Amber and her love for Filipinos. Thanks for featuring Amber!

  20. Banana says...

    I would love to read interviews with gay/trans/genderqueer+ parents in the future! This series is one of my favorites on Cup of Jo.

  21. This one was my favorite.. Amber sounds warm and sweet and so glad she enjoying her time in the country. I had a chance to spend 2 months in the Philippines a while ago.. I stayed in Manila and travelled to other parts a bit.. It was such a treat seeing another person talk about the Philippines with so much affection, it is my favorite place and I would go back in an instant! The people are absolutely wonderful and so kind and caring, the natural beauty of the islands is stunning and the food is simple delicious! Thanks for featuring this country! It sounds like a fun place to grow up..

    I wrote a post on my blog about the chaos and culture of Philippines, you can find it here:

  22. Thank you Cup of Jo for your Motherhood Around The World Series! I have been a follower for many years and I really enjoy this series! I love seeing the comparison of other countries to our American Lifestyle. As I began reading this article, I was interested to see how Amber and her family could feel safe in a country with such drug crimes, traffic, and political issues. But it was a comfort to continue reading and discover how well they have adapted to the local culture. I enjoyed reading about all the malls, the children’s party games, and the fun Karaoke bars! This series really gives moms an insight into life in other countries, something that you don’t really see on Tv or the news! Keep up the good work!

    • Laurita says...

      “I was interested to see how Amber and her family could feel safe in a country with such drug crimes, traffic, and political issues.”

      So…I think your concern comes from a good place, but we have ALL of those issues here in the United States as well. It’s amazing to me how many of my fellow Americans seem to view almost every non-Western country as some sort of crime-infested hellhole.

    • Bianca says...

      To Laurita- I’m sure she mentioned this due to the fact of the ever intensifying and extremely terrifying drug war. To be honest, when I read she was in the Philipines, this was the first thing that came to my mind, how she can live in a country with a president urging officers and civilians to kill in cold blood. There is crime in every corner of the world to be sure, but this is one of the utmost extremes.

    • Gen says...

      To Laurita –

      Thank you for this response. I was borin in the Philippines and immigrated to Los Angeles when I was 7, and I currenetly live in New York while in my mid-twenties. As an avid reader of this blog, I was particularly excited to read this post as it (quite literally) hits close to home. I was also interested in other’s comments regarding the drug war and its impact on locals, foreigners, and tourists alike. I agree – it is a very extreme and dangerous situation (though, I would like to note the police officers are systematically targeting the poorest people in the Philippines). But as Laurita pointed out, these issues of ARE present in this country, as I’m sure we’ve all seen this year, perhaps with a slightly different context. My mother loves to point this out; when visiting me, she often compares New York to the Philippines!

  23. Nancey says...

    Fascinating! I think this was my favorite one, so much I did not know. I love some of the things that are common there. I was especially intrigued about the food and the kids getting used to it, and even embracing it! great great post

  24. This was fantastic! I’m a Filipina living in France and reading this brought back so many memories of growing up in the Philippines. I loved how she embraced it so fully for her kids!

    • I am so happy to hear these words from you. Salamat po! It is an honor to be a window to Pinoys home country.

  25. Ahh this makes me miss the Philippines so badly. I was born and raised in the Manila (lived there for 18 years) to an American mother and a French father. It was such an incredible experience, I miss it so much. The people, the food, the beaches!! Have to say, I don’t miss the traffic though :)

    Thanks for the post! Highlight of my day :)

    • Hi Angela! What a unique experience. You truly are a 3rd culture kid like my boys, so fascinating! Happy this brightened your day.

  26. Alma says...

    I gasped a little when I saw Philippines! I’m a Filipino born and raised in America, but had the opportunity to live and work there in my 20s. My family there isn’t well-off, but still had a nanny and driver. As a mother now I can’t imagine raising kids there, so I absolutely loved Amber’s insights. What an amazing experience to share as a family.

    • Hi Alma, what a unique experience you had. What were you doing here for work? I am always so interested when Phil-Am’s make their way back here. Thank you for your insight and your positive comment. Maraming salamat po!

  27. Michelle Ruetschle says...

    Way to go Amber! As a fellow long time Manila expat raising kids here, Amber has the BEST attitude, exploring this wild and crazy city, embracing every bit of the culture and drinking up the wonderful adventure that it is. And for those whose interest is peaked, don’t stop with Manila: the Philippine beaches and countryside are gorgeous!

    • Hi Michelle, thank you for getting it all! You understand more than anyone how tricky this can be. Thank you always for your support.

  28. Stef says...

    While I truly enjoy reading your blog normaly, I’m sceptical about this series as it much more reflects an expatriats/ sometimes even colonial view of internationals living abroad and not necessarly a living reality for most of the local population of one’s country. I totally understand and accept that the stories featured are one part of the reality, but at the same time don’t see a lot of differences between the differens expatriates lives in different countries.

    • Stef, what you are saying is very relevant and I can see and identify with the thoughts you shared. It is a tricky balance and to be honest, very easy for foreigners to stay within their own bubble so to speak. I have tried to embrace the culture but can always do better.

    • Sasha says...

      I get from a lot of comments on this series that somehow readers would simply like the posts to be different from what they are intended to be. Having read them all, the theme is certainly what it’s like to be an American mother in a foreign country, a place scene through her eyes. The extent that a particular mother can show us what it’s like to be native to these places is limited by her experiences and by the fact that it’s presumptuous for her to speak of another’s experiences with any authentic authority. Would you like to see a series about mothering practices and experiences, by mothers born and living all over the world? Me too!! But that’s not what this is. Let’s judge it within its limitations, which I think are really fair. It’s a wonderful series and full of thoughtful and interesting perspectives.

    • Stef says...

      Thank you both so much for your answer! I apologize if my comment offended anyone! Thank you Amber for sharing your insight and thank you Sasha for your perspective- I totally agree with your point of view!!

    • Rena says...

      To Stef and Sasha… I read a recent post “parenting in Croatia”, as I am from Croatia I really liked to read it and see the perspective of a forigner who lives in my country and I can tell you she does everything a regular Croatian does and even mentions the things we Croatians don’t do and she embraced from her American culture… so I think that even if you live in some kind of bubble when being an expat you can’t really not get involved in culture because it’s all around you…. But Stef had a point when mentioning having more posts from local people around the world (they don’t have to speak about motherhood only) – face it Cup of Jo – blog is loved all over the world so this kind of posts would be a great start.

  29. Ingrid May Palma says...

    Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! So glad that the Philippines has finally been featured in your blog. Thanks so much to Amber who loves my country, who embraces our culture like a Pinoy!

    • Mabuahy! I was so happy the Pilipinas was finally included as well, it deserves it! Maraming salamat po for your kind words.

  30. Jana Neser says...

    This was amazing! I had the privilege earlier this year to visit Amber and her family in Manila and it was the best vacation of my life!! We were going nonstop the moment we got there and it was so much fun! Malling and eating all day, everyday! Haha! Amber’s love for this country and culture are as contagious as they seem in this interview. It was such a treat to experience the Philippines through here eyes! Thank you for featuring this wonderful family!

    • I am so happy you got your butt out here and enjoyed it first hand. Sir Tom says hello. :)

  31. Jaydee A says...

    I loved reading this. I was born in the Philippines but raised in the US from the age of 5. We just spent 5 weeks with my parents visiting relatives in Central Luzon. I spent some of my summers “back home” & was excited for my girls to finally meet all their cousins, Titos/Titas, Lolo’s/Lola’s. We all had a wonderful time & the 5yo and 2.5yo are still talking about experiences there like riding up Taal volcano on horseback! And it was so great when my mom & her siblings told lots of stories about when they were young bc the 5yo couldn’t get enough!

    • Jaydee,
      I love hearing these stories! The emphasis on families is something I am most in love with in Filipino culture. I have learned so much and my ideals have shifted. Salamat po for sharing your story.

  32. DoctorBee says...

    This article is amazing! I love how your family embraced a culture totally different from yours. I am a Filipino . Born and raised here and I am at awe at how someone can appreciate the culture and yet isn’t Filipino. I hope the Filipinos see light and see the good in us. Bless you ❤️

    • Maraming salamat po Doctorbee.

  33. Thank you for this! As a Filipina mom and an avid Cup of Jo reader (since probably forever), I have been waiting for someone to write this post. It’s interesting to see our culture through the eyes of another, and I’m glad Amber and her family have understood, embraced, and accepted our culture (with all its quirks and eccentricities). And yes, everything Amber mentioned here is true…especially rice being life! haha. To Amber, I hope you and your family get to explore other places in the Philippines, like Cebu. Horrendous traffic and malls are unfortunately a given (haha), but there are also lots of beautiful beaches and mountains you and your kids will definitely enjoy :)

    • Ion hello! I would love to make it to Cebu again. I have only been briefly for a weekend trip but would to spend more time and eat lechon down there. Thank you for your kind words.

  34. Ee Kiat says...

    Thank you for sharing. Now I understand why the Pinoys in Singapore are so into dancing and singing.

    • Next time join in, they would love it. :)

  35. Emma A says...

    I was born and raised in the Philippines. Amber, I am so happy you and your family are having an awesome time in Manila. I grew up in the province of Zambales (about 5 hours from Manila, depending on traffic). :) I lived in a town “famous” for mangoes, seafood, beaches, coves, Mt Tapulao and Mt Pinatubo. I hope you will also get to enjoy the small towns in the Philippines—the mountains, farms and shores. Most Filipinos are hospitable. Regardless of their/our financial situation, visitors and friends are often given the finest and best they/we could offer (food, pillows, etc). When I started working here in the US, I would often tell my friends/coworkers that if they go on vacation to the Philippines, where my relatives live— whether I go with them or not, they will be treated like “royalty”. Without a single doubt.

    • Joelle says...


      My dad grew up in Zambales! I have such fond memories of visiting while I was younger. Now that I’ve moved to the east coast it’s harder to get there, but I’m excited to bring my two sons back someday soon :)

    • Emma A says...

      “I/We lived in a small town. Our province is “famous” for mangoes, seafood, beaches, coves, Mt. Tapulao, and Mt. Pinatubo.”
      (Sorry, I didn’t notice the error right away.)

      Hi, Joelle! We might be related? LOL :) My husband, our children and I went back a few years ago. We had fun riding a “trike” and seeing a carabao (/water buffalo?) and fireflies up close. We loved waking up to the sound of roosters (and small birds up in the trees) and spending time with family! :)

    • Emma and Joelle- you two are making me laugh talaga. You might be related- kalurkey! We have been to Zambales last May and spend a day at Rosa’s Mango Farm. One of the dreamiest days of our time in the Philippines. You are both so lucky to have family there.

    • Emma A says...

      Hi, Amber! I love your Tagalog words! :D So sweet that you have kept an open mind and embraced our culture. Enjoy your stay there! We have been planning/dreaming to go back next year, for a family reunion. We could be YOUR “family” there! :) BTW, my kids and I sing “Zombie” in the car, all.the.time. #KalurkeyLOL :D

  36. Hannah says...

    Oh man. My family lived in the Philippines when I was 8 & 9. I joke that all of the things I don’t like stem from that experience:
    -cars driving right next to you, that traffic!
    -my arm hair, Filipinos routinely touched my arms as they tend to be quite hairless themselves
    -rice and fish, okay…I like these now but it took years
    -pineapple and coconut, people always say “but have you had it fresh?!” Yes. That’s the point. We had too much

    Mostly I was a homesick American kid that hit my moody tween years early. My siblings and I still appreciate the bond we’ve built up because of our time there. Also, I super miss zipping around in trikes!

    • The arm hair one is killing me, I have never heard of this. How funny!

  37. Ami says...

    Thank you so much to Cup of Jo for these posts! I have been reading them since the beginning, but now that I am pregnant with my first, they are such a comfort. American motherhood is so so judgmental and paranoid (do not do this!! do not do that!!!) — I feel encouraged and empowered knowing that there are many ways to have a happy healthy family.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, i feel the same way from these posts! bundle your kid up! send your kid to the beach naked! eat lots of rice! drink coffee as a kid! spend time in malls! spend time outside! it honestly doesn’t matter as long as your kids are loved :)

    • Sasha says...

      Ami and Joanna, I agree so much, the best part of these posts! So many ways to love and raise a child well. Oh my gosh, now I’ve got Mr Rogers singing in my head “there are many ways to say I love you….”

  38. AMBER! YAY!!!!! Love seeing you here! Amber is one of my close childhood friends! She lives such a vibrant, happy life, I am in such awe of her story.

  39. Julie Hudtohan says...

    I now carry a British passport but I was born in the Philippines and lived there until 10 years ago. It makes me so happy to see my home country spoken of in such a wonderfully appreciative light. This brings back happy memories! What hits me the most though is how things I hate about my home country are understood by someone who is not even from there. We must raise our children to celebrate what is right with the world no matter where we are. Thank you for the inspiration and gentle reminder ?

    • Hi Julie! Thank you for your very kind words, they are much appreciated. Happy you had a window home through this post. Ingat po!

  40. Amanda says...

    I love each installment of this series, but the first thing that strikes me in each is how much more family- and kid-friendly non-US countries are. Kids seem to be an integral part of society and are embraced by all. Here, I’m terrified to take my children to a mildly nice restaurant and often encounter looks of annoyance from other shoppers as I wheel around the giant “car” cart in the grocery store. And my kids are very well-behaved! To borrow DT’s favorite Twitter refrain, “sad.”

    • Will says...

      It’s not just children, but the elderly as well. Elders are looked up to and taken care of, not shipped off to nursing homes like some barely used clothing you visit every once in a while when the storage place calls to remind you of the things you left there due to non payment.

    • Chicca says...

      I agree. I am European, lived in Danmark, Italy and England and now in New York. Among all those places New York is by far the less kid friendly

    • It’s so true! Whenever we leave Asia I know I am going to get an American smackdown as soon as we land. Ha!

  41. brianna says...

    This is amazing. I hope someday I can embrace another culture the way Amber and her family have.

  42. Samantha says...

    Loved this one! I am amazef by how similar Filipino culture is to mine (Dominican). Dominicans are known for being super friendly (specially with foreigners), the traffic is awful, most people have nannies who have nannies themselves, people eat all parts of animals, RICE IS LIFE, malls are huge and there’s anything you can imagine in them, schools do performances (for christmas and mother’s day mostly), people are very careful with hygiene (many brush after lunch at work), people love karaoke here too, kids birthday parties are huge and the games are the same! Most women work (stay at home moms are not common). It’s crazy! I’m pretty shocked here.

    • Anna says...

      Don’t be shocked. Because of our shared history (colonialism, ties to Spain and the US) and ongoing Catholic influence, Filipino culture is actually more similar to Latin America than Southeast Asia, which is where the Philippines is geographically located :)

    • How interesting! The world is so small and I love that you have captured that we all have so much in common! Rice is life!

  43. d says...

    What a beautiful tribute to the Philippines and it’s warm culture. Our first nanny was Filipino and we learned so much about the culture, food etc from her. Amber’s respect for and embrace of the culture she’s in is also a breath of fresh air. I’ve often commented that these posts seem to work hard at not integrating in the political/social reality for the country, and I was glad to see Amber did weave it through. Beautiful post, beautiful family.

    • Hi D,
      I can only imagine the tender feelings you feel for your previous nanny. I am so happy you have also had the chance to feel the warmth of the Filipino people. The political climate was a tricky dance to write about, I appreciate your positivity.

  44. Blythe says...

    When I was growing up, our next door neighbors were Filipino. Somehow, they wound up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and were like our extended family for many years. Their parties were legendary and you always knew when they were having one because Mrs. Claudette would have four rice cookers plugged in on the front porch. I tried and loved a ton of Filipino food, but the thing that irked my mom (and still does) is that we would never eat her spaghetti and meatballs – we preferred Mrs. Claudettes!

    • This story is epic! When we move back the first I am going to do is find Filipinos and invite myself over for a fiesta. Not joking. You probably like Mrs. Claudettes meatballs and spaghetti because they put sugar in them!

  45. Jojo says...

    A thoroughly enjoyable read. I love how she has immersed herself in local culture and not let her cultural biases/inhibitions get the best of her or the kids.

  46. Julie says...

    Love this article! Thank you!

  47. Libbynan says...

    Another great story in this series! These posts just make my week. My daughter the teacher has started using them in her junior high social studies classes.

    • Julie says...

      how cool is this!

    • Fascinating! Good on her.

  48. Ive been waiting for this since forever! Thanks for finally featuring my country!!! Lovely read and shes so nice and her kind and honest words about my country made me miss home more!

    • ME TOO! I have been waiting for years for the Philippines to have its moment. Hope I did it justice.

    • Amy says...

      Wow incredible story. Thanks for sharing

  49. Monica says...

    I love this series so much – this was a special treat for me to see because I went to university with Amber in Hawaii! Her writing came across just as down to earth as she is in real life. Aloha Amber!

  50. Heather says...

    I just love this series!

  51. Veronica says...

    I”m not a mother, but this is honestly one of my favorite series to read on all of the the internet! I look forward to it and love to learn all the little tiny differences and similarities there are all over the world.

    • I feel the same! I’m not even close to having a kid in the near future, but I love reading about these endearing mothers and their amazing experiences in new countries. <3

    • Natalie Shear says...

      I totally agree! I am not a mother at this time, can see myself living abroad some day with my soon-to-be husband (he’s from Tunisia so it’s actually a possibility!) and hopefully our future children. I absolutely love reading about all the different little ways that these foreign culture enrich the lives of these lovely moms.

  52. Meredith says...

    I love the fact that she even mentions the tabo here. Love how much she has embraced/integrated into local culture – particulate since neither of them had Filipino ties!

    • I am so glad you caught the bit with the tabo.

  53. Robin says...

    Rice is life! I love this series.

  54. I love this series so much, and this one hit close to home. I grew up in Malaysia and Indonesia so the similarities are strong. I spent so much time “malling” in the ’80s and ’90s, have lost countless hours to traffic jams, and I still think rice is life! Whenever we’d go “home” to Finland in the summers I’d ask my mom where all the people were. :)

    Props to Amber and her husband for showing their boys the world is full of many diverse, wonderful cultures and people.

  55. this was such a fun feature to read!

  56. This was so beautiful! I wish we had a photo of the Jeepney! They are such a distinct vehicle- it’s beautiful how this family really embraced where they are without inhibitions. Congrats!

  57. Lauren E. says...

    My husband’s grandmother is Filipino Hawaiian and before I’d even met her she mailed me a rice cooker and a 5 pound bag of the “correct” type of rice! Apparently word got out around the family that I used Uncle Ben’s.

    • steph says...

      Hahaha! That is totally something I could see my family doing.

    • I miss my rice cooker! I’ve been trying to find one here in Brussels – not as easy. And agreed about the “right rice”

  58. Gen says...

    As a Filipina/Chinese-American, I really appreciate this post! While I didn’t grow up in the Philippines, I’ve spent a lot of time in Manila and other cities when I was younger and got to know everyday life. “Rice is life” is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. I have a very diverse taste in food, but if I’m travelling where there isn’t much Asian food (e.g. Barcelona), I really start to miss rice VERY badly!! I can see how teachers would be concerned about the child never eating it lol!

    Tablea is one of the best things IMO about the Philippines. There is no chocolate like it! And her description of bacon made me miss the pork there. I’m v happy to see that the mother and her family generally eat and enjoy the local food.

    As for the household assistance like nannies, yes it is a stark difference from parenting culture in the US. In addition to nannies, there are also employees such as drivers and housekeepers. It is not just for the “1%”, but many middle class families.

    • june2 says...

      That nannies are commonplace is so intelligent of the women there! Why do we US women try to do everything? It is not only ridiculous, but selfish, as no one benefits fully, not our kids, the women we would be employing and therefore that whole layer of the economy, and least of all ourselves. We really owe it to ourselves to embrace this idea!

    • Hillary F. says...

      I would think there is a direct link between the nannies and high number of working women.

    • I says...

      The link is more likely due to the fact that the Philippines as a deeply gender egalitarian structure. Jobs are not really divided by gender, more by who can get an education and make money. Filipino culture has deep tribal roots, especially in the way that families and neighbors relate to each other. Thus children and elderly are integrated as valued parts of families. But it’s also important to remember that overpopulation has created a glut of workforce supply, making human capital very affordable so not only is family care valued, it’s also possible to afford to pay for someone to help out.

    • I says...

      The link is more likely due to the fact that the Philippines as a deeply gender egalitarian structure. Jobs are not really divided by gender, more by who can get an education and make money. Filipino culture has deep tribal roots, especially in the way that families and neighbors relate to each other. Thus children and elderly are integrated as valued parts of families. But it’s also important to remember that overpopulation has created a glut of workforce supply, making human capital very affordable so not only is family care valued, it’s also possible to afford to pay for someone to help out.

  59. Michelle says...

    I love this series but this post was one of my favourites! You seem to have really embraced the culture. If I ever had the chance to live abroad I’d also send my kids to a local school rather than an American or international one. I think it’s a really special thing you’ve done for your kids.

  60. Every Monday, I look SO forward to your motherhood posts and my new Discover Weekly playlist from Spotify :)

    I especially enjoyed how she highlights things in the US that confound her kids (water fountains, string cheese) when they visit. Such a fun point of comparison. Also, the traffic situation and not being able to drive on Tuesdays. Wild!

  61. Sarah says...

    wow! i enjoyed reading this one and learning more about manila. karaoke and malling sound right up my alley ( i am a 7th grader at heart). and thank you to amber for addressing some of the current political/social issues.

    • Kara says...

      I love that you said this, (the 7th grader thing) because I was just talking to a friend about the “secret age” of our personalities, and she (a zoologist) said “I think I’m like 8, because deep down I just want to cover everything in bird stickers,” and I said “I’m probably 16, because I’ll always be a little obsessed with boys and witchcraft.” I suspect my 27 year old sister has been 30 her whole life. It’s a fun question to ask people at parties.

  62. Linda says...

    why are all of the motherhood around the world stories centered around white women though? It’s making me really uncomfortable – esp when folks are traveling to third world countries that have incredible amounts of poverty like the Philippines. I can’t help but feel we are all really missing out on a big part of the story if all the stories about expatriatism are written by white women, and no one really meaningfully addresses the difficulties/tensions of grappling with their privilege and social/international mobility in these interviews.

    • Lily says...

      A lot of the moms features haven’t been white though? I know the mother from Guatemala talked a lot about privilege and her tension around it.

    • Karen says...

      “Why are ALL the motherhood around the world stories centered around white women.” **eye roll** I assume you haven’t read ALL the series/stories because clearly the beautiful mothers featured from Namibia, Sweden, South Korea, etc. aren’t white. The CupofJo team works hard on being inclusive.

    • Katie Larissa says...

      Linda, they DEFINITELY aren’t “all” white women. Do you even read them? I can think of several off the top of my head that featured women of color. If you’re going to make a criticism, at least base it on facts! Now there certainly is a lot of privilege that goes along with the series, but that’s not anybody’s fault. Having the option to [of your own accord] leave the country of your birth and choose to live somewhere else is a privilege in and of itself, and sure, an article about it is going to portray that privilege to some degree or another. That doesn’t make these women’s stories *not* worth telling, I think.

    • Alexa says...

      I respectfully disagree — many of the women featured are not white, and many acknowledge their privilege.

      It’s impossible to capture every facet of life anywhere! That doesn’t make these stories any less worth telling than any others.

      From my perspective, the Cup of Jo team is wildly inclusive, and increasingly more so each month. I applaud you, Jo and team!

    • Katie says...

      There’s always one Linda and today you get the prize

    • Meghan says...

      I agree with you Linda. I think this series is very interesting and I agree with Jo’s sentiments above that it gives light to there being no one “right” way to parent. That said, I do think that the colonial gaze is deeply entrenched in many of the articles in this series, including this one. I also agree that the mothers featured are disproportionately white…which mirrors a global immigration system which allows this type of privileged expatriate experience and freedom to travel predominantly to white folks. Myself, I do not feel much of a need to learn any more about the experiences of upper class women choosing freely to mother in other countries. It does not represent my reality nor the reality of so many others.

      The perspective of mothering in a country foreign to oneself is not unique to the experiences described in this series. For so many black and brown bodies, though, that experience is not as warm and fuzzy as these describe….I think that in these times of uncertainty, particularly around issues of global migration, MATW articles can fall a little flat. With much respect to the team here, I would love to see articles which touch on some these issues. If that means looking for them in other places I am happy to do that as well (understanding that CoJ has a particular readership and shouldn’t answer to every reader’s whim, haha. I will keep reading CoJ).


    • Meghan,

      Thank you for expressing your opinions very respectfully. You have given me much to reflect on. I hope you do take into account that this article was very manicured as opposed to our every day life. This is a very small snapshot into our daily lives.

    • Agnes says...

      Meghan and Linda, the word ‘whim’ kind of hit the nail on the head for this type of criticism. COJ is ONE website. There are a million other websites that will hit your sweet spot. Why come on here and pick apart something that so many people enjoy and learn from? There are many other places online that you could find what you seem to be looking for! Give Jo a break!

  63. shahnnen elizabeth-head says...

    My husband grew up in the Philippines, and brought back their nanny with them- Paz. She’s still a part of the family, and was an amazing friend to my mother in law. They also adopted a girl- my sister in law, while living there. The whole family loved living there. The malls are def huge- esp because it’s so hot and humid that they’re a cool place to hang out. Also, the deep love of Christmas- because they don’t celebrate Halloween, and are very Catholic, Christmas decorations start early (like August!) I so admire my in-laws for raising 3 kids in the 80’s- before the internet!- in a crazy foreign country.

  64. Alex says...

    Great post…. they have a lovely family and living in the Phillippines sounds wild! But I have so many questions! Did I miss how old each of her kids is? They’ve been there for 8 years, but I couldn’t tell if they moved there before kids? With one? Did she have her kids in the Phillippines or go back to the U.S.? What is the healthcare like? I know there are so many different aspects to motherhood, but I really love learning about what it’s like to be pregnant and have a baby in different countries around the world. What is the traditional birth experience? What is the postpartum care like? What about caring for a newborn is different or unique or surprising? Whenever relevant and possible, I’d love to read more about that in the Motherhood Around the World pieces. I feel like it used to be more of a focus, but has now become a little bit more general about what it’s like to live abroad–also completely fascinating, but I find myself missing more of the specifics of motherhood.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your note! we asked her these questions, but she had a somewhat atypical birth experience so we decided to leave that part out. we do still feature birth stories in this series, but not this one. thank you!

    • Anna says...

      From memory, Amber had all three kids in the Philippines. If you’re really curious she’s talked about it on social media and possibly even her blog!

      A general note about the Philippines: due to the US occupation of the Philippines (1898-1946) and its lasting influence on Filipino nationhood (there is still a military presence there, and a close although political one-sided relationship) many Filipino institutions were originally based on those in the US. For example, the majority of schooling is conducted in English! The healthcare system is not great, and the Catholic influence means that women’s reproductive health suffers in particular. In some public health centers, contraception is not available at all. (SO TERRIBLE.) Check out

    • Great questions Alex! As mentioned, I did have a very healthy and relatively similar birth experience with my first birthing experience in Seattle. My children are 6,4 and 2. My youngest two were born here in Makati. Your birth experience in the Philippines can be largely based on your socioeconomic status. Many women who cannot afford hospital births have their babies in home or at birthing centers with midwives. However, this is becoming more popular for all socioeconomic statuses. My postpartum care was relatively similar except that the nurses came in literally every hour through the night for the first two nights. It was so exhausting we finally locked the door so they couldn’t come in. The only other small difficulty was the breakfast they served. I am not hugely into poached fish and instant mashed potatoes. Lastly, my obgyn is AMAZING! She cried with both of my deliveries.

  65. Katie says...

    Loved this! “Rice is life” hahha so great, sweat towels and malling….all so interesting. I’m going to try the Vaseline cotton ball game with my girls, what a fun simple idea.

  66. Lisa says...

    I loved reading this! It sounds like Amber has really embraced Filipino culture and is not just observing a different culture’s traditions but actually living them. Very inspiring!

    • d says...

      you nailed it- exactly. Her embrace of her surroundings feels authentic

  67. Great descriptions! I love how her family has really embraced the culture and how humble she is to their differences!

  68. Sue says...

    So great to read this. Filipino hospitality at its best!

  69. There are so many points to this story I loved, but I think the “rice is life” part stood out the most LOL! It’s wonderful to hear about the culture being so accepting of children. My husband and I just moved our family to the south of France and it is SO family friendly here it’s incredible. We looked at Paris and tried to make it work but found the opposite to be true. I love cultures that value children and family! Great series!

    • Sounds dreamy! Let’s house swap!