A Grounded Theory of Family Resilience Among Transnational Families of Filipina Domestic Helpers: Narratives of Striving to Commit to Family


Melissa R. Garabiles

PhD defended at: 

Ateneo de Manila University


Many Filipino families experience poverty and economic challenges. To ease these problems, numerous mothers have left the Philippines to work as domestic helpers abroad. However, while the mothers are away, more adversities hound these families. Nonetheless, there are families who are able to overcome these adversities as they undergo family resilience processes. This study aims to create a new model that encapsulates family resilience processes among transnational families of Filipina domestic helpers, with emphasis on spatial and temporal elements of their migration narrative. This study seeks to investigate viewpoints from key family members – mother, father, and child – to account for multiple family perspectives. To create a new model, constructivist grounded theory is used as approach.

The family narratives start with the decision to separate for long periods of time, with the goal of rising above poverty and economic hardships. They sacrifice being together physically because the mothers’ migration requires breaking the families apart. They also sacrifice being together relationally because migration imperils their sense of togetherness. To overcome the pain of separation, resilient families engage in five relational processes. First, they engage in family communication across space, wherein each member helps bridge the relational distance by maintaining close family ties and creating family memories with the use of technology. Second, they engage in family restructuring and family role validation across space. Family restructuring involves role sharing, wherein each member contributes in executing essential family roles, such as that of a provider and a caregiver. Family role validation also happens wherein the members acknowledge to each other the effort and the input that each one gives into the accomplishment of family roles. Third, resilient families rebuild ties through temporary family reunification, which happens when one side visits the other. This process entails bridging both physical and relational distance, albeit for a short period of time because the family gets separated again. This consists of getting to know each other again and resuming old roles and practices. Fourth, resilient families have the goal of permanent family reunification. They all seek to end their migration story to be complete again in the future. For them, migration is impermanent; separation is only transient and will end eventually. This process consists of aspiring to achieve the current goal of improving their finances and aspiring to achieve the future goal of being with their family. Fifth and last, resilient families strive to commit to their families. They fight through numerous struggles by always sacrificing for the family instead of prioritizing personal gains or extended family’s sake. They solve problems together instead of letting problems remain, looking for another partner, or turning to vices to ease the pain. Implications are then discussed.