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  • Filipino Parenting: Can We Raise Well-Rounded Children Without the Mumo (ghost)?

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    (Mumo: Tagalog baby-talk for the word “multo” which means ghost).

    My mom was a hard-working single mama whose mission in life was to feed her 5 kids and send them to the best schools she can possibly afford. To make this possible, we had house-help and in particular, we had our yaya (nanny). Yaya is second in rank after my mom.

    She had the executive power of implementing the rules and punishing my siblings and I in my mother’s absence.

    The Mumo Strategy to Keep Children Close By

    Yaya’s punishment was lighter in nature compared to mom’s like hitting me with a rolled plastic book cover when I refused to siesta (afternoon nap) one afternoon. But, one strategy she used to keep us straight in our ways is to remind us of the Mumo.


    If she called me late afternoon because it was dinner time and her calls were met with deaf ears (nagbibingihan), she used the mumo strategy.

    “Sige ka, kukunin ka ng mumo dyan” ( better watch out, the ghost will come get you).

    In exchange of being caught by the mumo as forewarned, I usually choose to do what I was told.  When I was given the instruction not to traverse a certain part of the neighborhood while biking, yaya tells me that a white lady was seen in one of the biggest trees in this so-called neighborhood.

    I remembered avoiding this neighborhood like a plague,  & biking it on occasion while pedaling as if my life depended on it; all while biking with one eye closed.

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    There’s the Mumo!

    Is it Effective?

    Aha! effective strategy, you might be saying to yourself. Perhaps, if your goal is to get your kiddos to behave a certain way with your constant supervision and nagging of what’s lurking behind their misbehavior. If I make the case that this is injecting trauma to your children; I’m sure you would feel that this is too melodramatic of a reason and that a simple scare tactic never hurt anyone-just look at you!

    Don’t worry, I won’t make that case at least not on this post.

    Why We Do It

    If you’re going to teach your children to clean-up their toys after playing with it, you provide the instructions repeatedly, model (you show them how to clean-up), and maybe decide to reward them afterwards.

    This process takes time and children are not robots, so, they just don’t do it on the mark-ready-set-go but need enough warning and prodding to do as told.

    Now, just reading my example might make you think, “goodness, that’s too much work.” One of the reasons why we use scare tactics such as the Mumo is to make our kids act more swiftly to short-cut this overwhelming process.

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    Another reason why we use the Mumo strategy and other freaky stories to keep our kids acting within what’s considered normal is to freak them out. Sounds crude? Let me explain further.

    Since we can’t keep our eyes on them 24/7, the Mumo can. Stories of Mumo and other super natural forces are like the superego (the part of us that wants to be morally upright & do the right thing) shadows that follow us wherever we go whether we like it or not. It’s the same force that prevent us from biking curiously in certain neighborhoods.

    Even though I am giving a sense in this post that using the Mumo strategy is not the best child-rearing practice, I certainly am not immune to it. I, too, since, I’ve been brought up hearing these stories, find myself using this same tactic with my children.

    One time when my kids and I were walking in the neighborhood and they refused to stop in their tracks along a busy intersection, I almost uttered that a Mumo lived in one of the shrubs in the corner and that they would be swiftly be taken away if they persist. Thankfully, they did not hear those words come out of my mouth. But, it sure was convenient to use it and it certainly took reflection and will power not to.

    The Effects on our Children

    I know that for you using the Mumo strategy simply promotes obedience in our children and who does not want that? I would make the case that true obedience is doing as prescribed without the injection of fear and whether one is being closely watched or not.

    Imagine your child cleaning up his toys after playing because he has been taught how to do it, when to it and how to do it. Once you have put in the effort to teach, you simply supervise and if you’re lucky, even put your feet up while they do the work.

    The Real “Mumo” Inside Us

    The real effect on our children is not deep psychological trauma but the building of their own Mumo inside them. This Mumo interferes in their ability to slow down, to reflect on their mistakes, and to find ways to self-soothe.

    Self-soothing is an incredible skill that children need to learn to cope with life’s challenges when they transition to adulthood. Babies naturally learn to self-soothe by sucking their thumbs, toddlers cuddle their favorite stuffed toy in times of frustration, a teenager learns how to listen to soothing music to relax and an adult learns that praying or meditating calms down their nerves.

    Self-soothing relies on the self for comfort before relying on anything outside them. The Mumo is the external force that is supposed to do all of the above- calm down our cries, stop us from misbehaving, and makes us do things without reasoning.

    In adulthood, we might think that Mumo is child’s play, a thing of the past until it creeps deep in our skin seeking for quick-resolves to our discomfort. When you seek out comfort and pleasure ( such as drugs, toxic relationships, self-sabotaging behaviors) in hazardous ways that keep you from reaching your fullest potential; this is when you know that the Mumo in your neighborhood has moved in to your own home-in your mind.

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    Can We Truly Raise our Children without the “Mumo”?

    Part of why parenting is such a daunting task is because it’s promise is a tall order. The promise is to raise children so that they can be well-rounded individuals, productive citizens and happy adults. If you simply want obedient children, you’ll probably revert back to your old ways, it’s easier and ultimately more convenient anyway.

    But, if you’re up to the challenge, know that you are not alone. Start by simply being aware of the words you use with your children and focus on extending your patience to teach. Easier said than done I know, sometimes I want to pull my hair out when I hear the advice, “just be patient.”

    My recommendation would be to focus on increasing your energy. I find that parents, including myself become short-fused when they do not have enough energy to be in the moment. Increasing your energy means self-care: resting enough, eating healthily, exercising and whatever else self-care means to you.

    I wish you well on this journey. As always, strive for progress not perfection. Simply considering to be more aware as a parent makes you a good enough parent. Celebrate what you could be as a parent rather than what you were.

    If you find this post helpful, comment or share and I will be most grateful!

    Sa Uulitin (until then),


    About Roanne

    Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.

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