Candy Pangilinan Talks About Transforming Her Life's Greatest Pain Into Her Biggest Joy, Thanks To Her Son Quentin
Toni Gonzaga interviews Candy Pangilinan for her YouTube series "Toni Talks." Candy's motherhood journey is one of the most hearwarming, inspiring stories you'll ever come across with especially this Mother's Day
There's nothing a mother won't do for her child.
But we fail to talk about what children can also do for their moms, often without them knowing it.
"Feeling ko, a baby will save it," said Candy Pangilinan about her marriage and her one and only pregnancy.
She was 31 when she got married, she says, but even before officially tying the knot, there was trouble brewing in their relationship. She knew that her then-husband was unfaithful but she chose to believe that raising a child together would be enough to undo the damage.
"But no," she chides.
Throughout the third term of her pregnancy, he told her on more than one occasion that she would become a single mom—he would leave her as soon as she gave birth. He went as far as calling their child a "souvenir."
True enough, one month after Candy's delivery, he did what he told her; he left home and never came back (all he told Candy was that he was heading out for a day of golf, and that was that).
The experience left Candy alone with a cocktail of negative emotions and thoughts, something that prompted her to seek professional help from a psychologist. Looking back at her marriage and the troubled times that led up to her separation, she describes how her husband gaslit her into thinking she was the problem. "Baliw" was his preferred word for her; he convinced Candy that he left because of her paranoia that he was having an affair(s) despite her finding proof of the involvement of another woman.
The manipulation is obvious to Candy now, but back then, she believed that it was a situation she could regain control over, that she had to forgive, and that it was a challenge she needed to overcome. She endured the abuse until she met with a spiritual counselor who taught her a lesson on dignity—that dignity was a gift, and that her relationship and her former husband were both chipping away at it, one big chunk at a time.
"Pero sa tigas ng ulo, dahil gusto natin, we still continue what we want even though God is sending us so many signs," Candy shares.
A lightbulb went off above her head after reflecting on how little she was caring for herself.
She had mourned over the loss of her relationship enough, and it was time to refocus her energy towards herself and of course, her baby boy—a month-old Quentin.
As Quentin was growing up, Candy heeded her mom's suggestion to take him to an eye doctor. He had problems with his vision, but Candy would eventually find out that Quentin wasn't only dealing with eye issues. A trip to a developmental psychologist revealed that Quentin needed occupational therapy.
As it turned out, his problems weren't only physical, but also developmental; that is, he was a child with special needs and was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. These conditions meant that Quentin wasn't hitting the same milestones that other children of the same age were, that he faced challenges in communicating (both expressing himself and understanding others' verbal and non-verbal language), that he would need help accomplishing otherwise "regular" activities, and that he would need extra attention when it came to his education and learning.
Candy didn't wilt at these revelations. When people expected her to break down, she only stood taller.
"I was recovering from a marital breakup. Pag sakay ko ng kotse, andoon ako sa 'Okay. Go! Ano'ng kailangang gawin? Gawin natin 'to.' Andoon lang ako sa ganoon," she shares.
Come therapy, Candy began to embrace the realness of her situation. Therapy wasn't a cure-all; Quentin's conditions were lifelong, and he would likely depend on her to stay by his side and provide him with assistance. She realized that his conditions were not things that were "curable" and would disappear over time with TLC and medication.
"Nakikita ko na 'yung mga ibang bata [tapos] sabi ko, 'Oh my gosh. Iba nga 'yung anak ko,'" she says.
"Idadasal mo na lang talaga," she continues, with her eyes welling up with tears.
Candy was also told that there was a chance that Quentin wouldn't be able to walk on his own, let alone develop the balance to stand on his own two feet.
"Ang totoong sinabi ko kay Lord is, 'Help.' Tapos 'yung pangalawa sabi ko, 'Lord, be a father.' Kasi, wala na rin akong daddy. Sabi ko, father God, 'Be a father to me and a father to Quentin,'" Candy shares.
Despite everything, she was beyond blaming God or anyone for where she was. It was just the kind of person she was; what deserved her attention was the solution, not the problem. Everything is a blessing to her (even the separation and the heartache that came with it), because to her, every moment, good or bad, are opportunities to transform. And without all that had happened to her, her mindset, her strengths as a woman and mother, and her hope wouldn't be what they are today.
It was all in preparation for raising Quentin, she says.
"Dati, feeling ko, asawa ko 'yung diyos ko. 'Yung buhay ko, sa kanya umiikot... Wala akong ginawa kundi magduda," she reflects.
She was in that endless cycle for years until Quentin came, and she adjusted her thinking to believing that everything happened for a reason.
She's brave enough to admit that if Quentin wasn't the way he is, she would likely still be trapped in the same cycle, in the same old life where she was unhappy, tired, and frankly, questioning her sanity on a daily basis.
Candy shares that one of her biggest motivations to keep pushing back against the struggles was the fact that she wasn't alone. There are thousands and thousands of parents, some also single moms, who raise kids and teenagers like Quentin and they were her biggest comfort all those years ago. Just knowing that she wasn't the only mom out there with these emotions and thoughts meant the world for her—and then she realized that she, too, could help other moms by returning the favor.
She began by coming out with a book called Mommy Dear: Our Special Love, which was really more like a diary of her experiences and reflections. It included little anecdotes she hoped other moms would draw support from, but also practical advice on how to find the right school, doctor and therapy for their children.
"He is my ticket to heaven," Candy says about Quentin, without an ounce of hesitation.
"Grabe 'yung tinuro niya sa akin: pasensya, tolerance, at tsaka 'yung to live simply. Ang simple ng buhay, sobra siyang grateful and appreciative of simple things. Dati kasi ako, kailangan mo akong i-impress. Ngayon hindi na," she smiles.
The world is different for Candy now that she's able to see it through his eyes.
The three biggest lessons that having Quentin around has taught her are: don't compete, compare, and conform. And to be grateful for all the mundane, ordinary, small things around her.
But even with Quentin surpassing many of his early challenges—he can speak, walk, communicate and perform some day-to-day tasks independently now as a teenager—life still isn't without its challenges.
Discrimination from people who don't understand Quentin's condition is the hardest thing to deal with. Making friends is especially hard, and finding parents who encourage their children to interact with Quentin is part of it. But there was also the matter that some schools refused Quentin admission because Candy wasn't married. And that Quentin went through kindergarten thrice but his progress wasn't enough to meet the standards for moving up to the next grade level.
It was tough. And it continues to be tough.
One of the most painful instances Candy had to live through was when the very principal of her son's school pulled Quentin out of graduation practice. It was meant to be a happy occasion; after three tries, Quentin finally made it and was going to celebrate one of the biggest milestones of his life to date.
The principal said it would be embarrassing if Quentin got out of hand. ("Paano kung magwala na ang bata, nakakahiya," was what she was told). Candy promised that they would practice being behaved with Quentin to prepare him, but at the same time, she knew this was a real concern. Quentin had a history of needing to be carried out and separated from other students during large gatherings. Candy had to practically beg the principal to give them a chance.
On the way home from this incident, Candy asked Quentin in the car if he wanted to practice with her. They could turn going up and down the stage into a game and it would be a lot of fun.
Quentin's response to her brings her to tears until today, even though more than a decade has since passed.
He said, "No, ma. I'm good... I'm good, I'm okay."
Quentin's actual school graduation didn't happen for him.
Instead, Candy made her own graduation for her son—in the barangay plaza, with friends, relatives, and others close to them. It was a small gathering, but it did have a red carpet. Candy had one at the ready from all her events as an actress.
And that's how he graduated.
Quentin was behaved. There was no acting out, no shouting, just smiles and happiness.
"All parents, all mothers who go through that, siguro gagawa rin sila ng paraan to rise above it. I think all mothers... they will just cope," Candy says.
It's a mom thing. Maternal instinct comes into play, and that's the magic behind it all.
Candy doesn't know how she managed all this time, only that she has. With prayer and commitment to her child, she and Quentin are absolutely thriving these days.
Quentin continues his education and learns more about life every day (including how to do TikTok dances), while Candy has become one of the country's most vocal advocates for children with ADHD and ASD.
As Candy and Quentin prepare for Mother's Day this Sunday (and Candy's birthday on Monday), they send the message that in the end, there's nothing quite as powerful in this world as a mother's love.
Watch Toni Gonzaga's full interview with Candy Pangilinan below:
Photos from @tonitalks @celestinegonzaga