Gelli de Belen and Ariel Rivera are happy that their two sons, Joaquin Andres, 20, and Julio Alessandro, 18, have remained close to them now that they're young adults.
Ariel says he waited for this moment when he could be like a barkada to his kids.
In his exclusive interview with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) in January, he says, "When they were small, I looked forward to this time when they are all adults na.
"We can really experience stuff together... We really are barkadas.
"We have the same interests and we do the same stuff. I love it."
Gelli seconds that, "It's like napapalapit na sa peers; we can actually have a drink na with each other.
"Iba yung level of conversation that we have with them. It's interesting."
But, at the same time, Gelli has also been "scared" to face the reality that her two boys are no longer kids.
As most parents would say, parenting young adults entail both liberation and sadness.
She continues, "It's different, it's nice, pero siyempre the older they get, the more scared I am.
"Ano na sila, mas independent, slowly finding themselves and forming a life of their own.
"Siyempre, takot si mother mawala sa mga anak."
However, Ariel and Gelli have, in a way, already let go of their sons when they let the boys off to live abroad.
Both Joaqui and Julio are away for their college studies in Toronto, Canada.
In a previous interview with PEP.ph, Gelli said that it was Joaqui's and Julio's choice to get their college education in the country their father knows well.
Gelli and Ariel agreed because, says Gelli, "We want them to be more independent."
She adds, "They can be themselves when they’re there. You see, there are pros and cons to being our children. The setback is that, in spite of whatever achievements they have, they will still be tagged as our children here. At least, they are themselves there and whatever they do will be attributed to just them."
So it is Joaqui and Julio who wanted their college education out of the country?
Ariel says, "We gave them an option. Years before, we said, 'Where do you want to study? Here or there?'
"My feeling was it's better that they study there kasi more opportunities, more options.
"Then they opened to that suggestion two years ago... now, they are happy that they did. They like it there."
Joaqui, 20, is taking up Aviation Technology; Julio, 18, studies Kinesiology.
ARIEL AND GELLI FEELING THE EMPTY NEST SYNDROME
The big move took place in 2016.
Gelli says that, back then, the transition was very hard.
"Pag uuwi ka ng bahay, walang maingay, walang magulo. Bigla mong iisipin, 'Bakit ba namin sila pinayagan?'
"Adjustment was very hard for me because I’ve always been a hands-on mom. I would cry every time I speak with them on the phone. When I visit, I'd stay with them for three weeks."
Have they gotten used to it?
"Hindi pa rin. May time pa rin na malungkot. But then, time flies so fast. Before you know it, nakatapos na sila.
"It's for their future anyway."
For Ariel's part, he admits to having a hard time living a separate life from their sons.
"It's not fun for us. It's difficult for us," the celebrity dad says.
"Leaving the nest at such a young age—well, for us, they left kasi at 18 and 16, so ang bata nila to leave the nest.
"It was difficult. A difficult transition even to this day."
ALWAYS EXCITED TO SEE JOAQUI AND JULIO
But when the family does get together, every reunion leaves happy memories.
And despite the 15-hour flight from Manila to Toronto, Ariel and Gelli visit their sons whenever they can. In fact, the couple visits Canada at least thrice—beginning, middle, and end of the year. During Joaqui and Julio's summer vacations, they come home to the Philippines.
And with each meeting, Gelli would usually have a pleasant discovery.
As she said in a previous interview, "You know what, ang laking pasasalamat ko na ang laking pagbabago sa dalawa simula nung tumira sila run.
"I realized tuloy, when they were here, may pagka-spoiled, dependent. Kasi siguro nandiyan naman kami.
"But now, mas responsable sila. Nag-mature."
In a previous interview, Ariel also said, "Yeah, we have our own stories to tell, experiences.
"Since we don't often see each other, ang dami nila nakukuwento sa amin.
"It's renewed experiences that we share with each other."
BUILDING A STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH KIDS
Ariel is assured that the physical distance does not affect the emotional attachment of their sons to them.
Both parents are confident the strong bond they've established within the family would always be there.
He says building a lasting relationship with kids should begin early, "You have to establish from the time they are young talaga."
Ariel elaborates, "Early years pa lang, you establish that relationship, a rapport with them where you can expresss your feelings openly.
"It's hard kasi when you haven't been like that, 'tapos when they've reached their teen years, that's when you try to establish it. It's difficult to do.
"From the beginning pa lang, on the onset pa lang, establish na."
The seasoned OPM performer is thankful that the dynamics between parents and kids are different now compared to his time.
"Yung generation ko kasi, my father kasi, his role was very distinct. The father was the provider, the mother was the homemaker. That was my generation.
"Totally different now where you get to express how you feel when you are younger."
Gelli adds, "Yan ang mga characteristic ng mga Gen Xers. Ang mga Gen Xers, we're more open."
Do they talk about girls or crushes?
In a previous interview, Gelli revealed that "may mga girls silang gusto, ka-text, pero gusto ko mag-focus sila sa dapat nilang pag-focusan."
And what is the perennial advice of Ariel, a man dubbed Kilabot ng Kolehiyala in the '90s?
It is the actress who answers for the singer-actor:
"Alam niyo boys, yung girls, palaging nandiyan. Focus on whatever you need to focus and finish it. The girls will always be there, and if you have something to stand for, meaning nakapagtapos ka ng pag-aaral, mas maraming girls."