"Packaged deal" is how Sunshine Cruz sees herself and her Tres Marias--Angelina, 17; Samantha, 14; Chesca, 12.
Even when she is now "single" and has the freedom to start all over again with a new love, her concern is wholly focused on her three daughters.
Sunshine cannot even begin to think about letting them go when the time comes.
Already there is a hint of sadness when she tells PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal), "There will come a time when my girls will have their own families.
"Pero, motherhood for me kasi is until your last breath.
"Parang you can't [say] i-off muna or, 'Huwag muna akong maging nanay kasi malalaki na sila.'
"Higit pa nga sa marriage ito. Lifetime commitment talaga."
Next to her daughters, Sunshine's priority is her career.
"Ngayon lang ako nakakabalik, nakakapagtrabaho. Since 2013, ini-enjoy ko lang.
"So ang pangarap ko lang talaga, kahit papaano, makapag-ipon, makapag-travel yung mga anak ko, i-enjoy muna yung buhay."
Sunshine (middle) with daughters (L-R) Samantha, Chesca, and Angelina
The annulment of her marriage means that she can remarry, but that seems farthest from her mind.
"For now kasi, ine-enjoy ko lang talaga yung freedom ko with my children. Sa totoo lang, ako parang after yung experience ko, talagang gusto ko muna mag-enjoy sa life."
The Kapuso actress, however, is open to possibilities.
"Ako, naniniwala lagi ako sa God's perfect time. So kung para pa rin sa akin iyan na magkaroon ulit ng asawa at magpakasal, wait and see na lang ako. Darating naman yun, e."
STUDY, STUDY, STUDY
Most of all, Sunshine wants her daughters to study hard and finish their studies.
"Remind ako nang remind na, 'Before anything, you have to prioritize your studies,'" she says.
Education is the be-all and end-all for her, having cast aside her own schooling when she entered showbiz at a very young age and marriage soon afterwards.
It was always at the back of her mind and when the chance came to go back to school, even in the middle of her crumbling marriage, she enrolled and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in 2017.
"Gusto ko lang naman makapagtapos ng pag-aaral to be an inspiration to the kids.
"Kaya talagang kahit nahihirapan ako, pinursue ko," she tells PEP.ph.
"E, paano kung balikan ako ng mga anak ko na, 'Ikaw nga, hindi nakatapos.'"
That was her motivation when she enrolled at the Arellano University through its Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program.
The program allows continuing students and working professionals to finish a college degree in less than four years.
It was a difficult adjustment for Sunshine, but she managed.
"Every Saturday po, pumapasok ako, may mga take-home na mga modules, pero every Saturday talaga, the whole day.
"Ako lang yung minsan nagsasara ng Arellano kasi minsan inaabot ako ng 9 p.m."
Naturally, Sunshine is proud of her girls' academic achievements and mentions it three times during the interview.
"Siyempre kasi, parang mga anak ko, puro honor students," she remarks.
Samantha and Chesca both go to De La Salle Santiago Zobel (DLSZ), while Angelina, who is now a senior high school student, studies in the Vermosa campus of DLSZ.
Samantha says about her mom, "She is like our kabarkada and our friend, and is a cool mom.
"The only time she becomes strict is when she notices like you're being difficult or you're not focused."
Sunshine's parenting style is anchored on open communication and honesty.
She is her daughters' sounding board, "Kami-kami ang mga nagkakaalaman.
"Sabi ko nga, e, 'Bago niyo sabihin sa kaibigan niyo, nandito naman yung mommy niyo na makakaintindi.'"
The actress constantly reminds her three girls tht she'll be all ears to their problems.
"So ako, yun yung advice ko sa kanila, 'Wag na lang sa kaibigan kasi nandito naman ako. Kaibigan niyo rin ako kasi ako, as a mom, maa-advise ko yung pinakatama para sa inyo.'"
Sunshine feels "kampante" that she knows about their crushes, but she is strict about one thing: "Wala munang boyfriend-boyfriend."
Angelina avers, "We are really open about those things. We always tell her that if we have a crush in school, things like that."
Chesca interjects, "She asks us to show her the picture. I mean it's for fun lang naman po because it's just crushes so it's really nothing serious."
At what age are they allowed to have a boyfriend?
The three girls look at their mom.
Sunshine obliges, "Hindi kasi, like with Angelina, sabi ko sa kanya, okay lang naman magpaligaw.
"Kasi nung 16 din ako, 15 pa nga lang ako, nililigawan na ako. Kung manliligaw lang, hindi naman maiiwasan."
But Sunshine wants the boys to give her girls the respect of visiting them at their home.
"Kung mangliligaw, umakyat ng panliligaw, dito," she makes it clear.
But to the question at what age will she allow her daughters to have a boyfriend, the 41-year-old mom is hard-pressed to give a definite answer.
"Yung boyfriend kasi, for now, I believe hindi magiging inspirasyon kasi yung mga clingy-clingy, makulit.
"Sabi ko, magiging distraction lang so hangga't maaari, kung kaya magtiis, magtiyaga, kaibigan lang muna.
"Darating naman yung panahon na puwedeng, like pag nag-18 naman, baka puwede, di ba?
"Pero it doesn't mean porket 18 ka na, 'Puwede na akong mag-boyfriend, mag-boyfriend!' Hindi ganun."
The reality is, whether Sunshine likes it or not, she has to deal someday with her daughters having romantic interests.
What are the character traits she wants to see in their future boyfriends?
Her three girls look at each other and giggle.
In unison, they remark, "Find someone like Tito Macky," referring to Macky Mathay, the boyfriend of their mom.
Laughing, Sunshine says, "Hanap kayo ng taong may respeto at mabait."
Joviality aside, Sunshine constantly reminds her daughters to be extra cautious so that what happened to her will not happen to them.
"Sinasabi ko lagi sa kanila na know your self-worth, respect your self. Maraming pagkukulang noon si mommy, noong kabataan niya, hangga't maaari, wag niyo na gawin yun."
One thing that is admirable about Sunshine is how she has kept an orderly home for her daughters despite the chaos in her marriage.
Here are essentially the house rules of Sunshine:
- 'Wag utos nang utos.'
They have two helpers, one of them has been with Shine (the actress' nickname) since her youngest Chesca was a baby.
Sunshine details, "Household chores, wala, pero I tell them na hangga't maaari…kung puwede, wag na yung utos nang utos. They know that naman."
- 'Walang gadgets on certain days and hours.'
"Kapag naman weekends, puwede sila, puwede silang maglaro," says the mom.
But phones are not allowed when they're eating.
Sunshine continues, "Kapag kumakain, ayoko, ayoko ko talaga nang naka-gadget.
"Parang sa akin, that is the only time na magba-bond tayo, mag-catch up tayo, especially kapag si mommy nasa work.
"Kung magga-gadgets, ayoko yun, e, kapag nakikita ko yung ibang table na naka-earphone, naka-gadget yung mga kids nila, para sa akin it's a big no-no talaga."
How does Sunshine monitor? Does she switch off the WiFi or do the girls surrender their phones?
"Dati, ginagawa ko, kasi sinusumbong sa akin ng mga yaya na kapag nasa trabaho ako e gumagawa ng paraan para makuha yung mga gadgets na binibigay nila sa yaya.
"So ginawa ko, patayin yung WiFi. Kaya lang, pag may pang-load, sobrang digital ngayon, e, so kinausap ko na lang sila.
"Ang sabi ko, 'Anak, please naman, merong rule tayo dito sa bahay, I hope that you respect me. It's also for you.'
"Kasi ang hirap kapag napupuyat sila sa gadget, kinabukasan ang hirap nilang gisingin.
"Nale-late sila, makakaapekto naman sa kanila, so nagkaka-intidihan din naman kami pagdating doon."
- Sleepovers are okay.
Sunshine has not imposed a curfew on them since there is a driver who drops them off at school and picks them up.
And, generally, her girls have been obedient children.
"Minsan, nag-i-sleep, meron sila pag weekends, meron sila minsan, nag-sleepover dito or minsan sa friend nila.
"Basta kilala ko, basta alam ko na pagkakatiwalaan kasi parang bakit ako magrereklamo or ba't ko sila hihigpitan e ang gagaling naman sa mga eskwela?
"'Tsaka talaga naman, mapagkakatiwalaan, hindi naman mga nagpapasakit sa ulo."
And even when at times, they are being "difficult" as Samantha says, Sunshine is likely to let it pass.
"Kung mapapasakit ng ulo ko, konting-konti lang naman," she says, smiling.
- All for one, one for all.
Like most siblings, Angelina, Samantha, and Chesca have their occasional fights.
Sunshine is resigned, "Maingay, maingay. Pero nag-aaway man sila at the end of the day, sila-sila pa rin ang magkakakampi, ganun sila.
"Pag meron nagba-bash sa Instagram, magde-defend iyang mga iyan, e. So ganun, magkakakampi pa rin talaga.
"'Tsaka nakikita ko na ano, mahal naman nila ang isa't isa, which is nakakatuwa for me."
Samantha--the second daughter--is the most "pilya," according to Sunshine.
- Choose your friends well.
No matter how busy she is, Sunshine makes it a point that she spends quality time with her girls.
"Gusto ko sana, kung puwede, ako yung mas pakikinggan nila over their friends.
"But since, siyempre, importante rin yung meron silang mga kaibigan talaga, piliin na lang sana nila."
And what is her utmost criterion?
"Good influence lang," Sunshine answers.
Angelina adds, "They have to be kind, obviously, and helpful, and can't use you for stuff."
Chesca confirms, "Yeah, she tells us to usually be friends with others who are good influence to you, who's there to support you."
Samantha jumps in, "Yeah, protect you."
Sunshine says the girls are amenable to her house rules. If they break any of it, it is clear they are in the wrong.
"I could say that, siguro naman mag-a-agree sila na I'm one of the coolest mom… alam nila yun. Barkada-barkada kami.
"Pero kapag siyempre meron akong kelangan sabihin sa kanila or may rule na kelangan talagang idiin ko sa kanila, nirerespeto naman nila ako," she recaps on a positive note.