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Cara Subijano: I Will Always be a Student of Parenthood

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Former beauty queen and model Cara Subijano talks to Modern Parenting about raising daughter Ashley and lessons from parenting.

Parenting can be challenging more so if the child is a thousand miles away from you. Former beauty queen Cara Subijano knows this well—being away from her only daughter Ashley Subijano Montenegro. Ashley is based in the Philippines and making a name in modeling and pageantry. But with the support of her family, friends, and her ex-husband’s family, Cara knows her daughter is in good hands.

Modern Parenting recently talked to Cara via email. She shared memories of her life as a beauty queen, raising her daughter, and why she is forever a student of parenthood.

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Cara Subijano on raising daughter Ashley with two cultures

Cara, who is now based in the US, is happily married to her husband Ken Wong. When asked about the co-parenting setup, she says, “While it may seem simple, it allows me to ponder the term ‘co-parenting’. And in my case, I did not co-parent with my ex-husband. But rather, I, along with my husband Ken, did 100% of the parenting—from birth up to now. Prior to being re-married, I take emotional, physical, and financial responsibility for my little boo (her nickname for Ashley).”

“When I did meet my husband Ken, it was a blessing to see how he has naturally gravitated to a dad role. He is pretty much Ashley’s best friend to this day. And I am grateful for this. Because as Ashley grows up, she is able to experience having both of us there—from helping with her homework, teaching her how to ski and bike, accompanying her to school field trips, chaperoning at school dances, visiting college campuses, and many other parental moments.”

The Binibining Pilipinas World 1994 titleholder said that despite growing up in the US, Ashley would go home to the Philippines frequently. She would spend time with her maternal grandparents, her dad, and his family.

 “Ashley would often visit the Philippines, where she can spend time and make memories with my ex-husband, her step-siblings, her Abuelita Rose, my parents Grandpa Art and Mammu Cynthia, my siblings, and many of our relatives and close friends. It’s important for me to allow as much of her free time to be in the Philippines and with family. Because I want her to experience and immerse herself in our culture and traditions.”

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Letting Ashley spread her wings

Cara knew Ashley was eventually going to choose her own path. She admitted that she and Ken were sad when Ashley said she wanted to go to the Philippines to study and try her luck in modeling.

“A few years ago, Ashley decided after her first year in college that she wanted to transfer to a university in the Philippines. My heart sank because I know I will miss her so much. My husband Ken is equally heartbroken. We feel as any parent would. That we will miss our only child. But we also acknowledge that she is an adult. And our priority is to support her dreams and endeavors. So while she is now 6,000 miles away from us, we are grateful there are social media tools to help us keep in touch. We talk several times a week.”

Although away from her daughter, Cara is thankful that Ashley is in good hands. Her grandparents, her dad’s family, and even Cara’s friends have served as godparents and mentors. They even watch her during her modeling and pageantry stints.

“While Ashley has immense love showered by her grandparents, it also brings me to happy tears thinking of how my siblings and their spouses, and my very close friends, have looked out for her. Franco and Ayen Laurel, and their children, have opened up their home to Ashley. They have really taken their role as godparents to heart. They are Ashley’s sounding board. And they give her their guidance and advice.”

Other people who have become Ashley’s second parents include former model Patty Betita, fashion designers Randy Ortiz and Renee Salud, and many of Cara’s friends who saw Ashley grow up.

“These are the moments that really pull my heartstrings. Because I have witnessed the time, effort, and care given by my network to my child. Especially during a period when I cannot be there.”

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Cara Subijano on being a firm mom

Cara may be known to many pageant fans as a beauty queen and model. But she will always be a mom when it comes to Ashley. In fact, she shared in several interviews that she was firm in raising her daughter.

Has she since become more relaxed?

“I was chuckling when I heard a recent interview of Ashley’s. She described me as a ‘Tiger Mom’, one who often harps on about her mannerisms, schoolwork, sports, and extracurricular activities. I laugh because it is true. I am firm about these things. Because it is very important for me to have Ashley build on her values, inner qualities, and skills. There were moments in Ashley’s teen years when we would clash. Because I have these rules that are just different. But I do feel vindicated because when Ashley moved to the Philippines, she told me, ‘Mom, everyone here has the same rules as you! Now I understand you!'”

“Today, I am definitely relaxed. Ashley is an adult. I have imparted Filipino values and lessons as much as I can. Now I have to just trust she will know what to do and reach out to me when she needs my advice.”

Cara Subijano on Ashley entering modeling and pageantry

Some may say that Ashley is following Cara’s footsteps in pageantry. But Cara is the first to admit that she kept her modeling and pageantry life quiet from her daughter.

“I did not expose Ashley nor told her stories about my pageant days. There are no pageant or modeling photographs in my home. I do this to simply keep it real. And what I mean by this is that while I have won both Bb. Pilipinas-World and Ford Models Supermodel of the Philippines, my two titles did not prevent a mishap in my first marriage. It ended in divorce and started my single parenthood with an infant child. The crown that helped me during those times was that of a working mom. And this is how Ashley has grown to see me as. Her mom who works, sometimes two jobs, and still tries to do her best in fulfilling all the parental duties,” Cara said.

“I still feel that doing this emphasizes the values of gratefulness, humility, and responsibility in our family. These have been strongly ingrained in me by my own parents.”

She added, “But while I keep quiet about my past, it is inevitable that the interest in pageantry will come from my mom and my close friends and network. They share this sentiment during Ashley’s visits to the Philippines. And when Ashley converses with me that she wants to do this, I give her my full support and told her my role will be her #1 cheerleader. So while it may appear she is following in my footsteps, I do believe she has already carved her own path with her hard work and decisions that would lead her to fulfill her dream and aspirations.”

In an industry that is full of criticism, Cara shared that she and Ken have long prepared Ashley for the comments that will come her way.

“Criticism is simply a part of life—whether it is positive, constructive, or even negative. One will experience this in school where there could be mean kids. Or even at work when you feel an unconscious bias in your nationality. Both Ken and I have shared the building of mental fortitude with Ashley ever since she was young,” she said. “We often tell her you will never be able to please or control the opinions of others. But what you do have control over is your own reaction and behavior when you receive it. We advise that it will give her a sense of peace and strength when she chooses to act with respect and regard, and simply not allow her confidence to waver.”

“Today, as I observe Ashley’s reactions during her preparations for Miss Charm International and her activities in the Miss World-Philippines pageant, I do feel pride. She is doing absolutely fine in handling difficult situations.”

Forever a Binibini

Although it has been three decades since she competed, Cara said she is forever grateful for the lessons pageantry has given her.

“I remember a time of real bliss. We were 40 candidates in Binibining Pilipinas and all we did was laugh together, share stories until our voices ran out, and really support each other. There is something very special about Batch 1994. And even when we each won our respective crowns, there was a camaraderie that helped boost each other up. Charlene [Gonzalez], in particular, encouraged me so much to do the gym workouts and be healthy in my diet. And when she and Alma [Concepcion] completed their international competitions, they both shared with me their experiences so that it can help me in my preparations.”

“There is a real sisterhood, which is why my advice to Ashley is to absolutely relish and enjoy the moment with her new friends. They will be in many events together, increasing their network, feeling the love and support of their family, friends, and pageant enthusiasts, and more! Take lots of pictures and videos with her co-candidates! Because the only thing you can bring back from this experience is the memories and the friendship that can last decades.”

Cara Subijano: I will always be a student of parenthood

For some ex-couples, raising their children can be quite challenging knowing that they have long parted. But Cara made the decision to make sure that Ashley also has time with her father Hans Montenegro and his family.

“Hans and I did not really have an agreement. Instead, I made a decision that I want Ashley to have as much love, care, and experience with her father and his side of the family. When we divorced, the love I have for his family remained—especially for his mom Rose. So whenever there is an opportunity for Hans to visit or if his family asks for Ashley to see them or join them for vacations, I say yes every time,” Cara reveals.

“Now that Ashley is living in the Philippines, she splits her time between my parents’ home and her Abuelita Rose’s residence. She also visits her father and her step-siblings. And when she visits us in the San Francisco Bay Area, she spends time with my relatives and my in-laws. She is now the one handling her time. I simply get to sit back and enjoy how she feels the love of all our families–mine, my in-laws, and her father’s side.”

In between parenting Ashley and working for a medical device company in the US, Cara blogs as well. She currently runs www.TheDiarist.space, where she releases her creativity.

“I started this as a means to escape and show my creative personality. While I have a small following, I am grateful that successful female-founded brands, such as Senreve Handbags, IPSY beauty, Monica Vinader Jewelry, and a few others, have given me brand ambassador opportunities. This hobby of creating and writing really makes me happy. Perhaps someday I can do it full-time.”

Although Ashley is now an adult, Cara said she will always be a student of life—including parenting.

“I feel I will always be a student of parenthood. I learn something new all the time. But with the kind of parent I chose to be and how I develop my parenting relationship with my ex-husband, it is instinctive for me to make a decision that I want peace, harmony, and only love for my daughter to witness as she grows up. And I do believe I have received so many blessings throughout my parenting journey because of this decision,” she said.

“While I have hardships and a balancing act between working and parenting, my parents and relatives have been there to give me a helping hand. I met my husband who made his own decision to fill in the father role for Ashley. And Ashley grew up not needing to take any side. But instead, she is on everyone’s side. This means she is able to receive more love and support.”

They will forever be beauty queens! Check out life after pageantry on Modern Parenting:

Mafae Yunon Belasco: Communication is Important in Every Family

Eva Patalinjug on Motherhood, Pageantry, and Guiding Would Be Beauty Queens

6 Beauty Queens from the 2010s Who Are Now Moms