Zeinab Harake: Behind the Vlog of a Single Adoptive Mom
YouTube sensation and single mom Zeinab Harake gets real with Modern Parenting as she shares the ups and downs of balancing her family life.
Being a vlogger as successful as YouTube sensation and single mom Zeinab Harake means constantly producing authentic and relatable content. But amidst the success of her channel, which has amassed a whopping 13.5 million subscribers as of writing, Zeinab feels that being a single mother to both her daughter, Zebbiana — affectionately known as Bia — and her independent child, Lucas, has offered a more fulfilling sense of achievement. “Ever since, I always felt like I was born to be a nanay,” Zeinab smiles while accommodating her children’s needs during the shoot.
Behind all the glitz and glam of her vlogger life, how does she prevent it from disturbing the difficult yet rewarding experience of being a single mother?
Never shying away from love
The love that Zeinab shows both Bia and Lucas on her vlog is no scripted act. She openly comforts and assures her children with “I love yous” during her shoot with Modern Parenting at Brittany Hotel to compensate for the short bursts of attention she could give while she was on the makeup chair or in front of the camera. It’s more obvious in the way Lucas behaves around Bia. He consoles Bia as the toddler slightly tears up when Zeinab needs to put her down.
“Pandemic baby kasi si Bia,” Zeinab explains Bia’s discomfort. “So, she’s medyo shy pa around other people.” She then smiles at Lucas’ attempts to soothe his sister. “He’s such a kuya to her.”
This authenticity is something that Zeinab maintains no matter how big her career is on social media. And at times, it’s this authenticity that some people tend to misinterpret or put a different meaning to.
“Alam ko, right ang puso ko at lagi ako sa tamang pag-iisip. Laging tama at mabuti ang pipiliin ko. Yan lang naman ang pinaka-importante sa akin ngayon. Hindi ko kailangan pansinin yung mga bagay na hindi naman nakakatulong sa everyday lifestyle ko, especially sa pagiging nanay.”
The strength of Zeinab’s identity as a single mom
Her unyielding desire to stay authentic on social media is comparable to her strength to carry on as a single mom. “Hindi mo pwede sabihing mahirap,” points out the 24-year-old. “Kasi mahirap talaga lalo na bagong ako naging single parent, mayroon na akong independent child” — she says, referring to Lucas — “So, nagsimula ako magmahal ng bata from the start na hindi ko kailangan ng kahit sino.“
That perspective slightly shifted when Zebbiana appeared in her life. The little girl’s outstretched arms and longing looks at Zeinab proves that they, too, have gone through a lot as mother and daughter. “Yung kay Bia, feeling ko mahirap talaga,” she admits. “Mahirap mawalan ng partner. Mahirap din mawalan ng isa pang baby,” she says, referring to her miscarriage last year. “At the same time, mahirap i-maintain paano mo bubuhayin yung dalawang anak mo. So medyo, malalang struggle siya.“
She adds with a little break in her voice that the struggle was both financial and emotional in nature. “Like, ikaw mismo, kailangan mo itayo ang sarili mo. Wala kang karapatan matakot. Kaya hindi mo pwede sabihin mahirap. Wala kang karapatan mapagod. You have to keep going.“
Single moms like Zeinab Harake sacrifice the right to rest. Albeit temporarily, it is one that she willingly does to give Bia and Lucas the life they deserve.
Wholesome sibling love
Even though Zeinab raises both children on her own, their personalities are quite different. “Si Lucas, sweet and smart siya talaga. Parang siyang gift ni God. Parang may special sa kanya talaga kaya siya napunta sa buhay ko kasi may purpose. He’s a blessing,” she beams.
Lucas’ openness to Zeinab shows how often he approaches her about Bia’s needs. He takes his role as Bia’s kuya and spokesperson quite seriously. “Like naiintindihan niya at naiintidihan ko din iyong concern niya para sa kapatid niya. Para sa amin. So yung relationship namin, parang best friends kami.”
“Noong lumabas si Bia, kung ano yung nabigay kong pagmamahal kay Lucas, ganoon din ang binigay kong pagmamahal kay Bia.“
Their relationship as siblings doesn’t even hint at Lucas being an independent child. Throughout the shoot, the two kids hugged and exchanged kisses on each other’s cheeks. Zeinab adds that ever since Bia was born, Lucas took on the role of her protector. “Si Lucas talaga yung nag-standup palagi para sa little sister niya. Siya yung pwede mong sabihan. Siya yung pwede mong asahan,” Zeinab boasts.
The wholesome love that the two siblings have for each other often curbs the guilt that Zeinab constantly deals with as a working single mother. One look at the CCTV where her kids are staying gives her more power to finish her day’s work.
Born from the heart
Single mothers often become best friends with their children, just like how Lucas and Zeinab work together to do what’s best for the family. Although still in the process of legally adopting him, Zeinab vividly recalls how her 18-year-old self took Lucas as her own.
“May lumapit sa mom ko na magulang na di nila kaya buhayin yung anak nila,” Zeinab reveals. “Tapos sabi nila baka pwede namin tulungan. So sabi ko, ‘Sige, sige!’ Ganoon agad. Gusto ko ng baby. Gusto ko ng ibang pangarap para sa bata. Sobrang life-changing talaga yung moment.”
She holds the memory very close to her heart, recalling how she and her mom would bring baby Lucas around. “As long as nabuhay ka sa mundo na ito at nandito ang mga tamang magulang para sa iyo, makukuha mo yung tamang pagmamahal at wagas na pamilya.”
Most families are connected through their blood. But Zeinab’s family is built on love; something that doesn’t require any papers. The family of three celebrates each other no matter how bad the days get. And as a single mom, those days are more frequent when the fatigue catches up. However, her children’s love is Zeinab Harake’s secret to her resilience.
“Parang the more na ginagawa ko or pinupush ko yung sarili ko sa mga bagay, mas nararamdaman ko yung pagmamahal ko para sa kanila,” she admits. “Nagkakaroon ako ng bigger future and dreams hindi para lang sa sarili ko. Para sa kanila din.”
The blow of a miscarriage
Miscarriages are never easy to talk about, especially for those who dream of becoming mothers. Zeinab recalls the dark experience, describing it as a “nightmare.”
“For two weeks, parang di ako talaga okay kasi mayroong akong dalawang anak, buntis ako noon, tapos andaming personal na nangyayari,” she confides. “Four months ako noon.”
She remembers with a sad smile the baby’s name: Moon. “Moon Harake,” she repeats his full name, showing that a mother never forgets the child she lost. “Pero, noong nangyari iyon noong April 11, siguro nagbilang lang ako hanggang April 20 kasi si Bia mag-one year old ng April 28. So, two weeks lang yung pag-process ko na kailangan kong hatakin sarili ko kasi kawawa yung mga anak kong natira.”
Despite her short time to grieve, she doesn’t regret her decision to throw Bia the happiest first birthday ever. “It’s all worth it. Kasi nakikita ko naman na babalikan din ni Bia iyon and sasabihin niya, ‘Grabe mama ko.’ That moment, ang hirap noon.”
A luminous guide
At some point during that difficult period, Zeinab confided that her body had started to give up. However, she looks back at that memory fondly. That despite her loss, Zeinab made Bia’s birthday her goal. “Alam ko na hindi matutuwa si Moon kung alam niya na hindi happy yung Ate niya sa birthday niya,” she admits. “Tinuloy ko talaga especially noong nakita ko na kailangan talaga mag-move on na ako at tumayo ako sa sariling kong paa. Parang pilay ako noon. Hindi ko talaga alam kung paano ako nakabangon.”
Although Zeinab loved Moon, the baby she could’ve had, she also loves Bia — the baby she has — just as much. “Sila yung tinitignan ko. Sila [Lucas and Bia] talaga iyong iniyakan ko, na kaya kong yakapin, at kaya akong pakinggan — kahit hindi sila nagsasalita. Kapag nakatingin ka sa mga mata ng anak mo, alam mo na ang ibig nilang sabihin at kailangan mong gawin bilang nanay nila.”
Something that warms Zeinab’s heart — Lucas and Bia never let her forget their brother, Moon. “They’d wave to the moon tapos sinasabi nila, ‘Hi, Moon! We miss you,'” she tears up a bit. “Nakakaiyak talaga. Pero siguro ibabalik din siya ni God sa akin someday. And kahit hindi, willing din ako tumanggap ng ibang kids sa life ko at maging magulang nila. Willing ako kahit ilan; as long as kaya kong mag-provide para sa kanila.”
Soulful snippets from a single mother
Nearly 8% of households around the world are headed by a single parent with 84% of them being mothers. That’s about 101.3 million single mothers worldwide. And though these numbers are rising, there are many days that single moms find themselves lost and without support. This is Zeinab’s reality, especially as the sole breadwinner of her family.
“Mom and dad ka, so habang nag-wowork ka, nag-wowork ka rin bilang tatay,” she explains while quickly disclaiming her statement as her own feelings. “Feel ko kung naghahanap buhay ako, ako yung tatay kasi kailangan magtrabaho. Pero kapag nasa bahay ako, nanay ako at kailangan ko mag-alaga.”
Juggling both roles can be quite confusing and exhausting. “Pero kakayanin mo eh,” Zeinab shrugs. “Hindi ko pwede bitawan yung magandang kinabukasan para sa kanila dahil lang pagod ako.”
Tired as she may be, Zeinab Harake can proudly claim that she is self-made. Each peso she earns to support her kids is one of her own efforts. However, work can make moms neglect themselves to which, Zeinab encourages single moms to be proud of the flaws that they have gained from being parents.
“Stretch marks, hairs, black kili-kili,” Zeinab enumerates each flaw that every mother hates looking at. “Ayokong i-down yung mga babae sa mga tingin nila sa sarili nila dahil nakuha nila iyon [the flaws] sa pagiging magulang. Kumbaga, dapat maging proud tayo. I am a proud mom despite my imperfections,” she declares.
The most important mindset, she says, is to “control oneself when the family isn’t complete.”
“It’s so hard kasi sinong tao ang hindi gustong buo yung pamilya niya? So ako, dream ko talaga na buo yung pamilya ko dahil galing din ako sa broken family. Nilaban ko naman na kaya ko ibuo yung pamilya ko.“
Keeping the limelight where it should be
Unfortunately, it’s part of Zeinab’s line of work to have the limelight shine on both Lucas and Bia whenever they come out on her vlogs and people recognize them whenever they are out. “Actually, nagkaroon na sila [Lucas and Bia] ng trauma, pag nakikilala sila ng mga tao,” Zeinab admits. “Kaya mas lalo akong kumakayod para ma-protect ko yung privacy nila. Nag-iipon ako para some day, one day, yun din ang dream ko: pwede ako mag-provide sa kanila ng tahimik na buhay. Na pwede nila ma-enjoy ang childhood nila katulad ng mga simpleng bata.”
Although it’s difficult for Zeinab at the moment, she knows that a bit of compromise on privacy is really part of it, especially in making sure that she can provide for them. “Pero gusto ko talaga na ako na lang,” Zeinab points out. “Mas secure ako kung naka-focus na lang sa akin kaysa sa kanila. Wag na lang po yung mga bata.”
What’s next for Zeinab Harake?
The work of a vlogger is full of challenges and demands. Behind the cameras, Zeinab also goes through her own difficulties. “Anxiety, panic mode, postpartum,” Zeinab names a few. “Lahat yan nangyayari. Minsan, hindi alam ng tao ano talaga ang nangyayari at hindi pwede i-explain sa kanila kasi tatawanan lang nila iyon.”
And although the court of public opinion can be harsh in judgment, Zeinab Harake finds comfort and solace in making sure that her children see her as the “best mom.”
“I am not a perfect mom but I want to at least be the best mom to my children,” Zeinab ends with a smile.
Words KEVYN GOHU-CATINGUB and GRETCHEN GATAN FRAGADA
Photography EXCEL PANLAQUE
Makeup MARIAH SANTOS
Hair ARVIN SANTOS
Styling ROSHNI MIRPURI and SIYA DARYANI for THE CLOSET CULTURE
Shoot Coordination ANTHONY MENDOZA
Art Direction MARC YELLOW
Sittings Editor MARGA MEDRANO-TUPAZ
Shot on location at BRITTANY HOTEL