19 April 2014

The Traditional Filipino Moral Zeitgeist

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to talk to an aunt of mine. Given the fact that my family is pretty much spread all over the globe, there aren't plenty of opportunities to see each other in person (I don't even remember the last time I saw her, perhaps 2011?), so one time, she caught me online and so we started to chat. During this chat, we talked about family, and this topic is rather delicate, at least in my case.

I didn't know whether she knew that both me and my sister don't identify with our parents' religion any more. So I figured I'd rather ascertain whether she did know about that, because future conversations would just be easier, as there would be less assumptions to make. It turned out that she did know about that; my parents told her before. She asked me what were the things that I found in this particular religion that I didn't agree with, and I told her that I had plenty of things about religion in general that I didn't agree with. Her response to that caught me a little off guard.

She told me in response: "So, does that mean you're all alone there now?"

I didn't understand where that was coming from, so I asked for a clarification, what did she mean by that? She told me that now that I don't belong to my parents' religion, she thinks that I am alone here in Berlin, far from the parents.

I needed a few seconds to process that, but later it clicked. For her (and for perhaps most of the traditional Filipino families out there), children are always children, and parents are always parents. Children are always children and will play the role of children, until they become parents themselves. So the idea is that one should preserve the nuclear family structure as much as they can, until the next generation appears.

And when I look at their family, this is indeed the case. My aunt and uncle live in Qatar. They have 3 grown children. The eldest has already finished school, while the two younger ones still go to university. When all of them were still young, all the children lived in Qatar, until they finished high school. Then they went back to the Philippines to study in university. Then one would hope that they would leave the nest and go on with their lives. No, instead, as in the case of the eldest, she found a job in Qatar, and even though she is in her mid-20s, she still goes on to live with the parents, in Qatar.

I remember when I was still interacting with some folks from this religion back in the Philippines, in 2005, when I was about to move to Buffalo, that for some, it was hard to comprehend the dynamics in my own family. My parents "left" the children in 2004, when my father was posted to Austria. That meant that the children (me and my sister) had to manage the house on their own. In 2005, I moved to Buffalo. And in 2007, my sister moved out as well, first to Prague, then to New York City. In my family, the children now have their own adult lives, and no, we are not alone. We have good close friends, and we have loved ones as well.

I told my aunt that I am turning 32 this year. I am not a child anymore. I told her that when my dad was 32, he already had a 1-year-old. And when my mom was 32, she already had an 11- and an 8-year-old. She responded by saying how it just felt like yesterday, referring to the time when she was taking care of me together with my grandfather (who died when I was too young to really get to know him better). And here I am, wondering about how it is hard for people to accept change, even when change such as children growing up is such a natural part of the human life cycle.


  1. My in-laws still consider my husband a child. It annoys me but he is used to it. On the other hand, my parents treated us like adults as soon as we started to... you know, behave like adults. Maybe it's an Asian parenting thing?

    1. Zhu,

      Perhaps it's an Asian thing, as you said. Sometimes, I just find it hard to deal with.