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Welcome to the Filipino Family

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

(Note: This description does not apply to 100% of Filipino families, but is certainly common.)

Cover photo source: http://philippinesgetaway.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/filipino-families.jpg

The Filipino family concept goes beyond the nuclear family unit involving the parents and their children. In the Philippines, family extends beyond to include aunts and uncles (called tita and tito), cousins, grandparents and their siblings (your lolos and lolas). Sometimes, even the neighbors count as family too. Filipinos are known to have strong and close family ties. They put higher regard on family than anything else.


So what are the pros and cons to this system?


Pro: You get to go to many parties with great food!


Let me start with the positive side of things. Who wouldn’t want to live in a big friendly neighborhood? Nearly everyone is like Spiderman - your friendly neighborhood tita/tito, ate/kuya, lola/lolo next door. Growing up, I recall visiting a number of homes in our barangay (the smallest political unit in the Philippines, like a section of a town) to attend birthday parties and other special occasions. It felt wonderful to be part of a welcoming and warm community. Some of my favorite handa (celebratory food) includes spring roll, Pinoy style spaghetti, sans rival cake, and so on. More on Filipino food in a later post! I also met many of our neighbors through my mother’s home-cooking business. It was a good training ground for me in interacting with a diverse group of people - young and old, people from various ethnic groups, and from different provinces across the country.


Pro: You get access to the most convenient convenience store.


It can be very convenient to live close to your family or have neighbors that you consider as family. Once, my mother was cooking adobo (yes, the famous dish that is almost like a staple for Filipino households) for dinner, and she ran out of whole peppercorn. Rather than going all the way to the nearest grocery or sari-sari (variety) store, she just had to knock at tito’s house next door to ask for some peppercorn, and ta-da! The cooking continued. It goes both ways too - when tito needs some urgent home item that my mother most likely has, he would do the same thing. While this can be frowned upon by others from a different culture, it works well in in some Filipino communities that have a good level of trust with each other.


Pro: The more the merrier! You will always have friends.


“The more the merrier” is a very common expression. I always looked forward to school breaks when I was younger. I got to play and hang out with the other kids in my big family! We watched anime and Koreanovela (the Filipino word for Korean drama shows), played board games and other kids’ games, shared stories with each other, and cooked and ate late at night. They were family, and became my closest friends, too.


Pro: You get plenty of gifts on holidays.


In December 2019, prior to the global shutdown due to COVID-19 pandemic, I went to the Philippines with my then-boyfriend (now husband; for context, he is American). He witnessed the biggest family gathering that he had ever seen - and it was a typical Christmas for me! My titas, titos, cousins, their kids, and more were there with all their gifts and potluck. We played parlor games, exchanged gifts, and enjoyed delicious food together. Gifts are always a big part of the culture and I enjoyed it as a kid. I always love opening presents on Christmas Day!


However, on occasions like this, you will often hear some older family members ask questions or make comments like: Tumaba ka (you got fatter), kailan ka mag aasawa (when are you getting married?), gusto ko apo (I want grandkids!), and so on. Even single folks can have these last two thrown at them! Of course, it is impolite to respond with, “all the better to eat you all” or “WTF”. I don’t know how much things have changed, but hopefully many will realize how remarks like these are intrusive and can make the younger adults or kids feel extremely uncomfortable.

Con: You feel pressured to socialize.


This leads me to the other side of the story - the cons to the strong family ties and extended family culture in the Philippines. First is the pressure to get along with many relatives and attend too many social gatherings. It is not unusual to keep hearing comments that are too personal, and this is something many Filipinos have to deal with in almost every family gathering.


Con: The act of giving and receiving can be abused.


Some habits are best in moderation. You won’t want people to keep knocking on your door each time they need something, and it becomes a never ending cycle. I also relied on my extended family’s support in getting started with my second master’s degree in the US. But I also worked extremely hard to reach the finish line, pay them back, and become self-sustaining. It becomes problematic if this act of giving and receiving from people you consider family gets abused. This happens to Filipinos abroad too who start meeting random titas/titos/lolas/lolos. Everyone just becomes your family and the expectations live on.


Con: You lose some personal space.


You don’t get much personal space. This is a challenge that some experience as a result of strong and close family ties. Maybe you want a vacation just with your spouse and kids. But because you live under one roof with the grandparents who keep repeating how they raised you up, you now feel obligated to include them in many of your plans.


Con: Your responsibility gets bigger!


And you’re supposed to feel like you owe them. There is a tendency for Filipino children to grow up being told (subliminally or not!) that they owe everything to their parents - both the mother and the father whether or not they were raised in a single-parent household. They grow up thinking they have to work hard so they can give back to their parents, and give them a comfortable retirement life at the expense of their own well-being. This pattern should stop. It is hurting many of our hardworking overseas Filipino workers who earn minimum wages abroad. Not only are they expected to provide for themselves and their kids, but also for their siblings, and their parents. This often makes it much more difficult for individuals to fulfill their own dreams and aspirations. Our children are not retirement funds. We cannot advance as a society if we stick with this mentality. It breaks my heart to hear stories of these workers who suffer greatly just to provide for their family back home in the Philippines. And by family, it includes everyone.


It is still, of course, good to give back to family who have played important roles in your life. But be sure to take good care of yourself first and know your limits.


My big family means a lot to me; I would not be the person I am now without them. Living away from my homeland made me miss a lot of the fun Filipino family gatherings. But through my art, I am able to recreate my favorite Filipino memories. Please be sure to check out my designs at www.pinayartist.com.


I could not think of a better way to end this blog than saying welcome to the Filipino Family (with a big welcoming embrace)!



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