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On Utang Na Loob And Respect: Why I’m Not Demanding My Kids To Recognize Me As Their Parent
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  • Smart Parenting's PerSPective is our editorial team's take on the parenting and family issues today's Filipino families are facing. Through these opinion pieces, we as the country's leading parenting media brand hope to spark conversations and help fellow parents achieve our shared goal: to raise happy, healthy families.

    “What do our kids owe us?” I asked my husband while we were on our way to dinner. 

    “Nothing,” he answered with a confused look on his face. He didn’t say it then—maybe because we were at a stoplight and listening to Google Maps telling us to turn right and drive a few more kilometers to get to the restaurant, but I could only interpret his expression as “Why would they owe me anything?”

    Our children are nine, seven, and almost three years old. They have nothing to their name except Legos, a collection of tree branches, a couple of Geronimo Stilton books and other junior novels, and the all-important ninja costume and swords. So there is really nothing they could give us anyway. At least right now and monetarily.

    It’s hard for me to imagine who they would be in their twenties or their thirties, but the truth is, one day they will be independent adults. And hopefully, they’ll have more to their name than the aforementioned collection.

    I think about what my kids owe me, because again and again I see the same story: an adult or practically adult child butts heads with their parents and the public cries out: Wala kang utang na loob. Kung wala ang magulang mo, wala ka rin. You need to respect your parent.

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    Last week it was Julia Barreto’s interview on Karen Davila’s YouTube channel and her dad Dennis Padilla’s replies that stirred this sentiment. 

    But even without celebrities and their family woes, this thought is prevalent if not pervasive in our culture. And those are just pretty adjectives to say: we’ve all probably received a version of that, somehow. Being shamed for disagreeing or even choosing differently from what our parents want, even as adult children.

    What my children owe me 

    Now that I am a parent, I admit that I have in the past demanded that my children respect me and have asserted it in an authoritarian manner. I used to playfully ask, “Who’s the boss?” And as small children, my two older kids would answer: “Mama boss!”

    When I grow tired of washing the dishes, cleaning up at home, homeschooling, and working and our kids are rowdy, I admit that I’ve also said to them, “I do all this, and this is how you repay me?”

    But I’ve since realized that my children owe me nothing.

    They don’t owe it to me to be obedient, and to be good little boys and girls because I make their meals. They don’t owe it to me to study hard, because I’m paying for their school fees. They don’t owe it to me to behave, because I do their laundry.

    This train of thought is what many of us Filipinos have grown up with. A parent treats you well and so the child must repay the parent with *fill in the blank*. Dahil kung wala ang magulang, wala ang anak.

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    True. But as Cosmo has shared, a good parent “would never call out his children for providing financial support because it’s the bare minimum of being a parent.”

    And this is why my children don’t owe me anything. Because now I realize that being a parent isn’t a higher position in the family. It is the humble responsibility to lead sacrificially. 

    And how could I have missed that? When the first day on the job already meant denying all my comforts and my needs just to meet every single one of my newborn’s cries. The sleepless nights, the cleaning up of poop-filled diapers, the breastfeeding despite chaffed nipples.

    As a child who’s familiar with being guilted into conformity, I’ve realized that guilt is not the motivation I hope for in my own children if they want to give me anything. I hope that when my children do follow me, it’s not out of guilt or shame. But it’s because it’s what they want to do.

    'In the case of utang na loob, it should be viewed as something voluntary and not obligatory. –Gail Galang, PhD

    As a child who is also now a parent, the best way I know to repay my parents’ sacrifice is to pass on to my children the unmeasurable love that has been lavished on me.

    When my children are in their twenties, their thirties, and older, I hope that they won’t buy me dinner because they feel guilty. I hope that they buy me dinner because they love my company and they miss me.

    Kung wala ang magulang, wala ang anak. Ngunit hindi hiningi ng anak ko na isilang ko siya. Kaya hindi ko puwedeng isumbat ang mga ginagawa ko bilang magulang.

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    Experts weigh in: It’s a parent’s duty to provide

    Family expert and chair of the Family Studies Program of Miriam College Gail Galang, PhD, says, “It is the parents’ legal and moral duty to provide support to their children. Children cannot be forced to acknowledge or ‘pay back’ for the support they received from their parents. She adds that this is part of the Family Code.

    “In the case of utang na loob, it should be viewed as something voluntary and not obligatory. When adult children do something for their parents, it is a free expression of their love, be it in the form of loving words and actions, gifts, time together, acts of service, etc.”

    Michele Alignay, PhD, RP, RGC says that utang na loob must be used in context.

    “It is ideal that we regard and honor our parents, despite our differences with them our shortcomings. To an extent, we give them what is due. But if the relationship turned sour or unhealthy, a sign of respect could be to ‘love them from a distance.’

    'Being their parent doesn't mean I deserve their respect. To me, being their parent means I am given the chance every day to earn their respect.

    She adds, “Even if we are not in good terms with them, we need not share about intimate family matters to give the due respect to our parents or family members.

    “On the other hand, parents should not use the virtue of ‘utang na loob’ to gain attention, win the relationship to get something from their children or blame them.”

    Make my children proud

    I won’t teach my kids the concept of utang na loob, especially when it comes to our relationship. I will continue to teach them gratitude and grace—unmerited favor. A gift that is undeserved—or, who they are to me. They are gifts I do not deserve.

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    I will continue to teach them honor and respect, but first I will ask myself: am I behaving in a manner that is worthy of their respect?

    Being their parent doesn't mean I deserve their respect. To me, being their parent means I am given the chance every day to earn their respect.

    As American bestselling author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant wrote in a tweet, “Too many people spend their lives being dutiful descendants instead of good ancestors.

    The responsibility of each generation is not to please their predecessors. It’s to improve things for their offspring. It’s more important to make your children proud than your parents proud.”

    Parenting may be the riskiest investment yet. You pour out your heart and soul and have zero assurance that you get anything in return. But it’s the way I want to parent my children because I don’t want to build resentment in either of us. 

    My hope is that if I love them freely, they in turn will learn to love everyone freely. If they want to gift me with anything, it is because I would have raised them in a home that overflows with kindness and giving, and a home that does not count the gifts received and the offenses made. Hindi namimilang, walang panunumbat.

    The only thing I think my children owe me is this: To live a life they love and choose. 

    Being my children’s parent is a gift. If I were to ask for a reward for what I do as a parent, it wouldn’t be in this life.

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    Ronna Capili Bonifacio is the parenting editor of Smart Parenting.

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