Opinion: It’s not just foreigners who are expected to splash the cash

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Foreigners who marry into Filipino families often complain of being seen as “walking cash machines” by an ever-widening circle of relatives.

While some are happy to share their good fortune without question, others are forced to risk ill-will by limiting — or stopping altogether — the flow of cash to the in-laws.

However, the social minefield of how to help those in need without creating a culture of dependency is something that many successful Filipinos also have to navigate.

Here, Steven de Guzmán, a computer scientist currently living in Spain, recounts his experience:

I guess it’s time to share my story here so that foreigners will understand the cultural differences. I know that it is better to send out positive vibes, but it doesn’t mean avoiding talking about the negative side of our culture as if it doesn’t exist. 

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(Dear fellow Filipinos who get triggered easily, please stop reading beyond this point…)

This is darkest side of the Filipino culture that I personally experienced, and fairly common in poor families. I am from a lower middle class family of five. We have a complacent family culture and unclear family values, and I realized this after traveling and knowing other cultures.

I grew up parenting myself. It was crystal-clear that I was the academic superstar in the family and would achieve greater things in life (I studied in La Salle & Ateneo, had good jobs in the Philippines, worked abroad, etc.). I didn’t get any validation from my parents. Instead, I got additional responsibilities, under the guise of equality:

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  1. You kids should love each other and maintain family harmony; it’s just money that you can’t bring to heaven
  2. Your siblings will help you when it’s your time to need help (Never happened).
  3. At least you’re the one who has the means to help, not the one who needs to ask others for money.
  4. Your education was expensive, it’s payback time (My sisters went to expensive schools too. Sure, mine was the most expensive, but I studied in the most reputable private school and I have the highest ROI)
  5. You got “lucky” with your jobs and your siblings simply didn’t. (As if I didn’t study hard and it was a mere coincidence to graduate from a reputable university. As if I didn’t handle political drama in the corporate world. As if I didn’t have to commute for hours to reach Makati everyday.)
  6. In short: they want equality in privileges but not equality in responsibilities.

In old Asian traditions, parents see children as investments who will eventually take care of them when they get old, so they don’t have to save money. For a decade, I was giving most of my money to them, and I am still in the process of financially recovering. Every time I had a salary increase, their expectations only increased more.

My main problem with the setup, surprisingly, was not the money, because I was brainwashed that I am the designated “padre de familia”. My main problem was the fact that they set the bad decisions while I am supposed to be the enabler. My parents and my siblings want to pass the same unsustainable culture of complacency to the next generation, grooming my nieces and nephews as future brats. So I ended up paying for their tuition but I didn’t have the right to dictate their study habits. I am not their dad when it comes to setting responsibilities, but it changes to “if you love them, pay for them” when they need money.

My mom was also hoarding a lot of unnecessary things, from clothes to grocery. When I asked her to budget, she got defensive and made more excuses (e.g., the cost of living is getting higher, we need to have a third floor because we have a lot of things).

I don’t have any allies in my family, because they all benefit from the unfair setup. I was also labeled as the “Hitler” who only knows discipline and not love. My sisters and my mom told me that I shouldn’t judge their parenting style because I am not yet a parent, so I said they shouldn’t judge my level of discipline because they haven’t achieved any of my success.

It came to a point where I had to limit my monthly contribution to “only” 30k/month, and I was suddenly seen as selfish. They reacted to it as if they suddenly had to set extreme austerity measures.

Eventually, I got fed up with all of these injustices against me. What happened next?: I moved out and stopped giving them money. People should learn the consequences of their life decisions, and I can’t always learn these things on their behalf. It’s also time to love myself — I am currently living in Madrid (not working full-time), and will study masters next school year in another country. It’s time to prioritize my own life goals.

Personally, I don’t mind giving money, it’s a part of our culture and I am much richer than all of them. But in return I expect each of them to do their part by working well and by setting the right culture to their kids.

To those who are in a similar situation, my advice is: set boundaries, don’t be guilty of loving yourself.

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