Both of my parents were born and raised in the Philippines before they immigrated to the United States. They were old school, traditional Filipino parents and whatever they said was the law. My father was the head and main provider of our household. He was very hard-working and believed that in the end, it would always pay off. He worked two jobs while my mother also worked and took responsibility of the domestic needs. At a very young age they wanted to instill the traditional values and beliefs that they had in my younger brothers and I. My mother was the softer, calmer, and more approachable one. She was more passive and understandable compared to my father. He was very intimidating because he was the stronger one and very strict. I was afraid to do any wrong because he would be the one to dictate my punishment, which typically would be being whipped on my behind with his belt. He did not speak too often because he was very conservative and reserved by nature. But when he did, I made sure I listened. Whatever it was he had to say at that moment had to be extremely important, and I made sure I was listening. If not, I would suffer the consequences. Although he was a man of few words, his actions were loud and clear.
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I was the eldest of three children and the only girl. I learned from my parents how to be devoted to responsibilities for my family, including taking care of my younger brothers and household chores. In a way, it was my duty out of obligation to repay my parents' sacrifices for us. My sense of family obligation was not only at home, but it also extended to school where my academic success would prove as a form of repayment for my parents' sacrifices as well. They would constantly remind me that I needed to study hard in order to receive good grades and graduate from high school, so that I would be able to attend a great college to earn a degree and have a successful career in the field of my choice. For as long as I did that, they would support me one hundred and ten percent, regardless of what my career selection would be. It was what was expected of me, and I had to set a good example for my younger brothers. It was only then after I would have completed my education did they say I could live my life however I pleased. All my parents ever wanted from me was to finish school because that was most important to them. If I succeed then they would have succeeded, too.
My brothers and I saw our mother as the soft and calm one, while we regarded our father as the strong and most eminent figure in the family. We were taught from birth to say "Po" and "Opo" to teach us as early as possible how to properly respect our elders. These words are used to show respect to people of an older level. Even adults are sometimes criticized for not using these words when speaking to their parents or people who are older than them. Within our family, my parents were expected to receive the highest respect from me and my brothers; especially with me because as I was given more responsibilities to look after my siblings when my parents were not around. Fighting back or addressing my parents with an arrogant tone was not at all tolerated. We were also not allowed to leave the house without my parents' permission. I know of some conservative families in which they expect their children to practice the placing of their parents or elder family members' hand to their foreheads with the words "Mano po" as a sort of greeting upon arriving home. My brothers and I only did the gesture to our parents after we attended Sunday mass at church, and family gatherings or special occasions to our grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other elders as soon as we got to the event.
I cannot say that I had the best relationship with my mother as a child, but I felt more comfortable talking to her than my father. She was a little bit more understanding about certain topics such as boys and dating and easier to get along with because of the fact we were both females. Not to say that boys and dating was a frequent topic of discussion because as much as possible she wanted my main focus to be school. Since my father was working all the time, he was less involved in my life; and therefore, I had minimal communication with him. When we did talk, we only talked about general things like TV shows, sports, or school. I did not have closeness with him. There were often times I wanted him to show more concern for me because it did discourage me from disclosing my honest thoughts and opinions to him. I felt less comfortable telling him about sensitive issues such as boys and dating; I feared that I would get an angry response from him. Occasionally, if I needed to disclose sensitive information to my father I would often use my mother as a go-between. That way, the delivery would not be so harsh coming from my mother because she had a way of telling him where she vouched for me.
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When I hear about brother and sister relationships, the first word that comes to mind is "complicated". I think the dynamics of the brother and sister relationship is very diverse. Any sibling relationship, whether it is brother and sister, sister and sister, or brother and brother, is very complex. With my siblings, I tried to coexist with them together in the same house, and that was not always easy. We had the love/hate relationships with not much in between. There were days when we were inseparable. We loved hanging out together, shared jokes and music, and just plain enjoyed each other's company. There were also days where we could not stand to be in the same room together. My brothers and I fought, and our parents had to solve the fights all the time. It was difficult for them because each of us was different and they did not know whose side to take, the eldest one (me), the middle child, or the youngest one, the sons or the daughter, the aggressive one, the calm, or the meek one. When my youngest brother was born, my other brother and I did not understand that when my parents protected him it was because of the age factor and not love that was involved. We felt that our youngest sibling was getting all of the attention. Also, we were temperamentally different from each other. I was more of the clingy type who felt comforted only when my parents were around. Whereas my brother was a little bold and did not like displaying affection. When one of us got sick, naturally my parents would look after him more and I felt a little jealous about it. So, I fought with him even though it really was not his fault.
As we were growing up, my brothers and I were not able to effectively communicate with my parents. Hoping for them to have an open mind we wanted to share our ideas, opinions, and information, so that it would help us build a bond with each other because that was the type of relationships our friends and other classmates had with their parents. We wanted to have that, too. We were envious of the fact that all the kids we knew at school could talk to their parents as if they were talking to their peers. They were not afraid of telling their parents exactly what they had on their minds because it did not matter if they were right or wrong. They knew that their parents were not going to get mad at them nor would they get in trouble. As long as they told the truth and did not make up any stories, the other parents were always willing to listen to what their children had to say. We wished for many years that we were only able to do the same; if we had been able to then maybe it would have encouraged more positive behaviors in me, helped build trust with my parents, and created a more peaceful atmosphere in our home.
It was during my middle school years when I noticed some of my friends were already having boyfriends and girlfriends. They were able to go to the mall, movies, and other people's houses when they wanted to. Also, the girls wore make-up and the most stylish clothes because their parents allowed them. They were doing everything that my parents would never let me do. They would tell me that I was way too young to have a boyfriend and that I was not allowed to have a boyfriend until I graduated from college. Most of the time when my friends did go out to the mall or movies, they were not chaperoned. Because they were not supervised and my parents were concerned with the whole idea of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they would never let me go out with my friends. When I would ask for permission to go to my friends' houses my mother would respond, "Why do you need to go to your friends' houses when you have your own house? You can have your friends come over instead of you going to their houses.'' Of course she would say that because if my friends came over, all my parents would do is watch and listen to us the entire time. Obviously, this would enable my parents to keep an eye on everything that I did. How embarrassing is that? I would not get any privacy. I would much rather go over to my friends' houses than have them come over; mainly, because I did not want to be at home.
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My mother was very simple in regards to her appearance. She rarely wore make-up and if she did, it would only be for when she attended special occasions. So when I expressed interest in make-up, she highly discouraged it because once again, I was not at an appropriate age. Even if I only wanted to wear eyeliner and a lightly shaded lipstick I was not allowed to. In addition, going clothes shopping with her would be so difficult because she would never agree to the clothes I wanted to wear. She thought that the most fashionable clothes I picked out were not conservative enough. My mother would always say, "These are the most age appropriate for you," as she purchased clothes for me. I hated it when she said that because she would not take into consideration of what I liked and wanted. I felt like I was my own person and was entitled to my own identity, but my parents made it hard for me to become that person because of the control they had over me.
My brother and I became jealous of our friends' freedoms and wanted to be like them, so we could fit in with the crowd. At the same time, we were very frustrated with our parents' rules about what we could and could not do. There were some instances where we would invite some of our friends over to our house after school. This was during the time when my father worked two jobs. As soon as my brother and I got home from school, my father would leave for his second job and I was to watch over my brothers. My mother worked during the day and was not expected to be home until five thirty or so in the evening. Our friends watched TV, listened to music, talked, and just hung out at our house. We made sure that they all left no later than five o'clock before my mother came home. My brother and I made a deal that as long as he did not rat on me to our parents, I would not tell on him either. My youngest brother was still very young and did not understand what was going on, so we did not really have to worry about him saying anything to our parents. Whatever I told him to say or do, he listened anyway. I even had a boyfriend and at one point. I invited him along with some friends over my house knowing that if my parents ever found out, they would kill me. I was able to get away with it several times. I figured that my parents would never find out.
One day my mother discovered a photo taken in our kitchen of me sitting on my boyfriend's lap. It was no surprise that she hit the roof. When she asked me why I did it behind her back, I told her it was because I knew that if I asked for permission, I would be denied anyway. I was being honest with her and said that since this is how it has always been, I would just go ahead and do it because I did not think I was going to get caught. She was so upset with the whole situation that she immediately told my father about it and both my brother and I were reprimanded, but that did not stop us from continuing to do things behind their backs. We knew that the more we asked them to allow us for certain things, the more they would say, "No because I said so!" We figured that what they did not know would not hurt them.
If there was one thing that my parents permitted my brother and I to do, it was to be able to use the telephone, granted that we took turns and stopped using it by nine o'clock in the evening. More than half of the time, my brother and I would end up arguing and fighting over it. There were many times when I would be on one of the phones and my brother would intentionally pick up the other phone and say, "I need to use the phone now," and hung up. Five minutes later, he did the same exact thing. If I still did not get off to let him use it, he started listening to my conversations, and I constantly had to repeat myself for him to stop. It was absolutely annoying and embarrassing. There was one particular incident where we were quarrelling very badly and my mother overheard us. She had to have been very tired from work and stressed out because of us. She immediately came out of the kitchen, pulled the telephone and its cord off of the wall in the hallway, and threw it on the floor. She yelled, "Go and fight over it now!" Because it would be impossible for me to live without talking on the telephone, I ended up sneaking downstairs to the garage in the middle of the night to use it. Once again, I would wait until my mother fell asleep, which was typically between ten thirty and eleven o'clock, before I made my way downstairs to the garage. The most difficult challenge was having to crawl on the floor while passing my parents bedroom because they never closed their door. They wanted all of the bedrooms' doors opened at all times. I got down on all fours low enough to where she would not be able to see nor hear me. Once I got passed their bedroom, I opened and then closed the door that led downstairs to the garage and tip-toed very carefully and quietly, so that I would not wake anyone up. I used the phone anywhere from two to four hours without my mother being aware of it.
My parents did not come to the realization that they were living in different times with a new generation until I was a senior and my brother was a junior in high school. Eventually, they found out a lot of the mischief we participated in in the past and the reasons why we did them. We made it clear to them that all of our lives we felt like it was always all or nothing with them. We felt like there was never an in between or a compromise that could ever be reached. Time and time again, we proved to them that we were responsible at home by the way we took care of each other and chores around the house, and at school by the good grades we received and how we managed to stay out of trouble. We asked them, "What else do you want us to do?" Fortunately, I enjoyed my last year in high school because my parents finally gave me some of that freedom I had been wanting for for a long time. They agreed that so long as I wanted to be treated like an adult, then I would have to continue to act like one.
With my parents, there were no such things as negotiations. There was only one way, and it was their way. Period, end of discussion. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. When we received good grades or different types of awards from school, our parents would say, "That's good," and that would be the end of it. They did not reward us for doing well or really praised us for a job well done. It was expected of us, and we should just continue to do so. I am pretty sure my parents expected set-backs, as all parents would, with us. We dealt with them as soon as they happened, and they always told us about the things that they did not like about our actions, but we never found a solution together. Even when discipline was involved, it was ultimately whatever they said and decided on and that was it. Basically, they made up our minds for us instead of working together to meet half way. As a result, we ended up sneaking around and doing things without their knowledge.
I am sure that it was not always fun and easy for my parents when it came to disciplining us. Deep down inside, I do not think they enjoyed seeing us cry or storming off because of something they had said or done, but they did not know how to deal with our behavior issues. My parents would always tell us what to do instead of what not to do and not praise us for doing things without their prompting. It was not like they ever sat us down and had open discussions about problems. Maybe if they said, "Let's sit down and talk about how your feelings. I understand that you're frustrated, but we can certainly work it out together," it would have kept our lines of communication open. Or even if one of us came home slamming doors around the house out of anger because we were having a bad day, my parents could have said, "I know you're frustrated about something that happened, but try talking to us about what is going on instead of just showing us by your behavior." It probably would have helped us feel more comfortable approaching them with our issues. I can honestly say that my mother, most especially, did not have the clearest and most compassionate tone with us. Instead of telling my brothers, "I asked you not to bring in the dirt from outside into the house. Please take off your shoes before you come inside," she would yell, "How many times do I have to tell you to take off your shoes at the front door? You never listen! What do you think I am, your maid?"
Not only do I believe that effective family communication requires all parties to speak to each other respectfully and with love, and the ability to resolve your differences calmly and with an air of mutual consideration for opposing opinions, but being an active listener is also an essential aspect. I think that by being an active listener, it involves you to try your best to understand the point of view of the other person. It shows them that you are acknowledging and respecting their perspective. My parents could have easily nodded their heads or said, "We understand," when listening to me which could have conveyed that they actually cared about what I had to say, but they did not. I think for the most part, in order for effective communication to take place within families, individual family members must be open and honest with one another, and learning to work through disagreements in a healthy, life-affirming manner is key.