Remember the old adage, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay ‘di makakarating sa paroroonan,” passed down to us from god-knows how many generations?
We’re always told to be grateful for everything that’s given to us by our families. However, when relationships are strained, everything becomes ‘utang na loob’ — a flashback of all the things they’ve done for us.
Debunking the invisible debt
Is there a non-negotiable reason for utang na loob?
Known as a ‘debt of gratitude,’ it’s a Filipino Psychology concept that is cultural but possesses potential harm. The Philippines is a collective society, placing emphasis on strong familial ties and values over individual needs.
Everything is shared—from food (hating kapatid) to clothes, shelter, and even pursuits. The head of the family is often in charge of household matters.
They take pride in the fruit of their labor—us children—creating the mindset that “your achievement is my achievement” prevalent.
This affects our life decisions and it breeds conflict when we become independent decision-makers.
The road not taken
When deciding which path to take, who has a say?
Some parents have a say on their children’s timeline: college major, post-graduation plans, career, and family prospects at a specific age. Sometimes, these are reflections of the dreams they weren’t able to achieve when they were our age.
They want what’s best for us, that it’s okay to meddle in our decision-making. Embedding their wishful thinking with our reality, now blurred.
All our dues
Giving parental advice isn’t wrong. But it gets toxic when there’s no compromise in between. When conflict arises, they pull out the utang na loob card, which erases any rebuttals you have.
You’re indebted to return the favor.
Our basic, fundamental rights, such as shelter, food, and education become a form of gaslighting and emotional blackmail. It’s capped with a tension-filled, “After everything, this is how you repay us?!” line.
But what these parents forget is that these commodities come with having children. You should take care of them, as dictated by the constitution, law, and morals.
As Veronica Jarski said, “A good parent offers unconditional love and support; an emotionally abusive parent demands unconditional love and support from his/her child.”
Even the Bible said something along the lines, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).”
Familiarity with the situation
I am familiar with the utang na loob concept as a graduating student. I strived for academic excellence, studying for 19 years (NKP-12; college), to repay the opportunity of a good education.
Let’s be realistic, we’re put into this world without consent. We didn’t ask to be born in the first place.
I am indebted to my parents not because they gaslighted me into thinking that I owe them. It springs from the love and gratitude because they helped me get to where I am now.
To each their own, parents have their own ways of raising their children. It could spring to even more conflict.
Children develop resentment and hatred towards their parents until they’re older. It results in mental trauma, as one lives up to others’ expectations—fearing the ‘black sheep’ label.
Codependence, an excessive emotional reliance, also happens when a child becomes a ‘retirement or emergency fund,’ for the parents. Both are insidious and products of distraught filial piety—a Confucianism virtue of respect for family and elders towards social harmony.
If becoming the sole provider is a choice willfully made, it’s not as harmful. If imposed by others, it’s a bit hurtful not to be viewed as humans, but rather, as income-generators.
Isn’t reciprocity meant to be mutual, not one-sided? Kindness shouldn’t be mandated.
We have to be progressive in our way of thinking—both the parents and us, the children. The first step is to widen the lens of how our parents see the world.
To all the people out there experiencing the uphill battles of utang na loob—carrying the generational baggage of other people’s journeys, I understand you.
As cliché as it may be, communication is the key.
Narrow-mindedness is inevitable. However, getting your point heard and understood is better than not doing anything. Meeting in between and compromising is a continuous process.
The times are changing. What will our future look like if we remain in our traditional bubble?