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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

One family, two cultures

By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

The recent June events of Philippine Heritage Week in Winnipeg highlighted the celebration of family. It goes unsaid that family is at the center for most Filipino-Canadians, where other priorities such as careers, schooling and extracurricular activities take runner-up positions. Although Filipinos are seen as “ideal immigrants” because they assimilate to Canadian culture well, some struggle with how to bring together traditional Filipino ways with Western views. Often, parents and children do not see eye-to-eye regarding household rules, which leads to frustration and unhappiness on both sides.

For example, when children are in elementary school, classmates might invite them to sleepovers. To the Filipino parent, this may seem pointless and commonly tell their children: “No, you have your own bed.” As they get older, some kids are permitted to go to the mall and hang out with friends, while children with more strict parents are not. Inevitably, children become teenagers and dating becomes an issue. Filipino parents (especially those with daughters) tend to have strict rules, often not allowing dating until they are at least 18 or finished post-secondary schooling. Raising children is difficult enough, but immigrant parents face the added challenge of managing clashes between two cultures.

I have heard Filipino parents comment on how different Canadian-born children are and view them as more rebellious, often not listening to their parents as they do in the Philippines. The most obvious reason for this being that second generation Filipino-Canadians are influenced by Western culture. There is no way to avoid this. Schools in Canada emphasize independent thinking and problem solving. Their peer groups do not only include other Filipinos but children of other cultures. One major difference is that the Filipino culture emphasizes togetherness, collectivism, or pakikisama while Western views are more individualistic, which is sometimes seen as being mayabang (arrogrant) or suplado/suplada (unfriendly). Filipinos are more likely to emphasize the importance of family and friends while Westerners can place just as much importance on self and career. Neither is better than the other, they are simply different.

So how can the Filipino parent in Canada raise their children in a way that harmonizes both traditional and Western viewpoints? We can get some answers by considering the four different parenting styles that exist, and the benefits and disadvantages they have.

Authoritarian parenting: “Because I said so”

Authoritarian parents hold strict standards for their children and do not give explanations for their rules. Children are expected to be obedient. Failure to comply with the rules leads to punishment. These parents try to control their children using shame and guilt and often withdraw their love.

Although this style of parenting results in well-behaved children, studies show that they have lower levels of confidence, social skills, and happiness. As a consequence, they may perform more poorly in school.

Authoritative parenting: “These are the rules because…”

The authoritative parent is one who also has rules and standards for their children but are more flexible and take a nurturing approach. They are open to questions, offer explanations behind their actions and allow children to express their opinions. If a child disobeys the rules, consequences are accompanied by forgiveness and emphasize love for the child. This style of parenting has positive effects because it encourages independence and role models for how to have healthy relationships. Parents with authoritative styles want to be fair, yet consistent. Although this style of parenting requires more time and attention, the outcomes are worth it. Research supports that these children are happier, and are more confident in school and in social relationships.

Permissive parenting: “Well I guess you don’t have to follow the rules”

Parents who adopt a permissive style of parenting do not have many rules and rarely take disciplinary action. They are seen as lenient and avoid confrontation with their children. Although they are nurturing and responsive, they act more like a friend than a parent. Children get accustomed to getting their way and then develop an inaccurate view of social relationships. Studies show that these children rank low in happiness levels, perform poorly in school and often cannot manage their emotions.

Uninvolved parenting: “There are no rules because I don’t care”

This style is similar to permissive parenting in that there are few rules and consequences, but uninvolved parents lack warmth and caring towards their children. They rarely communicate and offer only basic needs. As can be expected, children with uninvolved parents have poor self-esteem, are unhappier, and do poorly in school.

So is there a “better” style of parenting? Research supports that authoritative parenting has more of a positive effect on children. Interestingly, it can be viewed as a harmony between traditional Filipino parenting and Western culture’s emphasis on acceptance and independence. Some suggestions on how to adopt an authoritative parenting style are to:

  • Encourage and answer their questions. Try not view it as your child “talking back” or questioning your authority. Even if they are angry with you, view it as a teaching opportunity. In Canada and the U.S., schoolteachers encourage independent thinking and children take this style of learning home with them. So if their questions are shut down at home, they might find this confusing or even start to believe that they are worthless.
  • Listen. Starting when they are babies, open the lines of communication. If you let them know that you hear them, they will be more likely to seek your opinion when they are older.
  • Use more terms of endearment such as “anak”, “honey” or “buddy”. This automatically softens your tone and will bring down your anger and frustration levels.
  • Spend time with them, doing an activity where you can talk, such as playing board games or cooking. Take advantage of opportunities to connect such as during car rides.
  • Keep them busy. The more involved they are in school and extracurricular activities (e.g. music and sports), the less time they have to be bored and possibly engage in smoking, drugs or sexual activities. Ensure that you attend as many concerts, plays, sports games, spelling bees, and school board meetings as possible. This sends kids the message that they are important. Even if they don’t realize it, they want to know that you are there.
  • Ask for their opinions. Whether it’s about what style of music they like or if they think their punishment was fair, this again reinforces that you think they are important. Even if you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear, at least they know they are being heard. Like everyone else, they want to be validated. That is, they want to know that they are seen, heard and understood. After all, isn’t that what we all want?

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She provides counselling services at the Nest Family Centre on Stafford St. and is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or