Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:
I am 32, the eldest among four siblings still living with my parents. I am the only one working full time. I started to contribute to our expenses the minute I got my first salary. I was the only one who did so, even if my two brothers now have jobs as IT consultants and have not told us how much they earn. When gas and electricity went up, instead of asking my siblings to not use so much, I made my contribution higher by 50%. It has been difficult since I need money for transportation, acceptable office clothes, and lunches I have to go to for “team spirit.” I bring “baon” on most days.
Last month, my brother Leo who has an IT job asked me to support his college. He feels he would get a higher salary once he had a BA. I cannot afford to contribute for household expenses and also support his studies. What can I do? He suggested getting a loan.
Thank you for your email.
One of the principal differences between individualistic societies, mainly in Europe and North America, where the needs of an individual are prioritized over those of a group) and collectivist societies, where the needs of a group are prioritized, is the expectation that in the latter case one family member will step up, support the family financially, and do so willingly. This is clearly your case, Bea, and also the case of countless other Filipinos.
Your issue however is not the sacrifice per se but the inequitable distribution of the sacrifice between you and your siblings, such that the entire burden is expected to fall on your shoulders to the exclusion of everyone else. You do not say what opinions your parents and other siblings hold but implicitly it seems that they are all in favor of the status quo. And why not? They get all the upside and none of the downside.
Perhaps it is time for a family conference to discuss finances. Prepare yourself well for this. Remember that in the eyes of the rest of your family you have willingly embraced the current arrangements voluntarily so any suggestion of sharing the financial burden is likely to be resisted, if only because you have so readily been willing to sacrifice for their good.
How you argue for change will depend on the big picture (how many of them work, what they can reasonably afford to contribute etc. but you have some leverage. Family history and dynamics (of which we know nothing) will of course determine your options which include simply capping your contribution and telling the others to step up and cover any shortfall, or more aggressive tactics like reducing your contribution. Intransigence could be meet by threats to move out and let them sink or swim, although this should perhaps be the last resort. Best of luck and write again in more detail if you want more advice.
Thank you very much for your letter. I agree with Mr. Baer’s observation that barring evidence to the contrary, your family seems to have accepted the traditional collectivist view that you have taken the role of caring financially for your family.Thus, while reading your letter, part of me railed against your brother’s request to fund his education (AND the temerity to suggest that you get a loan to do so); but part of me also wondered whether he got the message that this was the way things are done in your family: “Ate must be doing all right. She did not even ask us to use less when gas and electricity went up.” This, in turn, may have led him to think of other unlikely scenarios such as: “It shows respect if I ask Ate to help me with my studies.”
I mean, who knows, right, Bea?
His behavior may well be based on his mere misreading of the situation. Perhaps if he knew the real score, not only would he be much less demanding, he might also find ways to help instead of hinder?
Occasionally, a family member (like you) tries to absorb its financial burdens. Because you don’t want your siblings to worry, you downplay your expenses and sacrifices. Yes, you are a fabulous provider and even a martyr, but how are they to know you want some help (and not just praises for being so successful in your job)?
Please re-evaluate your expectations/self demands. Can anyone at 32, the only consistent bread winner in a family of six, really be considered successful only if she takes care of all her family’s needs?
I doubt it. It doesn’t seem fair and, even more than that, it seems highly unrealistic.
In addition, while not sharing one’s own needs can seem heroic (in the good way), it can also be a way to keep one’s distance from the others:
“Hanggang dito lang kayo. (This is as far as it gets) I’ve upped the family ‘allowance’ of my own accord, please be grateful (and don’t pry further into my private affairs.”
That may not be the message you wanted to set out, but is it possible that your brother may have taken it this way? That what would truly help him see the situation is more transparency from you?
In fact, it may encourage even more transparency from him, so that sharing how much he earns, you can both set more realistic goals for the family and for each individual in it.
I honestly don’t know if my suggesting you be more honest about your own needs will help, but it certainly can’t hurt. Also, it opens up the possibility of transforming a household of individuals with similar needs perhaps, but very unknown dreams for themselves, into a home where family members know, like, and try to help each other in the best way they can.
Surely it can be worth a try?
All the best,