relationship advice

[Two Pronged] To stay or to go

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] To stay or to go
Maria lives in the United States with her daughter and grandchildren. Should she move out once she can afford it?

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I live in the States with my eldest daughter and her two kids. Do I really have to stay with them once I get a job and I can afford my own place? I feel so guilty even planning such a thing because that will mean not helping her take care of her kids. But I find it so hard to get along with them. I am so confused. Please help.


Dear Maria,

Thank you for your message.

The role of parents vis-à-vis their children and grandchildren is a matter of considerable debate not least because of cultural, generational, and societal expectations. In the case of those who have emigrated, they tend in addition to bring with them the customs of their native land. Their children however most times experience a certain tension between the customs they have inherited from their parents and those that they have absorbed living within their environment.

Your case, Maria, illustrates the potential clash between Filipino and American attitudes.

Filipino attitudes to family tend to be collectivist e.g. encouraging adult children to live at home before marriage and nearby after marriage, whereas American attitudes are generally more individualistic, encouraging children to spread their wings and embrace independence at a comparatively earlier age.

The factors that you are choosing to weigh while deciding on your best course of action are your desire on the one hand to be independent and self-supporting, strengthened by your inability to get on with your grandkids (and your daughter?), and your sense that it is your “duty” as a Filipina nanay/lola to put the needs of your daughter and her family before your own, however distasteful that might be. 

This is common in many societies; however much we might disagree, we all know unmarried daughters to whom their siblings have delegated care of their parents in old age and widows whose family pressure them not to work or date but to dedicate themselves to the well-being of the family “in honor of the memory of her late husband.”

A number of key details are not clear from your message, however. Is your daughter in a stable relationship i.e. is there another income and/or person to care for the kids? Who chose to emigrate e.g. is it the case that you were encouraged to join them so that they would effectively have free childcare? Were you a working mother before moving to the US in which case to work might be almost second nature to you? What are any other consequences of your withdrawal of labor?

Whatever the answers to these and other related questions particular to your situation, ultimately the choice lies between putting your needs before those of your daughter/grandkids (self-actualization) or putting their needs before yours (self-denial). 

Religion might give you some guidance. I have no idea if you are Catholic/Christian but perhaps the biblical parable of the talents is relevant here. As I recall it, the steward who buried his talent was scolded.

However, many religions, especially Catholicism, include faithful who would instead praise someone who unselfishly gave up everything to serve others, even more so if those others are hard to get along with, and might even style it your own personal Calvary on earth.

Finally whatever you ultimately decide (and as a Westerner my inclination/prejudice favors self-actualization), it will be immensely helpful to discuss this issue thoroughly with your daughter, whose reaction will inform your decision whether she is supportive or not. Having said that, feel free to leave!

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear  Maria:

Thank you for your delightfully short letter which, however, says all that needs to be said in three sentences. I shall comment on each, ok?

1. Do I really have to stay with them once I get a job and I can afford my own place? 

Your use of the word “really” really says it all, doesn’t it? You definitely do NOT want to stay with them.  Just because you don’t want to, doesn’t make you a bad, thoughtless person and may, in fact, be really thought-full which is why you balk at being a dependent during what could be the most exciting time in your life. UGH. Who wants to be living THAT under the watchful eyes of a daughter who wants babysitting from you?

2. I feel so guilty even planning such a thing because that will mean not helping her take care of her kids. I am so confused.

Might you know where this guilt coming? If it comes from what has been drummed into you via your parents or school, that is in the past, forget it. If it has been drummed into you in the present (or what you think might be your future) then who is trying to guilt you into staying and being a babysitter when you too need to rest in your own way once you get back from work?  Chances are they are people who have much to gain from what Mr. Baer calls your “self abnegation.” 

3. I am so confused.

Without knowing you too well, I guess the confusion comes from your not knowing how to deal with this guilt. I think it’s because guilt can be confusing in that many times it comes from, and to, a meaningful place which helps you become a better person. Yet, it can also be useless recrimination just because you did or want to do something good for yourself. Then it is a burden that you need not carry.

Many others have no choice but to accept the living conditions of their children because they do not have the resources to live apart.  

You, on the other hand, are in the enviable position of choosing the life that you want. Please take it .

If you feel the need to write to us again because others have come up with reasons for you to stay, please do so. Mr. Baer and I would be delighted to help you live in the cognitive and emotional space where doing things for yourself is the kindest thing you can do for others too.  

All the best,

MG Holmes

Please send any comments, questions, or requests for advice to

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