On growing up strict: How much impact do parents have on their children’s adult decisions?
I was unfamiliar with the concept of “takas (to escape)” until university when a friend told me she’d need to do it to meet me at the bar. Later, I learned that “takas” wasn’t so much the exception as it was the rule. At the very least, many of my peers needed a believable excuse to be out later than midnight.
This was unfamiliar territory for me, the eldest daughter in an Asian household who seemingly escaped the stereotype. It wasn’t that I was raised without rules—I had a curfew, albeit a generous one. I could drink alcohol in moderation. I could see boys (or girls) if we were honest and safe.
People often called me lucky, and I felt the need to compensate by letting them know my family was flawed. It felt wrong. I felt guilty.
I realized the impact of my upbringing and how I related to others after I developed my core group of friends shortly after graduating from university. It begged the question: Are you better off raised by an iron fist or a looser one?
@itis.kat you have to earn your freedom fr #fyp #nonstrictparents #strictparents ♬ original sound – Kat
Authoritarian parenting: a Filipino norm
Parenting styles in the Philippines are notoriously authoritarian, with a strong emphasis on respect and obedience. 27-year-old copywriter Fely, who grew up in a strict household, shares that she was alienated from the Internet until high school and disallowed from going on trips with friends and their families. On how her upbringing affected her adulthood, Fely reveals, “I have very bad social skills and am always trying to catch up with how my generation…socializes.”
In a similar boat is 28-year-old Isabella, who shares she was entirely unfamiliar with the idea of sleepovers until she moved out of her family home. “It didn’t matter if I was asking about a female friend. If she had a brother, that was out of the question. Now, I have a boyfriend who occasionally sleeps over at my apartment. Do my parents know that? Of course not.”
Speaking with Isabella reminded me of a previous visit with my 39-year-old ENT, who couldn’t stop gawking at my father when I shared that I was living with my then-boyfriend. At 39, with a PhD, and living independently of her parents, my bubbly, seemingly undisturbed doctor was mind blown by the idea. And no—she was not allowed to have a boyfriend.
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The downfall of strict parenthood
As I came to learn, graduating high school did not mean your university world was your oyster. Many of my university peers were seasoned fabricators. Attending a party meant telling a parent you needed to stay late at the library. Perhaps you were at a retreat with your orgmates. Maybe you were at a chaperoned sleepover with a close friend of the same sex. Whatever the case, many of my friends nurtured arsenals of lies, which is a natural response to authoritarian parenting, according to research on Asian households.
In 2019, I started dating someone whose mother asked why I didn’t lie to my parents—a question that took me aback yet shouldn’t have surprised me. I said I didn’t feel the need to (also, I was openly defiant). Later in the relationship, my now-ex would disallow me from joining games of Never Have I Ever because recounting my teenage years would make him feel as though he “missed out.”
Eventually, the relationship grew tumultuous, especially after years of living together. I, a so-called spoonfed international school “brat,” was appointed the official housemaker, whether I liked it or not. Years of therapy would not undo his inability to perform a single chore, for which he often blamed his upbringing.
This frequent parent-blaming forced me to reflect—how responsible is our upbringing for how we turn out as adults?
Isabella tells Wonder, “I still lie and hate that I do. Little failures feel like significant ones I can’t return from, even though I can. It’s almost impossible to feel secure. But, to an extent, I can’t blame my parents. I could never deny that their intentions were good. Execution, though? That’s another story and I only have myself to rewrite it.”
On the other hand, Fely often feels a strange longing for childhood correction. “I wish I was encouraged and given [the] avenue to play with kids. I wish I were given [the] grace to learn new skills…I wish I were praised less for being well-behaved and encouraged to behave like a child.”
@katclark Hopefully i never have to deal with any of this #nonstrictparents #questions ♬ original sound – Kat Clark
How do “strict-parent” kids move on?
Before writing this article, I Googled the effects of strict parenting on adult decision-making. Many articles were limited in their praise for authoritative methods—they did not deny the few indisputable benefits of strict parenting, but aggressively underscored its negative impact.
Still, how long can we blame our parents for how we turn out? I have little to complain about when I reflect on my intensely liberal upbringing. I was deeply supported. My parents provided ample opportunities to nurture my ever-changing interests. I could dance if I wanted to. I could drum if I wanted to.
I was given academic expectations to meet, but never at the expense of my amusement or enjoyment (if you’re a Bear fan, you’ll know). I was never neglected. Yet, I’d made several attempts on my life. I’d nearly dropped out of university. I self-harmed. I fell apart.
And I will never blame my parents for it. But will children of strict parents feel otherwise?
Isabella shares that she doesn’t blame her parents. Not really. “I don’t think I can find actual fault in their intentions. Like most tiger parents, they only ever wanted ‘the best’ for me, and that made me resilient. Every Filipino’s favorite word. But do I wish I had grown up differently? I do.”
On quintessentially Filipino parenting habits, Fely shares that certain things no longer have a place in future family settings. “[We should stop] shaming girls for not being inherently drawn to domestic labor. [We should stop] trusting older daughters more than their fathers when caring for the household and younger children. [[We should stop] hitting children to discipline them.”
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The bottom line
While I often remind my awe-inspired friends that my liberal upbringing was not perfect, I can’t help but feel deeply grateful for the space I was given to grow. I am a product not of my parents, but of the paths they paved for me.
We can barely predict what the future of Filipino parenting will look like, but we can only hope it’s a little gentler, more communicative and kinder.
Words Zoë Isabela Alcazaren
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver