Family is considered to be the foundation of social life for most Filipinos. The nuclear family is the core family unit, however bonds are often tight knit among extended family members. Indeed, people may be encouraged to have a relationship with their aunts and uncles that is just as strong as the relationship with their parents. Close familial relationships often go beyond one’s genetic connections or bloodlines to incorporate distant relatives, close neighbours or friends. For example, it is common to hear people refer to distant relatives or non-relatives with familial terms such as ‘tita’ (aunt), ‘tito’ (uncle), ‘lola’ (grandmother) and ‘lolo’ (grandfather). One instance is when a grandchild refers to their grandparent’s friend or cousin as lola or lolo.
Filial piety is an important concept in Filipino culture. It is understood as essential in order to maintain the collective face of the family and to avoid experiencing hiya (see Social Interactions and Hiya in ‘Core Concepts’). Many Filipinos hold the belief that each family member has several duties and responsibilities they must uphold. Observing one’s duties and responsibilities is important in order to correctly respect others and to ensure harmony among family members. For example, family members are required to show respect to their elders at all times. The opinions of younger family members’ and children’s opinions are considered to be secondary to their superior. Moreover, those requiring age care are nearly always taken care of by their children or grandchildren.
Household Structure and Transnational Families
In a Filipino household, it is common to find three generations living together. Often, grandparents play a large role in raising their grandchildren. Extended family will often live relatively close to one another and will come together during large celebrations. It is common to find families in the Philippines that have some members who return to their family home during weekends after spending a week in major cities for work or study.
Since the 1970s, the Philippines has been exporting labour abroad, with some members engaging in paid labour abroad while many remain in their home town or village. This means that many Filipino families are spread across the world. Filipino society has widely adapted to the change in family structure. Some parents will leave their child in the Philippines in order to seek labour abroad to better support their family left behind. In turn, they will send back remittances to their parents or siblings who have been given the duty of caring for the child. It is also common to find aunts, uncles and godparents taking care of their nieces, nephews or godchildren, by sending remittances back to the Philippines in order to pay for their education.
Those living abroad with left behind families will attempt to see their family once a year by returning home to the Philippines during their break from work in another country. This can be particularly difficult for those with children or elderly parents in the Philippines. In order to support their families in the Philippines, Filipinos abroad will send a ‘balikbayan box’, containing various items such as clothing, household objects and gifts for their family. In the Australian context, it can be quite emotionally distressing for some Filipinos in intercultural marriages to be denied the opportunity to send remittances home or unable to visit their family, as they feel they are failing to uphold their duty towards their family.
At times, Filipino society is tagged as patriarchal. This is in part due to machismo attitudes and the masculine standards of many Filipino men. However, the Philippines is closer to exhibiting a matriarchal society. The female influence is significant throughout the country, with many women holding senior roles throughout business and the government. In the household structure, it is often a matriarch in charge. Generally, the head of the household is usually the oldest female, often the grandmother (lola). Income from family members are often pooled together, then the matriarch will look after the family finances.
Dating and Marriage
In the Philippines, dating often comes in stages, beginning with courtship. Typically, a man will try to impress a female by courting her. If the woman considers the man to be a good suitor, they will continue dating. Individuals have a significant level of freedom in terms of choosing marriage partners, although the choice of a spouse may be influenced by the preferences of the family. In some families, it is expected for the prospective partner to gain approval of their potential in-laws. However, in urban areas, dating and marriage practices tend to be less conservative and are becoming more influenced by the West.
Expectations and practices of marriage are heavily shaped by the Catholic Church. Marriage is understood as a milestone and it is expected that individuals will one day marry a suitable partner. Monogamy is the norm and divorce is both socially stigmatised and illegal. However, views on marriage are changing. For example, there is now more acceptance of a person’s choice to remain single if they wish to be so.