Originally aired on June 3 @ 12:00 PM - 12:30 PM EDT
Let's explore how cultural expectations of family responsibility differ from culture to culture. Did you have student loans or did your parents pay for university? Do grandparents provide childcare in your culture? In exchange, do you have an obligation to care for them or support them in their old age? Let's talk about the family social contract: obligations or devotion? Filial piety: do you feel you need to do as your elders ask? Or make your ancestors proud? Or take care of your parents when they get old?
APAC Heritage Month
Hello, everyone. This is Arwa Ginwala. I work as a solutions engineer from the San Francisco office at Cloudflare. I also lead Desi Flare, which is an employee resource group at Cloudflare. And today we are here to talk about familial responsibility. So welcome to one more episode of Coming of Age. This is a series hosted by Asian Flare and Desi Flare employee resource groups at Cloudflare as a part of Asia Pacific Heritage Month celebrations. And Cloudflare is celebrating Asia Pacific Heritage Month by trying to amplify Asian voices. So on the same team today, I have with me Jade Wang and Saira Hussain. And I let them introduce themselves. Jade, would you like to talk a little bit about yourself and your role at Cloudflare? Sure. Hi, I'm Jade. I'm based in the Austin office, and I run the startup program. I was born in Shanghai and I came to the US when I was four and a half to five, mostly grew up in the US. And basically in about 2001, like basically when I was around just 20 or so, my parents actually went back to Shanghai. And so they've been kind of living there since. Saira, would you like to introduce yourself? Sure. Hi, I'm a system engineer and I'm working in the trust and safety engineering team. I'm originally from Pakistan, Lahore, which is a big city in Punjab. And I just moved to London about three years ago, a little more than three years ago. And I've been living in London since on my own. My family mostly is still in Pakistan, except for one of my siblings who live here. So, yeah, born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, and now living in London. Awesome. Living the dream, Saira. So let's get started. I mean, before I dive deeper into, you know, maybe your experiences on familial responsibility and filial piety, maybe, you know, if each of you could share a little bit about your views on what filial piety means, you know, so we can educate our viewers here. Yeah, there's a there's a word that roughly translates, it usually gets translated as filial piety from Chinese. The word is xiao. And essentially, it means that you are honoring your family and your ancestors. The general concept is that families play a sort of team strategy in life, right? You know, as a child, you know, like parents are obligated to take care of their children and invest in their future. And when those when the children grow up, and become, you know, wage earners, they are obligated to help their parents, especially as the parents become older. Yeah, it's pretty much the same concept in Pakistan as well. In South Asian countries, specifically, it's pretty similar where the children are expected to take care of their, their parents as they grow old, as they have taken care of the children while they were growing up. So the parents are actually responsible for educating their children for providing for their children as they're growing up. And when they're old, and they're not able to take care of themselves as the children's responsibility to actually take care of their parents. And also, with Pakistan, I think, and with other probably majority Muslim countries within the region that also there's also a very deep rooted religious aspect to it, because filial piety is very, very strongly as a very core virtue within Islam as well. So people are really motivated by religion as well to make sure that they provide for their parents and provide for the elderly people within the community as well. And it's not really just extended to the parents, but towards the wider elderly community, as well as elderly relatives, for example. And even your siblings, your younger siblings, or very old siblings, it's really just like the sense of, like Jade said, teamwork to make sure that you're there to take care of people around you, as they have taken care of you when you were in a vulnerable state, for example. Got it. Yeah. So let's expand a little bit on that. Right. So Jade and Saira, you both mentioned about being responsible for your parents. But then when that extends to, you know, broader family, like grandparents, siblings, what kind of expectations, you know, exist and, you know, what kind of responsibilities come on maybe children or parents or vice versa, right? Yeah, I think it varies a lot from family to family. In the case of my parents versus my parents and my grandparents, they, you know, my grandparents have like a retirement income that they draw off of. But my parents were, you know, the part of the family that went abroad. And so they have higher earning and higher earning potential than all of their other siblings. And so anytime an unexpected expense comes up, usually it's my parents who are called upon. You know, someone happens to suddenly have a medical expense, someone else in the family, you know, the grandparents will immediately point to us. Some sibling wants to start a new business, can they have a load? They're always going to ask us. Yeah, it's pretty much the same in Pakistan as well. So it has changed from my grandparents' generation to my parents' generation, for example. So my grandparents, when they retired, four of my grandparents, like one of my grandfathers passed away before he could retire. So he never really got a chance to actually, you know, not work and completely depend on his children. But my other grandparents worked until they were physically incapable of working. So and once that happened, they completely relied on my parents for financial means, because they had almost no pension saved up because everything they earned, they would spend on their children. And they would think of their children as a pension policy, really, because that's what they were investing in for their future. So that's how they worked. But in my parents' case, it's a little different now. My parents do have some stuff saved up for them, but they also did heavily invest in us as children growing up. But there's also a very subtle but not so subtle caveat in there that people or parents or grandparents generally tend to invest more into their sons than their daughters, because they know that they would get like a higher return from their sons than they would from their daughters, because sons are mostly more in charge, like more responsible for taking care of their parents as they grow old. So that's the kind of traditional, I think, mindset that people have in my community. But I think it's changing quite a lot. So for example, if I look at my sister now who has a daughter, a one-year-old daughter, she does not think that way at all. She is thinking about saving up for herself, for her old age, while still providing for her kid as she is growing up. So it has kind of evolved quite a lot recently over the recent generations. Sarah, you reminded me of some stuff I wanted to share. So it's kind of the gender expectations are actually pretty opposite in my family. Very often, it's the girls who end up taking care of their parents. And in a lot of cases, women are sort of given a sort of double job of having to do elder care and also having to do a full-time job. And so it ends up, you know, stressing a lot of people out. The flip side of that is that the grandparents are often, there's a legal requirement that they are retired at age 60. I think they may have made it 59. So the older people are required to retire at a certain age, and they receive a government pension starting at like 59 or 60. And what ends up happening across the entire society is people who are my parents' age end up becoming grandparents who care for their grandkids full-time. And so, you know, my cousins, who are all only children, covered the one-child policy in the previous episode. My cousins are, you know, all like working full-time. And my aunts and uncles end up becoming, you know, there's four grandparents for every one child. And the grandparents shift baby duty until they are, you know, too old and don't have enough energy to do that. Yeah, that's really interesting. It's quite similar in Pakistani communities as well. I think what happens is, unfortunately in Pakistan, the life expectancy is not that long that it could come to a point where the kids have retired. And once they're retired, they're also taking care of their elderly parents. That rarely happens, but it does happen. But mostly what happens is because a lot of the women in the society, they're mostly full-time caretakers at home. So they would spend most of the time looking after their husband's parents because they'll be living with them. And that's where the core responsibility like the physical care goes to. But then the financial part of it relies on the son who's still working. So I think women are still responsible for taking care of the parents physically, but then the financial aspect of it is kind of shared by the son or by the husband who's out there working and earning money. Yeah, I think now that our viewers know a little bit about what filial piety is, I know Jade, you are in the US, Saira, you are in London. How has this, you know, not being in your home country changed, you know, has it changed anything in terms of your experience or, you know, expectation from your parents or family members? Yeah, I think there's definitely been a lot of culture clash because growing up in the US, I felt like my naive expectations are pegged to those of my peers, as opposed to those of my parents and their relationship with their parents. And my parents feel like they are caught between two worlds where they're getting a bad deal on both sides. Because the existing social contract that they grew up with obligates them to take care of their parents, but they feel like they don't get as much obligation from me. And, you know, they're at a point in their lives where they don't need that financial obligation from me, but they want more time investment from me, often more than I am able to provide for them. And this is actually something that a lot of my cousins who aren't in the West also face because, in part, it's a one child policy, unexpected consequence, because, you know, as one kid, you only have a finite amount of time, right, like my parents were in a family of four siblings, they could each take turns visiting their parents. And when you're one kid, you only have 24 hours in a day. But on the flip side, you know, the level of investment that my parents had in me relative to our economic means was quite different from what I was witnessing in my peers in the US, right, like they would never say no to an activity. If it was like, you know, if I needed, if I wanted to do ballet classes, they will pay for that, like piano, violin, like every kind of lesson, they never said like, oh, you need to, you know, choose between X, Y, and Z activities, unless it was because the limiting factor was hours in the day. Yeah, that's very interesting, actually, because I grew up in Pakistan, I, the social contract there was completely different. And because, so I'm one of the two elder kids that my parents have, I have an elder sister, and then I'm the one who's one of the elder siblings, and I have three younger siblings. And one of them is quite young. So when we were growing up, my parents particularly wanted to invest more in their son, naturally, because they thought that's where they're going to make sure that he has like more economic means to succeed as a financial breadwinner of the family, right. So growing up, I was always taught that my education, while it's important, it's not important for me to make money, that's not like my primary job. I can still, I can get education, but in the end, it's not necessary for me to make money, but because, and that's how, that's the mindset that my parents had. Compared to what I see here, like everyone is getting, thinking about having flourishing careers, when they're getting education. So, but once they saw me and my sister showing a lot of interest in education, and also we, we knew that we, if we wanted to study and get like higher education and quality education, we would have to make sure that our parents do not have to finance it and we could do it on our own. So we, we strived really hard to, to make sure that we get all kinds of scholarships and financial support that we can get. So that's, that's one way that my sister and I proved that we can aim for like a good career and we can aim for to be financially successful or independent if we need to be. And that's a very different kind of a mindset than I see within Pakistani communities than, than what I see here. But the thing is that once they saw, they didn't really stop me from doing anything, they were like, you can do it, but there's only a limited amount of money that we can actually invest in you. So, for example, even when I wanted to do masters, I knew I couldn't do it without a scholarship. So I tried really hard to, to get my scholarship and I, that's how I went to the US to get my master's. Otherwise, my parents could not have financed it. It was impossible for them to do that. Even if I was a boy, to be honest, but that's, that's the kind of investment that parents make in their children that try to choose the ones that are actually going to benefit them more in their old age. And once I'm here, I feel like, I mean, they do not pressurize me to send money home or to support them in any way. The only thing they expect is, is to have that kind of a relationship with them where I spend some time talking to them and sharing my life with them or talking to them and, like, learn about what's happening in their lives. But if I try to help them financially, there's always this kind of reluctance, where they do not want to accept, they do not like accepting help from me, like any kind of financial help. Because it's, it's, that's, that's the sunstop. And it's kind of, there's kind of a stigma attached to like, taking money from your daughter or taking help from your daughter in a financial form. So it's a really strange, a strange kind of a dynamic in my family and in Pakistani families than I see in the rest of families where, A, you don't have that kind of an obligation to help your parents in the first place when they're old. And B, parents do not choose between their kids, in terms of like who to invest into. So they can have like a higher return when they're old. So kudos on the scholarship, Saira. But I mean, to your point where, you know, if you look at culture in the US or London, other places, it's usually the lot of kids, it's, it's sort of okay for the kids to go and get a scholarship or pay for their own education by getting a loan. So I think let's talk about the other way around, right? What sort of expectation the parents from, sorry, the kids from Asian origin have from their parents, which probably might not be common in the Western culture? Yeah, well, you know, what, what seems kind of interesting as a contrast for a lot of, a lot of my community growing up, who, you know, all had come to the US between the ages of five and 10. You know, our parents would scrimp and save and, you know, never go on vacations and never buy new cars and just like buy a used car and drive it into the ground and, you know, like live at the absolute bare minimum of frugality, or like as frugal as physically possible. But then they would insist that, like in my generation, like none of us had student loans, right? Like that, that none of us would take on any debt. And, you know, what I observed from a lot of, you know, American born, like third or more generation kids is their parents would just kind of cut them loose at 18 and say, take whatever loans you want, do whatever major you want. At the same time, our parents would, you know, the flip side of that is they scrimp and save and make sure we don't have any loans, but they want us to choose a practical major that will, that in their view is likely to have a stable, stable quality of life thereafter. And, you know, there's, there's different ways of going about it because some of the parents will put a lot of pressure on their kids and say, you must be a doctor, or you must be this, that, and the other thing. There are three professions you can choose from. And then there are some parents who say, you know, you should think about the pragmatism, you know, you should think about something pragmatic, like I am worried about what kind of quality of life my grandkids will have. Fun story is, I, at the end of my undergrad, I was going to grad school and I chose to do a PhD. And at this point, my parents had actually split up and they, they were not really on good terms with each other. They do not really, they were not playing on the same team anymore. But they, somehow, they managed to come together and present a united front to me to pressure me to take the MD-PhD program. Like they were, they were willing and able to set aside their differences in order to apply pressure. Of course, it had the opposite effect on me because I'm very stubborn. And so the more they wanted me to do it, the more I was like, no, I'm doing basic research. I'm going to do my own thing. Yeah, that's, that's, that's absolutely, I can, I can definitely relate to that. My parents generally do not have a lot, like a lot of common ground when they, they're fighting for what the children should do. But when it comes to like choosing a career, they're on the same team at the time. And they're always like, you have to choose a career where you can make money and make sure that you have a comfortable financial life. So it's pretty much the same, actually. When I was growing up, my parents were trying to save as much as they could and try and spend all that they were making and putting that into their children, except for doing anything for themselves. I, I know there were, there were times when my parents sacrificed quite a bit for, to make sure that we got like quality education and to make sure that, I mean, as much as they could do, they did their, they tried to do their best whenever they could. But that also meant that there was an added pressure on, on, on, on us. Fortunately, like I mentioned, because we, my sister and I, the two elder siblings, were not really expected to make money out of the education that we were getting. We didn't really face that kind of pressure when we were growing up. But because they saw how successful we were, and we had that drive, the pressure on my younger siblings was just skyrocketed. And my younger siblings had, they were pressurized quite a lot to make sure that they were getting good grades, that they were performing well in like extracurricular. And they were also like siphoning off money into, into my younger siblings' education to make sure that they get all the, every opportunity that they can to succeed later in life. So it's, at times it was kind of heartbreaking to actually see that because they were definitely putting my siblings' education and our welfare ahead of their own. So I can, I can understand why they were doing it, but at the same time, it was very, very heartbreaking. And the expectation was that we would bring good grades home, and we would, we would end up choosing careers that are good for financial success. For example, my sister, who's a doctor, when I was choosing what I would like to do, I was choosing between like an engineering major or medical school. My, my parents tried to pressurize me into going to a medical school, but even though engineering is a good, it's a stable, stable career path, it does not like pay right away. You have to like climb the ladder quite a bit, but once you become a doctor, it's a very, very stable job. We can get employed into like government hospitals, even if there is no, no other opportunity available. But for engineering, you need to have like that kind of industry available and those kinds of jobs are very competitive. So my parents tried to force me into going to medical school, but thankfully that didn't, that didn't happen. It didn't go their way. But yeah, my, my, my, my siblings are still, still striving to make their own way because a lot of my youngest sibling, who's 15, is still being pressurized on becoming a doctor. But I think she'll turn, she'll, she'll choose her own path, so hopefully. Yeah. So, so do you feel like this expectations from parents, grandparents make you feel obligated? What, what is, how has your experience been growing up in terms of say, maybe you owned your first paycheck? What was, did any of these thoughts or this influences make you feel like, hey, you know, probably I need to do something for my parents out of this and just out of obligation, right? Not, not necessarily because you should, right? So, so what, what do you feel about it? In my family, it is the custom for every kid who, when they get their first paycheck, they buy a gift for their parents. And, and my, my father, and, you know, this is a story that's been passed down. When my father got his first paycheck, he went out and bought some expensive whiskey for his father. And he and his father yelled at him because he thought this was so wasteful. Why couldn't you have gotten something practical? Because he had spent almost half his paycheck on it. And, you know, I, I forgot what I've gotten my parents over time. Maybe it was like a laptop or something. But, you know, whenever I get an opportunity, right. Like whenever something practical, like plane tickets, you know, like something where it's, where it's like a large enough amount. And it's also practical, like for instance, if we're all visiting family together, then, you know, I'll cover your plane ticket. It's fine, dad. Don't worry about it. You know, that sort of thing. Yeah. Yeah, it's the same with me. It's the same tradition that we share. I think when you get your first paycheck, you generally buy something for your family first, particularly your parents. So when I got my first paycheck, it wasn't a lot. My parents were right. I was an engineer. I didn't make a lot when I got my first job. But yeah, when I did get my first paycheck, I tried to I don't actually remember what I got my parents. But but I got the first thing I bought was like presents for my parents out of out of my paycheck. And some of it was tradition obligation. But some of them, most of it was generally just just as a payoff, just as a thank you for for doing all they could for us. So that's that was for the first paycheck. But even now, I think even though my parents do not ask for help at all. But at times I do feel when I when I hear about them struggling financially or something or them struggling with their health issues, I always feel this obligation to be there for them, particularly with the COVID situation, for example. It's been so hard being staying so far away from your parents, knowing that if something goes wrong, they there has to be somebody there to take care of them. And as as one of the elders, I really wanted to like that response. I feel that that responsibility lies on me because I have to be there to take care of them because my other siblings are too young to do that on their own. So that's the kind of obligation I do feel quite a lot. And at times, even though I don't have any plans of moving back, but I do know that if a time comes when my parents need me as they grow old and they're they're unable to take care of themselves, that might be the only reason why I would think about moving back. And because I do feel that that's my an obligation and that's my responsibility to do. Yeah, no, that makes sense. Yeah. So quick time check. We have another four minutes. So I have quick two questions and then we'll wrap up the session. But this is this is going great. So what based on all your experiences and everything that you shared today, what would your expectations from your kids be in the future growing up? I mean, I I have one child and one other way and my I mean, being in a multicultural family now, my expectations for my child is I don't need him to like return on investment for me. Right. Like I am like I but I still want to invest in him fully. I think it's also this generational thing, right? Like I want my grandkids to have a good quality of life. And so that's why there that's why there is as much focus as as I want to invest in his future. Yeah, it's the same. I don't have any kids, but if I do have any kids in the future, I think I would want them to have all the opportunities they can have to succeed in life. And to make sure that they they have the freedom to make the decisions that I might I didn't really have. And that's and part of it is when you have like support from your like unconditional support from your parents. I do want to do that for my kids, but I do not expect much from them in return. And one of my biggest goals is to have like a substantial pension plan to make sure that I can take care of myself and I grow old and I don't have to be, you know, reliant on anybody else or my kids, especially to do that for me. Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think there's like one of the things I definitely want to change from how my parents and I had a relationship is, you know, they are going to grow up in a different world than the one than the world that we knew. And they have information that we don't have. All we can do is trust that they will make the best decisions based on the information that they have that we don't have. Right. Absolutely. Now, this has been great. This has been wonderful. Thank you, Jade. Thank you, Saira, for sharing all your experiences with us. And I'm really glad that, you know, y'all could be part of this and I could be part of this initiative of amplifying Asian voices during this Asia Pacific Heritage Month. And please, please, viewers, keep joining us for all these Asia Pacific Heritage Month sessions to learn more about the Asian culture and have a great week ahead. This has been great. Thanks again. Take care, all of you. Thanks, everyone. Thanks for hosting. Bye. Bye. Bye.