While visiting family in the Philippines it is inevitable that relatives will update you with various stories about what’s happening: the gossip, the conflict, the transactions, the entanglements. Online chats, social media posts, and phone calls only provide a limited insight to what has transpired. If many years have passed since your last visit, it is important to know these updates, to mitigate the feeling of shock and confusion about why family dynamics have changed since the last time.
During the last visit, I just realized the two most problematic statements I’ve ever heard in my adult life.
“Why are you being nice to her, what has she done for you anyway?”
“Why is she acting that way, after all I have done for her?”
Keeping score of “good deeds” and “bad deeds” like this is quite problematic in my opinion.
With regard to the first statement, there are a few relatives with whom I don’t have a close relationship with at the moment. Does it mean that what they have done for us as kids is enough reason to overlook how their current behaviour makes me feel unsafe? If a relative had spent let’s say, a hundred thousand pesos to feed and send a child to school, is the child then required to return the favour as adults, providing money back up to a certain amount?
As for the second, how does someone evaluate the behaviour of children and teens then? Those who are likely still learning about what is right or wrong, or are fixated on their own suffering which may be why they are acting selfishly? I think this comment is what got me the most when this older relative was chatting with me. Kids do stupid, self-centered things a lot of the time. Yes, when we were kids, some of those younger cousins were not as friendly, but does that mean that I just snub them now as adults?
Another problem with this is that it does not consider how current suffering and trauma play a role in someone’s current life decisions, even if it seems to dismiss the “grand gestures” that were done a long time ago. I heard a comment about a relative not talking to her in-laws for about a year now. The relative who was not being spoken to complained about how she helped the other relative many decades ago. She made references to how she helped this other relative start their family – 30 years ago. Well, what I know is this relative suffered great losses in recent years; and perhaps is still dealing with the financial and emotional fallout of what happened and is simply too depressed to talk to anyone.
I think many times, people take too personally what the other relatives are doing, as if it is a direct act of disrespect or disregard of the generosity they received a long time ago. When what is actually happening is that unrelated current circumstances just push people to act that way. Sometimes, maybe someone is just too physically ill or just too ashamed to have the initiative to be affectionate or communicative.
For a while now, I have found this way of thinking problematic. I made it clear to my brother that I don’t think this way. I told him many times, that he doesn’t owe me anything. I also told him that if we end up having a disagreement and I started “keeping score” by enumerating all the sacrifices I have done for him in the past, he can call me out for acting like a jerk. My wish is that the more I help out relatives in the future, that I will be able to continue this mentality and behaviour.