Dear Kiki: I want to move out of my parents’ home, but I feel guilty. How can I balance independence and filial piety?

In this month’s advice column, a reader asks how to balance independence and filial piety if they want to move out of their parents’ home.

Dear Kiki:

I currently live with my parents, but I have been contemplating getting my own place and moving out for a while. I am financially able to do so and have brought the topic up a few times, but my parents are lukewarm to the idea and insist there is no rush to do so. While I want independence, a part of me is very conscious that they are growing old and I also can’t leave them alone. I feel trapped in between independence and filial piety. How can I balance both?

— Feeling Trapped

Dear Feeling Trapped,

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to graduate from university, earn a stable income and get my own place so I could be free from my parents’ reign. I am fortunate to have attained those goals, but being physically apart from my parents did not free me of my filial responsibilities in the way I thought they would. Instead, their voices seem to have found a permanent place in the back of my mind.

As Asian North Americans, we are constantly teeter-tottering between our cultural identities as we find our place in this world. Eastern and Western ideologies we grew up with collide, and we are torn between family obligations and the pursuit of individual freedom. There are always accommodations and compromises to be made, often at the expense of our personal liberties.

The filial piety dilemma is real. It can be a source of stress and inner turmoil, which you may have been dealing with all your life. The expectation of forsaking your individual desires for your parents can bring up feelings of frustration, resentment and powerlessness.

Though independence and filial piety are often presented as opposite ends of the spectrum, they don’t need to be mutually exclusive. They can be complementary. Even without these cultural expectations, individuals exist as part of a community. Lean into the wisdom and take the best from both worlds.

When all the weight is on your shoulders, please remind yourself that you don’t need to take on everything, even when you feel like you have to. Being the primary caretaker for your parents (even when they don’t ask for your help) is an emotionally-taxing and often underappreciated responsibility. I am aware that parents are likely to resist any change from their usual way of thinking and comfortable routine. Sometimes it might feel easier to pick your parents’ needs over your own, but be careful not to fall into that trap. Repeatedly giving up your own needs can chisel away your self-worth and suppress your identity. 

Finding balance between everyone’s needs is an ongoing process. It calls for endurance, realism and resilience as you continue to re-adjust and re-evaluate the priorities of the moment. This is hard work, and you are in it for the long haul.

When you are stuck in a rut, find some space for self-introspection, away from the distraction of external voices. Develop clarity around your needs and desires. What does independence mean to you? What are the must-have’s that will help you develop a stronger sense of self? Hopefully the answers will help you set some parameters around what you are comfortable giving up without compromising your well-being and personal development.

Next, try reframing your mindset. Replace “I have to” with “I choose to.” At times, you may feel like you have no choice but to relinquish your wishes in order to fulfill your duties as a child. Instead, you can choose to prioritize your family’s needs, because their overall well-being is important to you. Shifting your mindset will not only help you regain a sense of control over your life, but also alleviate the physiological stress you feel.

Continue the dialogue with your parents. Ask them questions about their plans for the future. Describe different scenarios and observe their responses. Even if they don’t give you a straight answer, try again later. Don’t give up your hopes and dreams based on assumptions.

And even when you think you’ve figured it all out, circumstances will change. Trust that you will make the best choice in the moment, not the perfect one.

A rapidly aging population is an issue that we as millennials must face. We are in a unique position to shape what future multi-generational households will look like. Caring for our parents in today’s world may look different from living in the same house as your parents while growing your family. Creative problem-solving can go a long way, as long as you have the resources. You could buy a place close to your parents’ home and go home every weekend for dinner. You can also share a home with two entrances, or build a laneway house. 

Our devotion to our elders and family is part of who we are as individuals. Embrace it as part of your identity and find solace in self-acceptance.

In Western society, independence is often portrayed as an individual moving out of their parents’ home at age 18 and living their life at their free will. It’s an appealing image, but independence is also about being self-reliant and taking responsibility for your actions. The consideration that you show for your parents’ well-being and the foresight to plan ahead is a strong display of your maturity and integrity. 

As Asian North Americans, we are the trailblazers in redefining the concept of independence and adulthood. When the going gets tough, know that you are not alone in this life-long balancing act. 

Always here for you,


Featured image by Anthony Tran from Unsplash

Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. You can also follow along for the latest column in our newsletter.

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