By Tin Bartolome

Posted at May 30 2015 09:24 AM | Updated as of May 30 2015 05:24 PM

You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.

- Desmond Tutu

This is true even for adopted children and their adoptive parents. Decades ago, I was struck by what the late director Zeneida Amador said in a magazine article when asked how she explained to her children the circumstances of their adoption. She said she told them that unlike biological children, she chose them.

This became meaningful for me when I realized that we all play roles in our respective families. Factors such as birth order, sex, socialization, economic status emotional profile and many others affect the way we assume such roles.

One’s birth order often carries with it certain expectations as well as predispositions or tendencies. The eldest is often expected to be the most responsible among siblings while the youngest, the “brattiest”. This may not always be so. What is more certain is that we are often labeled according to our family’s reputation or identity.

Filipinos' self-concept and identities are strongly associated with their families. From their birth to death, they see themselves in the context of their families... Filipinos are family-centric. Their immediate family shapes their values and behaviors. (Source:

In a way, one’s family pre-determines to an extent what one becomes. It is only when we respond to certain circumstances or when we become aware of where we are or what we have become that we make the effort to change things.

A site describing Filipino virtual assistants says: “In the Philippines, everything centers around the family: religion, daily activities, even entrepreneurial pursuits. And by family we mean: parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in laws and an assortment of nieces, nephews and even cousins...Filipinos will put the needs of the family before their own.”

As children, we tend to absorb what we witness and experience more than what we are told. Whether or not we are aware of it, we often emulate our elders’ behavior. In this sense, we tend to affirm each other—whether or not we should.

If one grows up in a family where corruption is allowed because it benefits the family, chances are, the children would also be corrupt. When parents maltreat household help, chances are, when the children have families of their own, they would treat household help the same way—or at least view them as inferior humans.

Since our families are not only our initial encounter with other fellow humans but also our most influential “training unit,” it is often difficult to see whatever flaws the families we belong to have.

Other cultures may view our family-centeredness as a defect. It becomes so only if we do not achieve the balance that allows us to nurture our families while serving others. Taking care of our families must include instilling in them values and principles that will allow them to be of use to and not be abusive or abused by others. Even a dysfunctional family can be considered a gift if we look beyond the dysfunction and see it as an opportunity to become better a person—or as Fr. Ruben Tanseco puts it, “to see one’s cross, not as a burden but an opportunity for growth, greatness and Godliness.”

For me, no other group, organization or affiliation can give what the family has to offer— actually or potentially. I believe that the family, as God’s gift, is our only source of unconditional love and being a gift to one’s family means being able to reflect the light of unconditional love.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.