Family Matters

Family Matters

Posted on 01. Feb, 2010 by in Thai Culture, Thailand

What are the expectations in your family?  Chances are, they’re different than those of a Thai family.

I’ve had a few discussions with students, friends and fellow missionaries about different aspects of family life.  It’s weird how you just assume your way is “normal.”  I can’t say whether one way is better or worse, but they do reveal the basic values of our culture.  Let’s look at some aspects of life and I’ll share some insights I’ve gained into Thai culture.  By no means is this exhaustive, it’s just what I’ve learned in conversation…


In Thai culture it is totally normal to leave your child with his/her grandparents while you work in the city.  This allows the parents to earn a living while their child grows up with a more rural environment and caregivers who can give them more attention.  Personally, I can’t imagine doing this.  But I can understand how it would keep you close to your extended family.  Those family bonds are very powerful here.

We missed this little guy when he was away with his grandparents for a few months

Buying a House

It is expected that a parent will buy a house for their grown children if at all possible.  Or help them buy a house.  If they don’t have enough money for that, then the child and spouse will just live with them.  It seems that the potential for family conflict isn’t even weighed into the decision.  On the other hand, once they have a job, good children will regularly give money to their parents.  So I guess in the end it may even out.

Growing Old

Retirement homes are a newfangled idea in Thailand.  I guess there are a few popping up in Bangkok.  Traditionally, however, children need to take care of their aging parents.  Again, they will usually live together, regardless of the risk of disagreements, etc.

Looking Out for Each Other

This concept I see most often played out in my classes.  Kids who consider each other friends will help each other to the very end.  They are constantly helping each other with any game we play.  For example, do you remember Memory? (where all the cards are face down and you have to find 2 that match)  While playing that game, the girls will always point out to each other where the matches are, even if it prevents them from having a chance for it on the next turn.  And helping each other with homework is a normal thing- it seems abnormal for me to ask them to do their own work.

In the adult world, you see this in the way that everything is dependent on who you know.  If you have a good friend who works HR, you can get your brother hired at that company even if he has no qualifications.  There’s an overarching mentality of using what you have to help your friends or family.

These ideas made me much more aware of the individualistic mindset of the US.  We value the ability to take care of ourselves.  A lot of our movies show this.  One example, The Pursuit of Happyness- the gentleman portrayed in the movie is praised and awed for his ability to make something of himself after everyone else abandoned him.  Following this value has made our country what it is today.

Perhaps one of the highest values in Thailand is caring for your loved ones.  The Thai movies and music videos I’ve seen often have a scene where one person gets sick and the other takes care of them- putting a cool cloth on their feverish forehead, making them soup, etc.  Also it is considered unthinkable to let a family member be alone overnight in a hospital.  They should always have someone with them.  No such thing as “visiting hours.”

Obviously, America has gotten a long ways by hard work and individual acheivement.  But I think there’s something to be said about doing all you can to help your family as well.  Is there a way to value both in our lives?

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