Downsizing my mother: Practicality versus tradition

The author and his mother Ester, now 72, during a recent vacation to the Virgin Islands.

By Roberto Villanueva

Last year, I made the wrenching decision of “downsizing” my mother. I transferred her from a large three-bedroom multi-level house to a one-bedroom condo unit. It also meant trimming her expenses and letting go of a suburban lifestyle she was used to for many years, that is, until my financial situation improves.

Twice in my life I was faced with the challenge of choosing between following my dream or following a Filipino tradition.

After I moved to New York City in 1992 to pursue my dream of being a professional concert dance artist, my father’s health quickly deteriorated due to diabetes complications. Since he was no longer able to work and my mother stopped working at least a decade before, I immediately thought, ‘Who would take care of my mother should my father’s health turn for the worse?’

In the Filipino culture, by the time children reach their adolescent years, they are conditioned to follow a tradition of looking after their aging parents. I witnessed this happen to many of my Filipino friends and relatives. At any rate, my fear came through. My father passed away in 1994. I was 24 at the time, and two of my older siblings have already made their sacrifices and taken turns in providing support for my parents. I realized it was my turn to step up, but it meant leaving my low-paying jobs as a concert dance artist. I had to choose between my dream or the time-honored tradition.

I chose the latter and accepted the fact that pursuing my dream of being a full-time professional concert dance artist when my body was at its peak was no longer an option. It was a painful decision and I had nobody to consult. So I joined the corporate world, which enabled me to give my mother financial support since 1996 as well as buy her a home in 2003.

Roberto performing as a concert dance artist. Photo by Joseph Pe

In late 2009, I left the corporate world and decided it was time to pursue my newfound dream of establishing a non-profit organization that would help other concert dance artists. This was a risky move because it was in the midst of the recession and I was giving up the financial security that has allowed me to live up to the Filipino tradition of providing financial support and a home for my mother. I was forced to re-examine my goals, my financial resources and my mother’s physical condition.

Again, I found myself faced with the same two options of following my dream or continuing in the tradition of providing support for my mother, who was turning 72 and expecting a hip surgery. This time I decided to choose both options. At 39, I was in a better position to make calculated risks and complex decisions, and I was no longer willing to let a tradition keep me from living my passion.

In 2010, my dream organization became a reality. But in order to balance my desire to build an organization and still continue to support my mother’s lifestyle, I had to severely curtail my discretionary spending, take out all my personal and retirement savings, and make the tough and unpopular decision of “downsizing” or “rightsizing” her. I moved my mother to a smaller one-level home that is appropriate for her age and physical condition. That might have been one of the most practical decisions I made, but it was still physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing on her and the family members involved.

I am very proud of the Filipino tradition of taking care of our aging parents and hope that it continues through future generations. However, those who choose to follow it should not feel “obligated” and those who benefit from it should not feel “entitled.”

Roberto Villanueva is the founder and executive/artistic director of BalaSole Dance Company, Inc.


  1. A. Mabini wrote:

    Great article! : )

  2. A.Nillo wrote:

    Well said! Tremendous sacrifice and now it’s your moment to reap the benefits of all of your hardwork.

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