top of page

Filial Piety

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

Peach Blossom Island Princess. Acrylic on canvas. artjammingHK, 2015

I used to think that coaches had everything in life all dialed in, but the truth is that most coaches are into coaching for their personal development as much as to help others. Which means that we are all on our own personal journeys, working through our issues at some level. In fact, the most effective coaches that I know are open to sharing their own vulnerabilities and shortcomings, thereby creating safer spaces for others.

Mirror of truth

Despite knowing that coaches are “real people too,” it still rocks me back on my heels to be called out, especially by my own daughter Erin. It actually happens a lot more often than you would think. She has this gift of seeing with such clarity and insight, and then holding up that mirror so that I get to see and learn more about myself. And (not gonna lie) sometimes that can be painful.

As her mom, I get to support my daughter’s choices, even if it sometimes means disappointment

This happened most recently when I wanted her to join me for dinner with my mom. The invitation was extended casually by text to me, with the expectation that of course my husband and daughter would come along as usual. So when she expressed reluctance, I said, “Why not just come? It’s just easier.” What I meant was that it was easier for ME when she went along with what was expected.

Photo by Joel Naren on Unsplash

In talking this through with her, I came to see that as an adult, my daughter gets to make her own decisions and to have her own relationship with her grandparents. And as her mom, I get to decide to love her unconditionally and to support her choices. Whether or not I agree with them, and even if it sometimes means disappointment.

Performative behavior

What I saw in the mirror this time is that my own default pattern of behavior around my parents was often performative. I was in the habit of conforming to expectations. I would tell myself that I was okay with whatever, but actually it was just easier to avoid conflict when I didn’t bother to figure out what I really wanted, never mind actually asserting myself.

This was such a well-worn pattern of behavior that I didn’t even realize how I was setting my daughter up to face my own disappointment or even disapproval. Not because I really cared one way or another whether she joined for dinner, but in aligning myself with family expectations, I was making it wrong for her to make her own intentional decisions. Which actually goes against everything I have taught her, her whole life.

In aligning myself with family expectations, I was making it wrong for my daughter to make her own intentional decisions

Painful as it was for me to see how I had been acting out of integrity, it was also a powerful moment of healing for us as a family. I was able to see that I genuinely wanted to show up for my parents, and also to support my daughter in asserting her own needs and preferences. And that I genuinely wanted to stop playing in this performative role that was actually a form of lying and pretending, in order to please.

Different interpretations

Master certified life coach Rai Tsai interviewed me in a panel of other Asian life coaches on the topic of Filial Piety in her podcast the Asian Life Coach Collective Podcast. I learned that we all have different interpretations of this term “filial piety”. We had all experienced strong messaging around family roles and expectations in our respective Asian families.

But how do we Western-educated Asians reconcile these ideas of proper roles within the collective being more important than individual choice? Especially in coaching, where we support the notion that clients’ agency and empowerment are paramount to self actualization?

In my experience, it’s more a matter of integrating cultural values with my personal choices, trusting my gut to tell me when something is out of alignment. I am so grateful that my daughter is helping me to identify my own blind spots when it comes to being performative.

Discovering meaning

It’s through this mirror that I get to see where I’m not showing up with integrity with my truth. And where I learn that for me, filial piety means that I’m still figuring out how my family heritage and values align with how I show up for myself and those I love.

And for my daughter, filial piety means that she loves me enough to mirror what she sees back to me, calling me out even when it can feel scary. Trusting me with her truth, and that the strength of our love is able to hold space for this kind of growth and healing.

Filial piety means that I’m still figuring out how my family values align with how I show up for myself and those I love

I don’t love the word “piety” which is defined as “belief that is accepted with unthinking conventional reverence.” But I do love the idea of “filial piety,” which I think of as a practice. One where we get to respect and care for our elders, loving them unconditionally despite whatever differences, and finding deeper meaning by learning from one another.


Related Posts

See All


bottom of page