Children Are Not Our Investments

In Chinese there is a saying called 養兒防老, which basically means raising a child (a son, specifically) defends against old age. In traditional Chinese culture, and perhaps in many other culture as well, the sons are the ones who will take care of the parents, as the daughters are married off to another family and are considered a member of another family. Hence, in the past and still in some places today, daughters are not treated as well as sons.

But perhaps in this modern day, the more common scenario would be that be it male or female, children would still have to contribute to the parent’s family and show filial piety one way or another. It differs from place to place. For example in Singapore, children would start contributing a sum of money to the family every month when they started working, usually a couple hundred dollars. This money is for the daily household expenses and for our parents’ own expenditure. In China the children do not need to give the parents a sum of money every month though. But for both, children are expected to take care of the elderly parents when the time comes.

Of course I think it is right to take care of parents (I am talking about minimally decent or even semi-decent families who raise their children up), although the effort and actual contribution put in usually differs across people in different circumstances. When I say decent or semi-decent families, I do not measure it in terms of financial or other resources the parents provide their children, but the love and care the parents shower on their children. Of course there are parents who beat their kids to death, parents who make use of their kids as a money-generating machine, and parents who are just plain horrible to kids. It is not up to me to say what these children should do, and whether they should forgive and take care of them or not, although from a religious point of view they should. But I had digressed.

As children, perhaps this filial obligation is something that children from those minimally semi-decent families are willing to do. But as parents should we expect and demand that from our children? Let me give you a few examples of what parents do, some of which may be familiar to you.

Example 1:
Parents forcing children to study extremely hard and get good academic results consistently. They load their children with tuition classes and demand consistent good grades from them, reprimanding them and being disappointed in them should the children fail to meet their unreasonably high expectations. Parents would say that all these is for the children’s own good, and that they are spending resources, time and energy on the children so they can have a bright future ahead. But is that really the case?

Perhaps let us change a point of view. The parents themselves were not able to fulfill the academic accomplishments they wanted, and perhaps as an indirect consequence they are not doing as well in life as they wanted. Note that this does not mean they are not doing well. They are just not doing as well as they wanted. With good grades, the children could become the standard ideal workers: doctors, lawyers, architects etc. What many of these parents are doing is firstly, making their own children accomplish what they wanted to but could not. Secondly, the higher the children’s grades, the better job he or she could get in the future. If they manage to get their children into one of the higher paying professions, the return on investment would be greater. Instead of spending $500 on the family every month, he or she could now afford to spend $1000 every month on the family. It takes only 21 years to raise a child and get him or her out of university (in Asian context), but the children would have to contribute till the day both parents died. If we look at it from an investment point of view, you would realise why so many parents are forcing their kids to study hard and some even demanded their children to enter a certain sort of profession. On top of the financial returns, there is also this boasting aspect they could benefit on to fuel their own pride and ego.

Example 2:
People giving birth to a bunch of kids, perhaps 4 or 5 or even more. While they claimed that they like kids, but placing all your bets and resources on a single child may be too risky. Firstly, the child may not do well despite your best efforts. Secondly, the child may not even survive till adulthood. Accidents and tragedies happen. People die for all sorts of reason. There has been countless stories of the only child in the family dying young. Giving birth to a bunch of kids, ensuring they are given the basic resources for growth and giving them the basic discipline will be sufficient. Even if out of the 5, 1 or 2 end up in prison or end up dead, it is still acceptable. As long as 1 of them made it in life, or a few of them did averagely, the sheer numbers would make all the rewards worth it. The cost of raising a child drops as the children to raise gets more and more. Old clothes can be reused, school textbooks can be passed down, and the elder sibling could also assist to take care of the younger one. Or worse still, sacrifice the future of the elder sibling for the younger ones, such as giving up his or her education and pushing him out to work early on. Yet when they grow up, even if all of them did slightly below average, and can only afford to give $200 a month, 5 x $200 will be $1000, the equivalent to a higher quality child mentioned above. In the name of filial piety, all of them are to repay their parents for raising them up to be proper adults.

The above examples may seem harsh and too critical of too many parents. But is it really the case? If you look closely, you will see so many more cases of the above 2 examples I gave. By treating your children as investment products, you do not treat them with the love and care required. You do not put their well-being in the first place. We are all children once, and while there are those who grew up in a normal family, I am pretty sure many others can relate to what I am saying. Treat your children proper. Discipline them if you need to, make them study and get decent grades if you need to (minimally they need to pass to open up more doors of opportunities in the society). But always remember, your children did not ask to be born. You have a responsibility to take care of them, them taking care of you is a concept forced upon to them by the society and by their parents. Of course, I am pretty confident that if you take care of them with love and effort, and at the same time discipline them well so they do not turn out to be scumbags, they will be able to understand your sacrifice and take care of you willingly and lovingly.

Just a last note: children taking care of parents out of a sheer sense of duty but without love does not make it any easy for the older parents. Your well to do kid may just come up with money and throw you into a nursing home, visiting you once a month if you are lucky. Or your 5 poor kids will pass you around every month, kicking you around like a soccer ball because they themselves are barely surviving and have their own family to take care of. And by that time although you could criticize them or act the poor soul, your lack of moral high ground due to your past conduct will not give you solid footing should your own child bite back at you.

For you had raise them up with investment returns as a goal, and they had properly paid you back according to the investment you put in. Resources only (be it much or little), not love.

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