Let me first put this out there: Our parents do not owe us.
And it is quite a shocker to know that an adult son had brought his father to court to ‘demand’ for financial support for his overseas university education.
In this case, the court had ruled in the son’s favour as it was considered a ‘duty of child maintenance’ under the Women’s Charter.
It’s interesting to note that the son was (already) 22 when he applied for maintenance from his father. In this case, the ‘payouts’ were deemed necessary for his education.
It is the discretion of the court and the judge to determine what ‘duty’ the parents have in this case. But it also makes me question: How much is our parents responsible to us?
Our Livelihood = Our Parents’ Responsibility?
Filial piety is strongly entrenched in our Asian culture and it often makes us question what we owe to our parents. On the other hand, what do our parents owe to us? Do they even owe us?
Some argue that it is the parents’ decision to bring a child into this world after all, making it their responsibility to support the child. But, until which point do we stretch this responsibility to?
When the child turns 18? Or for as long as the child is emancipated at the ‘legal age’ of 21?
There are so many intricacies in deciding our parents responsibility to us.
Most will agree that at the very least, it is the parents’ responsibility to provide their children with the rudimentaries of life. In the most primal sense, it is in providing a child with safety and wellbeing, and the basic necessities for survival, like water, food, and clothing. But how about education?
How do we set the parameters of basic education for a child, when what is basic to one may not be the same to others?
When our parents had us 20 or 30 years ago, the basic level of education is (arguably) an ‘O’ level certificate. Back then, tertiary education is a good-to-have, and university degrees are a bonus. Today, we have an abundance of degree holders and most jobs require a minimum of a tertiary education.
Overseas education was a luxury and only for the wealthy in our parents’ time but these days, it’s not unusual to see our peers pursuing further education in Australia or even in far-flung places like Europe, the US, and China.
Which brings us back to the case in question where the 22-year-old son applied for maintenance from his father to pay for his university fees: Is it then fair for him to be demanding financial support from his parents, for his overseas university fees?
I trust that most would agree that our parents have the responsibility of bringing us up, however, there should also be a limit to their duty as parents.
Our parents’ duty to us is to arm us with whatever is the minimum required for us to support ourselves while considering the cultural or societal standards we have today. In other words, for as long as we are capable of securing (non-exploitative, legal) employment to support ourselves.
I know of people who have had to juggle two jobs while doing their part-time diploma studies, just so that they can achieve financial independence, and by choice. I’ve also met underprivileged Singaporeans who have had to take on odd jobs from the age of 16, to help with their family’s finances. With all these in mind, it does make me wonder what significance a university education has in the ‘maintenance of a child’.
It is incredibly hard to believe that at 22, someone would still act like they are owed the right of financial support by their parents. Especially for a luxury like an overseas university education—something that is not required to get a job today.
We are not entitled to our Parents’ wealth, as they are not entitled to ours.
The other narrative surrounding this case is on whether the parents have the financial ability to pay for their child’s university education. A narrative that should not even matter because it is almost equivalent to saying that it is our parents’ responsibility to put us through university.
To which I’d like to quote Jazmine Denise in her article titled “Dear Adult Children, Your Parents Don’t Owe You Anything”:
“We are not entitled to their time. We are not entitled to their money. We are not entitled to their resources.”
It is a bonus if our parents are capable and willing to financially support us in pursuits that are beyond the societal minimum (for a livelihood), and if they don’t, we owe it to ourselves to work for what we want.
Like the epiphany Jazmine had after going through pregnancy, I only truly realised how much I have been taking my parents for granted after being thrown into ‘adulting’ myself.
I had taken advantage of my mum’s care for me. Every morning, she’d wake up earlier than me just to prepare breakfast for me before going back to bed again. I took it for granted because on some days, I’d return that favour by chiding her for forgetting that I didn’t like bread with fried eggs, for example. “Tell you how many times that I don’t like already,” I’d snap at her.
I took my parents support for granted, for I never had to pay a single cent for my university education and I thought that it was a given. That was until I learnt of how many of my friends had taken up student loans to fund their school fees. For someone whose parents never once made education fees a concern, it hit me how easy I’ve had it.
After shifting out to a HDB flat of my own with my partner and beginning to plan for our future, I know now, more than ever, how my parents have already provided for me beyond what is required. And it is all those little acts of service and gestures from my parents that I’ve started to realise the significance of now that I am accountable to my partner, his family, and our own home.
I also know of people with really f***ed up parents. Parents who would not only neglect their children but who would shamelessly sell their family out to loan sharks. Parents like these could create heavy mental baggages for their children, and it is very easy to blame one’s failure on their ‘messed up family history’. However, it is up to one’s self to carve out the life they desire for themselves.
With that said, I know of people who have no qualms living off their parents even when they are well into their twenties. The level of self-entitlement is nauseating.
For everything that our parents would have had to sacrifice to bring us up to our adulthood, it should never be their duty to continue supporting us when we are capable of independence. And if we want that liberty of pursuing what we want, we should be ready to accept that with that freedom comes with the responsibility of being responsible for ourselves.
Our parents don’t owe us. If anything, we owe them our life, and we owe them for the 20 odd years of time, money, energy, and love that they have poured into us.
And if you think that you are still entitled to anything from them, shame on you.
(Header Image Credit: chuttersnap on Unsplash)