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Monday, October 22, 2012

Motherhood Mondays: Paying for your parents


My Thai friend Joy, who lives in L.A., recently told me that in many Asian cultures, it's typical to honor your parents by giving them money and buying them nice gifts (even a car!) once you start working yourself. "Many of our American friends are shocked by this," says Joy, "but lots of my first-generation Asian friends continue the tradition." Here, I asked her about it...

Here are Joy's thoughts:

What my husband and I give to our parents: We help support our parents financially every month. We also make sure to pay for dinner when we go out together, and we cover their flights any time they come to visit us in L.A. (all our parents live in Philly). Some of our Asian friends also pay the mortgage on their parents’ houses, cover their car payments, or help them pay off credit card debt.

The first paycheck: My husband is Korean; and in his culture, you're expected to give your first paycheck to your parents. Bob went to med school and had a long residency, so he wasn’t able to do that until he started his first job at 32. Most people do it in their early twenties with their first job out of college, but he wanted to wait.

Making it work: When we got married in our late twenties, Bob was in med school, and I had just started my business. So we were living off very little and racking up credit card debt like crazy. We only recently paid off all that debt, so now we're finally at a place where we can help our parents the way we want to. People might assume, "Oh my gosh, they must be doing do well that they can give money to their parents." But we allow for it. While we certainly have our own bills to pay and young family to raise, taking care of our parents financially is something that we incorporate into our financial decision making. We're happy to work harder and take extra side jobs. When we work hard for “our families,” that includes our parents, too.

Buying a car and bed: We recently went home to Philly, and my dad's car had just broken down for the second time in just a few months. It had 200,000 miles and was almost ten years old. Picturing my dad breaking down in the middle of nowhere broke my heart. Bob and I looked at each other and immediately knew we had to help him have a safe car. So we decided that night to buy my dad a new one. It wasn't anything fancy, just a solid car that could take him to and from work.

Then, we visited Bob’s parents house for the first time in years. His parents are in their sixties, and they were sleeping on the small double bed that Bob had slept on throughout his childhood. We asked why they were using that old bed, and they’re like, "Oh, we’re fine. We're used to it!" We told them they needed to sleep on something comfortable and good for their backs, not a thirty-year-old mattress! We were happy to help them buy one.

Our parents: Our parents are all immigrants, so they're used to living simply and "dealing with" things. But they worked so hard coming to this country with just a few hundred dollars, they deserve sleep in a good bed and drive a safe car! Our parents are self-employed (they all work in the restaurant industry), so they don't have typical retirement plans or pensions or 401(k)s. The ways we choose to help provide for them isn’t a way to spoil them, but instead to help make their lives a little easier.

Why we do it: When we were young, our parents took care of us—financially, emotionally and physically. But now, it’s time for us to take care of them. Our parents don't ask for it. In fact, they often offer to pay for things (like dinner), but we always insist. While we jokingly call it "parent tax," it's something we're happy to do to honor our parents. We’re trying to say, “I finally made it, now let me thank you for helping me get there.”

Our daughter: We don’t expect our daughter, Ruby, to do this for us when she grows up. Granted, we want her to respect us as her parents, but as Asian-Americans who grew up in this country, we’re following a much more traditional American path with savings accounts and retirement plans. So, we don’t think we’ll need help when she’s older. It will be interesting to see how this tradition evolves as we get more Americanized and if Asian-American kids will continue to honor their parents in this way or if it will change into something else as we change and evolve culturally.

Thank you so much, Joy! I'm curious, you guys: Do you ever pay for your parents when you go out to dinner? Or for their flights to see you? Or anything like that? Do they typically cover you? Or are your finances totally separate? I'd love to hear...

P.S. More Motherhood Monday posts, if you're in a reading mood...

(Photos—from childhood and nowadays—courtesy of Joy, who writes the blog Oh Joy! and just published the book Blog, Inc.)

228 comments:

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sabine said...

I am Lebanese and christian and i could definitely relate to this post. I think it is more of a cultural thing rather than a religious thing.

My parents always put our needs before their own. So when i am done with my PhD i have every intention of giving back. Let`s face it, i would never have made it this far if it wasnt for them.

babyseal said...

So surprised by the picture - Korean traditional 1st birthday party - on your blog. I'm Korean and living in Korea now. I'm giving money to my parents on new years day, thanksgiving, mother's/father's day and their birthday. In some occasion, I also pay for dinner. My husband is doing the same. It is very typical in Korean society and parents themselves wants their childrens to do so(because they supported their children finacially until the children graduate university and some are living with their children until they marry without receiving any living costs). But things are changing now in Korea as well. Anyway it was interesting to read this story here. Thanks! :)

rekutopia said...

I love this post, thank you for sharing, Joanna.

I'm an Indonesian living in Germany and I also do this custom. It never occured to me for it to be unusual until I talked with a German friend about this. He said he could understand, but he thought that the love that parents give to their children can never be "repayed", because parents will always love their children more than vice versa. And so what the children can do is pass the love to their children. In his opinion, parents love (and money) should work "downwards" to the next generation. Besides, for some people in Germany, it might be even considered rude to give your parents money. The retirement plans etc. are pretty good here, so you can say that most of the time it's unnecessary to give your parents money.

What he said gave me some thoughts, too. And I wonder what my future children would think and do, since my husband and I will stay here for a while :)

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Angry Asian said...

what you did for your father is the sweetest thing i've ever read in awhile. it's not enough to change my mind about how i feel about this topic but i wanted to acknowledge your sweet gesture.

brianna said...

This sort of makes me feel like a failure. My mom still helps me out quite a bit (I'm married, in my 30's with a daughter). She helped pay for my university tuition and costs when I was in college and I haven't been able to repay her generosity, nor do I anticipate being able to help in the near future. On the other hand, she's still the matriarch and planned her retirement so well that she's on more stable ground financially than any of us. I'm still struggling paycheck to paycheck. I wish I had the luxury of buying her a new car.

schnapp! said...

@ Sandhya - 6:27 PM
That's really sweet. Just curious, do you plan to do this for your wife's parents as well when you get married? If not, how do you feel this might impact your marriage?

I'm a girl! And yes, it would be something i discussed with a potential future husband...

Amy said...

I doubt anyone will read this, but this is a struggle in my newlywed WASP (me) and Taiwanese (him) marriage, not because of my partner but because of his older brother and his wife (Chinese) who do this. They make substantially more than we do, own their own business, and have been out of school for a decade while we are still finishing graduate school and have yet to make a major paycheck. I admit I resent feeling like I have an obligation that I was not raised to have -- you take care of your kids, you don't take care of your parents -- then when you are old, you provide for yourself and your kids take care of themselves when they too become elderly. The dependence cycle is there, but instead of it going backwards, it goes forwards. I can't help but think that taking care of both generations at the same time leads to a much smaller savings ... which then perpetuates the need for the system. I find it overwhelming as a young person, personally.

Sarah Dai said...

Yes, I (a Korean-American) used to support my mom because she is a widow and had raised my sister and me on her own. Unfortunately, there have been issues...because I was supporting her, she began to become careless with her ways of spending. Therefore, I had to recently stop the financial support, but I would definitely want to again, if my mom stopped her careless spending habits (they were a bit outrageous)! (My husband and I have tried talking to her, but it didn't work.)

Also, in extreme cases in Korea, there have been times where Korean actors/actresses committed suicide because of family debt issues. In one case, a Korean actress (Lee, Eun-joo) suffered from depression because she had taken provocative roles that had nudity and such. South Korean newspapers had written that she had taken the roles due to pressure of her management company, but also speculated she took the roles to help repay her mother's debt (it was described to be a "life time worth of debt").

Jane said...

This is such a great post. Thanks for sharing. My parents are also immigrants (and I myself a 1.5 Korean American - came to the US at the age of 7) and it was touching to see this post and how as children of immigrants or as young kids who came to the US at a young age, still uphold traditions or do little things to recognize the sacrifices our parents made. went into non-profit work right after college and didn't make a lot for a living but always wanted to give them my first paycheck (or buy them undergarments!) -- but it was only after I got older, got married and was making better pay that I was able to save money for my parents every month to give to them at the end of the year. My husband though had been providing monthly for his mother ever since his first job. It's one of the traits that made me fall in love with him.

Graphic Foodie said...

I'm Italian and my parents wont let me pay for anything. Nothing. Even today my mum buys my baby's milk powder and fills my fridge (and cooks & cleans) and I'm married, working and 32! They've even taken early retirement to look after my son when I go back to work. My British husband knows my family so well (see them practically every day!) and understands Italian culture although I think he only half jokes when he says our son will still be living at home in his 40s :)

Bea said...

I'm from the Philippines and this is our culture as well. I gave my first paycheck to my parents too! Now I pay for some bills and groceries to help out around the house :) I don't have a husband and a child so I don't really have anyone to spend for so it all works out :)

Reshma said...

I am Indian but live in the States. I was raised in a society where we were our parents worlds and as we got older we want to do for them what they did for us! I cannot wait to be able to spoil my mother and make sure she has everything she needs, without even thinking of it. It is not a burden but just the most rewarding thing to be able to do.

Yasi said...

I love this post! I grew up with the same value. My mom is Indonesian and my dad is Japanese. Even they never ask for it but I would like to give back as my thank you and grateful to have such an amazing parents :)

xoxo

www.yasischuster.wordpress.com

Amanda said...

Touching post. Thank you for sharing.

Since my grandparents raised me and I consider them my parents, I would fly out to spend 7 to 10 days caring for them each month (my grandmother had Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and my grandfather has numerous health issues). I don't know if growing up with my grandmother's Japanese heritage influenced my decision at all or if they're just really neat people and I liked hanging out with them. In between visits, I send my grandfather care packages of his favorite goodies from Trader Joe's because getting mail makes his day. :)

However, I do the barest minimum for my mom and wouldn't have walked across the street to pour water on my father if he were on fire. I figure since none of them put much effort into parenting, they don't deserve my extra effort. Same with my in-laws. They don't hesitate to passive-aggressively ask for stuff but I don't pay attention.

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Claudio Timbers said...

My Dad is retiring this November and I have considered buying them an iPhone and taking on the bill so we can better communicate... this posting sealed my decision. I can't wait to say thank you to my Mom and Dad this way. Cheers everyone. for the iPhone

Claudio Timbers said...

them an iPhone and taking on the bill so we can better communicate... this posting sealed my decision. I can't wait to say thank you to my Mom and Dad this way. Apple iPhone

Sara said...

That sounds like a win-win. :)

christinerojas said...

This post inspired me to pay off one of my dad's credit card bills and send a check to my mom. I'm 24 and still have debt of my own but I was moved by this tradition. Thank you for sharing!

christinerojas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny Hudgeson said...

It pays a lot! Being a parent is a wonderful gift. I agree with you. And thanks for the inspiration you have shared to us, especially to me. My spider vein removal clinic appreciates this so much. Keep blogging and keep sharing.

S. said...

Hispanic-American here. I love this article because we have a similar cultural sentiment about this, I think. I too am the child of immigrant parents and I am fortunate to be able to help my parents even if they don't ask or need it. Once I got my first "real" (read: well-paid) job I helped my dad get a decent car so he could replace his old car that was starting to fail. I've helped my parents do upgrades on their house, and I pay for the occasional dinner out. It just feels nice to be able to give back a little of what my parents did for me and contribute so they can have a nicer life.

I am not sure that I would expect my children to do this for me (given that I hopefully will have a decent or at least better retirement), but I think I would like to raise them in a way that they'd WANT to, out of appreciation or love?

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Maxi Winter said...

It's a lovely story of how both you and your husband are supporting your parents. I'm from Germany where it's not a tradition to take care financially of your parents. Sadly, it's not even common to live with your parents once they get older.
I'm in my late 20's, just graduated from university and haven't found a position in my type of trade yet so I am still entirely dependent on my parents.
While my parents have saved money on their own and are relatively well-funded by the governmental pension, I still would love to make their lives easier by paying my share of the living expenses. What is more, it is crazy that my parents are paying for my social insurances which are at the same level of a person who's fully employed. In Germany, you do this to be secured in case you'd get sick and for when you'll retire.
What I do for my parents since 2005 though, is to do all the shopping with my mom since my dad had a cerebral bleeding and became partly paralyzed as a result. Additionally, my brother and I are helping my parents with the chores. But as my dad's still very mobile and has no issue with speaking, he wants to take care of the household as well. He's still good at finances so he does all this stuff, too.
What I learned about my father being disabled and getting older is that it's vital to still have a mind demaning occupation otherwise your brain degredades. When he was in a rehab center for stroke and heart attack patients, it was devastating because he wasn't in a stimulating environment. The nurses would leave all the patients on their own for many many hours. It was totally boring there, a sombre atmosphere. And that's because we think that old people should stay among themselves without any youthful input and challenges in their daily lives. That's catastrophe!

Before my father became paralyzed, I dreamt of living with my parents and my newly founded family in a big house together but I gave up on that when reality striked back. I don't think it's realistic anymore. First of all, my parents wouldn't want to live in another house because they don't want to lose their home anymore and second I need to learn to become more independent and earn money on my own.
After all, I think it's important to remain realistic and adjust to whatever situation you're facing. It's not possible for everyone to support their parents financially and sometimes it's not even necessary because it doesn't make sense to go broke for your parents if they have a lot of money.
In my opinion, it's rather the small things that count. For each parent there's something else that makes her or him happy.

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