Monday, October 22, 2012 at 4:00 PM
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.)