I grew up as the child of two Asian immigrants (I’m not giving up my actual ethnicity for the sake of some anonymity). My parents came to America over 30 years ago, and have been naturalized citizens for a long time. I was born and raised here in the United States, exposed mainly to U.S. culture but being very familiar with the nuances of our particular brand of Asian culture.
One of the beliefs that has been ingrained into my head since a very early age is that it is proper and respectful to somehow pay back my parents for all of the years of work and money that they have put into raising me. My mom would always “joke” that when I grew up and made a lot of money I could then buy my parents nice cars, send them on nice vacations, or buy them nice stuff. When my parents told me those things, I knew it was in a half-joking half-serious manner. I knew that my parents worked hard to raise me, so back when I was a kid I dreamed of paying back my parents in lavish ways. This particular sentiment is not just unique to my family or me or just my brand of Asian culture.
This nuance of Asian culture is expanded upon in this article from the OC Register.
As the children grow older, parents around the dinner table might brag about their son or daughter’s successful career, followed by frank discussions of how their children help financially. It is not unusual for adult children in Asian families to contribute money to their parents on a monthly basis to help pay for their parents’ mortgages and other living expenses.
That’s right – giving back by paying mortgages and other living expenses. Here’s a little more:
“It’s just expected in our culture…our parents raise us and then we help take care of them now that we have good careers. It’s the right thing to do.” Monthly checks of $150 or $300 from each child are not uncommon amounts given to parents. Often it’s not because the parents are in dire financial straits, but because it’s a matter of family duty.
But others don’t have the luxury of giving much money to their parents:
“I barely make enough money to cover rent and my student loans…I used to give (my parents) $200 to $300 a month, but it was killing me so I had to stop. They haven’t said anything to me but I know they must think I’m a slacker.”
And others still give even when they don’t have the means:
For a while last year, Mai was laid off from his computer engineer job at Hewlett-Packard and couldn’t give his parents a portion of his earnings. Still, he plunked down about $6,000 to buy them a vacation package to China.
In our household, we’re figuring out how all of this plays into our financial life. The primary reason for this is that Her is NOT Asian – she’s as American and white as you can get. In the way that she was raised, the flow of money generally goes from the older generation to the younger generation. For us, not only is this a financial issue, but also a cultural one as well. While going out to nice dinners and giving nice presents during birthdays and Christmas are the norm for both of us, Her is uneasy with these extra financial cultural obligations and has offered to compromise.
Here are some questions for you, dear readers:
Do you give money to your parents other than for special occasions?
Do they expect (whether it is spoken or not) to be repaid financially for their work as a parent?
What does your significant other think about this cultural repayment plan?