Should children support their parents?

I come bearing a thorn in my hand and I’m going to prick where it hurts most, the heart.

I had a heartfelt conversation with my friend and colleague today. It was a topic that was burning in my heart. I had contemplated on it for quite sometime, making observations here and there.

I was born and raised in Kenya, ” a son of the soil” as the famous and well known journalist and playwright Wahome Mutahi used to say.

I have observed that certain obligations fall on a lot of Kenyans once they are grown up and have joined the job market. Most of us are expected to carry on the duty that was intended for our parents, and that is to take care of our families.

I write this from a point of earnesty and sincerity. I love my family deeply and would do anything for them. However, it can ensnare one in a path of playing a provider and make one stagnant in their quest for success.

I’m not averse to the overall notion of giving a hand to our parents, albeit those who do not earn enough for their day to day needs. Not at all. However, I believe that it’s when you find your footing in the marketplace that you can be able to generously contribute to the needs of your family.

As soon as I finished college, I felt like a huge responsibility was thrust upon me. I had to get a job and continue on the cycle of taking care of my family. Many African parents expect this. The children feel like it’s an obligation to do it.

I was comparing our African culture with that of a European friend and realized they vary immensely. Whilst I rush to send money back home upon receiving my salary, my friends are usually lax, family duty does not beckon them. All my African friends send money to their families upon receiving their salaries. By saying families, I actually do not mean to their dependants- husband, wife or children. I mean parents and siblings, and these may include a few next of kin.

I find this whole notion to be a “crabs in a barrel mentality”. When the crabs in are put in a barrel and one of them tries to climb up and vacate the barrel, it’s pulled down by the lot. It’s a “if I can’t have it neither can you” mentality.

Instead of building yourself up until you become stable enough to aid your family, responsibilities are shoved upon you and you are forced to play a parental role to your family.

It’s a parents responsibility to raise their children and leave them a good inheritance.

Proverbs 13:22

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.

I compared my situation to that of my friend. I sought advice from him because I felt so weighed down with the heaps of parental role I was playing. He comes from a good family, well off. His parents supported him through university and even helped him in starting his own business. His question to me was why I was playing a role that was not intended for me in the first place. Did I have my own investments? Did I have surplus income that I could generously give away? Did I have enough savings?

The juxtapositions of the two scenarios is to show that there are two different types of families in the African household, speaking primarily of a Kenyan home.

There are the parents who build you and want you to establish yourself and flourish. Expecting nothing in return. I find that most of these families have successful people. Investments are encouraged.

Then there is the other type of family. The mentality that circulates in this type of family is that your duty is to get employment for the sole purpose of contributing to your family. Personal investments are frowned upon and every move you make is calculated with equal suspicion.

Personally, I find myself caught in between the two. I try and forge my way ahead, charting my own path. Sometimes this is frowned upon in my family. Some see it as a form of rebellion. That I’m forgetting where I came from, or forgetting who brought me up. On the contrary, the reason that I’m so stubborn is because I want to be successful enough to have an overflow that extends to my next of kin.

My advice to parents is to encourage the ambitions and dreams of their children. Who are we without our dreams and aspirations? When we cease dreaming, we stop living. Do not be so quick to thwart their goals and ambitions. My friend sent me a timely message about parents and their role to their children. As I paraphrase it, the message said that parents should do something to help their children have a softer “take off” , but not to take over their lives, as they themselves have their own lives to live.

Do not trample on the flower that desires to bloom.

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