Are you obligated to look after your parents when they get old?

They gave us life, our moral compass, wide childbearing hips and our fabulous complexion. And for all of this and more, we say thank you to our parents. But do we owe them more?

Recently, a man was chastised by his family and friends for being a hotshot lawyer but failing to look after his mother financially even though he was in a position to do so. It turned out that of all her children, he made the most money, but was providing the least amount of care. That did not sit well with even his own friends. While it may speak to his character or the lack thereof, is he really obligated to look after his parents?

We grew up in a generation that heard our parents talk about their kids being their ‘old age pension’. This means that when you have children, it is almost a guarantee that you will have persons who will take care of your financial needs when you retire, get ill or just are no longer in a position to take care of yourself.

Sadly, for many, this is not true. The nightly news occasionally highlights the plight of the elderly, many of whom have children living both in Jamaica and in the Diaspora. However, these persons are suffering greatly, relying on the goodness of neighbours and the Church to even have a daily meal. One wonders how these children sleep at nights knowing that their parents are hungry and without medication or basic amenities.

If you go by the teachings of the Bible, it clearly tells us to honour our parents so that our days shall be long. In Christendom, it is a blessing to have a reciprocal arrangement which means that they took care of you and now is your time to step up and take care of them. This is why remittance in Jamaica is such a huge part of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as people work and send back a portion of their earnings so that their parents can have life a little easier as they age. Others feel no such obligations. They feel society tries to guilt people into taking care of adults who had decades to put a plan in place to ensure that they did not become a burden to others during their senior years.

Indeed, taking care of one’s parents usually comes down to our cultural perspective. In the Caribbean, we were raised to believe that we should show respect to our elders as they still have a lot of offer in term of advice. Hence, we cherish them. This harkens back to our African ancestry and even during slavery. In those times, the elderly women were advisors and sages who were asked to care for the little ones and the meals. This meant that they transitioned to another phase in their life without them outliving their usefulness.

North Americans and Europeans, for the most part, do not share these sentiments since they believe it is ‘every man for himself’ even if that man was a loving father to you. Their society is all about raising children and seeing them off to college, thus cutting the ties that bind. When persons get old or show signs of dementia, instead of looking after them or hiring a caregiver to see to their needs, the elderly are put in nursing homes. Oftentimes the elderly are forgotten. That’s unfortunate, as the person who gave you life deserves more than to be put away like last week’s newspaper.

— Written by C.W.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of BUZZ or its employees.