In Singapore, there is a cultural norm of children giving parents a monthly allowance once they start earning. But is how much allowance a child gives their parent the best measure of filial piety?
Editor's note: opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the writer.
So, my Singsaver article about not setting aside funds for my kids to go to University had some mixed reactions. It also begged the question of whether I similarly expect nothing from them when they begin to earn a salary.
The short answer is, yes. I do not think that my children should be obligated to give a monthly token of money to my husband and I once they start working.
Prioritising money lessons
Don’t get me wrong: I know it's a common practice for many Singaporeans – those whom we refer to as “filial” – and I appreciate the sentiment behind this. It’s a typically Asian concept, where financing your parents is equated with showing love and giving care.
I’m all for love and care; I just don’t think that giving $100 or $500 a month out of one’s salary is necessarily the best or only way to demonstrate those feelings.
I speak with some privilege because I have the resources to foreseeably not need a stipend from my children. Instead, I’d much prefer them to focus on managing their own income wisely when they start working – a thing that I had to learn the hard way when I was younger.
Being someone who grew up sheltered and ignorant of healthy ways to manage money, I went a bit bonkers when I received my first paycheck and qualified for credit cards. I knew vaguely that giving my parents a token sum every month was the thing every good kid should do, but I soon couldn’t because I was also raking up huge amounts in credit card debt and spending way beyond my means (including buying insurance with unnecessarily high premiums).
And guess who had to bail me out of these debts? Yep, you guessed it – the good old parentals!
So I would rather have my children receive a good grounding on how to be financially smart with their salary when they start to earn it. That begins with learning how to make the most out of credit cards to spend less and gain more value, how to stay out of credit card debt, and how to build an insurance portfolio through their various life stages.
Learning from my mistakes
Perhaps my previous bad experience with my own money is what informs my position on the matter of children giving money to parents. I believe that there is no right or wrong view on this; what is more important is that the child in this scenario owns the choice to decide if they want to contribute to the parents.
Which is why I’m a bit baffled when I hear people quibbling about the issue of parental allowance being commensurate to what the giver is earning. It seems like the subject of an Eighties daytime drama, but apparently is still a hot topic of discussion on Facebook.
Here’s the so-called quandary:
Child A contributes S$500/month on a $5K monthly salary
Child B contributes S$500/month on a $20K monthly salary (and his living expenses are roughly the same as Child A, not exactly scrimping to make ends meet).
Apparently, in this era of wokeness, you’re still judged on the amount you decide to give (or not give) your parents. My reaction to the above situation as a mother? Receive the contributions with grace and focus on the rewards of the relationship I’ve cultivated with my children.
Mirroring my position of not setting aside any funding for my kids’ to go to University, I think that there are more important things than giving money when comes to demonstrating care and love (or what Asians terms as filial piety).
Other ways to show filial piety
Not to say that I don’t appreciate material stuff or think they’re unimportant. Gifts and the spirit of giving do matter in any relationship but this love language should not be done in a calculative way (for example, needing to give commensurately to how much they earn in a month).
Putting thought and effort in the giving, is a reflection of the regard one has for the recipient. This is a view I impart strongly to my kids right now, which is why I insist on them putting in their best effort when choosing presents or drawing birthday cards. Depending on the intention, even a present purchased from a dollar store might be perfect (or poor if carelessly chosen).
Taking the time and effort to find out what a person really wants, by asking questions and observing the recipients’ likes and dislikes make for a thoughtful and considerate giver.
Similarly, in the case of an adult son to his parents, using his miles and rewards to fund an annual family holiday or taking over paying the household bills might end up meaning more than a monthly allowance from his sibling who prefers not to see them at all.
What they each earn or spend on their parents becomes irrelevant if done out of obligation or in bad faith.
Having a sense of duty towards one’s parents, however, is slightly different from being obligated to give something simply because of tradition or common practice.
Speaking as a child with an elderly parent, I do feel a sense of responsibility towards my father if ever he is unwell or unable to care for himself. But this isn’t because I feel I’m expected to; it’s because I love him.
This I think is the part that is missing from all the discussions people have when it comes to money and families.
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By Ana Ow
Ana has been a travel writer for various news outlets since 2007 and has a passion for crossing things off her bucket list (tiger safari in India, checked; meeting with the Dalai Lama in Ladakh, checked; Northern Lights sighting in Norway, checked thrice). She loves collecting visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites (preferably with her husband and two children) and is obsessed with Disney parks and cruises.