How much do we owe our parents?

Did you read the news of a son in Taiwan, who was sued by his mother? This is the gist, according to the BBC and the Taiwan News:

Taiwan’s highest court has ordered a man to pay his mother almost $1 million (£740,000) for raising him and paying for him to attend dentistry school.

The mother, identified only by her surname Luo, sued her second son for breaching a contract the duo signed in 1997. Her son, Chu, was 20 years old when he signed the financial support agreement that stated he would pay his mother 60 percent of his monthly income after qualifying from his dentistry training. 

After graduating, Chu refused to abide by the terms of the contract. He argued that it his mother should not receive financial compensation for raising her biological child and that he was only a sophomore when he signed the agreement therefore it should be deemed invalid. 

After a rigorous legal battle, the Taiwanese Supreme Court ruled that the contract was valid, and Chu was ordered to pay $1 million in back payments and interest to his mother.

According to the BBC, in Taiwan, an adult offspring is legally obligated to provide for their elderly parents. Generally, however, most parents do not sue if their children breach this civil code.

We’ll take these reports at face value. Is it right that children repay all that is spent on them? Should we be following the Taiwan example and consider that bringing up our children is an investment into our own future? Do our children have a responsibility to repay that investment?

Kids, you can relax. I have no truck with that approach but let’s explore the argument.

I am at an interesting point in my life. My mother, now aged 90, is still alive and I now have a grandchild together with three children and I see both sides. I was going to say both sides of the problem, but I am still unsure if there is a problem.

Annie and I paid to have three children educated privately at one of the great schools in England, Kings School Canterbury that can date its history back to 597AD and Saint Augustine. Even though we lived only 5 miles away, we paid for them to be boarders. It has a quirky uniform, wonderful pastoral care, a wide range of art and sporting opportunities, and gives a wonderful academic education. But, then so does the local state school but we saw benefit.

I know we have spent far more than most parents, but every parent wants to give their children the best start for their lives that they can. We may joke that it means they will keep us in our old age, but we never mean it. If we did then I would be looking for the return on that investment right now.  We didn’t approach this as an investment that would someday be repaid to us but as the gift of an investment in their future.

I won’t embarrass my children by telling them the cost of bringing them through to adulthood. They must have an idea but let’s just say that is north of the cost of an average sized UK home. Maybe even a home in London. As  it happens that is what I could do with most in my life right now – an average sized home and so, in the Taiwan example I could be turning to them to buy me a home or at least pay my mortgage.

But it’s not like that. When their dependence on their parents diminishes the responsibility of the parent is unchanged. We still worry about them as they get older and we feel it as a great privilege when they come back to us for help and advice. My mother still retains all the instincts of a parent as she passes her love down through me to my children and now Bertie, her first Great Grandson. She still even worries about me.

Parenting is not a right it is a responsibility and a responsibility which last a lifetime. Annie and I, get back the love and respect our efforts deserve.

However, it’s not quite finished and kids, let’s do a deal. I won’t ask for a repayment of my costs and as Saul Bloom said in Oceans 12: “you’re all aces in my book, but I want the last cheque I write to bounce.”