A Money-driven Kinship?

This video showcases the conversation between a mother and her newly employed son. She sees the money spent on the child’s trips, clothes, and even university tuition as ‘investment’, with its amount capable of being estimated using the child cost calculator. It is clear that she expects monetary contribution in return for her expenses incurred in child-raising.

The mother demonstrated the mentality of a traditional Chinese parent: bringing up children to provide for one’s old age. Here, money plays the peculiar role of measuring parents’ commitment. This raises the question of whether filial obligations can be quantified and translated onto monetary terms, in the form of debt.

“Why pay? The underlying moral principles” — It is not unusual to hear parents complaining about rising rent or food prices in a Chinese household. From a young age, children are made known of the financial hardship in child-raising. Though the situation varies from one family to another, there is a general expectation that the child should provide financial support for his retired parents, covering their day-to-day expenses.

Confucian beliefs proposed a hierarchical relationship between parent and child. This requires great respect from the latter. By stressing the financial hardship of child-raising, this ideal model of Chinese parenting is reinforced, since a child may have a better idea of his parents’ hard work when it is expressed in monetary terms.

How does this transpose to the context of debt? It has been suggested that a debtor knows the exact numerical amount owed while this is generally inapplicable for moral obligations. The child cost calculator helps us determine the numerical equivalent of intangible moral obligations, but the notion that parent-child relationship can be equated with debtor-creditor seems baffling. Imagine that someone’s parents have been keeping an account of every cent spent on child-raising. Is the child then obliged to pay back the same amount? People normally want nothing to do with their creditors after the debt is paid off, does full repayment mark the end of a parent-child relationship too? The intuitive answer is no.

In this sense, the calculator exposes one of the inadequacies of money—the fact that certain things are not meant to be monetised or quantified.

Countless nights kept awake by the crying baby, the meagre days-off spent on tiresome family activities, and every living minute of constant worries for the safety and wellbeing of the child…few would make the sacrifice solely for money. If the only purpose of child-raising is financial security, there are far better investment options.

Love and care are beyond the ambit of money. Even if the child does end up offering money to his mother, it should be viewed as gratuitous benefaction, not the redemption of debt. What the mother truly desires is most likely fondness—small talk over the phone, family meals for the New Year, occasional gifts. Parents raised their children out of natural affection, and the only repayment which can be offered is by returning the love.

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