Family BondingDo I Owe My Parents Anything?

Do I owe my parents anything

Do I Owe My Parents Anything?

Parents are everything for their children as they are growing up. However, the same sentiment that you held in your early years might not ring true later on in life. In today’s day and age where progressive political and social views are prevalent and dominant, a common discussion that often takes place among millennials and Gen X-ers is, “Do I owe my parents anything?” The question might be simple, but the answer is anything but.

The answer to whether you do or do not owe your parents anything depends on perspective and personal stance. As such, the answer can be both yes and no depending on the individual and the context of the conversation. Let’s take a deep dive into this simple question and discuss the nuances of it which is very important to keep in mind.

The Bond Between Parents and Children

The bond between parents and children
The bond between parents and children

The bond between parents and children is one of the purest in the world and one that can not only be observed among humans but animals as well. From the moment a child is born, the parents of the child spend the next 18 years raising the child to the best of their capabilities so that they can grow up as fully functioning adults.

In between this time, parents don’t demand much from their children except good behavior and good grades, many even ignoring the latter to prioritize raising a good human being first. They don’t carry out these responsibilities expecting anything in return financially. These are the kind of parental bonds that are cherished and held as the standard of a functional traditional society.

But the opposite can be true as well. Abuse and neglect are rampant in some families all over the world. This can cause the bond between a parent and child to be strained, sometimes beyond repair. It might not even seem like it, but there is an emotional strain that parents might afflict on their children without them even realizing it! That is when the ‘owing the parents’ answer becomes more than just a yes or no.

The Theory of Filial Obligation

The theory of filial obligation
The theory of filial obligation

When discussing whether children owe their parents anything, the topic of filial obligation inevitably comes into play. What is a filial obligation? To summarize the traditional and dictionary definitions of the term, filial obligation refers to the specific set of duties and responsibilities a child is expected to perform for their parents.

These obligations can be present in both early childhood and the adult life of the child as well. While there are no laws pertaining to filial obligations in most countries, almost every major religion (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) puts a huge emphasis on filial obligation as a pillar of a functioning society.

According to most modern scientists and philosophers, filial obligations can be categorized into 4 theories:

  • Debt Theory: a child is expected to repay the same care they received as a child. This category of filial obligation is transactional in nature and is the most common in Asian and African societies.
  • Friendship Theory: a child looks after their parents as an adult out of the strong and healthy parental bond they’ve shared in their youth. They treat their parents like good friends and perform their responsibilities for them from a friendship perspective.
  • Gratitude Theory: a child looks after their parents as an adult out of a sense of gratitude. This kind of filial obligation is very similar to friendship theory, with the chances being the parents went above and beyond to give their child the best life they can afford, resulting in a sense of gratitude in the child.
  • Special Goods Theory: a child only does his/her part for their parents with the expectation of getting something in return, inheritance being the most common reason.

Depending on whether you had a healthy childhood or not, filial obligation might seem the most natural thing to you, or an extra responsibility that you want to avoid at all costs.

Do You Owe Your Parents Anything?

Do you owe your parents anything
Do you owe your parents anything

As mentioned before, the answer to this question can be both yes and no depending on your religious and ideological viewpoint. If we view the question through the lens of religion and tradition, then the answer is a big yes. Whether you wanted it or not your parents bought you into existence, offered you the joys of life as best as they could, and took care of you when you were weak, helpless, and vulnerable.

But for a radical liberal or radical individualist, the answer boils down to no for a couple of reasonable factors. Firstly, they did not wish to be born in this world, so even if their parents raised them into adults they don’t owe their parents anything.

Secondly, just because they brought you into the world doesn’t mean your parents own you. You are your own person and any success you enjoy in finance and career is yours only. However, this is a very cynical way to look at things and most normal adults with happy and healthy childhood won’t think about filial obligations in such a negative way.

The fact of the matter is that the truth lies somewhere between what traditionalists and individualists believe. The answer to this question will vary from person to person based on their individual experiences. Instead of answering the question with a definitive yes or no, here are some things to consider when asking yourself ‘Do I owe my parents anything?’

Use the word ‘Repay’ instead of ‘Owe’

A lot of negativity surrounding the topic of filial obligation stems from using the word ‘owe’. Words have immense power, and the word ‘owe’ has a negative connotation to it, making it sound like a legal obligation.

When thinking about this topic, instead of ‘owe’ think ‘repay’. Not only does it sound much nicer and less obligatory, it fully captures the spirit of healthy filial obligations. The word ‘owe’ is only thrown around by toxic parents and cultures that believe in age superiority.

When there is a good relationship between parents and children, the word ‘owe’ goes right out the window as both parties do things for each other because they want to, not because they’re forced to.

You Owe Nothing for Being Born

When radical individualists say they don’t ‘owe’ their parents anything just for being born, they’re both right and wrong in a way. It is true that children have no say in whether they want to be born or not. That realization hits as they grow up, and when it does hit them, it’s already too late. This usually happens to people who had a toxic childhood.

Any reasonable well-adjusted parent will never say you ‘owe’ them anything- they brought you into this world to fulfill their biological role as a species and all the beautiful memories they will make with you.

A Generational Concept

The concept of ‘owing’ your parents money and other securities in their old age is something that has been passed down for generations in many cultures across the globe. But just because it’s been passed on from time immemorial doesn’t mean it’s a good concept. But a child that is neglected will be more likely to rebel and be less grateful to their parents. So it is not just a one-way street here. The general concept gets really blurry in this regard.

Only Good Parents

The desire to do things for your parents when they’re old and unable to make an income comes inherently, not something that can be forced upon you. That’s exactly why only ‘good’ parents are entitled to your repayment and support, not the bad ones.

If your parents expect nothing from you and ask nothing from you even when they’re suffering, you should do the morally right thing and take responsibility as best as you can.

It always doesn’t have to be about money; sometimes just showing your face to them every once in a while and spending quality time with them is more than what many parents expect.

You Reap What You Sow

There is an old saying, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ At the end of the day whether you owe your parents anything depends on the childhood they provided for you. If you had a happy and healthy childhood, the concept of ‘owing’ your parents won’t even enter your mind when you do something for them.

For example, Kansas City Royals pitcher Brady Singer repaid $4 million worth of his parent’s loans after the end of a season because of how much he loved them and was grateful to them. In a letter to them when he performed this stupendous act of generosity he wrote,

“I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done to help me reach my dreams. There is absolutely no way I could have done all this by myself. Because you deserve the very best, I want you both to know how much I appreciate you and how none of this would be possible without you. Your giving hearts helped to shape my tiny dream into a reality. I love you both more than you can ever imagine and will never forget what you both have done.”

If Singer had a bad childhood, he probably wouldn’t have done this out of the kindness of his heart. That is why sometimes it is about what you give and what you get back in return from your children if you are the parent.

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Radical Individualism Vs Traditional Family Model

With the advent of the counterculture of the ‘60s, how many adults perceive family and family responsibilities have changed drastically in the last 6 decades. Liberal political and personal views also have played a large part in the rise of radical individualism, which to be honest is a very selfish and cynical way of looking at things.

With so much emphasis being put on the ‘self’, the traditional family unit as we have known it for centuries is seeing a radical transformation. Parents are no longer as responsible and good at raising kids as their predecessors, which has given rise to a generation of selfish adults who see everything objectively without considering the ethical and moral implications.

Though it does seem unfair that children have been obligated over the course of human history to take responsibility for their parents, it has resulted in social stability and structure across the globe until now. The current Western trend of abandoning old parents to nursing homes and other alternatives is not only putting financial pressure on governments, but on societies as a whole in general.

So instead of asking yourself ‘Do I owe my parents anything’ you should ask yourself ‘How is my relationship with my parents?’ Once you switch perspectives you’ll find the right answer yourself without overcomplicating things with philosophical and ethical musings.

Striking a Balance between Morality and Obligation

When it comes to the question of whether you owe your parents anything, the answer needs to have a fine balance in regard to morality and obligation. If you’re just struggling to keep your head above water and barely have your finances in order, then as harsh as it might seem, you’re in no position to help them even if they’ve provided you with a happy childhood.

Unless you have your life in order, fulfilling filial obligations is something you should consider later down the line. If you have good parents, then they will understand this simple fact as well and tough it out if you’re in no position to help them.


1. Can my parents sue me for not fulfilling my filial obligations?

It depends on the laws and customs of where you live. But ultimately, unless if there is neglect on your part they cannot sue you.

2. What should I do if my parents guilt me into owing them?

You should firmly say no and stand your ground. Owing them is up to you if you want to do it or not, it never has to be forced out of you.

3. Do parents owe their children?

Yes, parents owe their children a happy childhood in which their basic needs are met.

4. What do children owe their parents?

Depending on their upbringing, the least children owe their parents are good manners and emotional support during difficult times.

Final Thoughts

Owing a parent might seem simple and straightforward to some, but for others, there needs to be some context why they might not want to do so. You need to consider your personal experiences, the experiences of others around you, the socio-economic condition of where you live, as well as the culture and tradition you were raised in.

Whether the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depends on all these factors, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question. Parents will try their best to take care of you, even if they make mistakes in the process. Ask yourself if they have done enough for you or not. The answer to that question can only be answered by you and ultimately, the answer to the main question of the article will be up to you as well.

Next Attraction: How to Teach an Ungrateful Child a Lesson?

Maria W. Corley is a family psychology expert dedicated to helping families thrive. With a passion for improving relationships, Maria shares practical advice on Merge Family. Her goal is to make your family feel closer than ever by addressing communication issues and fostering understanding.

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