TEACHING INDEPENDENCE: Primary support for children such as love and attention is more important than giving money
MY husband was out walking our labrador the other day and saw a group of students by the road. One of the girls exclaimed. "Make way for the guide dog".
When he related the story to me, I had a good laugh because he was neither blind nor was our dog a guide dog. Irish guide dogs, usually labradors, help people who are blind or vision impaired and families of children with autism enjoy greater mobility and independence. In short they give support and help ensure a better quality of life.
That set me thinking about parental financial support -- how much to give and when to stop.
As parents, we are committed to provide all sorts of support including the financial basics of boarding and education until the young person has the age and determination to fully depend upon himself.
This is usually very much influenced by how we have been brought up ourselves. In most Asian cultures we are brought up to be filial, that is, to care for our parents once we start working.
We give a portion of our pay packets to our parents proudly and they receive it happily knowing that their children have grown up to be independent and responsible. We do that on a monthly basis or yearly basis, whichever is convenient.
Likewise, I have ingrained that principle in my children so they know when they will not need to rely on parental financial aid.
Once the eldest child has set the example, the others will follow quite easily. So, when my son finished his tertiary exams, we had a family conference to work out when he will no longer withdraw from my bank account. Although the topic was a serious one, we had great fun modelling the slant of the discussion after the game show Deal or No Deal.
For doting and wealthy parents, the boundaries of supporting a child financially and being a crutch are blurred. In counselling, examples where the casualties of parental financial support have gone amiss abound. Excessive support when parents jump in to help out financially can lead to young people wrestling with issues like dependency, lack of confidence, low self-reliance, immaturity or irresponsibility from constant rescuing.
When I was contemplating selling off my house, someone "advised" me that I should leave it to my son to help him with a "head start" because house prices were soaring in Kuala Lumpur and it would be almost impossible for him to get landed property, maintain an expensive lifestyle, drive an imported car and get married.
I was taken aback because I remembered I worked up the corporate ladder with no short cuts, and I believe that hard earned money builds character. My reply to her suggestion was the price of education was my gift to my children and that already was a head start.
I see financial support as secondary parental support that must be withdrawn at a certain time. It is when the parent must resist the heart's desire to keep on giving so that the young person is challenged to function independently.
This would be very difficult for the parent and the young person in question if primary support had not been built in the first place. Primary support is the love, the listening, the encouraging, and the undivided attention given in order to maintain an enduring emotional attachment.
In a larger life context, this shift of dependence and independence comes into reversal when the parent grows older and becomes more dependent on the child.
The parent will become less self-reliant and may increasingly call on grown children for more secondary support. It is at this point that we see, hopefully, the commitment of the independent child towards us.
New Straits Times Columnist 13 January 2013