PERSPECTIVE: In Singapore, it's a cultural norm for working adults to give their parents a portion of their salary every month. It's a form of "giving back" to your parents for all the years they spent raising you, and a way to say "thank you" for the sacrifices they've made.
The author shares her mum's views on why she never expected money from her children.
I've been a full-time working adult for just over two years now, earning a decent salary every month.
But I don't give my mum, whom I live with, a monthly allowance. In fact, I've never done so.
I never realised it was a thing, like an actual thing, until my colleagues brought it up one day during a meeting.
Part of the discussion went somewhere along the lines of:
Colleague 1: "I will set aside a certain amount for my parents each month."
Colleague 2: "My parents never ask for it, but they don't need to. It's expected for me to give them money."
I remained quiet throughout the meeting because frankly, it was all foreign to me. I mean, I knew people generally do that, but I didn't know it was a norm.
As my colleagues continued their discussion, I quietly typed out in the Google Meet chat: "I don't give my mum any money."
What followed was a few shocked faces and a loud "What?!" from my editor. "I thought you would give your mum all your salary sia," she said.
And there's a reason why she said this.
I love my mother with all my heart (everyone knows this)
My colleagues are well aware of this, so they understand how much my mother means to me. Naturally, they assumed I'd give my mum every single cent I have in my bank account.
But that's simply not the case. And the thing is, my mother has never wanted my brothers and me to do so. (I have two older brothers who are also working full-time.)
I've never questioned it — until now.
So I decided to talk to my mum about it.
Me: Okay Ma, let's just go straight to the point. Why do you never ask me for any monthly allowance?
Mother: I believe that firstly, my children need to start saving up for their future. They must earn for themselves, for their future, for the plans they have made.
Secondly, I am healthy and I'm also working full-time, so I can be independent. I don't want my children to feel burdened, like it's a must or a chore to give me money every month. I don't want that. My children's hard-earned money should be for themselves, for their future, and for them to enjoy life.
Lastly, it may be a little cliché, but I don't equate love to money.
Ya, you've always taught us that. But isn't it a norm in Singapore for children to give their parents money each month?
I know that there are a lot of parents who feel that once their children start working, they should give them money every month. In fact, my own parents, when they were still alive, expected me to give them money, my mother more so than my father.
Before I gave my father money, he would always ask me: "Do you have enough for yourself?"
But my mother, however, she expected my siblings and I to give her money and pay her back for all the years she spent raising us.
Of course, I loved both my parents very much and I would do what was expected. But I'm more flexible like my father, I guess. I don't agree with my mother's ways.
I don't want my children to think that money is the most important thing, and that they die die must earn a lot so they can give me money every month. I think I'm a practical parent.
*Laughs* Okay, Ma.
No really, I'm just being practical. I've seen people who stress themselves out because they don't earn enough for their parents, or their parents demand a certain amount each month. This leads to a lot of unnecessary problems. It can also lead to tension or arguments within the family, which I never ever want to see between me and my children.
Some people also have their own family to take care of. Like my eldest son. He is married and has a young daughter.
Yes I know, Ma. He's my brother.
I'm giving context for your readers, lah.
Oh okay, sorry. Continue.
I have two sons. They're both married. But my eldest son has a young daughter and a lot of other responsibilities as the head of the family. He has a lot to think about. So the money he earns should be for his wife and daughter. I don't want him to set aside money for me each month when he can use that money for his own family's good.
Plus, I have a good and stable job, thank God. I can manage by myself, so I don't see why I should burden my children.
What about those parents who aren't working or are in need of financial help? Do you still believe that their children shouldn't give any monthly allowance to them?
That's a different story, lah. Of course, if your parents are not working or if they are struggling, you should help them out. But I still don't believe that you should give your parents a fixed amount every month. It's like you're paying the bills, like a routine.
If your parents really need help, then buy groceries for them or pay for their meals. Get them all the necessities they need, support them. And if your parents are sick, help with the medical or hospital bills.
You don't have to literally set aside, let's say, S$500 each month for your parents, like die die must give your parents S$500 every month. Personally, I don't feel that's right, and I don't understand how some people can do that. How do you measure how much is enough? And how do you measure your love and care for your parents with money?
Isn't money important to you?
Time is more important to me. The bonding between me and my children is more important than giving money. And I make sure they know that.
Yeah, we do. Like, we don't give you money but we talk to each other every single day without fail. Really no joke, sia. Even though we all don't live under the same roof, we still text in our family group chat every day.
Yes, and I really believe that by instilling this culture of not giving money to me every month, that's when my children can truly see and understand what family means.
And I've seen it happen. Sometimes, my children will offer to buy me stuff or treat me to meals for no reason. I don't even ask for it. But they do it because it's from a place of love and sincerity, not because they have to.
Like that watch I bought for you that time.
Yes, you did it because you wanted to, not because I asked you to. And I appreciate that more because it comes from your heart. The feeling is different when you receive something sincere from your child compared to something you receive from them every month because it's expected of them to do so.
I've heard of many stories from others where their children would just transfer their parents money every month, but they don't even spend time together.
So you think that those children who give their parents money every month won't have a close bond with their parents?
Each family is different. But in general, if you compare someone who has to set aside money every month for their parents, to someone who keeps the money for themselves and only offer their parents money when they can and want to — who would be happier?
When it's forced upon the children to do so, it can become stressful and like I said, that can lead to unnecessary problems.
Okay but the whole point of giving money to your parents, based on what I understand from friends and colleagues, is to repay them for all the things they've done for you. What do you think about this?
To educate and to raise your children is every parent's responsibility. Personally, I feel that my children owe me nothing. I brought them into the world, so of course I had to do whatever it took to raise them. They don't have to pay me back in any way because that's what I was meant to do. I didn't do it expecting something in return. I do it because you are my children and I love you.
And once my own children start their own family, it is then their responsibility to do the same. I want to teach my children what family really means, not that everything you do needs to be repaid.
Okay, wow. I don't even know why I'm shocked. I know you and you've always been like this, but it's still cool to hear.
Other parents might not agree with me, lah. Everyone lives differently and have different beliefs. But for me, I strongly believe in doing things sincerely. In Malay, there's the term "tak berkira" (don't be calculative). That's something I will always hold on to.
Okay, then let me ask you this: If I give you a million dollars right now, not because you asked me to, but because I genuinely and sincerely want to give it to you. Would you accept it?
Seriously? Why not?
For what? I don't need it. I have gone through a longer journey in life, and I have experienced and seen things my children have yet to experience. You and your brothers, you especially, still have a long way to go in your life. You have your future to think about. Keep that money for your future.
What if I force you to take it?
Then I will take, but I will keep the money only for my children, not for myself.
You're crazy sia, Ma. Okay but even if you don't need it, isn't there a part of you that wants it? I mean, it doesn't hurt to have more money, right?
As long as I have a shelter above my head and food on the table, I'm grateful. I don't need my children to give me any extra money.
You and your brothers know this— we aren't a rich family. We don't come from that background. In the past, our life was not easy. I have gone through years where I was struggling financially to raise you and your brothers.
That's why I've come to learn that money isn't everything. It's important, but it's not everything. I just appreciate the simple things in life. Having a house to live in, food to eat every day, and a family I'm close with is enough. What else can I want?
Okay, last question. If you don't want your children to give you money, then what do you want or expect from us?
I just want you to remember me in your prayers.
I'll never forget you, Ma.
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Top image by Mothership.