Are Your Kids Your Retirement Plan?

Photo Credit: Marius Tuyishime

Dateline: Eixample, Barcelona, Spain

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

Have you ever reflected upon life in old age? Last week, someone asked me: “where do you see yourself growing old”? I was spooked. I’ve never really thought about it. Then the topic came up in one of the whatsapp groups that I belong to, on whether parents are right to depend on their children after retirement.

To begin with, I’ve been in and out of whatsapp groups over the years. Some of them can be downright annoying. Waking up in the morning to over 100 messages makes me woozy. Isn’t it possible for folks to shut down for a minute? Oh, remember the ones that add your number without bothering to ask for consent?

But this particular group, although unwieldy with more than 200 people, the discussions are seasoned and informative. I hardly make contributions because debating is unfortunately not my turf. It wears me out. I ponder how people find the time and energy to chatter all day long.

On this day, the conversation as mentioned earlier veered into retirement following an article shared by a member of the group. The crux of the matter was why any parent would expect their children to bear them on their shoulders upon retirement. There was a comparison between Western countries and Africa.

The article pointed to the average family in America or Europe. The culture, we’re made to understand is that kids leave home at 18 to chart their path in life. They go to university, for those who can afford it or are willing to take on the ubiquitous debt that comes with student loans (especially in America). Kids uninterested in higher education find a job and build a life in a profession of their choice

Although some wealthy parents pay for the university education of their wards, the majority is unable to afford it. There’s therefore, a sense that kids strike out without undue expectations from parents and vice-versa. Parents plan their retirement and so do their offspring. Student loan comes with an obligation to pay off once you get a job. Sometimes, parents are unable to help.

In Nigeria and most parts of Africa, it’s different. Children have huge expectations from their parents and vice-versa. They’re not obliged to leave home at 18. They usually cuddle up as long as necessary.

In my case, I graduated at the age of 22, moved to another state for the mandatory national youth service scheme, returned home at 24 to take a year off for French language study and started work at 25. I was at home until 27 when I went abroad for further studies. I returned home after that. I was working and living with my parents until I went abroad again.

Normally, parents in Nigeria go to a great length to fund their children’s education or business ventures whether they’re wealthy or not. Whatever it takes – selling properties, having a side hustle, asking relatives to help, borrowing money, etc. It is normal in these parts.

Conversely, parents expect their children to show mercy, compassion and care when they’re old. No one tells you this. In traditional African society, it is as customary as the air that you breathe. Even in cases where parents have retirement accounts offered by their employees or pension plan, children largely see it as their responsibility to take care of their wards in old age.

As far as I can remember, the needs of my grandparents on both sides were taken care of by their children. It was not a debate. I have no question that I will do the same for my mum and dad if he was still alive. It also depends on the degree of help that aged parents require. Some retire comfortably, others not so.

It was argued that some parents abandon their children and therefore, should not expect empathy from them. Life is complicated. Circumstances are different. Ultimately, the individual concerned decides what is the right course of action based on convictions.


What do you think? Enjoy and have a good week!

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  1. Fabulous article, and so very true! It’s a broad subject, and can be quite an emotional one. I started thinking of my life in old age when I lost my Dad, better said when he became an Ancestor. I watched as my Mom aged over night as a result of flooding him, needing so much love and care from us her four children. Being Nigerian Americans, there were no plans to ever send her to a reyirement home. Not conceivable, the horror stories you here of what happens to the elderly in those places are awful. Her being our responsibity was normal as Africans, and is what is seen as a burden by westen culture. But come to me now, as an individual, I do not have children. Huge delima has been what happens to me when i am frail and need help in my golden years. After pondering, and wondering if hurrying up to have children just to have someone there to care for me when old, I eventually came to the most sane conclusion I could come to: when 80 years old, I will move in with either of my brothers, and we all take care of each other. Share the cost of those hired to help us! And if my nephews and nieces make it their responsibility at the tender ages of 20 to 30 years of age, to take care of their aging elders, then be very thankful, and I will share in that love. As modern day Africans, or shall I say Nigerians in this case of my family, we are attempting to make the responsibilies as light as possible on the next generation. It’s not easy these days starting a young family and having to care for aging parents at the same time. That’s how far I’ve gotten!

    1. Thanks Nmadili for your robust response. I like the idea of you and your brothers taking care of one another. The responsibilities do pile up but if we work together, it becomes lighter.

  2. Here in the UK it’s not as simple that 18 year olds leave home. The cost of buying and renting property are too high for that. An unhealthily large proportion of singles still have to live with their parents even in their 30s. Most people can’t rent accommodation and also save for a deposit to buy a property. Especially in the large cities. For example renting in London on average is well over US$1000. Lots of offspring whose ancestors lived in London can’t afford to buy or rent where they were brought up.
    If an elderly person is unfortunate enough to be placed in a home it will cost them everything including selling their home and spending their savings to pay for it in lots of cases.
    Less people are taken care of by their offspring than previously but good people know their responsibilities when they have the means.

    1. Ian, I have an idea about care homes where old people live out their lives. It’s sad and painful but in some societies, that’s what it comes up to. About London, I have no words. It’s become a city for only the ultra-rich. You’re right that what our parents were able to afford, many of this generation are unable to. Are we getting better or worse? It’s sad.

  3. My opinion is that it all goes back to our British politics where we still have a 2-party system without proportional representation that would vastly reduce the historic influence of the conservative party. Their only motivation has been to help the rich and powerful and minimise equality and living standards for the rest of us across the board. Now they are trying to shutdown our parliament and leave the EU without a deal. There is strong resistance against this however and even numerous legal challenges in court. The showdown is next week in parliament. The conservatives are fighting for their very existence and fear an election hence the present extreme measures. In a time when right-wing populism is raising it’s ugly head globally this particular battle has meaning for all nations and not just the British. If families are to thrive and benefit from enlightened national social and economic policies where individual rights are respected and promoted it is vital that we all have, no matter where we live, governments that respect the democratic process and the rule of good laws. We all are our brothers keeper. Also caring for ones family is the best of humanity and not just a quality of one particular nation.

  4. I think the ‘right’ to care is reciprocal. Parents must strive to give their kids the best within their means until it becomes unreasonable to do so. After all, you didn’t ask to be born! Parents made the baby! I think that in addition to just caring for your kids, though, parents should give an inheritance to their children. This gives them an earlier and ahead start in life. Give them this with training on money, making it, handling it and making it grow. If parents did this there kids would step out confidently into the world eagerly and in time and more importantly are more likely to succeed. This is parental duty. The Bible says wisdom is good with an inheritance Children also have a duty of care to their kin. You can’t just forget the hand that fed you. What would the world be without love and care for one another? , charity I believe, begins at home. Having said that, I personally believe in financial emancipation throughout life. Many have proved that it is possible to exit this cosmos wealthy. Depending on anyone or kids is limiting. You are dependent on their goodwill and capacity. Better to work, plan wisely and trust the Lord for a financial affluence in old age. My thoughts.

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