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!