IN earlier days, say 50 or 60 years ago, in Saudi Arabia, Asia and many countries of the world, people in their old age would be looked after by their children and their family in their own homes. In Asia, generally speaking, elderly people were regarded as wise and would wield power over other members of the family, especially the newly wedded wives.
It was part of the culture that older people would do less physical work, in an age when life was labor intensive, and would command more power and respect from the junior members of the family. The elderly would make important decisions and would be consulted on many issues and in return they would bless all the members of the family and would guide them with their wisdom and experience.
After the 1950s and especially the 1960s, incomes began to rise in these parts of the world and women began to work, especially in cities. There was a genuine problem of keeping elderly people in smaller city homes and a busy lifestyle took its toll on the working couple who would not have time to look after their older parents as a result of which, those parents who had the financial reins of the family in their hands were cared for and looked after and those parents who did not have proper finances, suffered due to neglect by their children.
Let us see whose responsibility it is to take care of their parents and to do this let us begin with the animal world. We know that in animals, the parents take care of their young until they are able to hunt for their own food, and after that they leave their offspring to their fate. They teach their offspring how to obtain food, fend off predators, look out for danger, build their own homes and look after themselves. The offspring later have little or no contact with their parents or other siblings.
If we examine development in human beings, it is along similar lines as animals except that human offspring need to be taken care of for a longer period of time, even in some cases for up 30 years, after which they are usually able to earn their own living, especially in the case of professionals.
During childhood, human beings are in a “take” phase, i.e., they take things like food, toys and general care from everyone around them. A newborn begins his life by suckling milk from his mother, being cared for by his mother and other elders in the house and in some cases, a nanny also provides care.
After a few years, the child begins to share his food, toys and games with the friends he plays with. It is this ability to “give” which brings him to adulthood, say at around 14 to 15 years of age when he reaches puberty and is physically mature enough to give rise to offspring of his own. However, since he requires mental maturity and the ability to earn money, he usually has to wait until he is 23 to 25 years old or in some cases up to 30 years old. During this time he is dependent upon his parents for home, money and other things.
When a person marries, he is supposed to have left his childhood behind and by this is meant that he is supposed to have grown out of his “take” phase and entered his “give” phase. He should be able to give love, care, money and protection to his beloved and it is this love which is “given” to the other person that results in the birth of a child or a new human being which needs to be cared for fully initially and supported later on.
Physical reproduction is easy, but if one is not ready to give then he should neither marry nor bear children. Love is about giving to the other person without expecting anything substantial in return because an adult is supposed to have grown out of his “take” phase. Now the responsibility of a man and a woman is primarily to each other and to their children apart from other responsibilities such as taking care of their parents, relatives, helping the needy, etc., but primarily they cannot be held responsible for their parents’ problems and the parents should not demand care or money from them, as a matter of their right. Every child is born with an inalienable right of being “wanted” in this world and having given birth to a child, parents are fully responsible for the child and should provide all the things necessary for the satisfactory upbringing of the child, as befits their status.
Many parents especially mothers, brainwash their children about how important it is to take care of their parents and fulfill their wishes especially in their old age which I feel is not correct. They are exploiting the trust of the child to serve their own selfish ends. Taking care of your parents in their old age out of a charitable attitude is fine but devoting your life looking after their needs, wishes and dreams is giving up your life for them.
Many parents demand dowry as a matter of right by claiming that they have spent so much on their sons or daughters and since their children are leaving them, they (the parents) should be compensated by the relatives of the bride or groom. Parents must be prepared to give good care and training to their children because this is what validates their life in this world. After all, they are going to leave their children in this world as their legacy and it is the children who are going to be a living testament to the existence of the parent.
A parent demanding either dowry or money for his child as a price of having given care is the worst form of blackmail in human history. If a person does not feel capable of giving love, affection and care to his spouse and to his children then he should not marry and should not increase the burden of his children on this earth.
Many parents, especially of poor families, give birth to seven or eight children when they have neither the money nor the means to support them. They make their children work at an early age and live off their earnings and when they are big they simply let them go off or worse still, keep demanding money from them on one pretext or another. They also force their elder children to look after their younger siblings when actually it is the responsibility of the parents to do so in the first place.
Since children are easily impressionable when they are young, parents brainwash them and blackmail them emotionally so that they leave aside their life and begin to take care of their parents or slave in order to satisfy and fulfill their wishes, dreams and desires. Many daughters work for a living and do not get married and stay with their parents all their life, because they fear leaving their aged or ailing parents in the hands of those who may not take satisfactory care of them, which I feel is wrong.
There is a genuine problem when elderly people cannot take care of themselves or are sick and have to be taken care of. For this, either the government or private NGOs should build homes with all facilities that can provide the elderly with a social life with their age group and adequate medical care. This would be made available for a price, of course, which can either be paid at one go or over a period of time. Children can help their parents by contributing toward this fund if their economic condition permits.
In conclusion, I would like to say that although taking care of one’s parents during their life and old age is a good and charitable thing for a Muslim to do, one should not give up one’s duty to oneself in life and one should continue to lead a normal life like relocating for work, getting married and raising a family.
Although children have the right to demand full care and attention from their parents, parents cannot demand either money, care or other benefits from their children, because this is against the “law of love” in nature which flows only one way and that is, from parents to children. If children happen to take care of them or show them affection, then it validates the love parents had for their children in the sense that their love was true and ample in amount, but it cannot and should not be demanded and definitely not by brainwashing or by emotional blackmail.