Paying For Your Parents

My Thai friend Joy, who lives in L.A., recently told me that in many Asian cultures, it’s typical to honor your parents by giving them money and buying them nice gifts (even a car!) once you start working yourself. “Many of our American friends are shocked by this,” says Joy, “but lots of my first-generation Asian friends continue the tradition.” Here, I asked her about it…

Here are Joy‘s thoughts:

What my husband and I give to our parents: We help support our parents financially every month. We also make sure to pay for dinner when we go out together, and we cover their flights any time they come to visit us in L.A. (all our parents live in Philly). Some of our Asian friends also pay the mortgage on their parents’ houses, cover their car payments, or help them pay off credit card debt.

The first paycheck: My husband is Korean; and in his culture, you’re expected to give your first paycheck to your parents. Bob went to med school and had a long residency, so he wasn’t able to do that until he started his first job at 32. Most people do it in their early twenties with their first job out of college, but he wanted to wait.

Making it work: When we got married in our late twenties, Bob was in med school, and I had just started my business. So we were living off very little and racking up credit card debt like crazy. We only recently paid off all that debt, so now we’re finally at a place where we can help our parents the way we want to. People might assume, “Oh my gosh, they must be doing do well that they can give money to their parents.” But we allow for it. While we certainly have our own bills to pay and young family to raise, taking care of our parents financially is something that we incorporate into our financial decision making. We’re happy to work harder and take extra side jobs. When we work hard for “our families,” that includes our parents, too.

Buying a car and bed: We recently went home to Philly, and my dad’s car had just broken down for the second time in just a few months. It had 200,000 miles and was almost ten years old. Picturing my dad breaking down in the middle of nowhere broke my heart. Bob and I looked at each other and immediately knew we had to help him have a safe car. So we decided that night to buy my dad a new one. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a solid car that could take him to and from work.

Then, we visited Bob’s parents house for the first time in years. His parents are in their sixties, and they were sleeping on the small double bed that Bob had slept on throughout his childhood. We asked why they were using that old bed, and they’re like, “Oh, we’re fine. We’re used to it!” We told them they needed to sleep on something comfortable and good for their backs, not a thirty-year-old mattress! We were happy to help them buy one.

Our parents: Our parents are all immigrants, so they’re used to living simply and “dealing with” things. But they worked so hard coming to this country with just a few hundred dollars, they deserve sleep in a good bed and drive a safe car! Our parents are self-employed (they all work in the restaurant industry), so they don’t have typical retirement plans or pensions or 401(k)s. The ways we choose to help provide for them isn’t a way to spoil them, but instead to help make their lives a little easier.

Why we do it: When we were young, our parents took care of us—financially, emotionally and physically. But now, it’s time for us to take care of them. Our parents don’t ask for it. In fact, they often offer to pay for things (like dinner), but we always insist. While we jokingly call it “parent tax,” it’s something we’re happy to do to honor our parents. We’re trying to say, “I finally made it, now let me thank you for helping me get there.”

Our daughter: We don’t expect our daughter, Ruby, to do this for us when she grows up. Granted, we want her to respect us as her parents, but as Asian-Americans who grew up in this country, we’re following a much more traditional American path with savings accounts and retirement plans. So, we don’t think we’ll need help when she’s older. It will be interesting to see how this tradition evolves as we get more Americanized and if Asian-American kids will continue to honor their parents in this way or if it will change into something else as we change and evolve culturally.

Thank you so much, Joy! I’m curious, you guys: Do you ever pay for your parents when you go out to dinner? Or for their flights to see you? Or anything like that? Do they typically cover you? Or are your finances totally separate? I’d love to hear…

P.S. More Motherhood Monday posts, if you’re in a reading mood…

(Photos—from childhood and nowadays—courtesy of Joy, who writes the blog Oh Joy! and just published the book Blog, Inc.)

  1. I doubt anyone will read this, but this is a struggle in my newlywed WASP (me) and Taiwanese (him) marriage, not because of my partner but because of his older brother and his wife (Chinese) who do this. They make substantially more than we do, own their own business, and have been out of school for a decade while we are still finishing graduate school and have yet to make a major paycheck. I admit I resent feeling like I have an obligation that I was not raised to have — you take care of your kids, you don’t take care of your parents — then when you are old, you provide for yourself and your kids take care of themselves when they too become elderly. The dependence cycle is there, but instead of it going backwards, it goes forwards. I can’t help but think that taking care of both generations at the same time leads to a much smaller savings … which then perpetuates the need for the system. I find it overwhelming as a young person, personally.

  2. @ Sandhya – 6:27 PM
    That’s really sweet. Just curious, do you plan to do this for your wife’s parents as well when you get married? If not, how do you feel this might impact your marriage?

    I’m a girl! And yes, it would be something i discussed with a potential future husband…

  3. This sort of makes me feel like a failure. My mom still helps me out quite a bit (I’m married, in my 30’s with a daughter). She helped pay for my university tuition and costs when I was in college and I haven’t been able to repay her generosity, nor do I anticipate being able to help in the near future. On the other hand, she’s still the matriarch and planned her retirement so well that she’s on more stable ground financially than any of us. I’m still struggling paycheck to paycheck. I wish I had the luxury of buying her a new car.

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  5. I love this post, thank you for sharing, Joanna.

    I’m an Indonesian living in Germany and I also do this custom. It never occured to me for it to be unusual until I talked with a German friend about this. He said he could understand, but he thought that the love that parents give to their children can never be “repayed”, because parents will always love their children more than vice versa. And so what the children can do is pass the love to their children. In his opinion, parents love (and money) should work “downwards” to the next generation. Besides, for some people in Germany, it might be even considered rude to give your parents money. The retirement plans etc. are pretty good here, so you can say that most of the time it’s unnecessary to give your parents money.

    What he said gave me some thoughts, too. And I wonder what my future children would think and do, since my husband and I will stay here for a while :)

  6. So surprised by the picture – Korean traditional 1st birthday party – on your blog. I’m Korean and living in Korea now. I’m giving money to my parents on new years day, thanksgiving, mother’s/father’s day and their birthday. In some occasion, I also pay for dinner. My husband is doing the same. It is very typical in Korean society and parents themselves wants their childrens to do so(because they supported their children finacially until the children graduate university and some are living with their children until they marry without receiving any living costs). But things are changing now in Korea as well. Anyway it was interesting to read this story here. Thanks! :)

  7. I am Lebanese and christian and i could definitely relate to this post. I think it is more of a cultural thing rather than a religious thing.

    My parents always put our needs before their own. So when i am done with my PhD i have every intention of giving back. Let`s face it, i would never have made it this far if it wasnt for them.

  8. Y says...

    Lovely post! I am a second generation Korean American and although my parents are a little more Americanized in the financial department with their savings accounts and retirement 401ks and whatnot, I still feel the need and desire to provide for them financially once I finish the ridiculously long path of med school. I guess the cultural influences are still very strong even after 2 generations in America ;)


  9. Y says...

    Lovely post! I am a second generation Korean American and although my parents are a little more Americanized in the financial department with their savings accounts and retirement 401ks and whatnot, I still feel the need and desire to provide for them financially once I finish the ridiculously long path of med school. I guess the cultural influences are still very strong even after 2 generations in America ;)


  10. My husband and I will often help pay for my parents to come visit us. We have more money and they have more time, so it benefits everyone. We also try to pick up the tab periodically — we feel that we are adults with god jobs and we should pitch in financially when we can.

  11. I am a first generation Vietnamese-American and Joy’s thoughts are pretty much in line with my feelings regarding my parents. We send money every month and always pay for them when we are doing things with them (dinner, movies, vacations). When they needed a new car, all the siblings pitched in to buy one for them so they didn’t have to worry about monthly car payments. My siblings and I split other big purchases and expenses as well. And their house is paid for.

    My parents were not in a position to pay for any of us to go to college (or grad school), so we took out student loans and many odd jobs to put ourselves through school. But taking care of them in their older age is just what we do. I, however, do not expect my son to take care of me in my old age. So, it will be interesting to see how long these cultural practices continue…

  12. My dad passed when I was 13 and mom was always sacrificing for me and a younger sister. When I got my first job as a teen on payday I always gave her $. Just to help her out! When I got married twice a month I would send her $ to help her out. As a thank you for being a great mom. If she needed a new frig etc… all of us (6) would pitch in so she can get one. It’s showing love, appreciation and gratitude. She’s since passed in 2004. I miss both of my parents dearly, so to those that still have both of their parents around, love them, enjoy them and spoil them… especially if they were there for you!

  13. my parents were both dead by the time i was in my 30s but one of the greatest joys I ever had was being able to fund vacations for them once i started making decent money. My dad was old school and proud so I got him credit cards with his name on it charged to my account, he always wanted to pay me some back every month so I would scan in the bills and delete almost everything he had charged before he saw them,so he wouldnt ever feel like he was being overly paid for, tricky but it worked, no hurt pride and sheer joy for my Mom to take vacations and eat out places she coudln’t afford, Its a hard balance in some cultures not to patronize or offend your parents when trying to help them out but in any culture it’s a lovely thing to do. So miss both of them in my life so to all of you still lucky enough to have them, spoil away!

  14. my parents were both dead by the time i was in my 30s but one of the greatest joys I ever had was being able to fund vacations for them once i started making decent money. My dad was old school and proud so I got him credit cards with his name on it charged to my account, he always wanted to pay me some back every month so I would scan in the bills and delete almost everything he had charged before he saw them,so he wouldnt ever feel like he was being overly paid for, tricky but it worked, no hurt pride and sheer joy for my Mom to take vacations and eat out places she coudln’t afford, Its a hard balance in some cultures not to patronize or offend your parents when trying to help them out but in any culture it’s a lovely thing to do. So miss both of them in my life so to all of you still lucky enough to have them, spoil away!

    • what you did for your father is the sweetest thing i’ve ever read in awhile. it’s not enough to change my mind about how i feel about this topic but i wanted to acknowledge your sweet gesture.

  15. I love this! I do usually try to pay for things for my parents when they need them. My parents’ toaster oven broke down the other day and they wanted to get a cheap one they saw on sale in a flyer, but I felt they deserved something better and that would last longer, so I went out and got them a much better one that will hopefully last years longer.

    I don’t know if it’s just something they instilled in me when I was younger, or that I just feel the way Joy feels in that my parents came here with nothing and worked so hard to give us the things we have today, so I feel we should appreciate that and them. And it feels good to be able to be the one to give back to them.

  16. i don’t feel this way, at all.

    i was raised by my grandparents and when i do see them, yes, i pay for our entertainment and meals and bring them gifts. but i do not send them money monthly, my aunts/uncles and parents do tho.

    as for my immediate parents/family, i do not. immediately after graduating from college i did pay for my siblings’ school needs and provided them with allowances & such when i could, but i have since stopped. i don’t see my immediate family often but when i do, i do what i can to pay for meals, if they’ll allow it. i do not go out of my way to provide financial assistance to them and i do not feel compelled to.

  17. I’m Filipino and was born and raised in a quirky household. I’ve just started my career, something of a late bloomer as I’m already in my late 20’s but my parents, unlike others I’ve known who pushed my friends in university towards money making careers they’re very unhappy in, my parents (totally unlike the stereotypical Asian parents) have let me pick my degree, travel when I wanted and don’t push me into relationships. I’m really grateful they have allowed my sibs and I to grow into the people we are and I dream of being able to shower my success on them but they’re also in the peaks of their careers and doing well so they insist instead of paying for them, we “pay it forward”, i.e. as the oldest grand kid, they would prefer that I help out my younger cousins who I am very close to but are less well-off. For that, I love my parents terribly and hope I can make them proud.

  18. Thanks for sharing this! I’m Asian and live in Singapore. What Joy shared is something that is not new to me- I give a portion of my monthly salary to my parents to help with the bills and groceries. My sisters do the same. I guess it’s part of the Asian culture. :)

  19. I love this post, thank you for sharing. My boyfriend and I recently moved in with my parents after I lost my job. When I went back to work, it still made no sense to move out, so while we are saving, we try to dote them with gifts on top of the usual housework we help with. Something I plan on continuing far beyond the time we are back on our feet. Parents are the best.

  20. Such an interesting article and very timely! My fiance and I have been dealing with having to support his parents for economic reasons (not cultural) and I have been thinking a lot about where our responsibility starts and ends. Fascinating conversations here, thank you all!

  21. This post makes me feel so good :) As a young professional, first generation Palestinian American, I feel it is my duty to take care of my parents. They made so many sacrifices for my siblings and me and it is the least I can do to pay them back for the great life they provided. I work in education so money doesn’t flow, but similar to Joy, I hope to always make it a priority so that I can thank my parents for all they have done and help take care of some of that financial responsibility.

  22. Me too! My plan is when I can accrue enough in savings, I want to get my parents either a summer home in Italy or a time-share (if they have that there) for one there. It’s ambitious and a little crazy, but they have taken me and my sister on so many trips around the world it is definitely worth it.

  23. this is a really good post Jo; I’m from Kenya and I must say Joy’s ideas resonate with me very strongly… our parents give of themselves to us unconditionally so once in a while I think it’s only fair that we reciprocate :)
    it’s a very touching story

  24. I love this and can totally relate!
    I’m Second Gen Korean-American and I do the same. Although I am single (mid 20’s) and living at home but taking care of all finances. Was a care giver for five years which I didn’t expect so early in age. It’s hard in the beginning but you start seeing the bigger picture later on. I think it also helps you to build more patience and empathy. Sometimes I wish I could do more but I know they appreciate everything.

  25. I completely understand this. I’m also from a family of immigrants, and I feel the responsibility to give back to my parents the same way Korean-Americans do. My parents and I came from Cuba when I was 12 and they struggled for years to help me have a good life here with the things I never dreamed of having in Cuba. Now I want to do the same for them, because there is so much they haven’t seen or experienced in this country, and I want to help them achieve those things however I can, be it financially or any other way.

  26. Why wouldn’t you want to do wonderful things for your parents. They raised you and gave you wonderful things, it’s time to give back!?! This is a no brainer for me, and I am a young caucasian american who was raised in texas.
    I always pay for my parents meals. (If I could afford their car payments and such I would too!)

  27. I once asked my dad (my only parent) how I would ever pay him back for college tuition. He essentially said, pay it forward to your own kids. I love this idea. I do buy everytime we eat out.

  28. I’m a first generation living in the US while my Korean parents live on Guam. I was always surrounded by Koreans and a lot of other Asian cultures around me living on Guam and it’s pretty “standard” that most children felt an obligation to help their parents when they could.
    The idea of “helping” your parents out when you could was something that’s been instilled in me, I don’t know when or how but it’s always been there. My non-asian friends this idea of giving $ to my parents for “allowance” very odd. For me, it’s one way of thanking them for raising me, paying for my education and allowing me to live the comfortable life I’ve lived. I don’t make a lot of money but I give when I can and they’re greatful for whatever. I think they find the idea of their “child” giving them money funny, and most of the time they give it back to me but it’s the act that matters to them. Being Asian, we’re not that open with our feelings and emotions but this is just one way to show it.

    I’ve read a lot of the comments here about how most don’t expect their children to do the same. I personally disagree. I actually do want my kids to know this and do it. I have lived a different life than my parents that include a 401K and hopefully I won’t ever need their financial help but it’s the idea of keeping tradition alive in my future, westernized children.

  29. Very interesting. Just out of curosity, do the parents or children usually pay for college? Also, how does one pay rent while turning over their entire first pay check?

    • This is my personal case:
      My parents paid for all my education (undergrad) and for my brother (undergrad & law school).

      Usually the idea is to give them the sum of your pay check at some early point. So whether that be your first check (because you have enough $ to live for the month) or on your fifth check (cause now you saved enough to get by).
      For me, I only see my parents once a year (because we live in different countries) so I just give them one large sum.

  30. In the Nigerian culture this concept is pretty much the norm. My parents both send money to my grandparents back in Nigeria (we live in England) and whenever they go and visit them they take gifts and pay for things that they need/want ;). Years ago my parents built houses in the places where my grandparents live so that they could live more comfortably and in safer areas. And I very much plan on doing the same for them when I’m older.

    I’ve just graduated and don’t earn loads but I pay a little towards the electricity and food costs as well as pay for things that my younger sisters need from week-to-week. I seriously believe that honoring your parents, in whichever way you deem fit, is very important!

    Just my 2 pence on the subject :) LOVE your blog by the way!!

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  32. Now that I’m a parent myself, and realize all of the crap I gave my own parents growing up, I think they deserve more than I could ever buy them, house, car, yacht – I could never repay them for the awesome and patient job they did:) But I’d like to one day if I had Oprah’s bank account…tee hee hee!

  33. When my husband first started working, he gave his parents $5000 for a vacation to New England (something they always wanted). We pick up tabs and things but his parents usually argue. My dad died in 2004 but we help out my mom occasionally.

    I’m from PA too (living in CA) so we paid for my mom to visit and probably will again if we have kids. Right now, I always go home since my whole family is still back in Chester County…

    Family is family. When my sister (a single mom) had cancer, I went home for 3 months to take care of my then-18 month old niece. I paid for all her baby stuff and all kinds of other stuff while I was out there too.

  34. Interesting topic!

    My husband’s family is from the Philippines. His older brother is a doctor and loves to lavish his mother with very, very expensive gifts. He’s promised to buy her a Lexus in the next few years when his medical practice levels out. My husband and I earn much, much less (5-figures as compared to the high 6’s of his brother) and have to usually come up with DIY-style gifts for his parents. I always feel bad not being able to buy them nicer things, but we do what we can. I know they appreciate our smaller gifts given with great love just as much as the more expensive ones from brother. At least I hope they do. ;)

  35. We always pay for my mother in law’s plane ticket from Florida to Kansas & usually treat my mom to dinner, although she always insists on treating us to lunch. We’ve also treated my mom to a few vacations with us. Although it is quite a bit different than it was in our 20s. Now we have kids, health issues & 1 income, so we struggle a bit more with it. I guess that’s what families are for, helping when in need.

  36. absolutely! when my husband and i were talking marriage, i explained to him that as the eldest child of a filipino mother that at some point she would live with us or us with her when the time came to it. i asked him if he was okay with that because that would be a deal breaker, luckily he was okay with it. its an unspoken rule to take care of your parents the way they took care of you when you were younger and with my mom living with me then she is able in instill the culture and stories down to my children.

  37. I didn’t know about this. What a wonderful thing! When I worked as a teenager, before I went to college, I gave all the money to my parents, as my siblings did too, I think. Our parents didn’t tell us to do it. But now, I’m afraid, they’re helping us. Hope we can return the favor soon!

  38. I was talking to some friends before my mom came out to visit last time. I was surprised that some of my friends said that their parents paid for all the food, activities and even clothes when they were out shopping. My parents are so generous, but paying their way every so often feels like I’m showing them that I am successful and can take care of myself and treat them thanks to their efforts. Granted, I’m probably using the money they give me at Christmas and birthday to pay them back, but we can pretend.

  39. How interesting! Do people still do this? Samoan culture is like that when it comes to weddings and funerals. Everyone is expected to chip in.

  40. I am American through and through and I totally believe in paying back our parents. They do so much to raise us. Money is tight for my family but I am so happy I opted to buy my mom the plane ticket for her to come visit us for three weeks this summer. But for our family it is more of a swinging pendulum. She buys some for us, we buy some for her and I hope my daughter will observe and learn the same mutual respect I saw demonstrated between my mom and grandparents.

  41. This is the first tine I’ve heard of this tradition and I love it. When I received my first bonus check at work, I took my parents out for dinner – something I had never really had the money to do, since I paid for college and law school while working part-time. They were thrilled with such a small gesture.

    Thank you for sharing such a lovely story.

  42. My husband and I are not rich, but we are certainly financially independent from our parents (they did not even pay for our college tuitions). But if we go out to dinner with our parents, they always want to foot the bill! I think they see it as “Well, we have more money and are more well established, so let’s treat our children to something they couldn’t otherwise afford.” They enjoy it. :)

    Both of us come from decidedly WASPy families, where the overall expectation is that you’ll work hard and provide for yourself whenever possible. So neither of our parents are expecting us to provide for them when they are older. At the same time, though, we would feel a strong responsibility for them if they were ever in need. We aren’t necessarily PLANNING to have them move in with us, pay for their electric bills, etc… but if that became necessary we would want to do it! We believe that families need to stick together and help one another.

  43. My parents came to the U.S. from Vietnam with nothing, but over the past thirty years, scrimped, saved, and sacrificed so that they could send three kids to college. And they don’t ask for anything. When they worked jobs as a dishwasher, seamstress, butcher, assembly-line worker — physically difficult labor — they never complained. They worked with dignity and with grace. And they were grateful they could provide for our family. They raised a family of five and took care of my grandfather too on a household income of less than $40,000 a year. I am beginning to give them a monthly allowance, but I am sad that this allowance hardly covers the tens of thousands of dollars they spent on violin lessons, and my college and law school tuition. However, my siblings and I always try to pitch in to pay for vacations and big home expenses (refrigerator, mattress, furniture). I am now about to become a new mother and I certainly do not expect the same from my children, but the least I could do for my own parents is help them retire comfortably.

  44. This is really sweet. It almost made me cry! Seeing parents struggle financially is really hard, and being in a place where you can help them is so wonderful. We definitely make a point of taking our parents out for dinner once in awhile and in the future when our careers are more stable I would love to be able to help them more.

  45. I’m Asian and from Singapore. We typically give our parents some allowance every mth, more so if they are retired. Sorta to show our gratitude to them for raising us, giving us food, home and a good education. My parents sacrificed alot of their time, money and personal enjoyment (no holidays!) to raise us and it’s our way of letting them enjoy life better :)

  46. As a Taiwanese woman, every aspect this post resonated with me. My brother and I both send money to our parents every month. I’m happy to do it. No one ever asked us to do it – it’s just how we were raised.

  47. I LOVED this post b/c I am also a daughter of an immigrant set of parents. They did work very hard for us, and had to learn a new language, a new culture, make new friends. I can’t imagine doing that now! So to offer them respect, we do help pay for their big expenses, pay when we eat out, etc. It’s the least we can do. But also like Joy, we don’t expect our children to do the same for us. Well, except respect us in our old age, perhaps care for us instead of sticking us in a nursing home. LOVE this post. Thanks for sharing Joanna and Joy!!!

  48. Wow this is a great read!

    Twenty-two years ago, my parents moved my sister and I to the USA from Mexico. They did a wonderful job raising us, taught us to work hard, to get back up after we fall and to always dream big. I think we ended up pretty well; we both went to university and are now successful engineers. When my parents divorced eight years ago, my mom had a really hard time getting on her feet (she had been a stay at home mom most of her life), and my sister helped out with money. Once I finished college, I too had to step in and contribute financially. My mother moved in with me, which helped alleviate some of the financial strain. Honestly: it was really really tough and it took every ounce of self-control to “keep it together”. Now my mom has a job and her own place. My sister and I contribute every month to keep her afloat. Every month I take her to the doctor and also help cover medical bills. As much as I love my mom, sometimes I have a really hard time coping with this! Since this isn’t something that’s particularly common in America, I get really frustrated when friends ask about it. That’s when I realize that a lot of people don’t have to worry about their parents (they’re busy going to yoga, travelling the world, volunteering), and I feel like the odd man out.

    Thank you for sharing this! I really helps to see that other people help out with their parents.

  49. Thanks for this beautiful post, and for all the great comments! As Americans we tend to only think of the young. I wish everyone could read this post and rethink their attitudes toward their parents and the elderly. Thanks!

  50. Only you can write about such wonderful things, Joanna :)
    I am from the Balkans and I live in a country that went through 20 years of dictatorship and now we’re having 20 years of democracy. Although people during dictatorship used to work long hours in very difficult jobs and lacked the very basics because of the system, retired people today get very little money (something ranging around 50-150 $ maximum) and it is very hard to live with that. Their children are struggling themselves, often in emigration or working hard here and they don’t always have the possibility to look after their parents financially. But the typical mentality is that you help your parents as much as you can, like they help you if they are in the opposite financial ease.
    My parents are 50, they have worked a lot since their early 20s, and now they are self employed. Although when my mother gets mad, she jokes that she will work even harder, not to be left in my brother’s and my hands when she is older, I so wish my fiance and I will be in the ease of helping both our families with everything they need. Even until now, with part time jobs and freelancing, I have been planning of surprising my parents with a weekend away or paying for the flights to somewhere. As Joy says, they took care for everything we needed and they still do, they payed for my three universities and countless courses, for me to have the life I dreamed of. We need to reward them with the basic needs, but also not to forget that the best reward for the parents is not a check or a new car, is our presence and us calling them or visiting as often as we can.

  51. I love this story. My parents are also both immigrants. My mother is from Mexico and my father is from Thailand. Both cultures share similar attitudes about caring for parents financially. My mother came to live with my husband and I the day my oldest daughter was born. She helped care for and nurture both of my daughters and now that they are older, my children care for and comfort her. It is a family dynamic that most of our friends cannot relate to and wonder how we do it. To us it was never a question of why but rather why not.

  52. This is so refreshing to read. I’ve supported my parents since college. I stayed at home for college, worked full time, and helped pay for things like their rent and bought groceries. I’m 26 now, I’ve bought my mom a new car and am looking into buying her a house. I don’t relate it all to the affordability of things (I do NOT have an amazing job), but I’ve made decisions and I’ve planned accordingly…always keeping them in mind, much like they did for me when I was a child. My mother is also an immigrant from South Korea. I really like it that Joy related this all to her cultural upbringing. I’ve been ignorant not to see the connection myself, and yet proud to say I just did it because it felt right. It’s amazing how many times I’ve been snubbed by my full American friends for helping my parents (they often thought I was bragging, when in fact I was simply trying to help them see how great it would be to help their own). I really hope my children one day see the compassionate side of what I’ve done for my parents and take it into consideration for theirs…

  53. This was so interesting- love this post!

    My parents don’t let us pay for a thing, but they are pretty well off.

    I love the idea of this.

  54. This is one thing that’s always appealed to me about traditional Asian culture — reverence for our elders. I wish we had a little more of that here in American culture.

  55. Yes! I have a single mother who loves to travel but was never really able to, so recently my sister and I took her to Italy for a week. That was 3 years ago and she still talks about it all the time :)

  56. In my family, my parents are much better off, financially, than any of the “kids” (we’re all in our 30’s), so they still pay for things like dinners out. Although, more and more often, we’ve started to split the bill. I always offer, and they typically say no. In my husband’s family, we are the ones who are more financially stable, so we tend to pay for more. His parents refuse help, even when they truly need it, so we find other ways of gifting help to them. For example, they were really struggling just to buy basics like food, but would not take money, so we sent them a food delivery gift from Omaha Steaks. We try to do things like that every so often. By calling it a gift and not “help”, they accept it. But, we keep our gifts consumable and practical.

  57. This is so lovely. My parents are still turning up to my house with heaters and electric blankets and all sorts of things and I’m in my 30s! They are so generous. I do try to pay for lunch or drinks if I can but they are in such a different finanical position to me they often refuse. My sister sent them on holidays to Paris after she graduated because they supported her financially for the 4 years. Such a lovely thing to do.

  58. My dad would never let me pay for anything for him, although my mom now sometimes will let me buy her lunch if it’s just the two of us. I think she understands that I appreciate her and want to treat her, whereas my dad still likes feeling like he is looking after us and wouldn’t dream of letting us spend money on him. I appreciate the fact that I can still be spoilt with nice dinners occasionally and that my parents understand I am trying to make my way financially, but I also would love to ‘pay them back’ by spoiling them once and a while too. I try to show my appreciation in other ways and am really happy for the relationship we have, but can’t imagine ever being allowed to buy them a car or a holiday (as much as I’d like to)!

  59. I love this post, it’s so interesting and honestly such a neat tradition! It totally makes sense… I just don’t know how I could possibly afford it! (then again I’m only 26) But, my dad and his other two brothers give my grandma money every month to help her with groceries and things like that. Our parents do so much for us (especially now in this economy… some of them are supporting us into young adulthood) — I would hope that if my parents ever needed anything from me financially, I could find a way to help out!

    xx, kara

  60. In my family, with my parents and grandparents, they got married and struggled financially but over time became more and more successful. So my grandparents greatly helped my parents when they first got married and my parents do the same with my siblings. I personally always disliked getting money from my parents through college because I couldn’t really pay them back. Their response is always that you don’t pay back but you do the same for your own children. Thats the payoff, that you are always supporting your children because you can. I like the idea of buying things for them but it would be very difficult unless I was making buckets of money because they would not accept it.

  61. I don’t know why I’ve never thought of doing this! The first paycheck is such a good idea. We all at some point take our parents for granted, this would be an excellent way to repay them for all of their effort.

  62. It’s so true – I’m Korean and there’s always that feeling of obligation to give back to my parents. I don’t have the financial means to give as much as Joy described. The funny thing is that the giving comes from the parents as well. Korean parents tend to give a lot to their children even when they are grown up: a down payment on your first home or car; tuition for your child(ren); legal fees, etc. For example, my father keeps telling me that he will buy me a new couch b/c I recently told him that I won’t buy one because it’s too expensive. And this is coming form a man who’s retired w/ limited means. So, you see where this is going. The moneys that go back and forth b/w asian children and parents represent familial love, just expressed via dollars :)

  63. I think that every child has the inclination of making their parents happy, thus, spending for them. I am a Filipino, and in our tradition, children are expected to help their parents after college. Some even have to pay for the tuition of their siblings, if parents cannot afford anymore.

    There are always pros and cons to this though. One good side is to be able to help the family the con is you can forget about yourself in the process and sacrifice your own life for them. Nevertheless, it is still in the judgement of the child to help or not.

    But paying something for your parents now and them won’t hurt either! :-)

  64. Thank you Joy for sharing your story with us…It’s the same in african and north african countries. I’m not shocked at all.We are never shocked by parents taking care of their children …so why be shocked by children taking care of their parents…it’s logical for me.

  65. When I got my first job I invited my parents, brother and grandmother for a dinner out and payed for everything. It was more symbolic to thank them for all the help and that first salary would never allow a trip or a car! :)
    This is definitely not a european tradition but is lovely! I wish I could return my parents all they have done for me but so far I’m so less wealthy. Well, at least I never got into drugs :)

  66. I’m Indian; I gave my first paycheck to my father, who still has the 1000 rupee note tucked away in his Bible.

    Now that I’ve been working for about 6 years, I pay their rent; but I stay in an apartment they bought. I also contribute to my mum’s charitable interests while paying her phone bill and ‘pocket money’, as she calls it.

    I’m single though, so while I don’t have anyone else to worry about, I plan to keep this up even post a marriage and kids.

    • That’s really sweet. Just curious, do you plan to do this for your wife’s parents as well when you get married? If not, how do you feel this might impact your marriage?

  67. Generally my parents pay for themselves and us. This is what has been the norm in my family and is true if we (my husband and I) are out to dinner with my aunt/uncle and grandparents as well. On the other hand my husband has always bought dinner for his parents when they are visiting. Either is fine. I find as I get older and my parents approach retirement I want to buy dinner, etc., as well when they come to visit. For example my mother is coming to Israel (my husband is active duty military and we are stationed here) for the birth of our first child…it’s a pretty big deal to fly here and stay for a month so of course I want to treat her while she is here. I have always made visiting my grandparents a financial priority. For much of my life they have lived across the country from me and now of course they are across the world! I plan to fly home with the baby in February so they can meet their great-grandson!

  68. (all our parents live in Philly). Some of our Asian friends also pay the mortgage on their parents’ houses, cover their car payments, or help them pay off credit card debt.

  69. This is such a lovely thing to do – and I wish hubby and I were earning enough to do this. But with a baby on the way, we’re really struggling. My husband and his brothers are saving up to pay off their parents’ mortgage and retire their dad. I thought that was really sweet!

    Maria xx

    • That is sooo sweet!

  70. I’m 21 and my parents still pay for a lot of things because I’m a student and am scraping by anyway. For instance if we go out for dinner. But they are paying for less and less and I hope that when I get a job after uni, I can take them out for dinner and maybe even a weekend away like did! x

  71. This is interesting, mostly because in my culture (I’m from Brunei), it feels like second nature to do this and won’t think otherwise. My husband’s , who’s british Bengali-Chinese, parents won’t let us pay anything for them though! I find it frustrating as we would like to treat them from time to time but I guess each family to their own! Love reading your blog. Lots of inspiring posts!


    PS Hope you don’t mind me linking your blog from mine (

  72. I am a Chinese and I gave one third of my paycheck to my parents every month. In fact, I am happy I have the ability to do so; this shows that I am a capable person. Another crucial reason I do so is hope that someeay my children will treat me like I treat my parents now.

  73. thanks for sharing joanna and joy! my boyfriend and i are both Filipino-American but it’s we have different experiences with this issue. my parents came to the US when they were young teenagers and grew up in American culture. they have traditional jobs, make a good upper middle class income, and have been very smart about planning for their future financially. they do not expect me to support them when they get older even though i have watched them give back so much to my grandparents who sacrificed so much for them to come to the states. i am not in a position to help my parents right now since i’m still establishing my career, but it feels nice when i can treat them out or get them nice gifts. they’re always very appreciative and just value the gesture. my dad joke-hints that he’d like a porsche from my sisters and i one day, though ;)

    my bf is an immigrant who moved to the US over 10 years ago with his family. his mom is a homemaker and his dad is an engineer who makes a good living, though his job meant moving the family every few years around the world. a few months ago, i was giving my bf a hard time about not knowing how to save for the future and he shared that he sends money home every month to help out. i was taken aback by this generosity and though i understood why, i was a little upset that he wasn’t saving enough for himself when he wasn’t solid financially.

    between the two of us, i think we both understand the tradition of giving back that comes from our culture and strong family values, but there is a difference in how that actually plays out due to economic reasons and our upbringings

  74. I think this is a really interesting issue to talk about! I am a Singaporean Chinese, born and bred in Singapore and never did it really occur to me to not support my parents financially when I became financially independent. I give my parents a part of my salary monthly and it’s never been an option or a consideration to not support my parents even though they are still working and drawing their own pay :)

  75. Am surprised that anyone would be surprised at this! The point of a family is to be there for each other, to help one another whenever required. This sentiment is certainly not limited to any nationality. My parents worked hard, scrimped, saved to allow me a better lifestyle, better education and finally to get into a better job than theirs. It is only fair that I should be there for them.
    From the first stipend I got (during my summer internship at Biz School) i got gifts for my entire family – mum, dad, bro and the uncle, aunt, and cousins who stayed in the city that I was studying in. Same gesture with the first salary. Now every tym I go out shopping and see something I figure any one in the family would like, I simply pick it up and take it with me when I visit them. :)

  76. I’m only 23 and had been to 2 jobs but I had given my parents my first paychecks to both, and continue to help out in the bills at home. My parents are old, so as much as I can, I love to make their lives easier or treat them to something nice :) Parents are so stubborn! I agree that they’re the type to just ‘deal with things’ after so long, so I love to show them my appreciation by doing nice stuff for them. While it never replaces staying at home to spend time with them, I love how my dad and mom glow like kids when I hand them a gift.:)

  77. I think this is such an interesting topic. I have recently found that I have this desire to help pay for my parents. (Just turned 30.) It’s not that I feel I have to, but they did so much for me and my siblings growing up and it feels right to give back.

  78. Hi! I’m a Filipino and we continue that values and tradition. I am not yet married but when I have money, I also give to my parents.
    I once let them stay in a hotel and I paid for it. Bought them to shopping and gave them a beach vacation with the whole family, I paid all. I also paid deposit for my dad’s car. When mom was still alive, I also gave her money to get a two-door fridge.

    It’s a nice feeling to be able to give back because they worked hard and spent everything for my college education.

  79. Oh hey, they’re wearing hanbok in the first photo ^^ Sigh, that’s nostalgic – I haven’t worn one in so long…

  80. I think it’s great to help parents financially whenever they need it but somehow I have come to see that equating money for love is really not that great. Maybe it’s because my parents are decently well off and make a lot more than I do, but ever since I went off to live on my own, I’ve decided that money is not love and showing that I love them with tiny attentions handwritten letters and postcards and tiny homemade gifts is way more important. It’s probably a different culture and different circumstances.

  81. One of the most interesting posts yet, Joanna. I really enjoy reading others’ thoughts and perspectives on this custom of giving back to your parents and showering them with love and indulgences. I feel as though it’s something that our youth-obsessed, “it’s all about me!” American culture can benefit from.

  82. Its give us a pleasure. Its part of our culture, we believe in this way we show our gratitude and respect to them. My mother in law lives with us. It’s our responsibility to take good care of our parents. I am a Muslim, this year (from today) Hajj (pilgrim) is going to start, and my husband is going to participate with his mother. (He bears all the expenses and its very expensive one). We are proud to do it. Last year I bought an AC to my parents. I have a toddler and I don’t expect anything from him.

  83. I also gave my mom my first pay check, and every month I like to take her to a nice dinner. I wish someday I can pay all her credit card debt, she worked so hard to put my brother and me through college…I’ll do it just because I love her not because I have to.

  84. This is definitely a part of many Asian cultures. Whole nations have policies based on the assumption that the care of the elderly is the responsibility of individual families. In Singapore, we have something similar to the 401K and many in my parents’ generation are/ can be financially independent, but it’s still the norm to give your parents money, even if it’s a small amount. It’s seen as filial piety and gratitude. While financial retirement plans are very well developed here, the physical care of the elderly is definitely not as advanced as it is elsewhere. We have nursing homes, but they are mostly for people who need professional medical care. We also have residential homes, where the physical needs of the elderly are taken care of, but not their emotional and social needs. What we do not have are independent living options for seniors who need more conveniences but are still able to live on their own. This is because most seniors who aren’t in a nursing or residential home live with their children. Things will definitely have to change with the generation of baby boomers being more social/ mobile/ independent and their children growing up in a world in which individualism is a priority.

  85. Very interesting…My daughter and I have been kicking around the idea of “nonna donna” taking care of her two children (my grandchildren) in the next year or so and get a salary to go along with it. She and her husband need a nanny; I am currently working at an hourly rate job in the school district…why not pay me and allow me the honor of helping to raise my grandchildren?

    • That sounds like a win-win. :)

  86. I immigrated from Asia with my mom, and I have seen her work super hard to provide for the two of us. I know that I will be supporting her financially when I get out of college.

    Part of that is gratitude, and part of that is just filial obligation that comes with our culture. My mom says that she doesn’t expect me to do that, but I also know that she would be incredibly disappointed if I actually followed what she said.

    What I don’t like is when Asian parents say, “I can’t wait for you to take care of me,” or “You have to take care of me,” to their children. My girlfriend is Taiwanese, and her mom has told her and her brother that they need to build a little house for her when they have their own homes someday. I find that crazy! The purpose of child rearing is to raise good people who contribute to society, not to raise your future caretakers.

  87. Oh Wow this is interesting… I am recently separated (it’s okay, I promise). One of the major sticking points for me with my husband and his family was that he was 32 and still got an allowance from his parents-a secret revealed after the wedding! His mother looked me straight in the face one day and said it was for cost of living for living in San Francisco-like a job!This monthly premium came at a cost though… they were constantly meddling and involved in his (our) and his siblings lives. So, this is the opposite I guess…
    I, on the other hand, have supported myself financially since my sophomore year of college and just occasionally treat my parents to dinner or the like (ole mother in law was right-San Francisco is pricey). I do know though that my parents fall over with pride that I am able to support myself and have led the life that I want to lead… without their help. It’s like the smile on their face says-man we did a good job! My Dad is retiring this November and I have considered buying them an iPhone and taking on the bill so we can better communicate… this posting sealed my decision. I can’t wait to say thank you to my Mom and Dad this way. Cheers everyone!

  88. I’m Filipina and this is pretty much a no brainer for me. I was raised that you help out your family and that’s the way it was. I never thought of it as a burden or any thing like that. My parents came to America, speaking barely any English and hardly scraping by. I watched them help their parents and their siblings and it was just a message that was instilled in me. I’m proud to give back to them. They have sacrificed in so many ways that it feels like a very small return. I once mentioned to a boyfriend that when I was able that I would help care for my brother who had a disability. He was shocked and dismissive, telling me that he would throw his mom into an old folks home as soon as she had to. Needless to say, we broke up shortly after. Our values were way too opposite.

  89. Though my mother had lived in the US for college during the late 1950s, my brother and I are first-generation Vietnamese Americans. We were boat people and luckily escaped Communistic Vietnam in the late 1970s. However, Our father died of dehydration during the escape. Our mother worked 3 jobs to support us. So, after my brother finished his post-doc residency, he purchased Mom a new car. Though she never asks, I put money into her account from time to time. It’s the least we could do for her.

  90. I live in Hong Kong, and am from New Zealand and I see this all the time! While us as a family don’t follow this tradition because, as Joy said, she is starting to do savings and retirement funds, I do believe it a nice sentiment for all the work our parents did to raise us.

  91. I’m Singaporean Chinese, and a young professional. My parents are still financially independent but as a sign of respect and honour, I give them a token sum every month which I’m more than happy to do. In some families it’s not explicitly said, but expected of the children…like a natural thing you do once you start earning fairly comfortably. When I plan my career and life etc I also take into account what would be needed to support them should the need arises. I don’t despise it – in fact I love this tradition. It’s the right thing to do for the people who’ve worked so hard and put their lives into creating yours.

  92. This is so lovely!

    I’m only 23 and just started grad school (and live on a pretty meager stipend) so I imagine it’ll be a while before I can treat my parents like this, but oh would I love to to get my dad a boat. Or get them a trip to Europe. Or get my mom a day at the spa. They are the best parents one could hope for, and they deserve all those things and more…

  93. Thank you for featuring Joy’s thoughts on the story. This is very typical of first generation Asian Americans, and I truly wish it wasn’t as unique to us as it seems. We see the opportunity to give back to our parents as a way to honor them, not as a burden or obligation. Presenting this here helps spread the spirit of kindness and respect of our elders to folks of other backgrounds. Thank you.

  94. This is SO fascinating. I have several Asian friends but had not heard of this tradition before. I really do believe, though, in taking care of one’s parents. I aim to do it for my mom especially. My parents are divorced and she’s the one that really raised my brother and I, but because of all the time she devoted to taking care of us- she didn’t have much time for her career. So now things are a little tight for her and she doesn’t have much income to indulge in trips and or things for herself- so I try to do that for her. This summer I took her to Cape Cod for a week just the two of us (it was a Mother’s Day gift). It was truly some of the best money I ever spent. We had such a good time together and I could really see how much needed the vacation- she’s such a hard worker and never gives herself a break. I’m so glad I was able to do that for her, and it makes me really look forward to doing more for her- whether it be dinners out, birthday gifts, or more travel.

  95. I am an Indian living in India. My Mom doesn’t work anymore…from the time that I have started working, I send her a part of my salary just to make sure that she has some bit of financial independence. When they come to visit me, I do not allow them to pay for just about anything. My brother, who now stays in the US, sends over some money to my parents fairly regularly… While our parents do not really expect us to do these kind of things but in my mind, it is the very least that we can do for them. They spent literally their whole life making sure that we have a good education and that we grow up good… Honestly, I don’t even view this as taking care of my parents. The things that I do, they almost seem like the most natural thing to do…

    This was a fabulous post and it is for heartfelt posts like these that I keep coming back to your blog.

  96. Z. says...

    I am European, however, I am married to a Singaporean Chinese. We both work and fully support his mother financially.

    It is not something I am used to and I found hard to come to terms with the fact that a woman chooses not to work and be fully dependent on others. I do think, however, that helping the parents out is a beautiful tradition, and I do my part as much as possible… but I come from a family where women take pride in their work and careers and try to be as independent as possible. On the other hand, even though my mother has a great career and all, I do love getting her gifts and other treats.

  97. I’m Chinese-American and 24… I know a lot of my Asian friends, as they come into their own jobs, have started to inherit this tradition! For a lot of us second-gen immigrants, we have only heard snatches of how hard life was for our parents and the things they did to support us, because they very rarely speak of it. So now that I am able to take care of them, I believe it’s not only my duty but my joy to do so. In the Asian culture, family always comes first. It’s just not a tradition but it’s a way of life. My parents showed me that with their selflessness.

  98. I respect the Asian cultures and this aspect. I think the American version of this is helping pay for food and vacations. I hope when I’m more established I’m able to pay back my mom with a trip or two to Ireland and Scottland.

  99. I would say Korean culture & values are pretty much the same for Vietnamese. As a mother living here I won’t want to be burden to my sons. However, I must say that my sons gave me 20K from his first job to pay off the house and always bought new nice thing for us, including cars. Sometimes I felt I haven’t done enough for my sons when they were young, since my husband and I were the first generation immigrated to US. Too many things we could not afford then.

    Thanks for blogging this post.

  100. What a great post – I loved reading through all of the comments. It’s interesting – I’m Indian and my husband is white. I’m largely estranged from my own parents, but we take care of his parents whenever possible, though we are still struggling financially. We take them out to dinner at least once a week and try to pitch in wherever possible. It’s not something that I think of necessarily being cultural, more that it’s the right thing to do.

  101. This is a really interesting topic. My grandparents on my mom’s side were immigrants and my parents, along with their brothers and sisters, supported my grandma when she got older. My own parents, and my husband’s, however, planned for retirement, etc. and are still in a much better financial situation than we are. We do sometimes pay for dinner etc. but my parents would never let me buy them something practical like a car or mattress. They would rather we put that money into our own savings (if we had it :)). That being said, when my parents, and my husband’s parents get older, if they run into financial difficulties or need some help we will of course be there, they just don’t need us to help them with the everyday, and would rather we put extra money towards our kids or our savings than towards them.

  102. Hi, I am an Asian and yes, we did that. We are aware that our parents are the one who raised us, loved us, feed us, send us to school and everything more than money can buy.

    When we get into the right age, it’s the time that we will going to pay the good things that they have done to us. Maybe, not “full pay” since we cannot pay them the times that we are still in our mothers’ wombs. But, at least we can make them feel that we are thankful because they are our parents.

    Thanks Joanna and Joy for sharing..

  103. ………mi mune ……aunque tu no eres Thai , también lo estas haciendo,……heredaste lo mejor de las dos culturas!!!!

  104. IJ says...

    We have a similar tradition in Nicaragua, and it also includes supporting your siblings -usually younger ones- when needed. It seems that new generations are discarding this idea, though. I feel we are loosing the sense of solidarity in my country.

  105. We do the same in Portugal. Though my parents got an education and were able to save for their retirement, there are many whose parents weren’t able to do the same. When our parents have done so much, everything for you, it is not so much an obligation but more a strong will to give something back. My sisters and I frequently get something nice for them as sort of a thank you here and there (weekend getaway, ballet/theatre tickets…).

    But there’s another side to this too. My parents still feel quite young and my dad particularly feels that we offering to pay for dinner, for instance, is either a sign that he is ageing or loosing autonomy. So, in my dad’s case we always have to be quite sensitive not to come across as patronizing.

  106. I love this post! So interesting and such a wonderful sentiment behind this tradition.

    I’m two years out of college and not earning much, so I can’t do nearly for my parents what I’d like to (yet), but I did splurge on Broadway tickets for my dad (his first show!) when he came to visit me in August and it was one of my proudest moments, being able to do that for him. I’d love to take him on a trip someday!

  107. I’m of Filipino descent but born in California, and my parents were immigrants who have likewise “dealt with” and made the most of their circumstances, whatever they were. I think they acquired early on a money acumen that enabled them to pay their own way and ensure their independence. That extends to their way of life now in retirement—I would never buy them a car or a new mattress, because they do those things for themselves.

    What I find challenging is getting them to enjoy certain “optional” activities, like dinner at a new restaurant, or an outing to the symphony or ballet, or a trip to a museum, or whatever else interests me. They did without these things when they were starting out and building their own wealth, so I think they often don’t see the point of them when PBS and books and the radio or whatever else are right there, for free or almost. But I like for them to experience some of the things that I enjoy in my own life, and so they humor me…sometimes. :) My brother, who’s older, does the same and more (he makes more than I do:).

    I think my parents like when their kids make the gestures to pay, and they’re relaxing on us spending money on them to do “fun” stuff. But they planned well for their retirement (pension plans, 401(k), savings, etc.), so if anything, the blessing is that they passed on some of that savvy to me. Down the road what I think will become more important is where and/or with whom my parents will live if they become incapacitated.

  108. I wonder how many young adults of this generation are in a much lesser financial position than their parents? I had the very good fortune of growing up in an affluent family, as did my husband. It would be completely laughable if we tried to buy our parents a car (even if we could afford to). We, of course, do little things for our parents to let them know we appreciate all they’ve done for us. They didn’t have to put us though college or even encourage us to go to college in the first place. I have to say – it would be nice to be able to take care of our parents. Maybe some day we’ll be lucky enough to be able to.

  109. This is something I decided I wanted to do very early on in first year university. Ideally I’d love to take my mum on a vacation to Paris. Given that we live in Vancouver, and I’m still establishing myself as a young professional 2 years after graduating, it will take me a bit longer to save that money. I’ve thought about maybe going on a less expensive trip, like to Boston or NYC, but I don’t know.

  110. I love how so many cultures feel the same way. My parents are from Greece and I was raised in Australia, it’s just the done thing to give back and help out. They worked so hard so their kids could have a better life, it’s not rocket science to want to take care of them any way you can (when you are younger it’s usually helping with housework and chores, or translating! growing up it becomes easier financially, logistically and emotionally) because of the devotion given to you. Also, putting a parent in a nursing home is a huge no-no, unless they are so gravely sick they need a nurse 24/7. Even the thought of it makes me feel so guilty.

  111. I’m half Korean…so my father who is caucasian wont let me pay for anything, but there is an expectation to take care of my mother if something were to happen to my father. I told my husband when we met that if my father were to pass away, my mother would have to come live with us.

  112. I pay for my dad every once in a while – but most of the time, he refuses to let me do anything for him. However, to get him even for helping my boyfriend and I when we first moved out on our own five years ago, we’re surprising him and his wife with a trip to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day next spring. I cannot wait to see the look on his face. He’s going to be excited, but probably pissed that we spent so much money on him. He’ll learn – it’s our turn to spoil him ;)

  113. This makes me happy. I recently took my dad as my date to see Les Miserables because it is our favorite and he paid for me to see it the first three times :) After being supported/encouraged through all my schooling that earned me my career, I figure I have a lot of paying back to do!

  114. The flip side of this is the pressure and expectations you receive from your (Asian) immigrant parents to provide for them. As a first-generation Chinese-American, my parents have spent my whole life telling me that I need to be successful so that I can make money to support them when they grow old. I don’t want to take this conversation too off-track, but just wanted to throw out there that the traditions and customs associated with filial piety are not all rainbows and paying your parents’ mortgage payments.

  115. My husband and im both korean and we also help our parents financially. We didnt buy them a car or anything, but we do help them when we can and definitely try to pay for dinner if we go out. We have a 19 month old boy, but we dont expect him to do the same. We do well financially and we have a savings that will take care of us later. We dont want our baby to expect his parents to give him money when he is able, but we definitely dont want to pressure him.

  116. One of my life goals is to buy my parents new cars to try to pay them back for how much they’ve sacraficed to help with my living expenses while I’ve been in school for the past 7 years (4 years undergrad + 3 years in law school). Who knows how long that will take though :S

  117. Hi Joanna,

    Well my family is not asian, we are Costa Rican and we too have that sense of helping family out financially in any way possible. The way it sounds, it’s like you are expected to pay for them, but in reality, I feel like it’s been culturally engrained that we naturally take on that responsibility without them expecting it or bluntly asking. Because my parents are immigrants who came into this country, when I went to college they did not have any type of special accounts, or money saved….as I am now hearing that my boyfriends parents (virginian’s) and other people naturally prepare to have. I was able to go to college on scholarships, grants and loans. I wasn’t expected to help out with their financial situation, but how can you not help when you see the necessity? So I would give them some of my left over aide money in order to pay bills, mortgage, buy food etc. They never wanted to take my money, but they really needed it. Also I would give my brother some money, nothing special, but just money for him to have to eat lunch at school or if he wanted to go see a movie with some friends. A lot of college students do not care to know about their parents finances or maybe their parents keep their money buisness aside from family matters, but with my family everything was always out in the open. If they had trouble paying for something, we all knew- even if I was 3 hours away from home at college. As my brother is growing up, I know soon enough I will help him pay for college. It is the least I can do when my parents have done so much already. Also, since they come from simple beginnings, sometimes they’ll think that something is in good condition or that they don’t need something, when in reality they really they do, so when you get it for them, its a blessing but also they don’t bluntly ask for it. Another american tradition that I have seen (again my boyfriend) is that during christmas people ask for their gifts, children are encouraged to write to santa a letter saying what they want for christmas. My boyfriend always asks …what would you like as your gift? (birthday,xmas). I have always felt weird asking someone for a gift. I feel like I am not worthy to dictate what they will buy for me, because what if the person doesn’t have the money for it? I feel selfish. I have gotten this way of thinking from my culture, my parents never asked what I wanted and I never really told them because I felt that anything that was given to me was with true feelings and bought with what they could afford. I was and am grateful for any thoughtful gift. Plus it’s nice to get a surprise!

  118. i definitely agree with this- what a tangible way to show your parents you appreciate their years of hard work and sacrifice. my husbands parents are incredibly generous and aren’t in a spot right now where they either need (or especially desire) any help from us- but i know a day will come when that changes. my parents are divorced and my mother sacrificed more than i can say to raise my siblings and me in a stable home. i definitely want to make sure she stays comfortable and stress free as she ages. it would break my heart to see any of them struggle.

  119. This is very interesting, I am Mexican-American and the same goes in my culture. It is tradition (and expected) that children take care of the parents in every manner once one is grown up. This honestly makes me really nervous because I am just a teacher and my other brother works in construction so the thought of caring for two older adults (plus the family that I want to have one day) is daunting. However, I find it odd in cultures where this is not common practice, like really you wouldn’t take care of your parents when they get older…what is wrong with you, is often my afterthought. In the same breathe I want to secure myself financially so my children DO NOT have to worry about this because as much I believe there is not anything wrong with it it is still a BIG responsibility. – Elle from English bELLE

  120. Thank you for sharing this! It is a wonderful tradition to help your parents along in their old age in the spirit of gratitude for all the love and support they provided during childhood and beyond. I am excited for when I can help my parents this way!

  121. Wow, I already commented but just realized I never grasped how “unusual” this custom is to Westerners until this post! I always thought it was kind of a natural thing to do but I guess not. And some other things I remembered that my parents do: they pay for my grandparents’ cell phone bill, and their flights when they come visit us.

  122. Hi Joanna, I am Korean-American and although I would say my family is very Americanized one of the things my mom told me was that when I got my first paycheck I should give it to my parents. I was originally a little annoyed by this but when the time came, I was happy to do it! I got my first paycheck when I was in high school for a part-time job, and with my first paycheck I treated my family out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.
    My parents and their generation is more Korean-ized, so they pay for many things for their own parents (my grandparents). My dad and his brother bought his parents a car. Also, we took one set of my grandparents to Spain a few years ago, and then we took the other set of grandparents to Niagara Falls.
    But, it also goes the other way around too! On New Year’s Day it is Korean tradition to bow to your grandparents and parents, wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and in return they give you money! So each year I get around $150 from all the parents and grandparents combined. :)

  123. My mom is Korean, and it’s so funny. But we always knew growing up when we got our first job instead of giving our first paycheck, we had to give them money to buy nice underwear! When I was in college I worked as a waitress, and I gave some to my mom and grandmother that was living with us at the time. It so funny to even think about, but fun at the same time. Maybe it’s different from Joy’s husband since my family is from the southern province of South Korea?

  124. Since we have become financially independent, we try to give back to our parents as much as we can since they’ve been taking care of us our whole lives. In the least, we don’t let them pay for because we try to let them know that it’s not necessary for them to take care of us like that anymore. We try to pay for meals as often as we can (although it’s a fight many times).

  125. Great post! My husband is 1st generation Chinese-American and they have a bit of a different take on this whole business. His parents do very well financially. Even though they’re in their 70s, they still make more money then us or his sisters families make. What the whole family does instead is help finance investments. They talk about how to make money work for the family all the time. When we bought our house, his parents helped us with some of the down payment. We paid them back 2 years later. When they bought a house, they were low on cash and needed some money, so we gave them cash. When my sister in law and her husband wanted to buy an apartment, we all pooled our money together so they could get it. They paid everyone back within a couple years. Basically, it’s the family bank. It’s pretty amazing and it works like magic. Everyone is each other’s safety net.
    When it comes to dinners, trips, etc. his parents insist on paying for everything. They also send us money for the kids. Once when my 3 year old said he liked a toy garbage truck, his grandmother wrote a check for $500 to buy it for him. Obviously, it was an excuse to give us money for the boys. For holidays and birthdays, the siblings pool together for gifts like VIP tickets to the U.S Open or Wimbledon. We try to do something special for them every opportunity we can.

    My family on the other hand is very different. Everyone is on their own. No one talks about money, ever, it’s only understood. My mother flies to see her grandchildren and we just pay all of the expenses when she’s here. That’s about it. Even if I wanted to help my mother by giving her money or gifts, she wouldn’t accept it. I’ve tried and she’s adamant. I think she was raised to not accept help when she knows she can do it herself. It’s a very different way of thinking compared to my husbands family. As soon as I was finished with college, I was completely on my own, no help from anyone. When I got into some really dire straits, I would ask my sister to help. She would lend me $200 when I really really needed it. My mother or father would never do it.

    For my own family, I want to replicate what my husbands family does. It’s pretty wonderful knowing we all have a good safety net!

    Great discussion. Thanks so much for the post!

  126. What an interesting concept…I’d definitely love to be able to do this one day! :)

  127. Great post! I’m Mexican but have lived in the US since I was 1 yr old. My dad is very old school so he does not allow us to pay for anything when he go out nor does he accept any financial help. He sees it as, he’s the man of the house (or of the family since I’m married and with my own house/family) so it is his responsibility to provide. My mom (they’re divorced) is more lax and loves being taken out, and isn’t afraid to ask for a bit of help if she’s ever in a situation. I hope one day me and my husband (we’re young and have only been married a yr) will one day be living comfortably enough to afford to help out our parents. I think ahead for the day my dad won’t be able to work (he’s barely 54, but you never know) and hopefully we’ll be able to afford to help out. It’s the least we can do for our parents

  128. This is very interesting. My parents are the complete opposite and almost find it insulting for me to pay, even at 32, they insist on paying for things, my dad still brings me chocolate chips cookies to work. I have broached the topic and they don’t expect anything. Although have insisted that I will understand and do the same for my (future) children. They tell me I don’t owe them anything, they decided to have kids and understood that meant for life. They also come from families that expected them to pay for their parents and felt it was a burden.

    Great post! I can’t imagine what my dad would say if I bought him a car, he would probably return it and put the money in a retirement plan for me. Ha!

  129. Thank you both for such a wonderful post! I am a fourth-generation Asian American and love hearing about how other Asian American families incorporate traditions into American life. This idea of honoring parents is so great, even though it’s not something we do in my family. The meshing of cultures is distinctly American, in my opinion. (My dad’s grandparents are from Japan and my mom’s ancestors are from Great Britain and I love how unique my family is.)

  130. What a great post. It’s been just me & my dad since I was pretty small and my mom passed away. I’ve seen him give up work and choose to live with a little less money just so he could be around for me after school. My dad sacrificed a lot just to give me the best he could and I am so grateful for that.
    He lives in Australia now, while I chose to stay in New Zealand and I ‘m not able to send him money as I just don’t earn enough and he wouldn’t accept it anyway as he is in a great job were he earns more than enough to get himself through but I do always make sure that when we do get together I cover the bill. It really is the least I can do and I plan on looking after him well into the future.
    He doesn’t know it yet but there is a little trip planned for us to go to the next Rugby World cup in Britain, just in time to celebrate his 60th.

  131. I think it’s such a great thing that all the commenters are doing this for their parents! I hadn’t ever really thought about it much, but there are times when I go out to lunch/dinner with my in-laws and wish that we could afford to pay.
    We do treat them to coffee after dinner sometimes, or if we go out for ice cream, etc. And we always try to get good gifts at the holidays- maybe not the most expensive thing, but something truly thoughtful.
    My husband and I have been out of college for 2-3 years and he’s still looking for a job, while I have one and pay most of the bills. We’re also paying off student loans. I hope that when he gets a full-time job, and we get the loans paid off, we can definitely treat them!
    As for my own parents, I don’t have much of a relationship with them, and so wouldn’t think of this. But I do adore my in-laws and would love to treat them more!

  132. It is a very Punjabi thing to do as well (Punjab is a state in India), and not just giving them money, or paying for their comforts, but also to live with your parents to take care of them in their old age.

  133. FASCINATING. As always.

    My mother is Indonesian and my father is English and I can safely say neither of them have ever paid for anything for either of their parents! Now in their 50s, both still get generous handouts from my grandfathers now and again. They aren’t irresponsible, just struggling academics. In turn, they are extremely generous with my brother and I and would never accept anything in return, and work very very hard to spoil us in little ways, the way they have been taught to. They would be embarrassed to take money from us because they want to give us everything even if they have nothing, but I have definitely thought about things I’d like to buy them when my paycheques allow. What about you Jo? What are the traditions in your family?

  134. What a great post! My mother is Korean and my dad is American. They never ever expect anything and still do help me out on ocassion since I graduated from law school. One of my goals though is to be able to buy them something they want but don’t want to spend money on. They are always thinking of others, so I hope to be able to give back to them after they took so much care in raising me. What a lovely story here!~

  135. This makes so much sense to me. My parents have done so much for me and my siblings; they deserve to be taken care of now that we are older. The majority of the gifts at Christmas go to our parents instead of the “kids”. It feels so nice to give back!

  136. Joy is so correct, our parents generation didn’t start from a culture of 401k and saving accounts so my husband and I bought property that has a cottage that we will renovate for my mom when she retires. I want her to enjoy her retirement, not worry and be close to us. I try to pay for things now like her trips out to visit but then she buys us lovely gifts which sometimes counters our efforts. We are British and taking care of your parents later in life is what you do. I have friends that are horrified by the thought, I find it selfish and shocking but each to his own. Thanks for posting this, it is lovely to read.

  137. I read this with interest as I’m getting my first graduate paycheque at the end of the month! I’m (non-asian) british, and I was planning on buying my grandmother a year’s subscription to her favourite television guide with my first salary – as she recently mentioned that she doesn’t buy it any more as it’s increased in price too much (she was a cleaner, worked very hard all her life and sent her only daughter to university but she’s on a small pension now). My mum doesn’t need financial help but she never treats herself so if I can think of something she’d appreciate I might get her something too. They both helped me out when I was studying and I’d like to show my appreciation.

  138. My husband and I always pay for our parents when we go out. I send my mom a small amount of money each month, which she only allows because we say it goes to the “tab” I racked up as a teenager. We mostly do this because our parents are making their way into retirement and we are more financially stable. However, sometimes our parents feel guilty and insist on paying for coffee or having us over for a nice dinner or something of that nature. While my mom and my husband’s parents are all American, my father is an immigrant and he will never spend money on himself. So I tend to have the same opinion as Joy, that if he could take such a chance and move across the world to America, the least we can do is buy him dinner. This is something I am always interested in and asking my friends about and I find that most people my age (late 20s) still let their parents pay for everything.

  139. I definitely help my parents out. My husband and I have been blessed with good jobs, plus my parents had an “change of life” baby rather unexpectedly. He’s 9 now and things are more expensive than when my older brother and I were growing up. We have their cell phones on our plan and try to give them nice gifts and take them out to eat. I think it evens out in the end though because they are always helping us out around our house or picking up little things we need.

  140. I seem to be the only one who disagrees with this. My parents were abusive/negligent so I had a really tough childhood and I had to work really hard to have a good career as an adult now. Unfortunately, with all of that work my husband and I are waiting to have kids until we are able to afford daycare and not live paycheck-to-paycheck even though having a baby is pretty much all we think about. At the same time my husband insists that he help his parents next year when they retire with his mortgage payments, etc. I feel like it’s unfair for us to put off our goals or have a difficult life because his parents over-extended themselves with the house they bought, but that is what we will probably do. I guess it’s selfish but I feel like since I had such a difficult childhood, I deserve to have everything I worked for as an adult. This does seem different than what other people are saying though, about gifts and such.

    • I was wondering if anyone else would say it! My parents were more or less good enough parents… but they weren’t great with money, and then put themselves into *horrendous* debt going through a bitter and immature divorce. So yeah – I buy groceries when I visit, Dad & I take turns buying dinner out, I’ll buy plane tickets for mom to come visit me (I live overseas). If they want to move in with me at some point, fine. But beyond that, they need to provide for themselves like “real adults”. My dad’s doing pretty okay. My mom’s car, house (belongs on Horders), and low income (because she won’t move)etc. is her problem. I just can’t take on board emotionally. She “needs” too much. I feel so mean and horrible compared to everyone else commenting! But I have to draw boundaries in my relationships with them or it gets really unhealthy. On top of it all, due to the economy, it’s taken me and my younger siblings *awhile* to make ends meet, let alone earn “extra”. Last year I made $10/hr… that’s not going to get split “four ways”!

  141. this is a beautiful post, thank you for sharing. my boyfriend and I both have good entry level jobs and a baby on the way. we both try to buy simple things (brunch, flowers, coffee, gas) for our parents, but at the same time they do much more for both of us and our baby on the way. i would like to think that in the future when we have better salaries and they are retired, we will do more for them. I love the idea of buying things like a bed or a mattress to make our parents lives a little bit better — thinking how much they have done, both in terms of emotional and monetary support, I think the best thing we can do is to do the same for our own child.

  142. I grew up in Southeast Asia so I embrace the culture described by Joy. My parents have struggled so much for so long, putting aside their own comfort, to make sure that my brother and I got the best education possible and opportunities for a better future. Now it is my turn to “take care” of them simply to show my gratitude.

  143. Fascinating! I grew up with this philosophy: you give to your children so that they give to their children, not so that they give back to you.

    My dad gets super offended if I try to pay for dinner. And he is constantly offering to pay for my husband and my trips home or even to pay for hotel rooms when we go on vacation. Mind you, my husband and I are in our thirties and have been supporting ourselves for almost a decade.
    Oh! and every gift I have bought my parents has been returned with the cash/credit being given back to me to go get myself something.

    • I was raised in the same way. My mom is first generation Canadian who was helped out a lot by her mother and my mom now spoils me saying that she would rather spend her money on her kids. My fellow’s folks are the same way. We get them nice birthday and Christmas presents and will pick up some tabs whenever we can but truthfully they are in a much better financial position than us… and I think this is the way of the future. Our parents have/had union jobs where they will be able to retire with pensions while we are of a generation that will struggle to be “middle class.”

  144. Oh definitely! I’m Chinese Australian and I spent the very first cheque I received for my writing work taking my parents and younger brother out to a nice place for dinner. My partner is Australian and I was really surprised when we started dating that his parents would always insist on paying for meals and flights and even send us some money if they got a bonus at work.

    Earlier this year my father’s mother passed away and I flew home to help take care of my younger brother who’s still a teen while my parents travelled overseas for the funeral. It was a pretty amazing feeling to have been able to afford to be there to support them at that time. I think shouting your parents to big and little things feels really natural and respectful, it also changes the dynamic of the relationship now that I’m an adult.

  145. This is actually somewhat of a sore spot in my relationship with my husband. I love being able to take our parents out to dinner or send them the odd gift here and there. I really appreciate everything they did for me when I was growing up, and now that I’m in my mid-20s and in somewhat of a position to do so, I really like to surprise them.

    However, I was raised very independently. I was expected to take care of most of my “wants” financially once I was in high school. And with a son on the way, I will raise him in a similar fashion. I would never dream of supporting my parents financially, as I have a family of my own to take care of now. I feel like it’s a pass it on kind of thing for us. My parents took care of me and my siblings so that I could then in turn take care of my family.

    While I think this sentiment is wonderful, it’s just not the way I was raised. I really do respect the thoughts behind it though… might be time to start upping the appreciation gifts to my parents!

  146. I’m Canadian born Chinese… and my oh my, you should see the big mock fights for the bill when it comes at the end of a restaurant meal. Sometimes we’ll sneak off to pay discretly while pretending to need the bathroom before the meal is over… it’s kinda silly but part of the culture.

  147. I think my father and Mr. Sandwich’s parents would have a really hard time with this. None of us is from a culture that includes this, and we have enough trouble paying for the occasional dinner. Plus our parents are in much better financial shape than we are.

  148. i am chinese, and this is definitely a custom in my family. i always try to grab the bill when we go out to eat, although sometimes my parents won’t let me! i would love to someday take them on a trip somewhere or be able to help pay for their living expenses. my parents are also immigrants, and doing this is a way to express my gratitude for how hard they worked to provide a wonderful life for me here in the US.