One day while mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook dashboard, I came across a rather interesting and polarising post. It was a Daily Mail article (yuck!) about a mother who received backlash after charging her sixteen year-old daughter rent. I knew that the comments section would be a mess, but I took a peek anyway. It’s one of my guilty pleasures.
Oh boy, was I right.
The comments were packed with older people who deemed the mother to be in the right. They had many different names for it; rent, lodging, board, ‘a dig’, the list went on. The sentiment was the same across the whole board: If you did not pay for it, you were a spoiled brat. Several comments called children who lived rent-free to be “leeching” off their parents or even the equivalent of “squatters” in their parents’ homes.
I don’t pay rent to my parents, does that make me spoilt? Behaviour-wise, I can admit my parents put up with a lot, but in terms of money? I come from a middle-class immigrant family, we’re certainly comfortable but we’ve never been especially wealthy. I’ve also been working since age fifteen and pay for my own clothes, food, activities, and transport. There’s no way I could be spoilt!
Now, I do agree that asking your gainfully employed children to pay for things like a phone plan or their own petrol is reasonable. It teaches fiscal responsibility. Of course, all households are different. Financial constraints may mean that children need to contribute their earnings to support the rest of the family. However in other circumstances where family finances are not a question, to charge your underage children rent to live in their own home under the pretense that otherwise they are freeloading is a completely different thing altogether. It strains the relationship and further conditions an already struggling generation to accept a highly exploitative housing market they will soon be forced to enter.
I suppose my primary gripe in this debate is with those parents who glorify the idea of their children “paying their dues” to them. What does logic and language like that do but enforce the idea that children are burdens on parents rather than a responsibility that they chose to take on? Children aren’t leeching off of their parents, their parents chose to have them knowing their responsibility. Providing them with food, clothing, and shelter is the bare minimum of what a parent should do; it’s a familial duty, not a service that can be monetised and put on a tab. To make children feel guilty for these things is also a sign of somewhat abusive behaviour as well.
Overall, I’ve found this to be a very Western perspective. As a Filipino woman myself, my parents follow Asian cultural beliefs on the topic. They’re happy to care for and house me well into adulthood and until I’m ready to move out on the expectation that once they themselves get old, I’ll return the favour and do the same for them. This custom emphasises a strong bond between family members and connections between generations, everyone is taken care of, rather than forced to fend for themselves in the name of “proving one’s worth.” I find it’s a very wholesome and wise way of approaching the topic, especially in this economy where it looks like the only way I’ll be able to move out is in several years’ time with four other people crammed into one sharehouse.