Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It is appalling to read about adult children abandoning their elderly parents in hospitals. Some of these stories are heart-breaking. The old folks wait for their children to come and take them home after their hospital stay, but no one turns up. Some children even go to the extent of changing their address so they cannot be traced. When the parents are discharged, they have nowhere to go.

Is filial piety dead?

In Singapore, the Maintenance of Parents Act 1996 has not deterred adult children from dumping their aged parents in hospitals. The government is considering amending the Act to allow a third party, such as hospitals, to take court action against children guilty of abandoning their parents in hospitals, in order to recover their losses in unpaid medical bills.

India has a similar act to protect the rights of parents to seek maintenance from their children for food, shelter, clothes, medical facilities and recreation.

In Malaysia, such an Act has yet to see the light of day. So cases of parental neglect continue to rise. From January to May this year, 134 such cases were reported at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital – an increase of 12% for the same period last year. There is a similar pattern in other hospitals around the country.

Times have changed. Parents cannot take for granted that their children will look after them in their old age. Children today have a thousand and one reasons why they can’t or won't care for their aged parents.

“My father abandoned us when we were little.”

“My mother never cared much for us. Our maid was more of a mother to us.”

“My parents were poor role models. One was a gambler, the other was an alcoholic.”

"I can't afford to pay my father's medical expenses. I have my own family to support."

"My parents are so useless. They just sit in the house the whole day long and do nothing to help out."

"I resent being the one to have to care for my parents. My other siblings have refused to do so."

"Old people are so difficult to live with, and that includes my parents."

This is the reality. It all boils down to the parent-child relationship. Let's be honest with ourselves. Did we play our part as loving, responsible parents when our children were growing up? Did we spend enough quality time with them? Did we listen to them when they came to us for some advice and understanding? Were we too busy putting our career or business first?

If the bond is strong, our adult children will WANT to take care of us in our old age. They will do it out of love, and not grudgingly out of a sense of duty. A strong family bond is the best insurance against being abandoned by our children.

Taking our children to court and suing them for maintenance is a public admission of a complete breakdown in the parent-child relationship. In our Asian culture, this amounts to a total loss of face.

As a safeguard against this, young parents should brush up on their parenting skills. They should create and nurture a loving bond with their children from the very start. At the same time, they should start saving for their retirement and taking care of their health, the earlier the better so that they are able to live independently in their old age.

1 comment:

AT said...

I totally agree with you that it is the strength of the relationship between the parents and children that determine what happens when the parents are old. If the relationship is strong, the children WANT you when you are old.