The Value of Children

This past weekend, while I was enjoying my 35th birthday celebrations with Connie (sorry, no pictures, I forgot my camera) one of the topics we wandered on to was the question of the value of children in Chinese and North American society. Specifically, we were discussing how certain ethnic group’s parents give them more encouragement to achieve that other groups do, and how that influnces the children. Certainly when I taught Elementary school a few years ago I could see which children had parents driving them forward, and classically enough, it was the Asian and old-world parents who had the kids that were doing the best in school.

One of the thoughts that occured to me while were discussing this was why such a difference existed, and one of the ideas that occured to me was the profit motive. In theory, all parents stand to benefit from their children as they age, it’s one of the reasons why people have children, to help take care of them as they get older. However, at least in Asian society there is a custom which I think most Westerners are unaware of, and that is that once they’re working Asian children are expected to hand over a percentage (sometimes a large one if they live at home) of their income to their parents. It’s almost an odd generation pyramid scheme, each generation passing money back to the one before it to help them out. The more successful each generation is, the more successful the parents of that generation become, and in theory even the grandparents. There is a solid profit motive to your kids doing well in school and life, in a direct tangible way here besides “they’ll take care of me”.

Not that “they’ll take care of me” isn’t a strong motivator, it is. In the European tradition (and I think most old-world traditions) children are expected to take care of their parents directly, and the profit of the children still translates to the profit of the parents. The parents know, thanks to cultural mores, that the children will be there for them, and so there is a strong reason for them to push those kids to work and succeed in life.

While brings me back to North Americans, who, while they do love and often encourage their children at the middle and higher levels of society, still have that whole North American individualism idea. The children are not seen as family assets so much as a hobby, something we do to continue the line and hope that they’ll turn out well. After all, when they reach a certain age, don’t they leave to start their own family? What can we really expect from them in return? Sure, we hope they’ll take care of us in our old age, but there’s nothing forcing them to do so besides perhaps love. (Not a weak movivator, but also not the strongest.) North American parents are taught to “let go” of their children, and see what happens when the children “spread their wings” and “fly (away)”.

Is this a strong motivator to produce successful children? One wonders.

It gets even worse when you get to the poor and the welfare families in North America, for them Children are less a hobby and even verge on a burden. Sure, they help make bigger welfare checks, or child support money, but most welfare parents seem hardly happy about these lives they have brought into the world. They get almost no encouragement (and even discouragement) when it comes to education, when you think it would be the opposite. You would think that each generation of poor would see their children as their ticket to the future and possible prosperity (this is how people in Taiwan often view them), but instead they seem more interested in neglecting them in favor of beer and TV.

Is this because they’re lazy? Or is it the real lack of profit they see in raising children who will just leave them, or maybe be just like them and accomplish little. Then again, they’re almost guaranteeing that those kids will accomplish little by neglecting them. Isn’t it better to bet on the kids and give them a push?

I have no conclusion, just questions and ideas. Obviously society has some blame for this too, but how much blame truely goes with the parents? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be responsible for raising their kids?

What I can say is, a direct profit motive works wonders!

Rob