How much is a suitable amount to pay your parents for taking caring of their grandchildren? Does not paying them make you "ungrateful." We discuss the key issues surrounding this sensitive topic.
Lisa is, by all parameters, a successful woman.
She is a marketing executive working with a well established MNC in Singapore and her disposable income is in the range of $3500 per month. She is married to an equally successful man – with their combined income they can easily afford a domestic helper to take care of household chores.
But she’s heard of horror stories about some helpers’ interactions with children. Lisa can’t bear to leave her toddler and six month old in the care of a stranger she does not know and does not trust.
Her solution: Rope in aged parents to become caregivers to the children.
Now she has peace of mind while she works. Her parents supervise the wellbeing of her children, while the helper deals with physically demanding tasks that accompany the caregiving.
Seems ideal right?
Not really, scratch the surface and you begin to see that there are tensions around the issue of should she financially compensate her parents for their time, and as a cost of missed opportunity. After all, if they were not looking after her child, they could be doing something else with their time.
But with hefty car and house mortgages, the helper’s salary, the children’s education and the never-ending list of monthly debts, the issue of paying her parents has become a highly stressful one.
Does Lisa’s story sound familiar?
No easy answers
With an increased cost of living, necessity for a double income and fear of child abuse leaves most new mummies in Singapore with limited options for infant care: hire a domestic help or enlisting the help of either sets of parents. Wary of potential child abuse at the hands of their helpers, even families who hire domestic help rope in their parents to keep a watchful eye on their interactions.
This trend is not without consequences. The questions that young couples ask themselves and others are:
Should we pay our parents a “salary” for caring for their grandchildren? And if so, what is an appropriate amount? What happens if we can’t? Are we ingrates? Do we deserve the label of being unfilial?
It’s a favour not an obligation
Most Singaporeans are of the view that retirees should be allowed to do whatever they want with their time and resources. After all they have spent a lifetime working hard and taking care of their own children. They believe that their parents are under no moral compunction to take care of their children.
Diyanah, a 28 year old teacher points out that it is after all, our choice to have children, and therefore they are our responsibility – “Any help they [her parents] give is out of goodwill and should not be expected.” For their efforts and time sacrificed, the general consensus seems to be that a sum of money to compensate them is a foregone conclusion.
While many believe that the effort and love in bringing up your own flesh and blood is not something that can be measured by money, it is also true that a sum to acknowledge the grandparents’ contribution is a must whatever you may call it — a payment, a salary, a compensation, a token.
Many young Singaporeans see this sum of money more as a recognition of the older folks contribution and to express their appreciation.
It is not entirely a surprise that some grandparents even put aside their “salary” for their children’s use in case of a financial emergency.
As Josephine, a grandmother of 2 puts it : “Both my children give me money, but I put aside most for them in case of a rainy day. You know kids these days don’t know how to save. But, of course, I will use some when I go overseas. Old already must enjoy a bit what!”
Furthermore, many Singaporeans reason that if they would and should foot the bill for external help, similarly, they should not take their parents’ help for granted. Mr Tan Eng Chee, a 35 year old engineer and father of a 5 year old toddler points out “If you pay outsiders, why wouldn’t you pay your parents for the same job – done better?”
So what’s the right rate?
Because the dynamics of each family are so varied, there is really no fixed amount or even percentage of disposable income to go by.
Much of how much the “salary” should be is really a result of a negotiation between the generations and a compromise of individual expectations.
Some older folks expect more – anything above a monthly $600 is deemed as more than sufficient by most, especially since many Singaporeans shell out this sum above and beyond whatever they had already been contributing for the older folks’ daily expenses.
Others are happy with a token sum ($100), regardless of whether or not the child’s parents are working in a well-paid job. While money can be a sensitive topic, open communication is important to prevent resentment from festering.
Have an honest chat
Mdm Poh laments about how one of her children does not compensate her. According to her, she simply drops her children off at her house with so much as a by-your-leave: “They think just because I am taking care of Korkor’s (older brother) children, they can just put their children here without even talking to me first. Up till now, 3 months already, not a single cent! Now the whole house is so (luan) chaotic….but I also no heart to talk to them….not nice to ask for money. If they have sim (heart), no need to ask one, automatic they will give.”
Interestingly, this is where the Asian ideal of filial piety works as a double-edged sword. While most of us can understand the frustration of the grandparents who are not compensated, and indeed, heap criticisms on the parents of the child, we fail to recognize that some households face real financial difficulties in shelling out what some others might feel is a small sum.
Judy, an unmarried entrepreneur and mother of one, reveals: In the beginning when her business was in the red, she could not afford to give anything to her mum and dad in the first two years. “It was just the worst. Really the worst feeling. Bad enough that I was a bad mother, as I had to dump Alyssa at my parents’ house all the time. Then I also seemed to be the worst daughter for not giving anything to my mum and dad. But what could I do? I had not enough support. And Alyssa was unplanned. Some days I wondered if it was really all worth it for making my folks suffer along with me”
Fortunately, Judy has a very close bond with her mother whom she readily opened up to about her problems. “It also helped that we really talked, like heart-to-heart talk, about the issues before I went back to my career full-throttle. So that’s important too I guess. Sometimes a little gesture of respect goes a long way with the older folks, I feel.”
The lack of support is also compounded by the fact that no one really likes discussing money matters out in the open. When mothers like Judy face genuine problems, they are also not able to speak out because of the usually vociferous condemnation that follows.
Not all grandparents are ready to be carers
The amount of work involved in caring for the children also seems to be a major determinant of the amount of “pay” for grandparents. Grandparents who are required to shoulder the entire responsibility of childcare with no external help are often paid more than those who have a domestic helper at home, or do after school care.
Joe, a cheerful 67 years old grandpa with 4 grandchildren has this to say: “Last time, when I was younger, I take care of all my grandchildren, no problem. Now, I have pains everywhere, lang lao liao la (I am old already), how to run after them? My kids hire a helper, and it’s so much easier. My kids also don’t give us so much now but of course, my wife and I also don’t expect so much now la. Maid so expensive these days, you know. We also understand.” He reports receiving an estimated $200 monthly from each of his children.
This division of labour also depends on the level of commitment the older folk are comfortable with and the demands of the parents’ jobs. Again here, communication and negotiation is necessary to arrive at a level and a corresponding amount that is comfortable and satisfactory for everyone
Esther’s mother, for instance, is dead set against taking care of any of her children – “She tells me she wants to enjoy her retirement and see the world, go out with her friends. She said I will buy stuff for them, but don’t ask me to change their diapers!”.
Given the circumstance, Esther felt compelled to quit her job and became a full time stay at home mother instead. Esther shrugged during the interview and laughingly said “Well, sometimes life throws you lemons and you just make lemonade. On the bright side, I get to really enjoy this time with my kids.”
A poor understanding of each other’s expectations and points of view can lead to much resentment and even open conflicts in the multi-generational family. Most grandparents truly enjoy spending their golden years with their grandchildren, but different individuals have different ideas of how often and of what nature they would like these interactions to be. These different ideas should be understood and respected, regardless.
What were some of your other considerations when deciding how much to pay your parents for taking care of your little ones? Tell us in your comments below.