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what do we owe whom

June 29th, 2013

It was an interesting conversation I overheard at Red while joining my friends for the usual Saturday afternoon Strikktreff. The differences in attitude, culture, and response are striking between what this woman was saying and what I found in my reactions. I am not completely sure if some of it is not age. But more than age is the issue of generations and what you had when you were growing up.

Let me explain. This woman is married with a couple of kids. I think her age is late 30s. They live in an apartment and would really rather have a small house with garden.

With me so far?

This desire to me is completely understandable. But what came after just blew me away. She explained that her father in law had a big house. What is more he bought a lot of fancy clothes and took at least two fine vacations a year. And, in her opinion, he just didn’t need all of that when they were living in an apartment. She didn’t see a need for him to remain in a big house when he could take that money and help them buy a house.

Whoa. I wasn’t certain that I had heard her correctly. Her father in law, who I am assuming is probably about my age should not have and enjoy what he has earned because she wants more than what she has?

I avoided hearing any more so that I could avoid sticking my nose unwanted into the conversation. But am curious – is it just me?

Most of those who grew up post war in Germany had childhoods of deprivation. Education was a luxury and most families worked hard. Rationing extended into the 1950s. As a result, there are a lot of “self-made” in my generation who probably indulged their children more than would be smart simply because it was a pleasure to give them those things which they did not have when young. This extended to education (in Germany parents have an obligation to help students in advanced studies up to age 27), and many times to starting out.

But at what point do you expect your children to earn their own way?  When they are out of school? When they have good jobs? When they are married and have families of their own? And what is the obligation of adult children back to their own parents?

None of these are easy questions and I know that answers are not simple.

This woman was furious because her father in law was treating himself while she did not have a house. Notice, it wasn’t that she didn’t have a roof over her head or food on her children’s table. It was that he was spending money (the inheritance) wastefully in her opinion. Never mind that he most likely had worked his whole life, supported offspring for more than 25 years and was finally reaping the rewards while he was still healthy enough to enjoy it.

That is just my opinion and obviously I am that older generation who doesn’t think that an easy ride leads to ambition, responsibility or self motivation. I don’t have an objection to bounce-backs and reboots. Life is much harder now than it was for me 45 years ago when my limits were only what I could personally accomplish and my windmills were respect and pay on an equal basis irrespective of gender.

My four know that we are able to help them, but all resist asking unless they don’t have another option. Paying for their education gives them a start on the future. Putting a roof over their heads while studying makes sense. Helping the eldest if she decides to relocate is obvious, we have done that for the middle two. These are things I gladly do (and irrespective if it decreases my cruising or not). But thank goodness they all have more sense than to demand; that sense of entitlement just isn’t there.  Perhaps they figure that I gave 30 years to the Army so that they would always have food, clothing, shelter, medical care and that it is now my turn to have all the vacations I could never take.

But seriously? I think it is because they know that anything is more valuable when you earn it yourself and that being given too much leaves you with obligations and that small feeling that you aren’t quite a grown up.

I hope that woman and her husband are able to resolve their feelings for the sake of the grandchildren. But I see nothing wrong that father in law spending every last cent.

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  1. Kris
    June 29th, 2013 at 21:44 | #1

    Glad she’s not my DIL or my child! Our kids are like yours…won’t ask unless they are in dire need, and that’s been awhile. They are proud to be on their own. And like yours, they understand we’ve worked hard and appreciate what we’ve done for them. It sounds like the FIL is single. Imagine what she’ll do if he finds a girlfriend and starts spending his money on the gf! Maybe that’s why he’s buying nice clothes. :-)

  2. Bob
    June 30th, 2013 at 07:46 | #2

    I’ve been through this with each of my own five, and Inge has been through it (and it continues) with her five. The simple answer, based on our experiences, is that children today–of most any age–have no understanding of obligation. Maybe we failed to teach it. We see it in their lack of appreciation for the property, rights, or feelings of others. And particularly here in the States, it seems many residents (citizens or not) have been brain-washed to believe “entitlements” and “free benefits” are the law of the land. These are the type of people with no comprehension of “career,” or people actually working and saving for 30 years to enjoy “retirement.” Kind of makes us feel good knowing we’re in our 70’s and shouldn’t be be around for what appears to be self-destruction of the world. I’m continuously reminded that one of the greatest God-given blessings given the human race, and probable the most abused, is that of free will. Most people inherently know what is right and just, but choose easier-appearing routes. It’s a real shame those routes almost never terminate at the ends expected. Always enjoy your messages. And, hey, doesn’t George have a birthday just around the corner? -bob

  3. Barbara
    June 30th, 2013 at 08:48 | #3

    Yeah and I notice it’s the in-law not her parents.

  4. Allison
    June 30th, 2013 at 09:50 | #4

    Great post. No, it’s not just you!

  5. Jan
    June 30th, 2013 at 10:52 | #5

    Your shock at your friendly leech gives me great hope. And the answer is very simple. In fact there is not even any question. When my mother-in-law was living with us last year I found her trying to husband her assets. I told her to spend it all on herself because the thing we wanted was for her to die with too many assets.

  6. Carmen
    June 30th, 2013 at 11:53 | #6

    That is an interesting story. This woman apparently is living in an inheritance paradigm. I get a sense in Europe of a relatively low rate of upward social mobility, at least now. Is that true? It (upward social mobility – even the sense that ‘my kids can do better than me’) has so rapidly diminished in the US that college graduates no longer can get jobs, and full time workers can’t support their families without government food assistance – which is disappearing, and therefore we have rampant food insecurity the likes of which we have not known since the 60’s. This was aggravated by the 2007 crash, but it was a trend that was already established well before then.

  7. RG
    June 30th, 2013 at 19:38 | #7

    I agree with you. The father-in-law earned his reward. He worked all his life, and now he can enjoy himself. He has no obligation to the kids. They’re adults and on their own. Now, if there were a serious problem, e.g. losing a job, he would probably help out, but it is his money to do with what he wants.

  8. Ruth
    June 30th, 2013 at 19:45 | #8

    A subject we can totally agree on! It feels good to know that others share our value and sene of work ethic in this age of entitlement. Enjoy your cruises and I hope your travels bring you back to my area sometime this year.

  9. Alison
    June 30th, 2013 at 20:07 | #9

    Wow. And you kept quiet? I’m not sure I would have; I’d have said my piece with a sweet smile so as to give her nothing to push back against while clarifying a few things in life for her.

  10. Mark
    June 30th, 2013 at 20:15 | #10

    Nice letter! We both agree on your thinking, you get the world on a platter and you expect it forever.

  11. Liz
    June 30th, 2013 at 20:21 | #11

    Hear hear!

    Sent from my mobile device, sorry for brevity and autocorrect

  12. Brad
    June 30th, 2013 at 21:47 | #12


  13. July 3rd, 2013 at 01:51 | #13

    Regrettably, I think that this attitude is quite common. There was a book published about this entitlement 5 years or so ago. It was called something like “F*** off, it’s our turn now.” It was endorsing the attitude that you witnessed. It got a lot of publicity and the author was given a high level job in journalism.

  14. Chere’
    August 8th, 2013 at 14:36 | #14

    I’m catching up on all I couldn’t see from Spain- too much stone in the historic center where I lived and worked that messed up the signal.

    I’ve heard similar complaints on occasion and it always floors me. Our offspring are just like yours, so I don’t see the entitlement whine
    coming or have any idea where it’s from unless simple greed. To me, your subject lines says it all.

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