Emancipation and caring for old folks


I witness cultural differences wherever I go.

Its richness, rampant and freely habiting, is something to be appreciated and celebrated, though many obstacles have impeded this beautiful process.

Today, I am writing on how African and Asian societies take care of parents, grandparents and other senior relatives.

This article takes off from last week’s on emancipation of youths, further delving to analyse the differences I have observed in the treatment of old folks.

Emancipation of youths from their parents presents a different approach in dealing with looking after them, which is different from other societies like the Asian, where emancipation rarely happens, or if it does, it happens at a very late stage.

Standing on a neutral point, both of these societies place emphasis on the way elders are treated, striving to treat them with respect and seniority.

Seniority seems to be an explicit representation of wisdom from the many years of experience and learning.

The ‘been there, done that’ phenomenon is more symbolic with parents and other senior relatives, thus calling for respect from the younger generation.

Society in turn pays homage through its manner of looking after seniors.

In Africa, the fear of being cursed by elders is the most terrifying, thus acting as a vehicle towards the proper treatment of respect and reverence.

In African societies, there is a level of distance involved when caring for the elderly.

Due to emancipation, children and parents tend to stay in different houses thus creating a different pattern of looking after them in old age.

Tracing to the grandparents’ generation, most of them would be living in villages — kampung — which in most cases are in rural areas.

Most grandparents are reluctant to be relocated to urban areas.

This has given rise to visitations during the holidays and times of emergencies from their children and grandchildren, who would have relocated to urban areas in the process of emancipation, in search of a good life.

Most grandparents prefer the slow-paced, familiar environment and secure lives they conduct in the villages. Now this doesn’t mean they completely don’t go to town.

In fact they do visit their children occasionally.

They might stay for one month or a few weeks and go back to their preferred setting.

Another monumental change comes when one is married.

The bride moves out to the groom’s house and adopts his surname, the latter of which is also common in Asian society.

The groom would have been required to relocate from his parents’ — a feature that would have happened during emancipation — to his own abode. This is important in housing his new bride and the family that he’s about to start.

It’s almost impossible to find a son living in his parents’ house while married, though there are exceptions among certain families that would retain the last born male to marry, who stays with the parents with the sole intention of looking after them.

But this has gradually diminished over the years.

There’s a belief that parents contribute to breaking up their children’s marriages, an element that has been a driver for keeping parents away from their children’s households.

But this doesn’t mean parents do not visit their children, it just redefines the time frame they can stay with them.

One reason for this phenomenon springs from the criticism of parents towards their daughter-in-law for not taking good care of their son.

Criticism can also be directed by the wife’s parents towards their son-in-law.

For marriages, it’s advised for the newlyweds to stay alone and create a life of their own without interruptions.

All this has changed the landscape and the manner in which parents, grandparents and senior relatives are looked after.

Due to the distance, financial support is extended from the children to their parents, which aims to cover from food to maids’ salary.

During emergencies like sickness, parent would relocate to their children’s house and stay there until they have healed.

After this period — be it weeks or months — they would go back to their houses.

But it’s important to note that though most of the families might be running this kind of regime, there are other families that might invite parents to come and stay with them.

It’s also important to note that this separation happens with good intentions.

Parents would like to give their children the time and space to be together with their partners and start new lives since in most African societies, one expects things to turn out that way.

Children will grow, get married and start their own lives separately.

But I have seen this to be different in Asian societies, where children will rarely leave the nest, even when married.

I would not generalise though, since I know there are families where kids emancipate and live with their husbands or wives, separate from their parents.

According to my research, the proportion of those who marry and stay at home is greater among Asian societies compared to African societies.

Further distinction is vivid whereby emancipation among Asians either rarely happens or happens very late compared to African societies.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected].