Responsibilities, Rights and Privileges

Recently I had to talk harshly to my daughter about the responsibilities of family members. Although I would like to think of it as a scolding, all parents of teenagers know that there is no such thing. There are only fights. But it got me thinking about the responsibilities, rights and privileges of family members.

Of course, parents’ responsibilities are children’s rights. What are these rights? In my view, all children have a right to safety, security, education, and a future. It is the parents’ responsibility to provide for and defend these rights. If you are unwilling to assume these responsibilities, you have no business calling yourself a parent. Even when the parents are unwilling or unable to fulfill them, children’s rights do not disappear. The society then will have to step in and give them what they rightly deserve, which it does in most developed countries. In the third world though, where the governments are not rich enough, we do see some children fall through the cracks. Their stories break our hearts precisely because of this unfulfilled collective responsibility.

What do children owe their parents? According to my daughter, their responsibility is limited to a vague promise to take care of us in our old age. I don’t think I agree. I would like to say that children owe love, respect, gratitude and even obedience to their parents. Of course I would, because I am a parent now, not a child. Am I right though? Or is it my daughter who has a point? Let’s bracket this question for now.

You may have noticed that I didn’t list love and affection among the responsibilities of parents. I think children have to earn love and affection. Such tender feelings are not rights, but privileges. Most parents, even the irresponsible ones, do have such feelings. Looking at what I would like to consider children’s responsibilities, I can’t help but notice that they all fall in this warm and fuzzy category — love, respect, gratitude etc. Perhaps they have to be earned as well. Perhaps they are privileges rather than parents’ rights or children’s duties.

Confusing a privilege with a duty or responsibility is a dangerous slippery slope. There are people in this world who believe that children, especially daughters, have a duty to uphold the family honor, whatever that is. When the daughters fall short, gruesome honor killings follow. Even in less gruesome situations, the perceived notions of duties and responsibilities place undue restrictions on the quality of existence of children (again, mostly daughters). So I find myself grudgingly agreeing with my daughter. May be their responsibilities should be limited to vague promises of doing us proud some day.

Looks like children have it easy. They seem to have no responsibilities, but a bunch of rights and privileges. No wonder childhood was such a happy time. But don’t worry. Our children will grow up, and be parents one day.

Photo by Kamaljith cc