“I want kids so that I have someone to take care of me when I get older.”

Someone said this to me once. Flat out, the only reason they wanted kids was that they expected free help as they aged. They expected their children who were not born yet to care for them out of obligation.

I don’t believe in doing things out of obligation.

I do things out of love.

If I help you, it is not a tit for tat situation. It is because I really care about you and will do what is within my power to help you. When my friend G was diagnosed with liver cancer and had about three months to live, I just pitched in wherever I could help his family- take his kid home from school, pick up prescriptions, take him to chemo. Whatever he needed, I helped because he was my friend. No recompense needed.

When my parents became ill, I did not do things because of the things they did for me in the past. I did it because I love them. Period.

My daughter is stressed out now- lots of work and such for the final push towards graduation. I said to her “What can I do to help you?”. This wasn’t said because I screwed up and was a bad parent and I owed her, it wasn’t because I felt obligated because she’s my daughter: it’s because I love her and will try to help her in ways that she could use help.

I help out of love. Obligation is paying back money like my mortgage, or paying my credit card bills. Doing something for others is love.

Next time you are doing something for someone, or someone is doing something for you, think about why you’re doing it. If it’s for any reason other than love, think again.

76 thoughts on “Love or Obligation

  1. I totally agree. I try not to bother my kids now that I’m in cancer treatment. But I’m amazed how they rework their schedules and are available to help almost all the time. It humbles me. I had children because I wanted them. Not because I wanted to be cared for. Love is what it’s about. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and am stunned at how devoted they are. I’m lucky. I got pregnant again just shy of 40 with my youngest son. His brother was in high school and almost 16. I’m a feminist and could have made a choice not to have him. But I was surprised yes, but also delighted. So I call him my wonderful surprise. My sons were wanted because I love children. Not because I anticipated getting cancer in my 70’s. They know they are loved. And that’s probably why they are so caring.

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      1. Thank you and cheers to you and your daughter too. Children who know they are loved feel it. It doesn’t mean you always agree on every topic, or that during their teen years they were always easy. It just means that it usually plays out well with mutual love and respect for one another.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more. The well we draw from when it’s something other than love is pretty shallow! Sending great thoughts to your daughter as she no doubt does fantastic things on the way to graduation.

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  3. A very pertinent line from the movie Rocky…Friends don’t owe. They do because they want to do.
    You’re right. Do for others because you want to. If you expect something back, first, you are selfish, but second, you will be very disappointed.
    Have kids so they can take care of you???????????? You gotta be kidding.

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  4. I absolutely agree LA, but I want to toss something out there because apparently I’m in an over-thinking things mood today. We don’t do things for others (away from family and friends) out of love- work or other social commitments for example. Those things are tasks or obligations based on our role as an employee or member of a group. Many people allow those obligations to consume their lives so how *easy* is it for us to lose sight of all those have to sort of obligations and then mix up our reasons for helping family and friends? Does that make any sense? In simpler terms, do people just begin (and at what point) to see everything as an obligation. Where is the saturation point that the switch takes place and we begin to resent those we love??

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    1. Oooh…now you’ve got me spinning a bit…is it when it becomes assumed someone will do something? Let me spin some more…someone recently posted this thing…I hope my kids will just walk in the door, open the fridge and lay in the couch. I want them to know it’s always there home. This thing pisses me off. I want my adult kid to knock. To not assume what’s in the fridge is open to eat. To respect my house and my time. Does that make sense

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      1. Yes it does! I think there are multiple ways to look at this topic, and ideally yes we do things for those close to us out of love, but where does the line blur and how do we handle that as individuals…

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      2. Hmmm that’s interesting…while adult children should respect their parents’ home, I never really thought about it until my oldest son was married and his wife didn’t like that my son had given me my own key to his townhome before they were married. Before that, we both had an open door policy . Since He’s 15 and 1/2 years older than his little brother, I always wanted him to feel like he was welcome in my home no matter how grown up he was. . He was working for an NFL sports team right out of college and shortly thereafter bought his own townhome before he was even 25. But he knew he could walk in to my house any time, any hour, any day and could have anything in my home. (His dad and I were divorced, and I never wanted him to feel like he wasn’t as important or as special his younger brother, who was from my second marriage). So I didn’t set boundaries or restrictions. Then again, I taught both my kids manners so neither kid would think of eating or taking anything without asking first. It’s just good manners.
        In fact, just today my oldest took me to an oncologist appointment and to get bloodwork and he helped me walk back up to my condo because I was exhausted. But, I had to laugh because when we got to my house, I made him a turkey sandwich with fruit and chips, and gave him some cookies for dessert. I had to pack it all up because he had to get back to work in time for a meeting. I had to laugh because my ring doorbell caught him on camera leaving my home with a platter of food fit for a king. Lol He’s a grown man, ( he will be 50 this year) and yet I wouldn’t let him go back to work without giving him a nice lunch. That’s what mom’s do! AND I recognize that he’s an adult. But, he’s still my kid, and as long as I am able, I’ll show him love and even make him a sandwich. Lol
        My heart just has so much love for my boys that I think it becomes palpable.

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    2. I like your self-described “over-thinking” (thought provoking thinking, imo!) and it reminded me of the difference I once read between “social contracts” and “financial contracts.” We have mainly social contracts with family and friends, and can have them with employers, too. With good employers. Having only a financial contract with an employer is less optimal (for both employee and employer, they said). But that’s what happens when trust with the employer is broken, for example, after layoffs.

      Can this happen in a family? I bet you could reduce it to a financial contract, but, how much more shallow is it than with a social contract?

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      1. Yes to all of this and to giving my poor description a name! Social contract fits the friend/family *obligation* perfectly and I think comes from a place of love and kindness. If you have an amazing employer then yes, doing more doesn’t necessarily feel burdensome. The employee wants to make the task something that will better the employer/company and even their place within that system. Trust is a huge word in this- and perfect for both social and financial contracts. I think it can and does happen in families- mine as one example with a sister that I feel pushed the trust limit way too far way too many times. While we may give family more opportunity to break that trust than an employer if it happens the emotional aspects seem so traumatizing and that may impact the ideal that doing things for family is based on loving relationships.

        I was actually contemplating a future HoTM post sort of along these lines so if that happens I hope I have your permission to borrow (with credit) both social and financial contract terms 🙂

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      2. Oh the families I’ve seen torn apart because one person continually pulls crap….I saw a movie yesterday, and while it’s fiction, the scenario played out is all too real. Alcoholic mother abandons her kid, she gets in touch when she’s almost at bottom and she violates his trust…

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    3. I don’t think everything is an obligation. But we as individuals have to make sure we manage things appropriately. There are indeed legal obligations our children have if we as parents set them up. ( I’ll explain below… such as power of attorney in various healthcare situations).
      But there are less formal obligations. For example, there were times I felt obligated to baby sit if my son had an important work event he and his wife needed to attend. One time he Had an evening event I had already committed to. However, that night I didn’t feel great. But I had already committed so I went. Once there I obviously enjoyed my grandchildren. But I went because I felt obligated. And yes, there were plenty of times I was gladly available, and there were also times I could easily rearrange my schedule. Plus, times I couldn’t sit. He always asked ahead of time and never expected an automatic yes. But he preferred I sat because I usually turned my baby sitting time into teachable moments and could also help with their homework. Lol

      My sister on the other hand, was run ragged with her grandchildren. She came running every single time one of her daughters called her. It took her a couple years and by the time both of her daughters each had two children she had had enough and started setting limits. She would call me Crying. But she also enabled her daughters. It was like she felt they were helpless without her. So her trying to help became a need on her part and then an obligation. So obligation sometimes comes into play.. We have to manage it.

      Yes…You have to balance it. I think we all have to try our best to combine our love and still understand that sometimes love requires a certain amount of obligation or responsibility. Every time I go in for surgery or medical treatments due to my current health issues, my legal paperwork is all in folders and has been given to both of my kids. They may love me but they also have legal obligations and responsibilities if I am incapable of signing documents or making decisions after surgery. My Power of attorney goes first to my oldest son, who lives locally, and also extends to my other son. So, their love is part of it, but there are also LEGAL obligations and responsibilities they have every time I am in a vulnerable health situation. I went to an attorney and have a living will and other documents set up. *Those legal responsibilities need to be documented. I set those up in my early 60’s, a decade before I got cancer. But after my husband died. My youngest was still in college and not even 21 yet, but I wrote everything up to prepare for when he was of legal age. Until then his brother was in charge. Now all POA decisions are to be decided by them both. So love and obligation can be combined without it being a negative. Sometimes it’s just a family responsibility/situation. My brother, sister and I had to do that with our parents. It’s the best way to handle things, in my opinion. So love May be a factor, but responsibilities or legal obligations are part of the mix as well. And family obligations depend on each family I imagine.

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      1. I just don’t think it should be assumed that one must do something for someone else. It will create resentment. If you’re always doing for someone else, when do you take care of yourself?

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  5. I felt obligated to visit my mom a few times a year while she was in assisted living. I loved her and wanted to see her, but it was hard on me in a depressing way. I am so thankful that I visited her in November and although I wasn’t able to get her out and about like I normally would do, I sat at her side, we listened to music she used to love and I held her hand.

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  6. Doing something and then expecting something in return is just plain selfish. The doing for the other person no longer has any real value because it wasn’t done out of love, care, concern, whatever.
    People have made the comment to me that my daughter better take care of me when I’m older for the many ways I’ve helped her as a single parent. But I do it because I love her and my grandbabies. If there’s an expectation attached to it, the meaning is lost.

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  7. Although I agree about doing things for others through love vs. obligation, and there is absolutely no guarantee that having kids means that you’ll be taken care of in your old age (there are plenty of examples of that “plan” not working), those of us without children often have an extra challenge figuring out our future once we are no longer able to make it without help.

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  8. My mother was taken in as a child by an aunt when her own parents died. She never felt truly loved as a child, and there was an odd mix of love and obligation in their interactions as adults. My husband and I have purchased long term health care insurance in the hopes that we will not put our children in a position of “having” to care for us. I agree that these things should be done out of a loving heart.

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  9. I do things out of love but also obligation. My father taught me that one has a duty, and I take that seriously. One has a duty to care for people one doesn’t love, for instance. I also keep tally. Too much giving on my part and not enough on theirs and I get cross. Not, obviously, with the sick and elderly. Case in point; I have a charming young guy who lives in a caravan on my property in return for work about the place. Recently, because he has no money, I’ve been feeding him. This wasn’t part of the agreement but I can’t watch him starve. On the other hand he has options in terms of earning food or money in the area, which he doesn’t pursue. I know my elderly neighbour would feed him up for gardening assistance. So…I feed him out of obligation, and resent it.

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  10. I have to say I don’t approve of teaching kids they only have to care for their parents… and by extension their own children and dependant animals…if they feel like it. Nope, caring for family members and dependants is a duty, like it or not.

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  11. What if , for some reason, you didn’t love your parents or daughter, would you not feel any obligation to help them ? You’re saying you don’t believe in the idea of family obligations at all ? I think in the days before government welfare , families were more mutually dependent and therefore there was a societal expectation that family members would help each other. Plus the Ten Commandments state that children should honor their parents , even if they don’t like them . I think that was a survival issue as well as a respect issue. And of course in many cultures children still do take care of elders .

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    1. I think there’s some age statutes. If you bring a child into this world I think you should take care of them till 18. But I also think you should unconditionally live your child, so you’re not doing out if obligation but live. If you bring a child into the world you should want to love and nurture it for no other reason than you love them . I’m not a big fan of the honoring parents thing. I know a whole bunch of crappy parents who don’t deserve it. I’ve seen parents who have addiction issues, who pretty much let their kids raise themselves. I don’t expect any child to feel obligated to do anything for someone like that. Respect goes both ways. But that’s my take on it.

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      1. I think your friend’s expectation is not an uncommon one, but I wouldn’t have kids for that reason. I don’t disagree that we should love our kids unconditionally, but what about our parents ? Can you love them and even help them while still not approving of their choices ? But I was talking about cultural expectations . Would you think it was wrong for an adult child to let their elderly parent become homeless, for instance ? Other than out of love , should children take care of their parents if they really need help even if they have a bad relationship?

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      2. Depends on why the parent is homeless. If it’s because they have addiction issues, or gambled the money away I totally get it. If the parent is not approving of lifestyle choices or is a bigot or a misogynist, and you don’t want to hear their opinions and you don’t want them around your kids, I get it. A parent who sexually abused you? I get it. There’s lots of reasons to not take care of people.

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  12. Hi I can relate, only I am on the guilty side. I want to have children so I will not be alone. But you know, people change, after my delivery, it’s not in a snap of a finger, I’m the best mother, but as we live together, by the end of the day, I can tell my kid, I love you more than yesterday, sure I don’t want to be alone, but I love you more than all these, you can choose. Speaking to soon? Maybe. My kid is 6.

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  13. My mother is anglo-Indian and brought up with the clear (and oft repeated) expectation that she would care for her parents in their old age – which she did, despite creating huge turmoil for her own family. This experience defined my view that duty should flow in the other direction. That by choosing to bring a child into this world, parents owe it to that child to do the best they can for them, until adulthood. Anything other than that is about love. I have cared for both my parents – I know that some was done out of love, but some was also done out of obligation (and in response to that parent’s expectation). I do not want my daughter to feel obliged, although I was hugely touched when my son-in-law told me – in no uncertain terms – that he expected me to live close to them when things got to that stage, to make it easier.

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