Do I Owe My Parents for Raising Me? (+9 Things to Keep in Mind)

For you to ask, “Do I owe my parents for raising me?” might remotely mean you have toxic parents in the first place. But to be fair, even if you come from a loving family, it’s perfectly okay to still wonder that.

It’s just that the two scenarios may have completely different motivations in that you might blindly think there’s an obligation to “pay back” for what your parents have done for you, while on the other hand you might think it’s just an act of kindness, in a way there are “no strings attached.”

Some parents do feel entitled to such a sense of indebtedness. Let’s take this couple who sued their son and wife for not giving them a grandchild after six years of marriage. They demanded money because it was “mental cruelty.”

The American model of parent-child filiation is unquestionably one-way. The parents, by design, do everything they can for their child while expecting nothing in return. But most adult children are willing to help. They may help with finances or let their parents live with them when they retire.

Modern philosophers also tackle this question by classifying four theories of what they call filial obligation:

  • Debt Theory. The adult children would provide care for their parents to the extent they were cared for as children.
  • Friendship Theory. Children only owe their parents a relationship like that with a very good and close friend.
  • Gratitude Theory. Children care for their parents because they are motivated by gratitude for everything their parents have done for them.
  • Special Goods Theory. Children offer what they only can in direct exchange for what their parents have or currently offer (e.g., inheritance).

It does seem noble to want to “pay off” for what they did. You might be approaching this with a financial mindset, and that’s okay.

Related: Do You Have to Love Your Family? (And Things to Keep in Mind)
Do I Owe My Parents for Raising Me

Do I owe my parents for raising me?

No, you don’t owe your parents anything for raising you. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve been good enough, although it may feel just right if they’ve been nothing but toxic. You didn’t ask to be born. It was their decision to have you, and their responsibility to raise you right.

That may seem harsh and make you sound like an ungrateful brat, but I’ll explain it further through the following nine things you can keep in mind.

1. “Owe” is the wrong word.

I want to attack this issue mostly with the assumption that you have toxic parents.

Because if you come from a healthy and loving family, you would probably feel “indebted” to “repay” them for all the love they’ve shown you, but even then it’s the wrong way to look at it.

You want to “repay” them because at the end of the day, you simply want to do it and it’s serving both you and them well because you have a healthy, working, and loving relationship.

If you come from a dysfunctional family, then by logic you would not want to “owe” them, especially if you’ve suffered abuse in your childhood. In this case, if you decide to care for your toxic parents in their old age, then just the same, you don’t do it out of obligation but more of a personal decision without any external pressures—you just want to do it.

Related: Am I the Problem in My Family? (For Adult Children & Parents!)

2. You did not ask to be born.

As I said, it was your parents’ decision to have you. Because they had you, they were responsible for you, even legally. That you now “owe” them simply because you exist is beyond logic.

Just for analogy, it’s like having a dog and expecting it to understand everything you wish to teach it. Having a dog means you understand the responsibilities in raising it, and you appreciate it for the amazing furry creature that it is.

Healthy parents know that having a child means sharing a life with him. That they will love him and learn what it means to be good enough parents.

3. Some parents feel entitled to be “paid the debt” because they also learned it from their parents.

They’re just victims of a vicious cycle no one dared to stop. It’s a toxic intergenerational misconception that keeps getting passed on.

It’s also pretty telling that toxic parents demand this sense of indebtedness. They gave their children a horrible upbringing, but they hold on to that pseudo-superstition that children should still, without a doubt, care for them no matter what.

4. Ironically, you only “owe” good enough parents.

And good enough parents will not demand anything for raising you. They understand that having you was purely their choice and they were willing to invest in your future.

On the other hand, I can only imagine all the things you’ve seen in your toxic household. You may have been subconsciously conditioned or manipulated to think that everything a family does is transactional—if not paid for now, then later.

Related: Do Toxic Parents Love You?

5. If you want a better relationship with your parents, you have to let go of the belief that everything is tit-for-tat.

Believe it or not, you can have (or restore) a loving relationship with your parents without having to prove yourself worthy.

You can start again by treating and accepting them and yourself for who you all are. That no one is superior and whatnot.

Thinking you owe them something means every move you make is equivalent to some deed or enterprise they’ve painstakingly done just for you.

6. You have to take care of yourself if you’re going to help take care of your parents.

As taking care of your parents must be done from a place of love, make sure you’re okay with committing to it. As they say, you can’t really give if your needs aren’t being met.

And this is not because you “owe” them that. If you think you’re indebted to care for them, then you should probably take a break and contemplate whether it’s going to enrich your life or make you resent them.

7. How parents are later treated by their adult children is largely influenced by the kind of childhood they created for them.

You can’t blame people who genuinely seem to be happy to care for their elderly parents because they’ve likely been raised right.

The same goes for the opposite. I’ve heard of old people who were mistreated by younger generations in their family and the first thing I thought was, “How did this old man/woman raise their kids?”

The majority of families are within the healthy range, but for those who are not, it’s so easy to assume that adult children who mistreat their elderly parents are the ones who should be chastised. You may not hear of the stories about their horrible upbringing and usually these are forgotten in the silence of time.

Related: Why Do I Feel No Connection with My Family?

8. Focus on your children.

If you come from a toxic family, this complex issue can also hurt your children. How would you explain why you’re treating their grandparents the way you are? Will they understand? This is particularly concerning because your children may treat you the way you treat your parents.

So you focus on your children. You also teach them the value of not feeling indebted to you simply because you’re their parent. If any, what you’re supposed to “owe” your toxic parents, just channel it towards your children.

9. In the end, it’s about the kind of relationship you have with your parents.

Yes, being an adult child is different from when you were a small dependent child. But the kind of relationship you have with your parents doesn’t really change much throughout your life.

If they’ve been good enough to you, then you could probably treat them as friends, excited to make more memories with them. Great. No big deal.

But if they’ve been nothing but abusive to you, then they’ll probably remain as abusive and toxic and will never change.

You don’t “owe” your parents for raising you. You simply act according to how you feel about your relationship with them. If you decide to continue to love them for the rest of their days then that’s great. But if they start insinuating that you have to repay them for your tuition or whatnot, then stop and think about where the relationship could be heading.


Image Credits: Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

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