Parents should expect something from their children

family : Ungrateful children

"You are to honor your father and mother, for whom you are well and you live long on earth." That is the fourth commandment. It is the first of the ten that regulates the relationships between people. Honoring is an old-fashioned thing, showing solidarity, showing respect, being sensitive to the ancestors - modern people understand that too. The intergenerational contract is the form of honor cast in paragraphs that nobody will question. After all, we all want to get a pension.

After all, two thirds of the elderly in need of care in Germany are cared for by their children and other relatives. It can't be that bad about honoring mothers and fathers. But there comes a book with the lurid title “Why We Owe Our Parents Nothing”. Ah, thinks the reviewer, it's like "I hate kids" or "marriage is crap". But the little book by Barbara Bleisch, a philosophy lecturer from Zurich, is not sensational. It's more of a misunderstanding. She tells a lot of banal stories of people whose parents get on their nerves because they interfere or want something at the wrong time or insist that the children appear in suits and ties on their father's eightieth birthday.

In the worst case, the relationship is broken

Anyone who reads this as a post-student who is not exactly 25, wishes that the "children" described should react a little more grown-up. The misunderstanding begins with the parent-child relationship not being a debtor-creditor. In the worst case the relationship is broken, in the best case it is based on respect and responsibility. When the Fourth Commandment of our Basic Code once congealed, the average parent lived to be 40 or less. The risk of having to visit, bed, care, carry or drive around in a wheelchair for twenty years was minimal.

Just as one does not owe love to one's marriage, one does not owe honor to one's parents either, but rather simply honors them by being there for them at least from time to time. The secretary, who takes the tram home every day during her lunch break to prepare the food for the sick old mother and to make the bed, usually does this out of responsibility, sometimes out of love, often out of respect. Guilt is for the couch.

Academically souped-up theories

The author asks whether children should be grateful to their parents and immediately denies it with the flat statement that they did not ask to be born. Pubertyists argue like this, but it has little to do with philosophy. The whole book, from which one expected at least one steep thesis, is bursting with academically pimped theories that are banal to boring. If a daughter thinks that she wants to live her own life and therefore does not visit the old mother, Bleisch asks whether the daughter is “right”. There is nothing and no one who can force the daughter to make the mother happy with visits. Of course there is nothing and nobody who can prevent the mother from being sad or demanding. Even with terms like duty and demand, one gets no further in the sensitive parent-child relationship. In times when the welfare state has undermined the material dependence of parents on the next generation through pensions and basic security, obligations and claims can only be asserted in rare cases. So what remains is the honor that is due to the ancestors and which is feasible other than love. Honor the old age! it doesn't say: love old age! I mean, for the sake of the life's work of mothers and / or fathers, let us honor them, let us recognize them, let us respect them. And as an everyday consequence: that's why we visit them or call them or come to their birthdays and anniversaries with or without a tie.

Banalities from the hard drive

On the blurb it is exaggerated: “This book shows how philosophy can help to clarify the relationship to father and mother.” Well, this book, in an academic manner, conceals the banality that parents and children do not always harmonize, that parents have expectations that are not met and that these expectations are on the alarm clock for children. And? This little book, reduced to duty and guilt, is of little help to adult children who have not managed to sublimate their branch difficulties. “If parents have only done their duty to care for their children, then it is not understandable why children should owe them thanks for fulfilling their duties.” Or: “It is of course nice that there are many people who are grateful to their parents feel ... “Which editor lets the hard drive get away with such banalities? Bleisch is not delivering a proseminar paper here, but is writing for the Hanser Verlag. This book is neither illuminating nor entertaining. It is poorly written and poorly conceived. - Barbara Bleisch: “Why we owe nothing to our parents”, 206 pages, Hanser Verlag, 2018, 18 euros.

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