Why do people care about their families

Barbara Bleisch: "Children don't have to look after their parents when they get older"

Am I a bad person if I don't want to look after my parents? A philosopher says: No, not necessarily. And explains what duties children have.

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ZEIT Campus ONLINE: Ms. Bleisch, if my father suddenly needs care tomorrow due to an accident or my mother becomes seriously ill - do I have to look after her?

Barbara Bleisch: Definitely not because they are their son or daughter. Children do not have to give anything back to their parents because they raised them or gave them their lives. This view has a long philosophical tradition. But she doesn't convince me.

ZEIT Campus ONLINE: What's your point of view?

Bleisch: Being a child is not a hereditary debt with which we are born and which we have to pay to our parents. Just because the parents looked after their child when it was little, the child does not have to look after its parents in old age.

ZEIT Campus ONLINE: How so?

Bleisch: The child could not consent to this care and to life itself. And being a parent means taking care of your child too. We don't have to give anything back or be grateful for others to do their duty alone. Many children still feel grateful because their parents were particularly loving. There is nothing wrong with that, on the contrary! But it is not an expression of a duty, but an expression of a successful relationship.

Barbara Bleisch

44, is a philosopher and author based in Switzerland. Her book Why we don't owe our parents anything will be published on February 19th by Carl Hanser Verlag.

ZEIT Campus ONLINE: So don't we have to look after our parents at all?

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Bleisch: Of course you should - but not because you are your parents' child. Then even children who have been tormented or neglected by their parents would have to strive for their parents for life, and that seems to me to be a wrong idea. However, your very personal relationship with your parents can very well give you a lot of reasons to look after them, just as friends have reasons to stand by one another. Whereby family ties are a different relationship than friendship.

ZEIT Campus ONLINE: In what way?

Bleisch: Unlike friends, we can't choose our parents, and we can't break the relationship or let the relationship run dry. This relationship is involuntary, permanent and exclusive. There are ex-husbands, but there are no ex-parents. This very special interweaving in the nuclear family makes everyone involved particularly vulnerable.

ZEIT Campus ONLINE: When are you a raven daughter or a raven son?

Bleisch: Raven daughters and raven sons handle this vulnerability carelessly. They deny that you can hurt yourself particularly in families - because you know so much about each other, for example, because you hold a very special position in the life of the other. It is understandable that many parents would like to have a lively exchange with their adult children. Children should signal to their parents that they respect this need. But you don't have to give up your own plans and goals entirely. Because children have a right to live their own life.