Saturday, February 16, 2013

Children and Parents: A Contrast and Comparison Between India and the US

One of the main differences between American and Indian culture is the family structure and hierarchy. It's often the brunt of many stereotypes for both cultures, most of which are not completely accurate.

In both India and the US the children are seen as a priority. The reasoning behind having children differs but that is not the subject of this blog post. In both countries the parents work to save money to pay for their kids education when they grow up. There are a lot of similarities, where children are involved, between both countries. But, there are also some vast differences.

In India the children are raised with the understanding that the parents are responsible for them now, but later the kids will be responsible for the parents. So while the parent pays for everything now the child will grow up (especially if he's male) to earn money and care for the parents. While the child is being raised no expenses are spared. Boys get a nice motorcycle, girls get a lavish wedding, etc. This isn't to say that all the parents do is waste money on the kids. They don't say yes to everything but kids usually grow up fairly well spoiled in India as opposed to American kids.

In America kids are raised with the ideal that they can be whatever they want when they grow up. What the parent can't provide, society might. Society's programs are funded by parents taxes and money they put into the programs, savings, etc. The children are not taught the obligation to grow up and provide for their parents -whether male or female. It is left as a choice or often unspoken and understood. As far as spoiling goes, most American children are not provided cell phones, no one does all their chores and they're not given all the things they want.

It's more common for kids in the US to be taught to work for what they want so they can appreciate it more. Kids as young as 14 can get a job (working limited hours) in the private sector. In the home children are assigned chores at much younger ages. Usually it begins with teaching them to pick up their toys and put them away around age 2. The older they get, the more household responsibility they take on. Ideally, they are ready to manage their own home by the time they move out (which could be as early as 18 years old). There is no difference between boys and girls though in many instances the assigned chores are different when they are older. For example, boys may mow the grass while girls clean the kitchen.

In India, it is less likely for children to be assigned chores. I've heard from several families that the girl children are not given chores because they will be expected to do all the chores upon moving into their marital homes. I can only guess that they will need to be taught their MIL's methods and no one in the biological family want's to make things hard for her by teaching her something different than the future MIL would want. Male children may do some of the errands around the home such as running to the store to pick up eggs while mom cooks.

Once the child completes school, the parents play a big part in the decision of where you go to college, what degree you seek out, etc. They determine where you live (whether with them, a family member or in a hostel, etc.). The parents pay the bill for college most of the time and thus make many of the decisions. Failure (even one subject) is often a big problem. During school the child is not expected to work in most cases. They are taken care of just as they were before college.

In the US the child makes all of these decisions, may work while attending college and may live wherever they choose. Many take out student loans, sometimes the parents help pay. There is no predominant path.

Upon growing up and finishing school, US children move out and start a life of their own in a typically nuclear setting. They are expected to pay their own rent, power bill, phone bill, cable/internet bill, etc. They buy and prepare their own food as well as transport themselves to and from work. Until marriage, they do all of the work associated with the household. There are exceptions including kids who bring their laundry home for mom to do or who's mothers cook for them and bring food over, etc.

In India most adults stay in their familial home until they are married (boys and girls both). Many give their entire income to their parents after they start working and the parents either save it or invest it for them. Once they are married they could either move into their own nuclear home or be given their own space in the joint family home. (With this demographic changing rapidly in India it would be impossible to say which type of household is more prominent as it varies greatly by area, city, state, family, etc.) After marriage they are expected to start contributing to the joint family household financially by paying their own power bill, cable/satellite, etc. Nuclear families are of course responsible for all their own bills. Chores are divided between the families living in the home and it's very common to have one or more maids who does daily chores like cleaning the floors, cooking, dishes and laundry. It's rare for any family in India to do all of the household work.

Once the Indian children start to assume household responsibilities they gradually take on more and more and once the parents retire, they are responsible for the home and caring for their parents. US children may or may not care for their parents, it is an individualized decision based on many variables. Typically where I am from the children drive the parents around, attend doctors appointments with them and visit often. When the parents require more medical care and knowledge than the child is capable of providing, professional assistance is sought (whether that be in-home care or placing the parent in a facility). If placed in a facility, the parents are still visited often, sometimes taken out for visits, etc.

**These facilities are not a dumping ground for us to get rid of our parents. Our view of medical care is EXTREMELY different from the Indian view and thus we seek out ways to be as healthy as possible and that means sometimes we need full time or assisted living arrangements for our parents. These facilities are designed to keep our parents alive and well as long as possible. It is a gross misconception by many of the Indians I encounter that these facilities are our way of getting rid of our parents and by placing them there we don't care about them. That is VERY wrong.

In both countries, the parents are important to most people. We want to keep them alive, well and happy as long as possible. Our methods are different but the outcome is the same. Near the end of their lives parents in both countries begin to give their belongings to their children. In the US this could be verbally or via a will. In India they are given away or simply left behind with the understanding of who gets what.


  1. Hi,

    You are spot on in your assessment and comparisons. In India, child rearing was a joint responsibility, the women of the joint families looked after children just like other domestic chores. Children got spoil by the attention of all the uncles, aunts and members of the extended family. Thus, even today our child rearing methods are based on this, which are somewhat impractical in today's fast paced life with nuclear families. Though, I am not comfortable with the western method of putting toddlers in a a separate room.

    In Asian traditions like Chinese, Japanese, Indians etc., it is believed that each family is part of a unending chain of ancestors. We need to respect these ancestors on various occasions. I guess this obligation towards parents/elders came from this belief. The problem is we are not individuals we are defined by our relations to fit into pre-defined slots which stifles individualism.

    India always faced social, economic and military upheavals. Life was difficult. So, the desire to look for security in caste, community and religion emerged. Family was at the centre of it. More insecurity meant that people wanted to hold on to their children tightly and control their lives. I sometimes wonder if India had little religion and culture we could have respected the individual more and build and equitable society.

    BRW I liked your remark that in the west the society provides for what a family cannot. This isat the centre of the different between the west and India.

  2. It's pretty similar to what is done in Switzerland, kids are thaught independance early on and that if you want something big like a bike or a fancy phone you need to work to earn it and learn the value of things.
    And yes retirement homes are not evil dumping ground at all, most parents live at home until they really can't function well enough on their own, and they recognize the fact that if they can't as adult take care of themselves they should not impose that burden on their children who are working full time and raising kids on their own and that their health will be better taken care of in a facilty where medical staff is there at all time, plus all love the fact that they are with peers from their generation and can talk about topics that they can all relate to from their youth and how life went.
    And in switzerland everybody give a percentage of teir salary at the source that goes toward a national pension fund, the money currently in it pays for the pension of people of my grand parents generation, so all "kid" working actually does support their elders financially, it's the generation that comes after mine that will pay for my generation once they retire.

  3. Hi,

    My parents definately did not spoil me.We sure understood the value of money. In fact, my father was very sure.on which items money has to be spent which we never liked. In his view, there was no concept of spending on anything other than education and the basic necessities of life. In those days, even salaries were low. We all grew up in that atmosphere of socialist deprivation.

    Today, the same very boys and girls have become parents. They now have better financial resources at their disposal. They want to splurge on their children to provide them with what they never had. Today, parents are caught somewhere between being liberal and strict and surrendering to the whims and fancies of children. Right now we are going through a cultural confusion. I wish we could have something like a pension funds in Switzerland.

  4. India has social service programs as well. These include orphanages, farmer subsidies (like power and water) and fixed pricing on vegetables to enable the poor to eat healthy. So in some ways, Indian society still provides for those who cannot.

  5. I didn't think of that but we do the same here. Everyone working pays into a fund (Social Security) that provides income to elders who are unable to work or have reached a certain age. It's a similar system to what you mention.

  6. which part of US u r staying? i think u stay in alaska thats why saying that american kids dont possess mobile phones !! joke of the century .. lol..regards manjeet