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What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents? Jane English

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Dr. Danaher

Ethics Nov. 24, 2010

What Do Grown Children Owe Their Parents? Jane English

Jane English provides a logical, strong argument that responsibilities of grown children to their parents are based upon the friendship that exists between them, and not any obligation based upon the care provided by the parents. Thus, argues English, grown children "owe" nothing to their parents as favors create debts, and friendship creates duties.

English's argument that favors create debts is explained by examples provided in the article where one party requests a favor of another, thereby creating a moral obligation to reciprocate similarly at some point. Sameness and the amount of sacrifice is an important factor in determining an appropriate return of the favor. Just like a monetary debt, the repayment must equal the original favor. One could not consider a monetary debt repaid if only half of the loan amount were repaid; only a full repayment of the loan amount would extinguish the debt. Of course, monetary debts are tracked via contract, and those contracts are recorded as a lien. That lien is extinguished or released only once full repayment is made. Favors are not tracked quite so literally, but the same parameters apply. Once reciprocation takes place, the debt or obligation of the favor is repaid.

The solicited favor is very different from one unsolicited, and is categorized by English as a friendly gesture. Such a gesture is made simply on the basis of goodwill, and may perhaps foster the development of a friendship. Failure to return the kindness may thwart a friendship from developing, but it is not fair to expect the return of a favor done freely. This is very similar to charitable acts or contributions. True charity is given or performed based upon the desire to do good and the feeling that results from the charitable act. No reciprocation is expected.

Friendship, English argues, is a mutually beneficial social arrangement whereby friends give and take based upon ability and need, and not based upon the sameness standard used in repayment of debt. Friends support each other as needed, very often in varying degrees. This give and take furthers the friendship, thus keeping the cycle going. The friendship feeds and grows from mutual give and take, and is based upon both parties enjoyment of the other's company. Parties repaying debt do not share this mutual enjoyment; they act more upon obligation than on the emotional connection shared between friends. The stronger an emotional bond between friends, the more giving is likely to take place. Good friends will often go to great lengths for each other, more so than they may do for a blood relative. The quote "blood is thicker than water" is not always appropriate. It is not unusual for stronger bonds to occur between friends than do family members, depending on the bond between the family members.

The emotional bond in a strong friendship is argued by English as the dominant factor to be applied to any duty owed a parent by a child. That duty is based upon the emotional bond, or friendship that exists between parent and child, and not any duty to reciprocate based upon the upbringing or parental sacrifice for the child. English correctly argues that the quantity of parental sacrifice is not relevant in determining what duties the grown child has. A well-known quote is cited in the article - "I didn't ask to be born". This is often a teenage phrase associated with rebellion. However, this quote is adequately supported

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