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Do Children Owe Their Parents?

[My mother] would declare that she never wanted to have any children, that she is taking care of us because it’s her duty, and how much she hates it. And I remember thinking indignantly from as far back as I can recall that [me and my sisters] did not choose to be born, and what is it that we are expected to do about it? That, since we could not help it, under what sort of obligation should we consider ourselves? It’s the injustice, the irrationality of that kind of accusation that I resented very much, […] it didn’t make me feel guilty, it made me feel resentful.

– Ayn Rand about her childhood

Children should not consider themselves under any sort of default obligation toward their parents. (Throughout this article, whenever I speak of ‘children’, I’m not talking about any particular age range – what I say applies as much to little children as it does to adult ones who have long moved out of their parents’ place. The latter are still their parents’ children, so I call them children in that sense.)

Children do not owe their parents anything, except, as for anyone else, that which they have agreed to owe. Such an agreement is only valid if each party understands what it means, is capable of entering it, and is not pressured or tricked into entering it. That last part is crucial because, as pointed out in one of the videos linked below, parents have a tremendous amount of emotional power over their children (including their adult children, albeit usually less so).

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