Filial piety requires emotional care, not just financial support

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 April, 2013, 3:02am

Recent family tragedies have sparked discussions on the relationship between children and their parents in the local community.

Filial piety has long been the core value of Chinese culture, but tragedies and a rising trend of living alone in advanced age, later-life depression and abuse of the elderly raise concerns about whether filial obligations for the care of ageing parents are in decline.

The impact of intergenerational relationships on the quality of life of older people is undeniable. The emotional connection and dynamics between two generations in the local context has seldom been explored.

The Nethersole School of Nursing conducted a survey recently by using a questionnaire from the OASIS project (which was funded by the EU) on the perception of intergenerational relationships in ageing parents.

To our surprise, the 214 respondents in Hong Kong, who were from community centres and hospitals, reported less contact and a lower level of emotional closeness and consensus in values with their children when compared with those in Western countries including England, Germany, Spain, Norway and Israel.

The survey showed that the instrumental help (functional support for daily living) provided by children in Hong Kong was much higher than that of their Western counterparts. Levels of conflict here and in the West were comparable.

It appears from the findings that children here mainly focus on tangible support for their parents and neglect their emotional needs. The perceived lower intergenerational affection may also be due to the gap between parental expectations and the filial practices of their children, and this results in strains and tension in relationships.

The findings also challenged some traditional filial practices. For example, if different generations of a family are living in the same home, this may be a source of family conflict. This disharmony can stem from a lack of agreement over values and orientation between generations. Therefore, the impact of socioeconomic changes over the past few decades should be taken into account when devising family education and policies to encourage family care for older people.

It has to be accepted that both positive and negative sentiments often coexist in an intimate relationship. Family members have to learn to work with each other through the ups and downs of life, and encourage sharing and open expression of feelings.

Helen Chan, assistant professor, Nethersole School of Nursing, Chinese University of Hong Kong