Does giving money = filial piety?

"Of course lah, this is what people mean by filial piety," declares Mr Chew Yew Huat as he sits waiting for his noodles at a Commonwealth Road kopitiam.

The 72-year-old retiree has three daughters - all married with kids - and two sons, one of whom is married.

He says: "Just knowing how many children my wife and I have tells you how hard it was to raise them.

"Now that they are all grown up, it's time for them to repay their parents."

He recounts how he had to work two jobs - as a delivery man for a supermarket chain by day and a cabby by night - just to make ends meet.

His wife used to work as a dishwasher for a Chinese restaurant. And they depended on his mother, a widow, to take care of his five children.

Mr Chew proudly says he has not had an issue about his children giving them an allowance.

"I have heard unpleasant stories about how some parents have to beg or fight with their kids before they get some money," he adds. "Luckily, it has been very auto(matic) with mine."

He gets between $150 and $600 from each child, and shares the money with his wife.

Mr Chew admits that he was initially miffed with the $150 contribution from his youngest daughter.

He relented after she sat down to show him the sums and how she could not afford more.

This begs the question: Is there really a price that we can put to filial piety?

Unlike giving hongbaos at wedding dinners where we can often provide a guideline based on the grandeur of the location, it is hard to decide on "the right sum" to give our parents.

Speak to the heartlanders and 53 out of 60 admit they expect their children to give them a monthly allowance.

In another poll of 50 people, 34 shared the same view.

As Mr Daniel Yeo, 44, argues: "It's totally not right to determine how filial a child is from the allowance he gives to his parents."

His parents nearly hauled him to the Family Tribunal Court to seek more maintenance but have since changed their mind.

Fewer elderly parents are resorting to legal action to obtain financial assistance from their children, the latest statistics available show.

While there were 303 cases handled by the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (OCMP) last year, there were only 126 from January to June this year.

Of the 303 cases, only 31 were escalated to the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents.

This is because about 87 per cent of the cases were resolved through mediation, which became compulsory in March 2011, following an amendment to the Maintenance of Parents Act.

While most of the parents approached this week say that they are certain they don't have to resort to legal action, they feel it is right to expect their children to give them a monthly allowance.

Madam Yang Muihui, 60, a housewife, depends on the allowance she gets from both her married children to pay her medical bills.

She cannot work as she suffers from hypertension and diabetes and has a weak heart.

Her husband died in a traffic accident in 2002.

She knows her children can barely cope too, but there is no choice.

"Sometimes, they skip giving me the allowance for one or two months, and I don't say anything.

I just have to spend frugally," she says. Madam Susan Koh, 52, a housewife, has two children, 19 and 14. She says: "Parents should expect children to give them money, because it shows gratitude."

But she offers another dimension to the allowance- giving: "Parents should not spend this money, but save it for their children. The parents are more frugal and better at saving money. This way, when children need money, they can go to their parents for help."

She adds: "In any case, when the parents die, the money will go back to the children any way."

Chat with the younger adults and we realise that most of them have been brought up in the same mould that teaches them the value of giving money back to their parents.

Mr Yiling Cheong, 23, a public relations executive, says: "Since parents have supported their kids their whole lives, the least children can do is support their parents in turn. It's a way of honouring and showing them gratitude too."

Ms Sheryl Seng, 32, a teacher, adds: "They (the parents) spent so much on us so it's only right that they expect something in return.

"And it's something that society expects from us as children, so why shouldn't parents expect it too?" That society expects it is a line that we came across while talking to both the young and old.

I recall a scene when I first went out to work and my salary package was all of $850.

My mother returned home one day after a dim-sum outing with a group of friends. In a very serious - and I thought then, upset - tone, she said: "One of the aunties said her daughter gives her more than $1,000 a month."

It irked me then. What? $1,000? I was giving her only $50. And not on a regular basis.

Looking back now, I think it took tremendous effort for us to resist getting into a fight or an argument.

I cannot remember how the cold war ended but one day, she returned home again to say: "Remember that auntie? Turns out she was only boasting about what her daughter gave."

On the other side of the coin, Mr Joel Leong, 28, a business owner, feels that "parents should understand that their children may not be able to give as much as they would like to and shouldn't force the issue."

For those who say that parents should not expect their children to give them money, we note that their opinions often end with "but children should still give regardless or automatically".

Miss Cassandra Christopher, 23, a teacher, says: "Children should definitely automatically give their parents some money (but) parents shouldn't demand it as if it's their right."

Ms Farah Rahim, 30, a human resource executive, says: "Kids should give back (even though parents should not expect it).

"If the parents are retired or have a low income, we should give. But if they are still earning and have a high salary, they shouldn't expect it and should actually understand that we can't give them so much just yet."

It makes sense.

I don't think my parents or parents-in-law will be quite comfortable with me discussing how much my husband and I give them. But the thing is, they don't really expect it.

I remember though how long it took my father- in-law before he'd accept any money from us without any pushing to and back.

He was more concerned that our young family start up - and in later years when our children came along - that we had enough. It was the same with my parents.

As post-65 parents, my husband and I - along with our peers - sing the same tune: We don't expect our children to do anything like that.

If they don't give, we will not feel that they are being unfilial. We would much rather they can afford to raise their own family without us parents having to worry about them.

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