What Do Children Owe Their Parents? Retirement and Family Expectations

by McKale Thompson

In King Lear, Lear expects his daughters to respect and take care of him after he relinquishes power. Why does he expect this? Lear believes that because he was king, he raised his daughters, and gave them a good life, it is their responsibility to repay the favor. However, it could be argued that his daughters did ask him for his support and they did not ask to be princesses…So do they really owe him?

In an article from Pew Research Center on social and demographic trends surrounding aging parents, they state that in America, 58% of people have helped their elderly parents with household work, errands, or home repairs in the last 12 months. In Germany and Italy, the percentage is closer to 70%. In another study, they conclude that in America, Germany, and Italy 84-88% of people say that taking care of their parents is a rewarding experience and 64-83% of people also say the experience is stressful. All of this data would lead one to believe that taking care of your elderly parents is something that is widely accepted. Most people even find it rewarding so, why are Reagan and Goneril so stuck up toward their father?

In King Lear specifically, Lear is not characterized as a compassionate person. Within his interactions with Cordelia and Kent just within the first scene, the reader understands that he isn’t very understanding of others or what love and loyalty really is. This makes it possible that Reagan and Goneril just dislike their father and do not feel close enough to him to have him around. But, another possibility is gender roles and their involvement in this dynamic. 

Pew Research Center’s article concluded by explaining some disparities between the opinions of daughters and sons on whether or not caring for a parent is overwhelming. The article states, “About one-in-ten (11%) American women with a parent 65 or older feel this way, compared with 4% of American men. Among Germans with an aging parent, 15% of women feel that they are expected to do too much, while just 6% of men do.” So, even though it is agreed that Reagan and Goneril are not great people, it is worth noting that as women charged with the responsibility of taking care of their father, another factor could be that they are afraid of the pressure and expectations that come from becoming a caregiver and being in charge of their father.

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