A CHILD IS NOT A RETIREMENT PLAN

One summer day in 2015, I decided to take a train ride to downtown Calgary. The train was almost empty, it always used to be so full, that finding a seat after a hard day’s work was almost impossible. Downtown Calgary was the heartbeat of the city. It used to be infused with the energy of people bustling up and down 1st through 9th street by day, and clubs and restaurants filled to the brim, overflowing with energy, music, and laughter by night. But now, things were different. There was an economic downturn, and it had hit Calgary quite hard.

The train stopped at the 3rd street station, and a tall man in a dark suit got in. We made eye contact, and he smiled. He was probably in his forties, with a dusting of grey on his beard and temples. He asked if I was Nigerian and I nodded yes.

His face lit up. “How naa, my sista,” he said in greeting, as he sat down beside me. We exchanged pleasantries, talked about Nigerian politics, and then the conversation shifted to our city, Calgary. We lamented how empty the train was, and how having seats suddenly didn’t feel like a blessing anymore.

As we passed by one of the intersections, he pointed to a tall building. ” I used to work there,” he said. “They laid most of us off, just like that.”

He was an Engineer. He’d worked in the oil sector for over fifteen years.

“…and I don’t even have a house to my name,” he said, almost to himself.

I was taken aback, not because of the revelation, but because Nigerians are very proud and usually don’t share, at least not in that way.

My sista,” he continued, “you know how the situation is in Nigeria naa. Everyone was just saying give me, give me, give me, especially my parents.”

At this point, I could tell he just wanted to talk.

“Hmmmmm,” I replied. I figured he didn’t really want me to say anything. He just needed someone to listen.

“Are you married?” He asked.

I nodded.

“Congratulations o,” he said. “Me, I no marry. Where I see the money naa?”

“I’m sorry,” I replied.

He told me there was nothing to be sorry about, and then he really began to speak. He said the requests for money started coming even before he’d completed his second year of University. Someone was sick and needed medical care, his mother needed a new phone or a pair of glasses and so on. He’d scrape together whatever he could from his student job as a cleaner, he’d send it home without leaving much for himself and would rely heavily on high-interest credit cards and fast food. He explained that he came to Canada on a full scholarship, so his tuition was taken care of, thank goodness.

He graduated with distinction and got a job in Calgary right after. At this point, the financial request amounts grew larger and more frequent. New cars for his parents; a mandatory house built in the village for Christmas holidays but empty the rest of the year; tuition and fees for his nieces; and rent payment for his siblings. But he didn’t mind, because he was making more than enough money for everyone, or so he thought. A few years later, he got an even better job and a six-figure salary. But even with his career success, he couldn’t for many years, afford anything more than a one bedroom apartment with a mattress on the ground. Why? He was still responsible for every birthday celebration; electricity, water, food and medical bill; every church thanksgiving; and every large sum financial pledge to the church by his parents. He’d put his life on hold, postponed everything from buying a house to getting married because for his family everything was urgent, a matter of life or death. He’d been so busy putting out fires back home that he never found time to think about his own needs and future. He said that whenever he refused to send money his father would call, tell him his mother was gravely ill and disappointed in him, and warn him of the curses that would plague him if his mother died.

In those days, both of his parents were younger and able-bodied. They lived in the house he’d built in their name, somewhere in Iyana Ipaja. The house was supposed to include a shop and three five-bedroom apartments. He instructed his parents to live in one apartment and lease out the other two. He also gave them capital to set up a convenience shop for additional income. He never received a penny from the rentals, and as for the money for the convenience shop business, there were many stories: someone fell ill, a sibling got mugged on the way to the market to buy supplies for the shop, or something needed renovating and the rest of the money had to go to that instead. He later found out they only built three two bedroom apartments and there was no shop at all.

“Now everibodi dey sufa am,” he said and clicked his tongue.

His mother had high blood pressure, and his father had suffered a stroke. He had lost his job and had no savings, his four siblings, the oldest fifty with a wife and two children, the youngest nineteen, a university drop-out, all lived in the three apartments in Iyana Ipaja. They had no skills, didn’t work and couldn’t contribute.

“So what do you do?” he asked me.

I told him I was a writer.

“Hmmm, no write about me o.” He said, laughing as he stood up.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Abeg, my sista, write if you want, make our people dey hear word,” he said. “Just no put my name.”

He got off at 8th street. He said he was going to a recruitment agency a few blocks down the road. He didn’t tell me his name, and I haven’t seen him since then.

Before I go any further, I have to state that this article is by no means an indictment on parents, especially in a place like Nigeria, where there is no social safety net, where over 152 million people live on less than two dollars a day. This piece is about the exploitation and manipulation perpetrated by some family members and loved ones, which prevents success and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

For the sake of this article, I’ll call the man from the train Jide. Jide’s whole family had opted for early retirement, and he was their pension fund. But everyone was suffering because a human being, is a volatile and unreliable retirement plan. Perhaps things would have been different if his parents had been patient when they were younger, and had helped Jide make a plan, and build a solid foundation for himself. Unfortunately, he’d had to carry everyone on his shoulders while still trying to find his own feet. He’d given all he had when he was in his youth. They’d feasted on the seeds Jide could have sown, so nothing was planted, nothing grew, and there was nothing for him or for his now sick parents to fall back on.

Many demanding parents do not sincerely consider the future of their children, though they may say they do. This points to a narcissistic trait which can sometimes underlie situations like the one in which Jide finds himself. This narcissism plays a role in the lack of foresight evidenced in the never-ending demands for money by Jide’s parents. Their actions prove while they clearly thought about how to satisfy their own needs at all costs, that they probably never stopped to ask themselves questions like: has Jide saved anything for himself? Does he have enough for his own rent? Does Jide have enough to eat and pay his bills? What would happen to all of us if Jide had a heart attack and dropped dead today? What if he decided to marry and have children? Does he have enough to take care of them? Would his parents and siblings still come before his partner and children?

But I cannot blame Jide’s parents entirely for their narcissism. This is because it is normalized and socio-culturally accepted as a part of our way of life, and is rarely if ever noticed. For instance, when a young man or woman graduates university, people say, “now you can take care of your parents.” Some guilt their children, “your friends, have bought jeeps for their parents, what have you done for me?” Some judge their children by how much money they’ve received from them, or whether or not they’ve built a house in the village.

There is a faulty assumption that if a parent brings a child to the world, the child should be grateful and if parents have sent their child to University either in Nigeria or overseas, there should be payback. In other words, “I took care of you, so now you have to take care of me, it’s my right.” But in truth, a child sacrificing his future and the future of his own children, to care for his able-bodied parents and siblings, even after providing them with capital to set up a family business has nothing to do with parental rights, and suggesting so is equivalent to saying children are indentured servants.

Many young men and women, just like Jide, want to walk away from this injustice, but cannot. Perhaps because parents may have repeated a lie over and over again from childhood: I did you a favor by giving birth to you, and then I suffered to raise you. The myth of the privilege of birth is one which children may internalize and carry into adulthood. They may aspire towards success, not for themselves or their future offsprings, but so that they can pay back and please the parents to whom they became indebted the moment they were born. But the truth is that children do not choose to be born. Children do not call out to potential parents from the great beyond wailing in agony, asking to be let into the world. Having children is a self-satisfying act without which many of us are unhappy and feel unfulfilled. So we make a conscious decision to bring a child into the world, not for the child’s sake, but to fulfill a personal desire. Therefore, what parents do for a child, in terms of providing his or her basic needs is a responsibility towards that child and a right that every child deserves.

A child is not a retirement plan. But in Jide’s case, he was everybody’s plan, both for daily upkeep and for retirement. I hope Jide finds peace. I hope he gets another job, and after that, a good financial planner to help him sort out his finances and make a life plan. I hope he finds the strength to give less, say no more often, and perhaps meets someone great to build a life with. It’s never too late to start over, well, for a lucky few, and I hope that Jide is one of them.

Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves a question: Why do we have so many educated and active people in the workforce, with millions in diaspora, yet generational wealth is almost unheard of in our society, except for a very few elite? According to an article by CNBC, women’s income growth slows by the time they are 33 and by the time they are 40 years old, it stops. For men, the age is 49. More worrying, is the finding that many employers do not want to hire someone over fifty. Faced with ageism and other intersecting obstacles including racism and colorism, a person, just like Jide, perhaps loses his job and is unable to find new work. In a flash, life passes by, and he is suddenly considered too old. His job prospects wither and disappear. He is without savings, a retirement plan, or a hope for the future. He can barely care for himself, and in time may become dependent on his children, if he has any, just like his parents were dependent on him. The cycle of poverty continues, and the possibility of generational wealth for those that come after him is also taken away.

Most of us have parents who will go to hell and back for us. But they aren’t perfect. Many are uneducated on wealth building, budgeting, and financial planning. For some, the concept of long term savings and preparing for the future is left entirely in the hands of supernatural beings. However, there is a famous saying: God helps those who help themselves, and it needs no further explanation. Our resolve must be to do better than our parents did, and that means that while we appreciate and reminisce what they did right, we must improve on what they could have done better: Educate ourselves and our children about money, investing, retirement, and getting ahead in an extremely competitive world. We must also fight to suppress any narcissistic and selfish tendencies we may have.

Let us give our children our shoulders to stand on. Let us liberate and permit them to soar like eagles and break new grounds. That way if we genuinely ever need them, they’ll have strong wings to carry us to the skies, far and well into our oldest years. We must reflect on our truths, celebrate the good and most importantly reject the bad. My wish for all of us is that while we are young, we always remember, that a child is not a retirement plan and that we strategize accordingly, for ourselves and our children.

 

Art by Insecta Studios

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29 Responses to “A CHILD IS NOT A RETIREMENT PLAN”

  1. Paschal Uchechukwu

    Very nice article.
    In my understanding the parents alone are not to be blamed, Jide was a fool to send all his savings home. In Nigeria, the more you send the more they demand.
    But most importantly, the Nigerian society must learn and change their perspectives and beliefs that anyone out their in diaspora have made it in life and is living better than those at home. The Nigerian people needs a change of Attitude

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Paschal, thanks for your comment. You are correct. It does take two to tango. But you know, sometimes the power of a parent is hard to break. Sometimes people tolerate and endure things from their families that they would never take from outsiders, because it is hard to comprehend the possibility that the people who gave you life can sometimes hurt you, whether they intend to or not. Sometimes we are blinded by the love and bond that we develop for our siblings and parents from the moment we are born, the same bond which continues to hold us well into adulthood and even old age. But all in all, you are right. We need a change of attitude and I hope it happens sooner than later. Thanks again for stopping by.

      Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Manonth, you are correct, this does play a very significant role in the type of generational poverty we have in our country. Perhaps the more we talk about it, the better things will get for us and those who come after us. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  2. Chidinma Nnamene

    Jide was not wise at all. And his family weren’t forward thinkers at all. For a long time I have been thinking about this “generational poverty cycle” and how to break it. Thinking of ways for my siblings and I to continue the foundation my parents started setting and that our relatives helped shape. Thank you Petra Okeke-Bestman for your insight and words of wisdom

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Chidinma, thanks for your kind words. It’s so encouraging to hear from proactive people like yourself, who are challenging and defying the status quo. You’ve already taken the first step by seeking solutions. You’re so lucky you have relatives and parents ahead of their time. May your fight yields fruit and may we hear about your success and legacy for generations to come.

      Reply
  3. Priscilla Christopher

    I’m in Jide’s shoes. Many who haven’t worn this shoes will never know what it implies. I got my basic education from my parents but my Tertiary education was sowed in tears. I started sending money home since I was an undergraduate just to help the situation at home. Four siblings in Secondary School with an hypertensive 56 year old dad and a petty-trading mum. First, no responsible child with such condition at home feigns blindness or acts heartless. But I felt a need to restrain myself when at 27, I made an attempt to settle down. My dad told me categorically that I MUST train my siblings to my level before daring such step. It then occurred to me that nothing I did, and will do, will be appreciated. Meanwhile, all of my life savings for years has gone into his health, family’s upkeep, siblings school fees, etc with nothing left for me. In all of these, I wasn’t foolish to have not known that I had nothing to myself than a single room with a shared toilet and bathroom. I know a time will come when I won’t be playing much of that role so, I relax and do the needful while it lasts. Some parents simply stumbled on old age and that explains the reason for their dependence on their wards. And in such cases, as a responsible child, you don’t have to look away. Do the much you can do and satisfy your conscience. I don’t judge situations I’ve not been in but, I’ve I am in this. So I say, Jide was not foolish. His parents are those whom I’ll rather say were foolish cos they killed the hen which laid the golden egg. And they’ll surely die in their illnesses for Jide will only get a new job when they kiss the dust. Of course, you can’t eat your cake and still have it! It’s impossi”can’t”!!!!!

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Priscilla, I’m so sorry to hear you are going through this now. You really articulated so much truth about compassion for our family and how it binds us. Congratulations on getting yourself through school. That is a huge accomplishment. You are an amazing, selfless and hardworking daughter who loves her family no matter what. This is something you probably already know, but the demands rarely ever end. Hard as it may sound, I hope that for every amount you send home, you put away half for yourself because you must love yourself too. Starting at 27 is better than starting at 37, even if it’s just a penny, it’s something and it’s yours. Please don’t wait until the responsibility ends, start today. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  4. Adeyemi wasiu

    I must stick into cuz I’m suspecting my parent dey can do that and I know.

    Reply
  5. Obiorah

    I have always said it that no child owes any parent gratitude for bringing him or her into the world, your children owe you respect as parents, never have them as a form of financial security for the future. Great write up, exactly my thoughts.

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Obiorah,

      clarity can be quite liberating and you definitely have clarity when it comes to the role of a child. The things children do for parents financially should be out of love, not duty or payment or fear. If the latter is the case, then it’s a one-sided contract, which the child never even had the opportunity to sign, and no matter what part of the world the child lives in, that’s not fair.

      Reply
  6. John handsome

    Wow… You just bursted me into tears… More grace to dig deep in breaking generational poverty

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi John, I’m so sorry to hear this brought tears to your eyes. I hope that something good came out of this article for you. We are all doing the digging together.It’s all our lives and our future and the future of our children. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  7. Moses

    Petra, this is so nice.
    Thanks for strengthening my beliefs.
    U just hit the nail on the head. My goals will not just end at retirement plan, I’ll make sure my investments far exceeds even through my 7th generations!

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Moses, your comment makes me really happy. I hope encounter many people along the way to inspire mentor and propel you to your goal.

      Reply
  8. Stephen C

    I can’t blame jide in anyway
    I too knows the pain of giving all to your family and be left with nothing

    I have irresponsible dad and I have only my mum who helped me through my primary to jss3 till she fell sick of waist pain. I worked support my family and finished my secondary school , I wish to go further but seeing the situation and fact that I can’t leave my mum after all she did for me and save the money that am to use to help her and my younger siblings for my own good it makes me feel am not doing the right thing so I do give her all I get each and every time I work

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Stephen, yours is a unique situation. I applaud you for the love and support you’ve shown your mum. She must really appreciate your love an support. I don’t know your full situation, but I hope that you can have a conversation with her about giving eighty instead of a hundred percent. The remaining twenty percent perhaps can go into an education savings for you. It may take quite a while, but tiny drops of water form an ocean. I hope you find strength to keep being the great sibling and son you are. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  9. Williams West

    This is a really nice piece but a sad story for Jide. It should serve as an eye opener for others. I wouldn’t blame Jide, his simple plan was to liberate his family, but went about it wrongly and on the other hand he came from a very selfish family. Think about the horrible things that would have been said about him if he had not done those things for his family, to the extent his father threatened him with a curse. I pray for God’s blessings upon him again. The lesson to be learnt is that you should establish your self so you can be in a position to better settle others. Thank you Petra Okeke-Bestman, continue writing.

    Reply
  10. Oluwafemi mstillkyle

    Wow! What a nice write-up for young generation like us. I’ve learnt one or two from this write-up

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Thanks Oluwafemi, I’m glad you got something from the article. I wish you success in all your endeavors.

      Reply
  11. Anonymous

    This got me thinking because am just 23 years old earning, plus all corner markings 21k per month. I’ve gotten a National diploma degree and my mum is already on my neck to pay bills and all the rest, but am still trying to say a big “No” to her pressures. Because I’ve discovered a bit of life from jide’s story. Thanks for share your experience with God bless you.

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi there, thanks for leaving a comment. You still have age on your side. I’m sorry to hear responsibilities are already calling. I hope that you’re able to find balance and also save up for a great life for yourself and your future. All the best!

      Reply
  12. Obayno

    Honestly you nailed it, am beginning to have a rethink towards family responsibility. This was the same mistake my dad of blessed memory made in his youth age, he carried all his family members financial burden without any solid plans for us the children, when things went soar for him, he was deserted and left alone to suffer by the same family members he nurtured. Now as a working class bachelor, i see my going in the same direction again trying to accommodate everybody in the family financially, thinking it’s mandatory or my obligation to carry everybody in the family along financially, thereby leaving myself with little or no plans for savings and for my own future family with hope of getting more tomorrow to send to them.Thanks dearie and thanks to my woman😘 for sharing your link with me. Because this is truly an eye opener to me and a warning to retrace my steps now before its too late. 🙏🏾🥰

    Reply
    • Petra Okeke-Bestman

      Hi Obayno, your comment really caught me. This is such a common experience. I’m also thankful to your woman for sharing this with you! Smart girl!

      Reply

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