When will the parents stand up to the children?

Many years ago, I was a guest on Tim Modise’s radio talk show on 702. We were discussing my book on fatherhood, What Nobody Tells a New Father, and the challenges and issues that fathers have to deal with.

During our conversation, a woman from Lenasia phoned in and the call was duly put through to us.

After the quick pleasantries, Tim asked her to tell us why she had called in. She said that her husband had run his own business for many years and, for all his working career, had carefully put money aside each month so that, when he retired, they would have more than enough money to live on. Sadly, she said, her husband had unexpectedly passed away and ever since his death, her eldest son had been spending all this money that her husband had worked so hard to set aside “like there was no tomorrow”.

“What can I do?” she asked, her voice raw with distress.

I looked at Tim. He looked at me and then ever so smartly he leaned back in his chair and flipped it my way. “What do you think she should do, Alan?” he asked.

“How old is your son?” I asked the desperate-sounding mother.

“He’s 41,” came the reply.

You tell me … What do you say to a mother of a 41-year-old man who’s spending all her money? I offered her some practical suggestions that could possibly curb her son’s actions but have no idea whether they helped her at all.

This story came back to me as I reflected on the fact that we as a country, have the same problem as that mother, and here’s why I think so.

Quick context … Because of my work with families and parenting, I tend to see many parallels with family metaphors and life in general.

For example, if we compare the country’s citizens to a family (wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were one happy family?), who would be the parents and who would be the children in this metaphor? My sense is that the Business community would be the parents and the dependants – or children – would be … government. That’s right. Parents provide the money that children use and, like the parents in a family, the Business community provides all the revenue that government uses.

“What about State Owned Enterprises?” you ask. Yes, what about them? Who’s busy bailing them out of the mess they’re in? The “parents” – the taxpayers.

“But it’s not only Business that contributes to State coffers. What about all the citizens who pay taxes?” you add. Indeed. What about them? Who pays them the money they earn to be able to pay their taxes? The “parents” of the family – Business. And besides, everyone working in the Business community forms part of that group called “parents” because they’re all working to generate income in the form of taxes.  

So, clearly, like it or not (and most children don’t like it) parents with dependent children (all governments are dependants of their respective Business communities) provide the finances for their “children”.

In the case of our national family, those in our Business community are the breadwinners of the family who provide all the revenue for the family’s needs and wellbeing.

Surely it makes sense for those who provide the finances (the parents) to have a say in how those funds are used, particularly if they are being abused? Ever heard the saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune”?

As a country, we are therefore no different from the mother with the 41-year-old son who was spending, wasting and in fact stealing her money.

Right now, the money that our collective “parents” (Business) have worked so hard to earn is being spent by a number of “41-year-old sons” and we as “parents” are doing nothing about it.
Business has only once, to my knowledge, stepped in to prevent government from making a huge mistake when they pressured to have Pravin Ghordan reinstated as Finance Minister. They displayed very short lived courage, though. Why have they remained silent since then, despite further disastrous decisions?

It’s time for us as the “parents” to find our collective courage, find our collective voice and start finding ways to stop our “41-year-old sons” from spending all of our hard earned money like there’s no tomorrow. If we “parents” fail to do this, we will have failed the family.

I tell new parents that, despite a few exceptions, parents generally get the children they raise. In the same vein, it’s said that countries get the governments they deserve.

It won’t help pointing at the children and complaining about what they’ve done with our money. We all know that children who have not had to work to earn their own money don’t treat money they’re given with the same respect as if they had had to work for it. While no accountability is required by Business as to how our money gets spent, do we think those who haven’t had to work for that money are suddenly going to apologise and promise never to waste it again?  

If we as “parents” don’t do something soon, those who have taken the family’s money for themselves will enjoy a great tomorrow, but we “parents” won’t.

I will never know what happened to the mother of that 41-year-old son all those years ago, but I learned a very valuable lesson from her.

You know the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. How many times are we prepared to be shamed before we do anything to save the “family” from financial ruin at the hands of those acting irresponsibly?

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, @HRFuturemag, and he assists leaders to lead with purpose, compassion and self-mastery.

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