On supporting family back home – Part I

This is a slightly sensitive topic for people on both sides of the issue, and I want those of you who are based “back home” who have never exhibited any of the following behaviour or who fully understand what I’m saying to please rest assured that this entry is not at all written to you. I am writing to those abroad who have had to deal with situations like this and who feel that despite their efforts, they are unappreciated or looked down upon for the size of their contribution. I am also writing to people back home who feel like their family abroad are living the high life, while sending them scraps. I am sure there are some who do just this, but I would venture to say that they are the minority.

If you live abroad, and you have family in your home country, you have probably faced this idea of helping your family “back home”. I know, I’m so funny, calling it an idea, as if it’s a philosophy one can choose to adopt or not. I guess there is some choice, but from the perspective of most of our loved ones back home, it’s less of a choice and more of an expectation. Not all relatives are greedy, but there are some who definitely fit the label. This expectation is based on the belief that life where you are is better than life where they are (Nigeria, for example), so it is your job to help them attain a level where they too can be comfortable, or in some cases, more than just comfortable.

This concept of helping family back home can be explored from so many different sides, and I can’t fully address it in one entry, so this will likely be one of a few, spread out over the next while. I had a lively discussion with my brother on the idea of providing financial aid to family members last night, and that is what I’ll focus on right now.

If you went abroad as a student, you probably had or have some family members who expected hoped that you would be able to send them something back regularly when you can. If you came here at a young age or were born abroad, then it was likely your parents that got the brunt of these expectations and requests. I fall into this latter category.

Like most, my parents are not the sort to make a big deal of supporting family members. When their counterparts were putting money aside for their annual vacations, my parents would be thinking about how best to maximize the money they were earning, so they could both support their expanding family and the families they were born into. They had to decide who to send to and when, and how much could be spared. I feel confident saying that those of you who have personally dealt with this approached the situation similarly: the money you sent home was never EXTRA (which implies that your wallets were just too full of money to contain it all), instead, you deprived yourself of things your counterparts enjoyed freely, be it buying your lunch, getting someone to do your hair, watching movies at the theatre (if you’re a student), or buying a brand new car when your 13 year old rusted one dies, renting a home for a few more years instead of saving a chunk of money to put toward a down payment on a house, or maybe shopping at secondhand stores (if you are an adult). Maybe you did all of the above at different times, but you did what you felt you had to do, this was/is life. You ensured your needs were met and probably treated yourself too, but tried to live relatively modestly so you could help family.

Now that I’m older, I am starting to see the full extent of what my parents do, and how little I do in comparison, but I am learning. It is my intention to do so much more than I currently do. Both of my younger brothers were born in Canada, and both are in school, which they are paying for primarily through loans. The elder of the two will tell you that he considers himself more Canadian than Nigerian and that as far as he is concerned, my parents’ obligations are to the family they created who live with them in Canada, and they should not be sending any money anywhere. Our debate or discussion yesterday hinged around this idea of giving even when it wasn’t comfortable for you. Mind you, he has no money to give anybody; he’s in debt himself, but it was the way he said that it’s only when he’s debt free and basically has a good job, a home and a car that he would think about seeing what he could do to help others. I know deep down he probably doesn’t mean it because he’s quite sensitive when he sees someone less fortunate than he is, but the way he said it, so uncaringly, angered me.

My argument was that if he doesn’t have a heart for generosity now, earning a six figure income will not bring that out. I bet many millionaires have not changed when it comes to that basic desire to help others, simply because they are earning more money (but maybe I’m wrong). I suspect that while some do share the wealth, others just graduate to a lifestyle that matches the extra money in the bank. There’s just something about saying you can’t help anyone out until you’re loaded that bothers me. I’m not saying give all that you have away then suffer, but we all know whether putting aside $200 every year to send home is possible or not (nevermind that it might not be considered a large enough sum by some recipients).

But not everyone that receives money back home is actually suffering are they? That’s a topic for another entry! Let’s just say that the more I learn about how things work in my family, the angrier I become when I hear that some don’t think my parents have done enough. I don’t know why I bother getting angry since it’s not like we have to prove anything to anyone. We are all accountable to a Higher Power.

Something tells me that at least some of you can relate, or share stories on the topic.

17 thoughts on “On supporting family back home – Part I

  1. I cant say I personally experienced this, but from your post, I am beginning to feel guilty of expecting too much from my sister who was a student abroad :-)

    One this is if someone is a giver, the person will always give no matter how little or how small. The reverse is also true…

    U kinda sounded hurt in this post or something…

  2. i live (and work) in Nigeria, plus i really don't have any close relative abroad (ok, i do, but really i do giv much ish 'bout em). So i'm neither on the giving nor receiving end. However, i know how much it eats outta my monthly income sending some money home (my dad is still around, but i'm the eldest, so…).

    Anyway, the point i'm tryina make is: Its all about how sensitive to "pleas" from relatives you are. For me, its a balance between my financial plans and what i feel i ought to send back to the family i come from – my comfort usually comes third. Pity, i know :)

  3. Ok first of all, relatives asking you for money or 'depending' on you does not apply only to those who live abroad. When you come from a large family or where there are broke/poor/greedy people, you're bound to experience such things especially when they think you're in a better station of life than they are.

    I've had to deal with this a lot in my short life and i've never lived abroad.

    My husband and i have just decided we will help those we can and when we can't help, we can't, we won't do anything that will affect our own lives…and where we can, we teach people to fish for themselves instead of always giving them fish.

    This is a situation i ALWAYS have to deal with, so i totally understand. On the other hand, some people have but are too stingy to help other people, on another note, some people want to capitalise on your generosity once they know they can knock on your door and to such people, i'm learning to put my foot down.

    Ok i need to stop before i write my own post! lol

  4. I really will not understand completely because I am not wearing the shoes but I have siblings and family members who are abroad and I feel they send stuff when it is convenient for them. Personally, I do not like asking them for things because I feel I am imposing and they have their lives to live but I also feel that if anyone is there and feels the need to help those that are back home they should… it's the least you can do for the person and if you don't feel comfortable giving them, then is is best you don't… Nobody ever died from saying No

  5. The fact is, it's relatively easier to give when you have more. Notice I said relatively. Like you said, if one is naturally stingy, being a millionaire ain't gonna change that attitude much.

    Another factor you're neglecting (or at least underestimating) is the relative closeness and goodwill between families and their relatives. If there's not an excess of ill-feeling and one feels close to one's relatives it's more natural imo to sacrifice and give. But if one isn't raised with their cousins/relatives, it won't happen as often. For me, the burden was more on my parents and I haven't gotten any requests yet cos I've been a student all this time. Maybe, if I was living in Nigeria, the requests would have been rolling in by now…lol.

    It also beggars belief when they start showing up on your doorstep expecting something and acting as if life has been rosy for you all this time…lol.

  6. Omg I feel this post and u were right when u told ur bro. If he does not have a heart for generosity now when will he ever have it? The menality of ur bro disappoints me as I meet a lot of ppl who are like that

  7. â–ºRita

    From what I know of you, I am sure that you are a very reasonable person, missy!

    Yup, I do believe that generosity or stinginess is a trait that is maintained no matter how big or small your pockets are.

    I am hurt on my parents' behalf. Like I said, I personally do not feel like I have done much, certainly not as much as I would like to do, but my parents are another matter.

    â–ºkay9

    You bring up a good point. I was sharing my experiences here, and you have added to that idea that as the eldest, in our culture, you are expected to help out your parents and younger ones. I was going to touch on that idea in a subsquent entry but I really like the point you made.

    What you are saying is what my father has said to me. I am too sensitive to people's requests. Like you, my parents take careful stock of what they have and what they can do without and help their family accordingly.

    â–ºWritefreak

    No one said this only applied to those who live abroad o! Naturally I write from my own experience.

    It sounds like your solution to the matter is working for you and hubby and I pray that God continues to bless you so that you continue to pass on those blessings.

    â–ºHarry

    Your first line is really key. I started the entry with the disclaimer because the topic was brought up to get people talking about it from their own vantage point. Like you said, you are not wearing the shoes of those abroad, and those abroad are either no longer wearing the shoes of someone in Nigeria, or they never did (in the case of those born abroad). It is possible that neither side has a good understanding of the other's true story, and I think that's why it's great to talk about it.

    I agree with what you said regarding the fact that people should not help unless their heart is really there. I think where the trouble comes up is when someone really does try to help as much as they can, and their efforts are criticized as not being frequent enough or large enough in scale.

    â–ºKG

    I like the point about how one's personal feelings might influence how generous they are. I was thinking about supporting family under conditions where you have love and have a desire to see your family members prosper and lead happy lives as much as possible when I wrote this.

    It's interesting the idea of closeness you bring up, it can be physical closeness or emotional closeness that leads you to be generous. I think living away from my extended family most of my life has given me that emotional closeness despite not being physically close.

    â–ºAzazel

    I know what you mean. I too was disappointed. Let us hope he grows out of it…he certainly got a tongue lashing from me!

  8. If someone does not have a generous heart, it does not matter whether or not their wallet is fat, they'll always be stingy.

    That being said, I believe in helping people who genuinely need my help and saying "No" when i need to. I may feel guilty at the time but I know it's something that had to be done.

    Regardless of whether you are abroad or not, there are relatives here who feel that we have it made and would waste no time in asking for 'help' again and again. I had to turn an auntie away just last week.

    For Christmas, she asked for a phone which I bought and sent to her and just a few days ago she called again asking for money to pay for something and i just had to tell her no. Is she suffering? Not in my opinion. She just feels that I have a lot more to spare.

    Still there are others who do not have food to eat and they aren't even relatives. For these ones, I often go the extra mile.

    Now I have taken up your entirespace!

  9. What is family? I agree with your brother "…my parents’ obligations are to the family they created…"

    'tis high-time, we stopped this idea of "…supporting family back home" as if without 'family' not in the same locale (oops, abroad) they (family back home) will cease to exist.

    Once we lend support (by any means) to a not very pleasant habit, then, that habit breeds and flourishes as if it is a right.

  10. Like someone said above, it's not only a problem for those living abroad. The amount of people my parents support is crazy, sometimes I am not even sure how these people are related to us.

    As for my siblings and I, well no demands are made on us because our people do not really know us. And those that do think we are too oyibo, besides we are students so there you go.

    I fully expect to support some relatives when I start making my own money but I won't be as generous as my parents. Basically if we do not share the same grandmother, I have no time for you. Cold? Yup, but very necessary.

  11. â–ºEnkay

    Like you, I don't have a problem saying no, and when you think about it, it's your money or belongings to give or not give, and you will sometimes have to make decisons that won't meet with the approval of those hoping to benefit from your generosity.

    Sometimes you do see or hear about a cause that you just can't stop yourself from giving to.

    â–ºrethots

    My problem with my brother's statement is he doesn't have the heart of wanting to help out someone who seems to genuinely need the help. This isn't a case where he is being made to suffer as a result of my parents' decisions with their money; it's just he can hear a story of an unfortunate happening and say "well, they should figure it out" without feeling any sympathy or a desire to do something to help.

    I think there's a natural inclination on the part of those who are able to want to help out others who are struggling a bit. Maybe this "supporting" gives some a bit of a "God" complex, where they feel as if their entire extended family network would collapse without them but I daresay it is the minority who thinks this way. No one thinks they're that crucial to another's existence, do they? Life would go on without the "benefactor".

    I like your closing. We have to be discerning and exercise some common sense when deciding who and what we support.

    â–ºOmosi T

    I wasn't trying to say that only people abroad dealt with this, but I was naturally writing from my own point of view.

    I can totally see why you've made the decision to manage the dispensing of your money differently from your parents in the future (and to be honest I don't think you're being cold at all!). I know I will too, though there are other factors that pretty much guarantee that things will be different. I think our parents teach us by both showing us how to do things and how not to do things.

    And guess what? I think I thought you were an only child!

  12. I guess I have never being in any of the positions described, I dont have family who come knocking at my parents door or that kind of thing (maybe they dont consider us the stinkingly rich relatives) but my parents help loads of other people who are in no way linked to us by blood! (Maybe they do help some relatives but they have never let us in on it)!

    The key is giving as you are led to do and if u decide to give do it cheerfully without complaint for God loves a cheerful giver even if at the end of the day the people u help do not appreciate it~

  13. Amazing how irritating this can get…

    One theory my Dad has is that people who really need stuff, who really really need stuff are not the ones who do the asking, they are usually quiet and suffering in silence.

    My prayer is to be able to see them. As a result, I usually do not honor 'begging' requests but look out for the needy family or not!

  14. â–ºOlaoluwatomi

    I agree fully with your last paragraph. Thanks for sharing.

    â–ºtoyin

    Hmm, that's a good point about the ones in the most dire need not being the ones who speak up the most. I agree too, and sometimes we really do need a spirit of discernment to figure out who truly needs our help and who is just being a little lazy or trying to take advantage.

    Thanks for your comment. I echo your prayer!

  15. About receiving and giving money to relatives, you can’t reach further than the Ibos where it is an entrenched tradition. I thot as a last child I was exempt from all that fa fafa foul. When I got my 2nd job in a bank, my Dad happily announced to kith and kin that Ginger was a banker. And expectations began. It wasn’t that bad really cause I am good at budgets. If I have to give till it hurts for a really deep cause no problemo but not just becos its expected. Anyway, I have since left the banking sector for a more steady but less paying job. Had to tell Dad to go and make a new announcement. Xmas is over!

    I feel you about your bro. but pls don’t be too harsh on him. That he doesn’t feel you about sending home doesn’t mean he is not generous. The Haiti disaster or even the Wino down the street maybe more real to him than some healthy relatives back in Nigeria who expect dough from him just because.

    I had an argument with my Mom about giving awhile back. When I mentioned helping out a security man at work and sha said, ‘you find it easier sparing money for some stranger than your blood’. I reminded her that she lives in the east. I live all alone in Lagos. That security man, I see everyday. He is the one who sees me dragging my feet on my to/fro work and says ‘Aunty, wetin happen, you re not your smiling self today, you no well? He probably knows I am not well before you my parents.

    Anywayz, keep praying. Thats the cheapest and best gift. Love your blog!

  16. well i think one should be kind hearted and generous to others but it shouldn't be at the expense of your own progress or that of your immediate family. relatives in Nigeria should also be considerate in making demands, money don't grow on trees abroad!

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