Black tax: Parents may feel let down if children don’t fulfil their responsibility to them

The concept of “black tax” extends beyond the African community, permeating collectivist societies where individuals, particularly professionals or those with higher incomes than that of the family of origin, feel a cultural obligation to support extended family members.

The duty, stemming from a history of sacrifices and underprivileged backgrounds, creates a sense of repayment and familial responsibility towards elders. However, societal shifts from collectivism to individualism present a stark challenge in navigating the traditional obligations.

Parents feel cared for, validated and supported, especially as they age as they may be unable to manage their responsibilities as before. The parents may feel let down as they fulfilled this responsibility towards their own and expect this legacy to continue.

Yet due to the rising inflation rates, nuclear lifestyle, westernised culture and high rates of emigration, this may not be possible anymore. The generational pattern of black tax, while revered, often brings shame and guilt if not upheld and many fulfil the obligation to avoid disappointing their families and being looked down upon.

The dual responsibility demanded imposes not only financial constraints on the child but also strains mental health and relationships, inducing stress, conflict and profound psychological burdens, especially if the spouse is not of the same thinking.

The financial burden of supporting two households, combined with immediate family needs, can overwhelm individuals. The strain extends beyond financial concerns, affecting emotional and psychological well-being. Balancing expectations from both ends generates internal conflict, heightening stress, anxiety and potential depression.

An example, especially within the Indian community, can be that the family has in the past lived with extended family and the young married couple took over the family responsibilities, like the husband the expenses and the wife the household chores, while the grandparents assisted with the care of the grandchildren.

The family of origin may feel let down and unappreciated if the child moves away or invests in their future, while keeping visiting to a minimum. Even the children going out on their own may be foreign to the parents for that is not the way they do things. The parents can find this to be a culture shock and be offended, hurt and confused.

The parents will often blame the child’s spouse for the distance and judge the couple’s expenditure, choice of child rearing and so on, due to the resentment and disappointment built. However, this just causes more of a rift and misunderstanding. Both sides of this situation is understandable and the solution can differ from family to family.

From a pragmatic and psychological perspective, establishing clear boundaries and fostering open communication becomes imperative. Prioritising personal well-being is crucial. Individuals cannot give from an empty reserve. Developing a financial plan helps allocate resources effectively, while safeguarding financial stability for both families.

Open and honest communication with all involved parties is pivotal. Articulating limitations while validating the family of origins’ emotions but not shying away from discussing feasible contributions, manages expectations. Acknowledging the challenges of balancing obligations emphasises the need for support and fairness from all sides.

The spouse has an important role in speaking clearly and honestly to both parties, letting them know the relationships and the responsibilities are not mutually exclusive and though equitable, will not be equal. Validating the emotions, making time for family of origin and taking the time to clarify misunderstandings can make for much healthier, happier relationships all around.

Fostering empathy and understanding regarding societal shifts and the new norms of the times, within the family of origin is essential. Initiating conversations about the transition towards individualism, while respecting traditions bridges the gap between expectations and evolving realities.

Seeking support from psychologists equips individuals with coping strategies to manage the emotional and psychological toll of black tax. Therapy provides a safe space to explore feelings of guilt, resentment, stress and conflict, aiding in balancing obligations and personal well-being through healthy communication and addressing difficult emotions often avoided.

Navigating the intricacies of the black tax necessitates balancing cultural responsibilities, while safeguarding mental health. Through open communication, setting boundaries and seeking professional support, individuals can meet obligations while prioritising mental and emotional well-being, and nurturing healthier relationships within their family of origin and nuclear family.

Dr Nazia Iram Osman is an independent, board-certified clinical psychologist registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. She has completed her PHD as doctor of philosophy and treats psychiatric and psychological disorders and helps clients with personal, professional or societal challenges they may experience. -IOL

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