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Filial Piety – A child’s responsibility to a parent

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What’s a child’s responsibility to an ill and/or elderly parent? The Chinese practice of filial piety is a good place to look. Filial piety is the responsibility of a person to his or her parent, country, ancestors, or leaders. Filial refers to the relationship that exists between a child and his or her parents. Piety denotes moral behavior.

The continual need to care for the elderly has prompted the question of whether an adult child should tend to his parents’ needs. This article answers the pertinent question, giving you a glimpse of what filial piety is all about and how it affects child and parents’ relationships.

History of Filial Piety

Filial Piety traces its origin to the Chinese and Confucian traditions communicated via storytelling from generation to generation. These stories were written on oracle bones during the 1000 BCE (end of the Shang Dynasty and beginning of the Western Zhou Dynasty). The Twenty-four Cases of Filial Piety is a popular collection of stories that portrayed how children practiced this virtue in the past. Around the 6th -10th century, the refusal to perform piety was highly punishable by death. The abandonment or mistreatment of the elderly or defiance to complete the burying rite was punished by beating and exile. The duties of children to their folks have changed over time.

Definition of Filial Piety

An essential virtue in many cultures and societies today, filial piety encompasses the art of showing affection and care to one’s parents, respecting and supporting the elderly. This also comprises caring for them when they’re aged, fulfilling their desires, and ensuring their needs are met. The concept stems from the fact that parents birth these children, fend and tend to their needs during their growing years. Due to this, children will forever be indebted to their parents. To repay, children have to acknowledge and serve their parents throughout life. It’s rightful to say that they’re obliged to help their parents since they can offer the needed support. This belief has been implanted in our moral framework and is transmitted from one generation to the other. According to a study, adult children owe their parents a lot since they’re most vulnerable when they become old.

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Filial piety is characterized by daily maintenance, reverence, and care provided to the elderly. While there are 5 forms of respect described in scholarly literature, 8 others have been added to vividly explain elder respect.

  • Care respect: Ensuring parents live a life of convenience.
  • Public respect: Offering voluntary services to elders.
  • Gift respect: Providing gifts or favors.
  • Celebrative respect: Honouring elders through birthdays and other events.
  • Victual respect: Holding parents in high esteem, most especially their preferences.
  • Presentational respect: The act of being polite or courteous to the elderly.
  • Salutatory respect: Greeting or bowing to elders in a respectful way.
  • Funeral respect: Burying and performing funeral rites of the elderly respectfully.
  • Consultative respect: Making consultations with elders concerning individual and family issues.

Provision of care and support to elderly parents

Research has shown that numerous parents prefer proper care instead of informal care and most adult children are not willing to yield to that. They feel personal care is inferior to a parent-child relationship. This means that the relationship benefits may not include personal care. However, it may differ if personal care is the sole wish of the parents. Then the child will have to consider fulfilling their desire.

Filial piety responsibility laws in the USA

Also known as filial support or filial piety laws, filial responsibility laws are binding laws upon adult children to support and care for their poor and vulnerable parents and relatives. The government or private organizations impose these laws. Adult children or relatives who flout these laws are penalized. The rules don’t necessarily focus on the aged but impoverished elderly. Filial piety laws require adult children to provide all their parents’ needs, including their food, shelter, clothing, and medical needs. If the children disregard the laws, the nursing homes and government agencies would have to take legal action against them.


While both parties (parents and child) are in a meaningful relationship, parents’ needs are quite dynamic, having the propensity to compel adult children to yield to the needs of their elderly. Though it’s not the adult child’s responsibility to cater to the parents’ financial needs, they must be sensitive to their needs. According to Tronto (1993), the needs of the parents should be noted and met. Caring for elderly parents doesn’t necessarily mean caregiving; it means meeting their needs by monitoring caregivers’ care.