The dilemma After a gap year, my daughter is in her first year at university. She really doesn’t find her course interesting and wants to quit. However, she wants to carry on living with her friends and has committed to renting a house with them. She thinks we should continue to pay her rent, which we would do if she was attending the course. It’s a financial struggle for us, and my husband is totally against it.
I understand her reasoning – if we would fund her to do a degree she is not interested in and have a miserable year, why wouldn’t we pay her to live with her friends and do her own thing? We said she needs to work and figure out a way to pay her own way, but we’re wondering realistically what jobs will be available by September.
I suggested going back, thinking hard about the modules she takes and seeing how it goes. But she says it’s trapping her and she will end up with a dead-end degree. She does not want to transfer to another course as none of them interest her (her field is quite specialised). A fresh opinion on this would be welcome!
Mariella replies I’ll try my best. We both know you’re set on a collision course with your child unless you capitulate. Continuing to subsidise your daughter to live with her friends despite the absence of any tangible plan sounds like a recipe for disaster. It’s a scenario fraught with bad messaging that’s likely to create damaging and unrealistic expectations. You don’t want to send out a signal that, no matter how little she invests in her own future, you’ll be there to cushion her fall. A dead-end degree is at least a journey towards a destination rather than an open-ended drift. I’m not pushing for the academic qualification, that’s her choice to make, but it certainly isn’t your responsibility to support her if she’s giving up on full-time education.
Being free to make your own choices is partly predicated on being able to support yourself. Achieving that state of independence is why people embark on careers. Without the compulsion to make her own money your daughter could begin to make life choices based on whims and fads rather than realistic ambitions. Your bank balance doesn’t sound like it can sustain that level of investment in the long term, and nor should it have to.
Having never enjoyed any form of financial cushion and being, I’ve come to realise, fundamentally lazy, I can’t imagine what would have motivated me to work unless I had to. The idea of loitering around pleasing myself has always appealed – so childhood penury was, in some ways, a privilege.
I’m sure your daughter is a great girl and settling back and kicking up your heels during a global financial meltdown when jobs are scarce and prospects bleak might be a tempting solution. Who wouldn’t want to bolt the door and watch reruns of Friends with mates rather than stepping, seemingly futilely, out into the world? But now is the very time when the fightback has to begin and it’s your daughter’s generation who have the opportunity to reshape this world into something more sustainable.
So, I’m not impressed with her assumption that the bank of Mum and Dad should continue to pay out following a gap year and an abandoned college degree. It’s a bleak period for anyone seeking employment and particularly the young, which makes it all the more illogical for your daughter to abandon university when alternative possibilities are at a historic low.
There are those who seem to adopt as their default position in life the right to make poor choices and then rely on others to subsidise them. It’s a bad habit to get into and not one you want to encourage. Any action you take now to get your daughter to look at the world more realistically may be painful in the short term, but it will pay dividends for her future. I think you’re right to suggest she looks around for a course that she has more interest in, or would enjoy more. The deal seems to me a simple one: we’ll subsidise you while you’re spending your time in pursuit of education, but once you quit to pursue other options that financial arrangement ends. I’m not suggesting there won’t be further occasions when she might seek out your financial support, but to exist on a daily basis on someone else’s earnings while not bothering to chase down a salary is the height of misplaced entitlement.
This is not an easy time to be making your way in the world so a crash course in positive decision-making, a chastening blast of reality and discovering the value of expanding options rather than shutting them down, could prove as worthy as her degree. We all want our children to be happy and to cushion them when they fall, so perhaps the toughest phase of parenting is actually when we set them free to make and then learn from their own mistakes. If your girl has a plan to share, with a goal and an endpoint, I’d definitely give it a hearing, but if it’s as noncommittal as the one she’s currently offering, my answer would be a firm no. Then again my children think I’m horrible!
If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1