The case of the college kid’s car

for The Brooklyn Paper
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My daughter dreams of arriving on campus for her sophomore year in her own car, cruising down college row, her belongings in the trunk, the breeze of independence blowing through her hair. Her one, giant obstacle to the fulfillment of this fantasy is me.

My rational arguments against this course of events all center around the distractions a car could provide from the essential purpose of being at college — learning and participating in campus life. Pressure to drive people or loan out her wheels, invitations to wander afield on weekends, the enticement to take friends to another town for dinner or shopping, all represent fun things that are not what she’s supposed to be doing there.

Her reasons have merit, though. Campus isn’t reached by bus or train service and driving home would be easier and less expensive; she could visit friends at other schools and keep up meaningful relationships; the teams she’s on get no school-sponsored transportation so a car would help them compete; and we all agree, she’s a competent driver.

Beyond deciding yes or no, there are all the possible conditions I could attach. Should I insist on a minimum grade point average to get and keep the car? Set a maximum number of miles allowed each semester? She should be responsible for gas, certainly, but what about the increase in my insurance or routine maintenance? What if she can’t afford the expenses we agree to, should I expect her to work more hours at her job which ends up giving her even less time to study?

What makes the situation feel so tricky are the stakes involved. My girl still talks out decisions with me and accepts the resolutions we come to, but I sense that at any moment she might just do what she wants. At 19, the desire for independence is strong. For example, when I suggest I may decide against the car, she asks how much would it cost to buy one herself? When I explain the expenses I see her mind calculating ways to come up with more money or how far she could dip into her savings account.

I’m conscious that more and more things she asks for depend on dollars from home, and when I say no to something, whatever the reason, that adolescent mind considers the consequences of doing it anyway.

She gets that, in many ways, money equals independence and, at the same time, I don’t want to use my wallet to control my daughter’s actions. It might work in the short term, but I feel certain it will doom our relationship over time.

Where does this leave me? Searching for a middle ground between her desire for a car now and mine for a delay. I want her to feel treated fairly, no matter the outcome. I want us to find a way to handle bigger and bigger decisions without destroying our relationship.

In my mind, I can see her cruising through campus, feeling independent, possessing the freedom of a car.

But just not yet.

Read The Dad every other Thursday on
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

steve from downtown says:
You bring up a good point we parents deal with sooner or later: using the power of the purse vs. relationship. I think if you communicate the reason for withholding funds, and make it reasonable, then yes. Parent first, then friend.
Aug. 21, 2014, 9:23 am

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