Suppose my 18-year-old daughter, a college freshman, sent me an e-mail saying she was going skiing with friends in Vermont, missing classes for a week. Should I wish her a safe trip? Lecture about making responsible choices? Send her a bill for the week’s worth of tuition she wasted?
Is college my daughter’s to do with as she pleases, or mine to exercise some control over. Is it a gift, or a job?
Accepting that I’m not there to tell her when to study or do her laundry, I understand that she is living her life now, with responsibility for feeding, clothing, and taking care of herself day to day.
She is also in charge of the classes she takes, the activities she participates in, all the stuff that she is supposed to get out of college, leading to a career or at least a first job. I don’t expect any student to make perfect decisions, in fact campus is a place to screw up now and then. What happens though, when she is not using the experience in a way I approve of?
An undergraduate degree is a huge investment for any family, no matter how much assistance a student gets. It is four years in the life of my girl that should mean something. Should I treat it like work, requiring adequate performance, regular reviews and promotions or demotions depending on how she is doing? Should I tell her to drop a sport if her grade-point average doesn’t reach some arbitrary number?
This seems like a bad path to start down, leading to a horrific fight, ending with me yelling, “If you don’t do it my way I won’t pay for you to go to school!”
Still, it is hard to accept simply sitting back, writing checks every few months, and just watching if I think she is wasting the experience, goofing off, or wandering direction-less through her academic landscape.
Perhaps it is the scale that makes this hard. When she was a toddler, if I bought her a new, cool toy and she opened it excitedly, then promptly smashed it to pieces in a fit of gleeful violence, I wouldn’t have minded. The joy that 10 bucks provided seemed worth it. When I give something away, I lose control over it.
If college is a gift, it is certainly the biggest one she’ll ever get. So what if she trashes it, wasting opportunities or choosing bad ones? What if she flunks classes or ends up with a degree in basket weaving? She’ll have gotten something out of it, right?
I’m not sure, but I am confident yelling or stomping my feet isn’t going to help.
There must be a middle ground, where I can offer perspective, maybe even a little advice. She may well make good decisions and work hard. She may even call when she doesn’t know what to do. If she sees me as an ally, rather than a boss or police officer, this might work out for all of us.
Then the bills will certainly be worth it.