The days of parents paying for college in full are largely over for most of us, and I’m not so sure that is a bad thing. A little skin in the game never hurt anyone.
My parents paid for Vassar College in full for me, and I never took it for granted and worked hard. Really hard. My mother was dying of breast cancer during those years, and fought mightily until the beginning of my sophomore year. I felt like schoolwork kept me sane, made me like others kids. I found comfort in it. I know, I sound like my father telling me he walked 6 miles to school backwards, in 3 feet of snow (year-round) and with no shoes on the bloody stumps he called ‘feet,’ grazing on neighbors’ grass for afternoon snack and playing with toys he made himself from dirt and rocks. But, it’s true.
I wanted to do the same for my kids. Who knew there would be so many of them? (No, my sister, Renee, I do NOT need the talk. Again.) And each adorable one comes with it’s own set of character traits, loveable idiosyncrasies and equally huge volume of bills.
So, after some awkward and bumpy conversations, Jon and I came to the conclusion that we will give our kids a fixed amount for college each year- an amount that will cover a lot of Hudson Valley Community College, and very, very little of Skidmore College. In fact, it should cover roughly the first 35 minutes of our oldest daughter’s Fall welcome to this fine, and ridiculously expensive institution (so, make it count, honey!).
We will also help each one of them secure their first job at 15 years old, using our professional contacts (which we know they do not yet see the value in), and efforts. Incidentally, we might also accidentally-on-purpose help it be the kind of job that is so dis-tasteful to whatever remains of their inner sense of entitlement, that they are actually moved to make a little more danged effort in school as not to end up scooping dog doodies after a rainstorm as their life’s vocation.
Each one of them will learn to volunteer, like really volunteer. That means they will learn to do something more meaningful than showing up for field day at the soccer field, where their massive P.U. feet actually participated in making the mess in the first place. That’s not volunteering, that’s cleaning up after yourself so you can do more activities that mom and dad are going to pay to watch you do. Trust me, it’s worth every penny, but it’s not exactly volunteerism to rake the field you play on, just like it’s not volunteerism to wash the spoon that fed your own mouth (so please stop tossing it in the sink with crusty food on it).
True volunteerism means that they will use the privilege they have to make a difference for another human being, and not a simple transaction like bagging up their too-small clothes for Unity House (which I expect them to do), but that they will look another human being in the eye, and say with compassion and gratitude for the opportunity to give back, “how can I help you?” They will serve others healthy food (the abundance of which they easily take for granted), clean floors and toilets and do the everyday work of extending the goodness they have been granted in order to level the social playing field for people who may need a second chance, or who may never have had a first one.
We work hard, we moms@work. And, it’s good and right and fair that our work gets us something that we can share with our children. What I’ve learned from years of working motherhood is that the true fruits of my labor are the opportunities for my children to get less and give more, to experience the world from more perspectives than their own, to experience the boundlessness of their own compassion, and their ability to work hard for a greater good.
How do you handle college commitments, volunteerism and making sure your children understand these complicated issues? Deb and I would love to hear from you—please comment and add your voice to this conversation, and connect with us on:
Twitter @CRWomenAtWork, @debmbest and @CoreyJamisonLLC
Join the LinkedIn Group: Capital Region Women@Work
Remember: Lower the bar, and drop the guilt (today).
This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.