Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'm not as think as you mean I am

When we returned from our wonderful trip Back East, everything was great around the old homestead except for one bit of sad news: VCCGirl’s beloved old clunker of a car had expired beyond any possible resurrection. She was very sad, and very frustrated because she had spent all the savings of her gap year work on it. She did have it checked by a trusted mechanic before she bought it, but had been warned there are no guarantees on a car of that age and mileage. And sure enough, a mere eight months later the thing is no more than a collection of parts. One of those Life Lessons.

And now, as a college student, she is only able to work part-time and thus not able to save much. So talks with The Parents ensued. There was no begging. We don’t do begging around here because it too often seems to come in a whiny voice, so we trained our children from a very early age that negotiation would take them a lot farther than begging. (Although I must say that occasionally I require just a little begging for its entertainment value.) So Ms. VCCGirl commenced some hard negotiating. Here are a few of the dozen or so points she included in her presentation:

(a) I often have work shifts immediately after school and would not be able to get there on time if I had to take the bus. I would have to change the shifts, which would inconvenience everyone at my workplace and make me less money.

(b) My school assignments often require me to visit various sites such as hotels and restaurants that might be difficult to get to in a timely fashion without a car.

(c) I often work until 10:00 at night, and the nearest bus stop is a ten-minute walk from my workplace through a very poorly-lit and crackhead-filled industrial area.

Now, of these, (b) was not a selling feature, (a) had marginal value, but (c) made her case for her, because it is, in fact, true. I’m not so sure about how many crackheads might actually be roaming the area, but even one would be too many!

Now, RH and I have always felt extremely strongly that children should be required to be pretty much financially self-sufficient once out of high school. We figure that after throwing vast quantities of our hard-earned money their way for 18 years, it’s then time for us to get to keep our money and them to realize that the only way they’re going to get anything is through the sweat of their very own brows. We especially had always told our kids that although most of their friends might be given cars by their parents (and that is, sadly, true), we would not be doing that. A car is not a right but a privilege you earn for yourself, blah blah blah. You poor kids got stuck with the hardass, ghetto, “welfare” parents.

However. We have been negotiated into agreeing to lend VCCGirl the money for a new car. We agreed for reasons of safety, and because she has established credibility as a hard worker. We know she will pay us back without fail. To me, it strikes a balance between the tough love of wanting to teach them to fend for themselves, and the natural desire of parents with money wanting to share the wealth with kids just starting out in life, when they really need it.

It’s a very interesting thing, discussing this subject with fellow parents of young adult children. Opinions on this amongst our friends are all over the map. At one end of the spectrum, we have more than one set of friends who believe that as long as their kids are in university, they will pay all their expenses. They don’t mind them working a bit to make some money of their own, but give them generous allowances so that their primary focus can be on their studies. Some also buy their kids cars (outright, not a loan) and insure them for them. I may not agree with all this, but I don’t argue its legitimacy as a parenting choice. It’s certainly a very common one.

At the other end are friends who have not given their children a dime since high school graduation. Their kids pay all their own university tuition, and even pay their own way if they wish to go on vacation with their parents. I don’t agree 100 per cent with this, either, although it’s the way I was raised. While I was in university, I lived at home for free and had very occasional use of the family car, but other than that, I was entirely on my own financially. I expected no different, in fact preferred the independence, and it didn’t do me any harm, by gum, ya whippersnappers!

Well, as parents ourselves, RH and I come in somewhere down the middle of this continuum. Our kids have RESPs to cover their education, so they don’t have to pay for that. In fact, we agree to cover anything that might come under the heading of required for school. (VCCGirl tried unsuccessfully to debate her car into that category.) This includes things like laptop computers and a transportation allowance equivalent to the cost of a monthly bus pass. (If VCCGirl chooses to drive and pay for parking downtown, the difference comes out of her pocket.)

We do agree with the tougher end of the spectrum that adult children pay their own ways for vacations, whether on their own or if they want to accompany us. But that’s not to say that we won’t, from time to time, invite them to join us on a trip at our expense, because we can afford to do so and it is our pleasure to treat them.

For everything else in their lives, they’re on their own. They’ve had no allowance since high school, and in fact The Lad pays us to live here because he is working full-time.

As I said, I find it a difficult balancing act. They can’t be handed everything on a platter; they must learn to make their own way, but we also want to help them as they start out in life. They’ll never (God willing) need financial help more than they do now, in these first few years of their adult lives, so it does seem silly to withhold it entirely just on principle.

And so we have contributed some studio gear for The Lad, and will offer a little assistance when he goes to buy into a condo this coming summer. And we will help VCCGirl buy a much newer and more reliable car than poor old Big Bertha and ask only that she pay us back as and when she is able. We’ll probably even knock bits off the debt for every birthday and Christmas and good grades and cute haircut…because we’re simply not as hardass as we have tried to convince our children (and ourselves!) that we are.

Post scriptum: I had a thought, a memory of my own first car, my gutless wee Chevette. I bought it as a single young woman and finally sold it as a married mother with two kids. It made my heart seize up a little to think that if VCCGirl buys a fairly new vehicle this time, she could be strapping my little grandchild into a carseat in it down the road a few years!

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