As I was driving to our local co-op to do some shopping yesterday, I flipped to NPR on the car radio. I tuned into the middle of a segment involving an interview with someone giving financial advice to the families of students about to go off to college. Since we will be driving my daughter to Lawrence University for her first year of college a week from Monday I started listening.
At the end of some discussion about credit cards, the interviewer asked the guest if she had anything to say to the students. Yes, she said, “be nice to your parents.” In elaboration she said that she understood everyone had dreams about where they wanted to go to school. However, she said, if going to the school of your choice would require one’s parents to dig deeply into their retirement savings or take on personal debt, one should be going elsewhere. She encouraged students to be part of discussions with their parents about options. And, she said, students need to understand that going to a particular college should not be considered an entitlement.
So far so good. I do think far too many people (including many young people) have a sense of entitlement about far too many things. Encouraging discussion about whether one’s dreams are realistic and avoiding making unsound decisions struck me as sound advice.
It was what came next that I found troubling. The next line out of her mouth – by way of explaining why one should not demand decisions that require one’s parents to spend money they don’t have was, “After all, you don’t want to have to take care of your parents. I know I don’t want to have to do that.”
Now, it may be that what she really meant to say was that it would be difficult for one’s parents to later have to feel like they were a burden on their children. But my fear is the message heard was how horrible it would be to have to have some responsibility for the well-being of one’s parents.
I recognize that two or three generations of a family living in a single homestead is no longer a reality for most people. I also know that for some people, having to care for elderly family members can be a great burden.
Nonetheless, I don’t think the message we want to convey to our young people is that they have (or should feel) no responsibility for their parents.