Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You'll thank me later

Joanna's blog yesterday hit upon a question I've had for a long time. One of the maxims of the Catholic Church as I knew it in the pre-Vatican II days was Suffering Builds Character. On a daily basis our parents turned that into: the harder you work, the more you'll appreciate what you have.

Thus, the fact that I had my first job at 13, as soon as I could reach the cash register at the hot dog concessions on Revere Beach Boulevard, translated into what a stellar, upright person I'd turn out to be. I'd be so grateful later in life.

If my parents had it right, then we're all doing a disservice to our kids, making it easy for them, providing them with a worry-free childhood.

Through the years I've watched the next generation among my family and friends enjoy not only work-free high school days, but also "the college experience" – one young woman, in fact, lived less than a half hour away from campus, yet she lived in the dorm. She could have taken the wonderful, clean BART train (as opposed to the oldest system in the country, Boston's MTA) to class every day and still had free time. But her parents wanted her to have the college experience.

Is she worse off than I am? Less grateful for her education? Hard to tell.

I was led to believe that commuting a long distance every day to my college classes and working when I wasn't in class meant that my education would mean more to me. Again, one day I'd be so grateful that I didn't waste my youth hanging around college dorms, having fun with my classmates, instead of living on a steady diet of work and class and chores.

Was that a crock? How can I tell? Would I have accomplished more in life if I'd had the luxury of paid tuition? Would I have done better if I could have studied in the school library instead of on a rattling, swaying trolley?

Don't get me wrong – I don't want to go back and pick up what I missed. But I can't help wondering.


Betty Hechtman said...

Boy can I relate. I had my first job at 11. When it came to college I was on my own to pay for it. I often had four jobs and very little sleep.

I lived at home and went to a commuter university in downtown Chicago. I worked on the student newspaper and made lots of friends.

I guess I was used to having to take care of myself, so it never bothered me.

Monica Ferris said...

I think you value more what you struggle to obtain -- but having the struggle imposed on you as an artifice is more likely to create resentment than gratitude. I don't know where the balance point is, and I suspect not finding it is why so many wealthy peoples' children turn out badly.

Deb Baker said...

Those times were tough for all of us, so I don't harbor any resentment. But I would like to come back in another life as my daughter.

Sheila Connolly said...

I read Mary McCarthy's "The Group" at an impressionable age, and while what we talked about were the sex scenes (how tame they must seem now!), I loved the college experience shown in it, and the way the characters kept in touch after college. That was the model I went looking for, and I found it--I'm still in contact with those college friends.

Was I privileged? Yes, but only through generous scholarships--my folks had zero money to send me anywhere. I aimed high, I worked hard, and I was very, very lucky (and grateful).

And I'm happy that my daughter saw the value of my college experience. She went to a different school, but she found some of the same qualities. (However, the price tag was a bit higher, and we'll be paying for it for a while!)

Camille Minichino said...

Such good points -- thanks all for sharing.

I guess I'm not seeing that balance Monica is so right about -- I'm seeing "kids as royalty!"

LOL Deb, coming back as your daughter!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I believe there's been some research to show that kids who work get better grades than those who don't because they have to manage their time better. On the other hand--addressing the idea of living at home rather than in a dorm--I think that much of our education in college occurs OUTSIDE the classroom, learning to live without our parents and learning to be responsible without close adult supervision. What I observed was that the kids who could drive home each weekend never really adjusted to college life. I guess it was because they were psychologically "split" between home and school.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Monica. Early marriage, husband in college, having kids right away put me at a disadvantage (by today's standards, anyway), and my kids weren't handed things. Happy with the way they "turned" out....xoxoxo