By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
I’m a 28-year-old single mother. I joined the military when I was 18 to pay for college, and to give me time to consider what I wanted to major in. I’ve worked hard, made some financial mistakes, but I’ve managed to save a fair amount, and now I’m ready to finish college when I leave the service this fall.
Because I want to pursue a kind of intense major at a difficult school, I don’t think I should be working more than part time while I’m a full-time student. For the last few months, I’ve been working two part-time jobs in addition to my military duties to save up for my monthly shortfall while I’m in school.
I spend my weekend mornings making donuts, and I stock shelves at a grocery store three days a week. I don’t earn a lot or get much sleep, but it allows me to save some money and still spend time with my son, which I can do as both my sisters live with me.
Yesterday, my dad told me that he thinks I’m being stretched too thin, but I pointed out that I worked a similar number of hours weekly while I was deployed. He is so worried that he made me an offer: If I quit my second part-time job, he’ll pay me the amount I would have earned there every month.
He doesn’t want me to get sick or be too tired to enjoy my son growing up. I initially accepted his offer because he seemed so worried and earnest. I admit that I liked the thought of no more 90-hour weeks. Now, I’m having second thoughts, mostly because I can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t fair.
He’s approaching retirement, and I don’t know if this would set him back. I feel that a grown person, with a kid of their own, shouldn’t be running to daddy with money trouble. My dad thinks it’s fair because he offered to pay in-state tuition for all five of his kids, and he has already paid for three.
He thinks it’s just another way of giving me the same benefit, but I think there’s a pretty significant difference between helping pay tuition for an 18 year old, and helping pay the mortgage for a 28-year-old. I don’t think it’s fair to my brothers and sisters.
I’ve seen from your column the shocking number of people who are either secretly resentful of or secretly resented by their siblings because of perceived unfairness. I get along with my siblings quite well, but I don’t want to give a reason for something to come between us.
I’m not sure what to do. I don’t really want to accept my dad’s money if it has the potential to cause problems, but I also don’t want my dad to worry about me or feel like I’m rejecting him. How can I handle this gracefully without ruffling any feathers?
Conflicted in Wisconsin
Whatever you decide to do, don’t make this decision because you are afraid of the response from any of your siblings. Everything we say and do creates a reaction. Some people feel it their duty to let us know how they feel about that. We can’t let other people dictate what we do.
By all means, be open and transparent, and share this information with your siblings. Explain your father’s position and he can say the offer is open to the other siblings who choose to pursue a college education. There is nothing about his generous offer that suggests favoritism.
You are raising a son, you have served this country, and you are finishing your education. Your father is rightly proud of you, and wants to speed the plow and help you on your way. Talk to him about his retirement plans and, if it makes you feel better, ensure that he will have enough to live on.
Everyone is on their own journey. We all take our own path. While other people have been getting their college degrees, you have been serving in the military. There is no expiration date for parental expressions of love through financial support, unconditional love and kindness.
Your father’s right. You won’t get this time back with your son. Sometimes, when we scale back our life, it becomes richer. You have been given an opportunity to take back some valuable time and devote it to your family, your studies and — last, but certainly not least — yourself.
It’s OK to want things for yourself. It’s OK to accept help. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to exercise self-care and slow down. All of these things are OK. Fear of your siblings’ reaction to this offer and your own pride at accepting it are false gods. Self-sufficiency is good, but only to a point.
As someone who has served in the military and held two part-time jobs, you have shown grit and stamina. You are not a child who has had failure to launch. This is what families and friends are for. They lift you up when you most need it and, when the time comes, you can do the same for them.
Stay in touch — and thank you for your service.
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