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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gift-Giving as Means of Control

I recently had this short conversation with a former student:

Student: I want to be an English teacher.

Me: Do you really? That makes my heart sing!

Student: I really do. Unfortunately, teachers don't make enough money to make my father happy.

Me: What does your dad have to do with your career? Besides, what we don't make in money, we make up in difference.

Student: He has a lot to do with it because he's paying for my schooling ): And that was very profound. I like that. I'm hoping I can maybe persuade him to let me teach.

Me: Speaking as a parent, I will pay for my son's schooling if he wants to go to college. This means nothing more to me than helping him meet HIS goals. I want him to follow HIS dreams, not mine...ever. That makes me so sad...

And by 'so sad' I mean 'almost in tears.' Parents, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you are in control of nobody but yourselves. You do not control your children. Young, old, whether you support them financially every step of the way, or not...you do not control them. They're like real people that way. Huh, imagine that.

I've gotten into these types of issues with my mother many times in the last 35 years myself, so I suppose this is a sensitive topic for me. My mom would pay for something "out of the goodness of her heart" and then expect something in return. (It's worth noting that her 'love language' is gift giving, but mine is decidedly not.) We recently started going to therapy together (after years of me begging and her refusing) and one of the first things that came up was the lack of support I felt from her. Her response was something about always having given me money and presents if and when she thought I needed them. Uh, that's not exactly what I meant...

So, I'm frustrated for my student, especially because I see myself in her and the situation, and I'm bringing it here to ensure we learn a lesson in what not to do from it all.

We will pay for a great many things when it comes to our sons and daughters, both as children and adults. We will lend money when they hit financial hard times as young adults figuring out the way. We may contribute to college, weddings, first homes. These are gifts. A gift does not come with strings attached. Gifts do not equal blackmail material. A gift is given out of the goodness of our hearts. We give gifts that the recipient will enjoy receiving, not that we want them to have. If you find yourself giving a gift, even in small part, with the hopes of leveraging something out of it in the future, turn yourself around, march back home, sit yourself down, and think again. Gifts are not strongholds. Financial support does not equal lifetime control. Giving is not a means of control.


  1. Great post. Giving 'out of the goodness of your heart' regardless the relationship, by definition, doesn't come with caveats attached.