Via My Burning Ears in the comments, I bring you this wonderful little story:
I bought my 17-year-old daughter driving lessons for her birthday. It was always assumed she would have my partner’s six-year-old car when she passed her test and that he would get a new, bigger car.
This seems very generous. What a lucky girl!
But she has decided she doesn’t want this car: it’s not cool enough, it’s the wrong colour and the pattern on the seats is embarrassing. She feels we should buy her a different car. I think she is being ungrateful; she’s lucky to be given a good car.
Oh. Well, if that’s how she feels, fair enough. My suggestion is you tell her that’s the car on offer and she can take it or leave it, but next week it’s going on eBay and if she wants it after that point she’s going to have to put in a winning bid.
However, many of her friends have been given “better” cars. One has a brand-new Mini; another was going to have her mum’s car but didn’t like it, so they sold it to buy her a new one, leaving her parents to share a car. Others have been bought used cars that are not embarrassing.
This is what happens when parents enter into social groups where children – or rather, the money lavished on them – marks one’s status. This is a lot more common than you think: next time you hear a middle-class mother talking about how well her eight year old daughter is doing in her tennis lessons, ask yourself for whose benefit the club membership was bought.
My daughter doesn’t need a car – her sixth form school is two minutes’ walk away and we have good public transport.
No, it’s a status symbol. But your daughter’s materialism and status-signalling didn’t come out of a clear blue sky. How much of it was learned at home?
We can afford to buy her a car, but I don’t think that’s the best thing to do.
Only now is it dawning on her that lavishing gifts on her ungrateful brat might not be the wisest course of action.
She has some money from a savings plan, which she’s suggested using, but she is supposed to be saving for university.
Depending on what she intends to study at university, buying a car might be the better option. After all, you wouldn’t want her to be £30k in debt in three years’ time and having to take the bus to McDonald’s each day, would you?
Also, if she did spend that money, it would mean an older car than the one she is being offered, which I don’t think is sensible.
Yes, but the car might be cooler. This is important. Why a grown woman feels the need to write to a national newspaper for help with this stuff is a mystery to me. What’s the girl’s father doing? The woman refers to a partner rather than husband. If he’s not the girl’s father, this might explain everything.
Am I being stubborn, or out of touch? I appreciate teenagers today have different expectations and more pressure through social media than I did. But I am struggling with this.
This has little to do with the daughter, and everything to do with the mother. The advice is also amusing:
We all want our children to know their own minds and show independence, but the moment they do – usually about things we may not agree with – some parents don’t like it. I want you to imagine your daughter at a work meeting (or similar) in a few years from now. She is offered a substandard contract or, at least, one she doesn’t like. And she digs in her heels and asks for a better one. You’d be proud, wouldn’t you?
I bet both the author and the mother have conjured up visions of the daughter becoming a high-flying power-skirt being headhunted for a senior role by several major corporations, issuing her demands for a bigger bonus and the corner office. In reality, she’s more likely to be presented with a zero-hours contract from Sports Direct which is about as negotiable as Annapurna in winter. In order to negotiate a contract, you need to understand your market worth and be able to convince the other party of the value you will bring to the table. An employment contract is, in theory, mutually beneficial – quite unlike the gift of a car. It is a poor analogy, and worse advice. When you’re young and inexperienced you need to do crap work for not much pay until you’ve figured out what you want to do, and start developing your market worth. Until then, simply saying “I don’t like it” and digging in your heels isn’t going to result in anything other than you living for a long time in your parents’ house.
It’s easy to say your daughter is spoiled and being bratty…
I’ve encountered greater difficulties cloud-watching.
It does not mean that you should just buy her another car. You shouldn’t. You have offered her the car and you should let her do what she wants with it. Give her the option of selling it and buying another car of her choice with the money. Let her learn about commerce and that to make something happen, she needs to have some input.
The savings fund is a difficult prospect. I don’t know if it’s in her name or yours; if she has sole control over it, there’s little you can do if she decides to spend it, and the harder you push or threaten, the more determined she will be to prove you wrong. When teenagers want something, they do so with a desire and tenacity that is immensely powerful. It’s not a good idea to get in the way of it. Instead, you need to approach it as you would a rip-tide at sea – don’t swim against it, but go alongside it until the pull subsides and you can swim to shore.
Okay, the practical advice is sensible. It’s a shame the author had to sugar-coat the root cause, though.
To help you process this, I would also ponder what this means for you. Don’t feel rejected by her not wanting the “embarrassing” car. This has nothing to do with you. Teenage behaviour can shine a light into areas of a parent’s life that may need work: if there is anything you feel insecure about, they will find it. Try to unravel what this means for you beyond the car.
As I said, this isn’t really about the daughter, or the car.