I have lived most of my life making decisions based on real or imagined obligations. I behave a certain way in order to be successful at my job, in relationships, to make friends, to get degrees, etc. One of the most obligation-laden relationships in my life in the past have been my parents.
I don’t want to go into the pre-college years, but what I will say is that any help they offer always has strings attached. Once I flew home for Christmas and the number of times I heard “we bought your ticket so…*insert thing I’m expected to do here*” on top of the fact that I had to borrow cars while I was there made me feel extra trapped.
One of the “helpful” things my parents did was to cosign on personal student loans that I took to get through my undergraduate coursework. Now that I’m old and tired I know that:
- I should have only taken enough courses that would have fit under the federal student loan program.
- I never should have entered into ANY kind of contract with my parents.
But I was 18-22 years old and I had no way of knowing these truths. I didn’t have the tools I needed to make these decisions. Adults around me needed to help me reach these conclusions, and those adults were just as clueless as I was. This can’t be better illustrated than to revisit what my mom told me way back when:
“We will never help with these loans. You will have to pay them. Our only help we are offering is to cosign these loans for you. You wouldn’t be able to get these loans without us. So you will get these loans but we will never help with them.”
The truth behind this is that they couldn’t help with them, but again I was 18-22 years old with no fucking clue how loans work and what the future might bring.
As I’ve moved through the last 12 years I have hit many bumps in the road which have hindered my ability to make these payments. Each time my parents have actually mailed me the letters they receive from the loan servicer, they call me to let me know they are receiving calls, or lately they have texted me with small “reminders.” Again, they are not offering financial help with paying the loan, because 15 years ago they said they would never help, they are just “helping” by reminding me to pay it.
This all came to a head last week, when after losing my job this summer, scraping by, surviving a hurricane, and not having power for an entire week I received a text from my mom that I needed to pay the loans, that she was getting calls.
I. Lost. My. Shit.
- I have received no calls/texts from them after the hurricane hit to see how we were. This text was the first one since she texted me the Wednesday before to remind me that I might want to text my sister (who I haven’t talked to in like 8 years) to congratulate her on her wedding. I gently reminded her that my sister is a stranger to me and we were currently trying not to die of heat exhaustion so it wasn’t super high on my priority list.
- I am 34 years old and I know what bills are due when. I have told them on multiple occasions that I do not need extra bill collectors, I need parents. So unless they are going to help, I don’t need the stress of being hassled by them on top of being hassled by the bill collectors too. I have explained several times that if they are getting calls, I am also getting calls and don’t need a reminder.
I basically told her that there wasn’t anything I could do and she needed to stop acting like a bill collector and either help or leave me alone. So then I get the usual guilt trip in several texts that say stuff like “you wouldn’t have the education you got without us cosigning” and “this is the thanks we get for helping so many years ago” and “you don’t even think about how this affects ME because I can’t get loans for things I need.”
- Yes I would, I just would have gotten it slower and not taken so many classes per semester to keep costs down. If someone in my life had been there to give me guidance, I could have done a lot of things differently and not needed your signature on a loan paper. But here we are.
- Thank you for signing your name and then wiping your hands of all other help. I have been struggling to get myself through real life for the past 12 years and I have had to learn some very difficult lessons through trial and error because I have no safety net. So maybe, since I’m doing everything myself, you could lay the fuck off when I make a mistake or when something bad happens.
- I know how this affects you because (a) I understand how cosigning works now because I’ve watched enough Judge Judy to win a civil court case and (b) YOU TELL ME EVERY FUCKING TIME. I’m not a gerbil, I have a working long-term memory. I do not avoid making payments to fuck up your life. I don’t make payments on things because I don’t have any money to make the payments. Help, or stfu and leave me alone.
- Guilt doesn’t pay bills. You can attempt to make me feel as bad as you want but it’s not going to make money rain from the sky. It’s not going to turn back time and get my old job back. It’s not going to make me earn more money now. So you can help, or you can get out of my face, because either way the bill is going to get paid when I have the money to pay it. It always has.
The idea of obligation is less weighty when there is nothing at stake. I haven’t seen my parents for more than 2 hours in the past 3 years. They offer no help financially and gifts come at birthday and Christmas in increments of $25-100 (1). The interaction I have with them is neutral to negative depending on the topic. I have no doubt they both voted for Trump.
So when my mom says “I’m soooooo angry because you’re late on this bill, pay it or else you ungrateful swine!” I’m like…or else what? You’ll disown me? You’ll stop calling me once every two months? You’ll never visit again? You’ve already been doing those things to me for years. You can’t take my education away and you’re already basically nonexistent in my life except when I’m late on this student loan. I don’t care anymore that this affects you; my being late on the payment has nothing to do with you.
So make sure that the relationships that are important to you come with obligations you are willing to uphold and stick to, and be wary of obligations that hold you to relationships that are toxic or harmful. And if, like me, you find yourself in a situation where there is a false obligation, let it go and concentrate on your obligations to yourself.