Pastor Karl Heitman recently wrote a blog post titled “2 Reasons Why My Daughter Will Not Go to College.”
I pledged to myself that I will not sacrifice my daughter on *the altar of men* by sending her out of my home, care, and protection at age 18 just so that she can get a degree and achieve some worldly status. I will count those years as a precious time for my wife and me to prepare her for the wonderful task that’s ahead. The job of being a wife and mother is a high calling and I would argue is the most important job under the sun.
The first thing that occurred to me is that this isn’t Heitman’s decision, it’s his daughter Annalise’s decision (Annalise is only five at the moment). Whether Heitman likes it or not, when Annalise turns 18 she will be a legal adult and he will have no control over her decisions. Or will he?
Our current system of paying for college is messed up—including our financial aid system. If Heitman’s daughter wants to file a FAFSA to apply for financial aid, she will have to have a parent’s signature. If Heitman refuses to sign her FAFSA, Annalise is out of luck where financial aid is concerned—unless, of course, she can prove that she was abused. But I’ve seen that process, and it can be complicated, because you have to present supporting evidence. And besides, what if she isn’t abused, at least in any legal sense of the term?
But of course, even this presumes Annalise qualifies for financial aid. She might not. The general assumption is that when a young adult’s parents make too much money for her to qualify for financial aid, her parents will pitch in and help pay for her college. After all, the system is set up specifically to help young adults whose parents can’t afford to pay for their college. If Heitman makes enough money, Annalise may not qualify for financial aid.
So, Heitman could deprive Annalise of financial aid, and it’s possible that she might not qualify anyway. What then? It’s very unlikely that Annalise will have money to pay for college herself, especially given the rising expense. She might have a family member—an aunt or grandparent—who could help her out, but chances are her only other option would be a loan. And guess what? Someone has to cosign a loan. What if Heitman refuses to cosign a loan? Annalise might be able to find an uncle or cousin to cosign, but that’s uncertain.
Our current college financing system presumes that parents—whether poor or rich—want their children to be able to go to college. It assumes that parents of young adults—and we’re talking anyone between 18 and 24—will help pay for their children’s college if they can afford it, and that those who can’t afford it will sign their children’s FAFSAs so that they can get financial aid. But these assumptions are not always accurate, and when they’re not, it’s the young adult who is left holding the bag.
Our economic system is set up such that some of the greatest financial burdens an individual will bear occur at the very beginning of adulthood. Unfortunately, when a young adult’s parents don’t help them out—by signing a FAFSA, helping out financially, or cosigning loans—their futures and options may be severely curtailed. Yes, there may be other options—various trades, attending community college while working—but some doors are simply closed.
What of Heitman’s plan for Annalise to spend her adult hears as a wife and mother? The trouble is that during the years parents—usually mothers—spend as homemakers and caregivers, they aren’t accruing social security benefits, they don’t make money, and they don’t acquire career skills or work experience. Now yes, there are things that matter more than money. But the trouble is that, in the system we currently have, a mother who stays at home (and it is usually the mother) is incredibly dependent on her husband. She’s dependent not only in a current sense (financially) but also in a future sense (social security benefits) and in a sense that increases over time (as the gap on the resume widens). This is especially true if a woman did not attend college or gain work experience before transitioning to life as a stay-at-home mother.
As for me, I was lucky. My parents taught me that my role in life was to be a wife and mother, and absolutely not to have a career, but they still sent me to college. They told me they wanted me to have a backup plan, and options available if I didn’t marry immediately or if my husband someday were to lose his job or die. They also said that college-educated men generally want to marry college-educated women, for the intellectual compatibility. In fact, they described the money they paid for my college as my “dowry.” Of course, college graduates marrying college graduates is likely more about social homogeneity than intellectual compatibility and college is not always necessary to ensure that a young woman is prepared to support herself.
But Heitman isn’t saying that he wants to prepare is daughter to support herself using avenues outside of college. He explicitly states that he doesn’t think his daughter should be prepared to support herself. I’d like to say that Heitman is unaware of just how dependent he plans to make his daughter on her future husband, but his words make it clear that that’s not true. He argues that it is right and natural for a woman to be dependent on her husband—and obedient to him. And of course, divorce is not seen as an option. A married woman is supposed to be shackled to her husband, for good or for bad.
And besides, what if Heitman’s daughter doesn’t marry straight out of high school, or until her thirties, or at all? What would Heitman have her do—live at home with him, waiting for her prince charming to appear? Unfortunately, he answers this question with a resounding “yes.”
I’ve read a variety of commentary on Heitman’s article, and want to highlight this bit:
Better titled “Many numbered reasons your daughter will distance herself from you when she realizes she has been given free will and stops being afraid to use it.”
This father may not realize it, but his assumption that he can dictate his daughter’s life trajectory and make her adult decisions for her will likely come back to bite him in the end, especially if he deliberately sabotages her options. Again, I have watched this happen. I know young women who have found themselves in this position, with parents unwilling to sign a FAFSA or help out in any other way. The young women generally make it through, with blood, sweat, and tears, but their relationships with their parents generally don’t.