How Do We Repay Our Parents?

Thanks to the clusterfuck that is today’s job market, everybody’s writing a think piece about 20-somethings accepting more help from their parents than the generations before them. But if we know our parents are going above and beyond for us, what can we do to make things right with them?

I really don’t know what I would be doing right now (selling roses in the street like a Dickensian orphan?) if my parents hadn’t essentially subsidized every choice I’ve made while trying to figure out what to do with my life.

They paid for my college education even though I decided to be a spectacularly impractical theater major. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person I know who doesn’t have student loan debt. After school, they welcomed me back home for over a year, which allowed me to pursue a ridiculous number of unpaid internships and various theater projects. They didn’t pressure me to get a “real job” until I got restless and decided for myself that I wanted one, and then when my hectic barista gig proved to trigger my crippling anxiety they encouraged me to quit.

This entire time, my dad was quietly putting money in my checking account without even mentioning it while my mom cooked my favorite foods and took me shoe shopping. A few more unpaid gigs and anti-anxiety medications later, the feeling of being a freeloader was becoming overwhelming. I signed up with a temp agency, a job flexible enough that I could still pursue writing and theater, and made plans to use my savings to move in with friends at the end of the summer. I know that to have parents so supportive makes me a lucky bastard, but I’m worried that it also makes me a spoiled brat.  

Part of it is that I know that my situation isn’t typical. While a lot of my friends have parents who do things like pay their phone bill or help out with rent, a lot of them also are facing monstrous student loans, huge grad school tuition payments, or asking parents for help who can’t or won’t assist them.

In addition, I decided that my college education was going to be about following dreams and rainbows and writing satirical one-acts, so I ended up not the most employable person in the world. Also, I know that my parents’ ability to help me didn’t come free: My dad is basically the lawyer equivalent of Katniss Everdeen’s dad toiling in the coal mine, and that’s how he could afford to support me for a year when I really should have been supporting myself. I’m kind of the worst! So what should I do about it?  

I think that if this question as posed to my parents, they would tell me that I could pay them back by being happy. Although that sort of seems like bullshit, I know that if I worked really hard for twenty years doing something I wasn’t crazy about just so I can literally pay them back (which is something I really thought about doing), I don’t think they would be satisfied. My mom’s still waiting for me to write the Next Great American Novel (working title, The Great Gatsby II: Electric Boogaloo). Right now, I don’t really know how to give back, but by getting a survival job and moving out, I can at least stop taking.  

I can hear the comments before they’re posted, so I’ll just save you the trouble: First-world problems! White people problems! You and your pleasant, supportive parents can suck it! I know, I know. This “problem” that I have is really an embarrassment of riches, but I hope that I can make it a little better by making it known that they’re riches that I want to spread around. Thanks, Mom and Dad.


Kathryn Funkhouser still makes her parents birthday cards and sometimes writes things here.



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