My youngest daughter is a freshman engineering major at a small private university. She wants to work spring semester to earn money to cover her (expensive!) sorority dues and has her eye on a job at the campus COVID-19 testing center.
I'm worried about two things: her health (possible exposure to COVID) and also the stress of piling extra work on top of a very heavy course load. However, her older sister (a junior) was expected to earn her own money for sorority dues so it feels like an equity issue. I don't want to make an exception for the younger one if it will look like favoritism and lead to hard feelings in our family. What's your advice?
First, props to you for raising two women who take it as their responsibility to earn money to support something that matters to them like sorority dues. That’s a win for both parenting and adulting!
Your attention to equity is also a sign of great parenting. Sibling rivalry is real, and the more we can do to defuse the battles borne of imagined (or real) imbalances, the better.
But although in any given moment things may be unequal, we can remind ourselves — and our kids — not to tally each moment or experience as if it defines the whole of their lives. Try as we might to keep the fires of Fairland burning, each of our children lives their own unique life and faces different circumstances and capacities in meeting life’s challenges.
Your older daughter’s situation is not equal to your younger daughter’s in one very important way: your younger daughter is in her first year of college during a pandemic. Although I’m sure your older daughter faced unique situations that made paying for her sorority dues its own challenge, the opportunities to earn money were profoundly different two years ago than they are now.
When making decisions, we often see the options as binary. Yes, she should earn the money by working at a testing center next semester, or no she shouldn’t. By disaggregating the elements and thinking creatively about the options, more options than “yes” or “no” usually emerge.
For example, could she borrow the money and earn it back when she can find employment that poses less of a risk and/or her schedule is less demanding? Or are there other less risky jobs available that are equally viable? If it’s her academic workload that is an issue, can she lighten that while working?
And, since your radar is tuned to equity with her sister, I wonder if they have talked about it? Sisters can be protective of one another and it’s possible your older daughter would actually forego the equity issue rather than see her sister overloaded or working a risky job.
The question of whether or not it is advisable to work in a COVID-19 testing site raises a different set of questions that are important to address in order to get to the yes, the no, or some new option. Does this feel like particularly meaningful work to her, or is it just what’s available? Where will she be living while doing this work, and are there high-risk individuals in that living situation? Has she explored the protocols of the testing center to determine how well protected she would be?
Ultimately, each of us has to attend to our own internal barometer about what feels like too much risk, and uncomfortable as it is for you, she will have to make that determination by checking in with herself.
I would continue to encourage your younger daughter’s sense of ownership and commitment to earning enough to pay her sorority dues, and work with her to make informed decisions that she feels comfortable with.