I Don’t Want To Pay for My Daughter’s College Expenses—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, My 17-year-old high school senior daughter will be going to college soon. She is primarily applying to top schools, with an estimated annual cost of $85,000 (for the first year). Her strong first preference is a school that is ranked number one in the program/major she wants, and she has a strong chance of getting accepted.

This is obviously a great academic opportunity that would be great for her career and life in general. Even if she is not accepted into the number one program, she has already been accepted into another school ranked number five, which also has an estimated annual cost of $85,000. It should be noted that another school she has already been accepted to is ranked number 20, but it would be free because her mother is faculty at that university and that’s part of her employee benefits.

So by itself, this is a difficult trade-off, number 20 for free for all four years, or top five for around $350,000 over four years.

Stock image of a distressed teenager and an insert of a college fund piggy bank. A father has written to Newsweek asking for advice about paying for his daughter’s college fund, despite her rudeness.
iStock / Getty Images

She has applied for and received scholarships, but she also knows that she has a large college fund from her grandparents and her parents are financially well off. So paying the high fees without a loan is not an issue.

However, the main dilemma I have is whether I personally want to help contribute to any of her college expenses (if she does not go for the free option). Whatever her grandparents have provided for her is their decision and there are no stipulations. Whatever my wife chooses to do for her daughter is her decision. By the way, my wife and I have been married 20 plus years, and all of our assets, bank accounts, etc. are joint accounts.

However, the issue I am wrestling with is that my daughter barely talks to us, is rude and disrespectful, is inconsiderate, etc. She has also said that she does not like us (her parents) or likes living in our house. I understand that she is a teen, and that is the reason for a lot of her unpleasant behavior. I can just see a scenario where once she leaves for college, she makes no effort to come home in the holidays and will stop speaking to us.

If she does this, as I suspect she will, I just don’t see why I should continue to financially support her. I don’t think she should believe she has a right to be given money when she treats us the way she does, but I also don’t want her to start being nice to us just so we will support her.

For example, someone suggested that we set up a sort of contract with her whereby if she doesn’t communicate with us or is rude to us that we will not pay next semester’s fees. The problem with this is that there is no way of knowing if her behavior is genuine.

A further issue is that my wife and I do not agree on this. I do not want to support our daughter unless certain basic conditions exist, but my wife does not have the same view and would help pay for her daughter with no stipulations and regardless of whether she talks to us.

I’m really concerned about this, on top of the fact that we have two other children that will need college funds, as well as our retirement.

How do I address the issues with my daughter’s behavior, and how do I deal with financial decisions between spouses when it comes to ‘investing’ in our children?

K, Uknown

Newsweek’s “What Should I Do?” offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

Your Daughter Needs Support From Her Parents As She Launches Into The World

Ruth Freeman is a psychotherapist and founder of parenting support organization Peace At Home Parenting Solutions.

Ideally, parents include a candid conversation about finances with their child in any college fund planning before the process begins. That includes being clear about exactly how much parents are willing and able to contribute annually without undue stress to them or the family. This is much more effective when done before colleges are chosen and applications are in.

Kids deserve to understand the precise financial situation when they are choosing colleges so they do not waste time applying for schools their parents won’t financially support, and don’t get their hopes up if accepted to a school that isn’t a viable option.

I would also encourage you not to try and fix the relationships in the family with the college tuition as a tool. You seem to recognize already that is not a good idea. There are clearly serious family issues here as you describe your daughter’s communication with you and your wife. I would encourage you to enter family therapy and to learn, with a third party supporting them, exactly what is the nature of your daughter’s concerns. You are not simply describing typical adolescent angst. If your description is accurate, this young woman feels deeply distressed in relation to her parents and if this is not somehow addressed before she goes to college, it may affect other areas of her life. It is your responsibility as a parent to understand the nature of your child’s behavior.

I would recommend getting on the same page as your wife about how much you are willing to spend, and then do some work as a whole family before your daughter leaves in order to, at the very least, find out why she is pulling away from you so much. Her launch into the world should include feeling that her parents have her back. Dad’s reluctance to support her financially and perhaps otherwise is understandable because she is so rejecting, but he really needs to understand how his daughter came to want this distance in their relationship.

If You Promised To Pay Towards Her Education, It Would Be Wise To Keep Your Promise

Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of “Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety” as well as “Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating.”


Thanks for your letter. I believe your situation begs some questions that might be helpful to consider.

Have you addressed your daughter’s attitude and set limits in the past? If not, I strongly recommend you do before you take such an extreme step as to deny her college fund. Children (even teens) don’t usually devolve into patterns of the profound level you described unless the parents are, on some level, enabling it. If you have made attempts but feel stuck, or if you don’t know how to begin, I urge you to seek family counseling, even if only for the precious few remaining months she lives with you. Parental relationships are a template for future relationships, so allowing her to trample on you is a disservice to her and a heartache for you.

Secondly, have you historically told her that you would fully or partially pay for the college of her choice if she earned good grades? Whatever your previous promises, you might be wise to keep them.

Have you had a direct conversation with your wife about what you may have to sacrifice to pay the tuition? Do you feel like she’s forcing you to ‘be the voice of reason’ so she can enjoy trumpeting a spirit of generosity? If you and your wife are struggling to have an earnest conversation about this and/or about your daughter, you might consider a few sessions of couples counseling to seek common ground.

I am sorry to answer your question with more questions, but hopefully these questions and the ideas alongside them will be helpful as you navigate this difficult and important dilemma.

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