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You Asked: I Just Want a Better Life For Them

Dear Sugar,

I am the first member of my family to attend and graduate from college. Even though I did it all on my own, I never brag about it. I have quite a few younger nieces and nephews, and I had hoped they would see that I was able to go to college and continue on to have a happy life, despite our family's low-income circumstances (among other things). Unfortunately, none of the four who are out of high school decided to pursue anything other than working a low-paying job close to home, and one got pregnant when she was 17. Of course I was disappointed, but I support the life they want to live and as long as they are happy.

However, I was quite surprised to hear my oldest niece say she actually resented my success! I guess, to her, every time she heard me say "Why don't you take a class for that?" she heard "My life is better than yours," which I did not intend at all! I simply wanted to show them that it is possible to get out of a rut. How should I politely go about suggesting college classes without seeming rude or condescending? Or should I not say anything at all? — Looking Out Lorena

To see DearSugar's answer,


Dear Looking Out Lorena,

While you should absolutely be proud of your accomplishments, pushing your nieces and nephews to follow in your footsteps might not be what's best for them. Since you're the only one who has experienced college and the benefits of being a college graduate, I can see why it's frustrating to you that they chose the other path. But that's just the thing, it's their life — not yours. Of course it would be ideal for them to have higher goals, but after you've suggested college once or twice, I think you just need to accept the choices they are making for themselves. You're right, if they are happy, than you should be happy for them too.

If your family is reading your intentions incorrectly, try not to take it personally — jealously is probably what's behind it. That said, you shouldn't let their lack of support take away from your accomplishments. I hope I was able to help.


alexask alexask 9 years
i know i'm just a random person, but my theory on trying to give advice in people's lives, is to wait a while, then say the advice once. i always say, i'm only gonna say this once, and it's because i care about you, but i think... and it's usually not saying what they should do but just hint that they may want change something in their life. this of course, suggests that something has been wrong in their life. that's the other point of my theory. i don't say anything unless a lot of stuff is being said to me--complaints about life, constant grievances, etc. if they seem fine and happy--they surely know colleges exist, that making more money is possible, that having children at 17 is a stereotypically rough lifestyle to uphold--then i would say let them, and provide advice by being an example of living another way.
RockAndRepublic RockAndRepublic 9 years
I reckon your niece is just projecting her own frustration with her life. They're growing, leave them to their own devices. Your degree means something great.
sassy_chick sassy_chick 9 years
Ok, regardless of people think it was your place or not to speak up, young people need direction from role models, and it sounds like you're in a position to model success in the working world. As a teacher, I may be biased, but with the way our economy is going and jobs getting cut, you need every advantage on your side if you want to be successful. The extra money is certainly nice, but you have to give yourself an edge over the competition. People with advanced degrees will almost always receive job offers over those with minimal education, especially in fields that are considered careers, not jobs. Whether they want to listen to you or not, you're right. Just live your life, enjoy the benefits your college degree offers you, and hope they notice. I'm finishing my graduate degree this week, and you'd better believe I'm looking forward to that $15,000 pay increase.
honeysugar28 honeysugar28 9 years
Sometimes young people need to have some life experience before deciding on a higher education. I'm one of those people. My aunt is a lot like you she's very well educated and has always given me a lot of advice on getting a degree. I got married young (against her advice) and was happy with just having an office job and bringing in extra income to help out in my household. I had to go through different experiences in my life to realize that I didn't want to limit myself and I wanted to give myself more career options so I want to go back and get a higher education. I just wasn't ready before but I am more focused now than ever in improving my life because I'm more mature.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 9 years
"I have quite a few younger nieces and nephews, and I had hoped they would see that I was able to go to college and continue on to have a happy life, despite our family's low-income circumstances (among other things)." OP, I have mixed feelings about what you said. Truthfully, I think your neice read you accurately. You do think your life is better than their's. And you think education is the key. With that said, I also think you meant well. You want your family to improve their lives, and perhaps, their socioeconomic status, which affords them more resources and choices, and affect their quality of life. I get that. However, some people may not, and you may simply come across as conceited and arrogant. That's off-putting. My best advice to you is to live by example. Just simply live your life, with no ulterior motives. Your nieces and nephew are human beings. They're perceptive. They will notice how you live, your personality, your lifestyle, your health, your possessions, your speech, your body language, etc. If they want to follow in your footsteps, they will. The fact that you exist, and acommplished what you did is already letting them know there are other choices in life. You yourself are the consequences of those choices. I believe they will notice that. They're perceptive human beings, after all. Yes, I also agree -- ONLY give advise when asked. That's a fundamental rule that applies practically to every situation. JMHO.
Asia84 Asia84 9 years
i hear you, Kamiko82. it's not being's the truth. why do we go to work every day? pay bills and buy crap that makes us happy with our discretionary income. some buy extra food goods (crab legs tonight) some buy overpriced shoes that you just couldn't pass up (i do it all the time). the point is, life is easier when you have a little extra money. i think the biggest stress for people in a consumer nation is that we worry about debt and bills, and mouths to feed.
snowysakurasky snowysakurasky 9 years
ok i have a kind of different perspective. most of my family is educated, although my father was the first one is his family to go to university. anyways, although my parents have degrees, they were not overly ambitious in their careers, (they are more of the 'save the earth/help others' type) and we were never too well off. When I went to my cousins houses, i was always impressed with the stuff they had, or really, the stuff their parents had, and that is what made me want to be ambitious in my career and education. And i also saw the other side, which is that many people i grew up with had small dwellings, their parents had to rent, they moved all the time, etc. So my point is, show, dont tell. It might not work for everyone, but you could just let them know about the cool things you do, places you go and stuff you have (without bragging, obviously). The thing is, when adults say,' go to college' kids have heard it so many times that it is meaningless. If they happen to see a millionaire doctors house with a cool swimming pool, however, their ambition might rear its head. I dont know maybe i am just super materialistic~! And i am not trying to say that ppl should be educated just for the financial reasons, that just might be a great selling point for teens~
Asia84 Asia84 9 years
Real spit??? You need to go to post secondary school. I have a pretty large family, and I have seen the ones who didn't go to college and get good jobs...but only to be on the job for years and get downgraded for a new employee who has that paper (a degree) or they end up having to take then they are 40. and while you are never to old to go back to school, i think it's hard enough as a young single person taking a biological anthropology course than it is for a 40 year old mother of 3. what you are telling your family is that they should handle their business now, so they can have it easy later. It doesn't kill your niece to take 3, maybe 6 units at the local community college. It can be in sociology or art appreciation. hell, she get some perspective further than the daily gossip at Taco Bell. ______ I went to college, and it is much easier for me in my field of work to have that paper than not. My little 8 year old niece was over for a week (I KNOW I DON'T WANT KIDS RIGHT NOW!!) and it came up about college, and yes i took it as a nice time to drill in her head that she HAS to do good in school now so she can go to college. I don't want her to be like her parents: my 31 year old brother who never held a job longer than 6 months. (yeah, one of us HAS to be adopted) her mother who is 37 with 3 kids and food stamps as the highlight of her month. Plus, we're black. And i don't play the race card, but you have to have your a*s covered in the working world. I don't want my niece to have a good paying job, i want her to have a CAREER. ___ as for family? they are gonna hate on you for this. my thing is, they are quick to ask you for some cash when they need/want it! hmmm... and don't not give it to them, or let them post up at your home when they get evicted from somewhere. They will swear you're being a snob.
fantome14 fantome14 9 years
Speaking as someone who teaches college students, not everyone is mature enough to be in college at 18, though most are pressured to do it anyway. Maybe your family members will go someday, and if they do, they will appreciate the opportunity more than they might at 18. Or maybe they won't go, but that's their business, really.
Berlin Berlin 9 years
It's hard with family because they will go on the defensive. It's a way to transfer their disappointment or anger towards themselves that they will lash out and blame it on you and can start arguments (it's the same thing when you catch someone in a lie and they get mad at you). Without doing so, you are showing them what they don't have and they probably only see it as highlighted. Unfortunately you can't really do much about it, it's just the way that some people are. You'll just have to watch yourself and make sure that you just hold your head up high and be proud of what you have and don't let anyone take that from you, and if they want to come to you for advice then great, but otherwise don't give it and be prepared for their hesitation to congratulate you. It's along the lines of jealousy, where you'll bad mouth another person for no reason at all, even if you don't know them or they haven't done a single thing to you, b/c somehow it makes everything a little bit better in your eyes.
TheMissus TheMissus 9 years
I actually disagree with Dear Sugar on part of her message. I DO think you should never, ever hesitate to mention to your family that they have "options." I think, from it reads in your letter, that the message of "You can achieve whatever you want, whether it includes college or not" has not really been shared with you and your siblings growing up. I could be wrong though. I think if your niece told you (in so many words) that she resented your success, well, quite frankly, T-S for her. I come from a family where I was the first to go to University too. My parents encouraged it, absolutely. But not all my siblings and extended family went the college route either. And when one person in my extended family said to me once, "I'm so tired of hearing about your great life" (after their mother had asked about my life), I decided "Well, screw you! I worked hard for what I have. I won't shove t in your face, but you can be damned for attempting to make me feel ashamed for saying 'Yeah! I really like my job in NYC.'" I agree with Dear Sugar that it's "Their life, not yours." But, don't you dare for a single second hesitate to talk about school and how great it's been for you. If they're non-school route has been so great for them, then they need to speak up about that. Not be jerks to you.
NdHebert NdHebert 9 years
I say stay out of it. Unless you are going to be paying for their schooling, its really none of your business. Of course you want the best for them, but the best for everyone isnt school. I went to college and I am having a very hard time finding a job in the field I studied. My best friend went straight to the work world after high school and shes making triple what I make! Just support them in whatever they do, offer advice when asked, and everything will be great! Focus your energy on YOU, not other people.
cubadog cubadog 9 years
You can start by only giving advice when it is asked for. It is great you decided to go to school but right now your family members are not ready to continue their edcuation. It sounds like they are young. As the poster above stated school is not for everyone, if your niece wanted to take a class she would take a class there is nothing you can do for unless she has asked for your help.
jessy777 jessy777 9 years
I too am the only person in my immediate family to obtain a college degree. My siblings have gone to classes and my older sister is dangerously close to a degree but she hasn't completed it yet. I sometimes find myself offering the same suggestions but I have learned that this doesn't sound helpful but critical to them. I love education and believe learning is the most important thing. That works for me. I still encourage them to follow their dreams and help when I can but I leave the issue of college to them. Both of my siblings are doing quite well without a degree so it may just not be for everyone. I agree that accepting their choices is very important and don't stop being there for them.
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