My employer offers below-market wages, limited opportunities for promotion and advancement, and expensive benefits. Why do people stay? There is one major benefit offered at no cost to the employee which is a significant incentive to stay no matter how limited your career might become. Each employee is provided with up to 70% of the university's current tuition rate for up to 24 semesters of college for the employee's children. Given that the university I work for is a high-end, high tuition, private college, it essentially means free college for three children since 70% here is over and above 100% most anywhere else. This is a powerful incentive to stay.
If all goes according to plan, I will be quitting my job here at some point in the future. Hopefully sooner rather than later, but the fact remains that, if I get my way, my children will have their college education almost completely paid on one day and then the next day, they won't. And it will be because of me. I have always been a saver. I plan out expenses and agonize over spending money unnecessarily. The idea of having college tuition provided for my children is deeply comforting to me.
When I began to struggle with my ideas about my role in my family, this benefit was the last sticking point before I decided I wanted to quit. Why should my personal preferences impact my children's ability to pay for college? College was the priority and I thought I should be willing to endure anything to make it happen. I wrestled with this idea for months before deciding that my being present with my children during their childhood was more important that having a guaranteed paid college education. After this decision was made, I felt a lot of peace about it, which for me is highly unusual. I am good at second guessing.
Even though I feel peace about the potential of leaving all the money on the table, I haven't actually walked away from it yet either. It does make me a little nervous about how we will manage their educations. Perhaps when the money is really gone, my attitude will change. Over the years I have made enough money for us to live on comfortably, but we don't have much left over. Our emergency savings is not what I would like it to be. Our long-term savings for the children is also not nearly what would be necessary. Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way, but it is. I can realistically look ahead and know that it is likely we will be taking a pay cut when I am no longer employed and our ability to save money will be even less. This uncertainty would normally make me feel ill, but I am strangely calm about these possibilities.
Slowly and then all at once, my priority changed from providing the funds for college at some distant point in the future to asserting my role as mother right now as the primary purpose in my life. What good is college if I am separated from their childhood and I only have a limited ability to influence their actual lives? My biggest fear in this transition is that when my children get old enough to go to college and if we still do not have the money to help them, they will resent me for choosing my present peace over their future livelihoods. It's a gamble I am willing to take.