Most Canadian students will have to take out a loan at some point in their educational career, a financial stress that can be painful to talk about and hard to repay. Then there are others who try to stake their independence in the world while still having their parents pick up the tab, which comes with its own conversational baggage.
We talked with a bunch of these family-supported students about the emotional complexities of asking for help, the value of a hard day's work, and checking your damn privilege.
All photos by the author.
Sydney Marshall, 20
Art History, UBC
VICE: Where do you go to school and what are you studying?
Sydney Marshall: I go to UBC and I'm studying art history and I've got about a year left.
Can you tell me about the last time you asked your parents for money?
I think it was around Thanksgiving time, which is really easy because my parents were in California with my grandparents and missing me and I got to slip it in there like, "Hey… I've got $5 in my bank account."
Do you remember what you used it for?
Just like living. Right now I'm in school full time and my only job is modelling which pays really well but it's really inconsistent and I just wasn't working a lot in November.
Do you think that once you graduate you won't have to ask your parents for money anymore?
Hell no! I don't know, my parents have always brought me up like they have a lot of money saved for me to go to school. They've always made it clear they'd rather me take a lot of classes and be really dedicated and do something at a high level that I love, rather than work my way up. Which I kind of regret because my work ethic is like not that good, but it gives me a lot of space to do things I'm passionate about and get opportunities that way.
So they don't have a weird guilt trip, you don't have to manipulate them into it too much?
No no no, my parents are way too nice to me. I'm the one who's hard on myself.
Lorenzo Ignacio, 18
Industrial Design, OCAD
VICE: When was the last time you asked your parents for money, does that ever happen?
Lorenzo Ignacio: My parents pay for school, and they're also paying for my rent right now. I pay for living expenses like groceries and laundry and stuff. I probably haven't asked my parents for money in maybe the past three years? That's because I've been working for the past three years and also it's always just been a weird thing for me asking my parents for money. They also offer money to me a lot of the time when I'm going out. They only really do it in necessary cases where they feel like I might need a cab or whatever.
What kind of job did you have?
I was working at Nat Bailey Stadium for three years as a cook, and this past year I worked at Earnest Ice Cream.
And do you think once you have your degree you won't have to ask your parents for money anymore?
I don't know. There's that whole belief that an arts student leaves school and kind of perishes in this pit of no money. But I find my parents raised me pretty well in terms of how to use your money, how to work for your money, how to save it. So I don't know, we'll see. I believe that if I continue working through school, working through the summers, I'll be fairly well off on my own.
Do you think there's a taboo around admitting your parents help you out?
I do, but I also think it's taught by the parents as well, at least in my case. Because I actually do experience that, where my parents will be like, "Don't tell your friends that we're paying for your rent," or, "Don't tell your friends that we're paying for your tuition. Say that you took out a lot of student loans."
They want to ensure this kind of idea that I'm independent, even though I may not be.
Do you think it's because they had a harder time growing up?
No, well actually, I was born in the Philippines but I moved to Canada shortly after. But my parents were born and raised in the Philippines and it was a lot harder for them. Especially my dad, my dad was actually close to the poverty line. So yeah, I guess because I live this very privileged life they don't want me to kind of get in over my head with it.
Because they didn't have that experience?
Exactly. But I think it's really important to be honest with yourself about what you have. And even if it's behind closed doors, sometimes you have to allow yourself to be helped.
Hannah Murray, 18
VICE: Where do you go to school and what do you study?
Hannah Murray: I go to McGill. Right now I'm in arts, so for McGill in your first year you don't have a major so I'm just doing general arts.
Do you know what you're going to go into next year?
I think I'm going to do political sciences but I'm not too sure. I just know that in the future I think my goal is to go to law school.
OK, that's intense.
Yeah, I mean that's like a tentative plan…
So when was the last time you asked your parents for money?
I think the last time would have been in the summer, and probably for bus fare. I definitely did ask my parents for money a lot in the summer.
How did it work, did you save up a bunch before school?
Well I had a job, I worked at Lee's Donuts. I worked there for a little bit more than a year so I had all that money saved. And also just saved a lot of birthday money or whatever forever, so that's all in my savings account. So I've been good with that for a while, and that's basically what I've been using.
Then your parents pay for school and everything?
Do you notice people don't really like to admit that their parents are providing for them?
Yeah, a lot of my friends have had jobs, if you've never had a job I think that's kind of embarrassing. I remember talking with my friend and she was saying how she'd saved up all this money, and my other friend was like 'Yeah, well she's never had a job so I don't know what that's from.' And I was like, oh, OK. So there is a weird thing around asking for money for sure.
Where do you think you'd be at if you didn't have that job?
If I didn't have that job, A) I wouldn't have any money but also just having a part-time job, even if it's at some shitty donut place, it does teach you a lot about the world. It kind of prepped me for university. You do have to realize that in big institutions like that you're just a very small thing and you have to be able to get your work done, nobody's telling you what to do. You have to be able to self motivate and be watching yourself and fulfilling how you want to be.
I guess if you've never had a job or you're completely reliant on your parents…
You don't really get that as much.
Wyatt Sjoberg-Fox, 19
VICE: When was the last time you asked your parents for money?
Wyatt Sjoberg-Fox: Well I only ever ask my mom for money because she's the only one that has money.
[Laughs] I'll make sure that's the pull quote.
Make sure my dad hears that. No, because I've been working at an ice cream store for two years now so I've been pretty good at paying for my own lifestyle things. But at the same time my mom pays for my tuition and my residence so it's constant, it's constant.
Have you ever asked her for anything specific?
I know I had to get her to send me money for a train ticket to Toronto because I couldn't miss Thanksgiving dinner with my friends because, I was like I'm going to rot away I'm going to be so depressed all weekend.
Do you think once you have your degree you won't have to ask your parents for money anymore?
I really hope so. Probably not. But I'm trying to take a more optimistic approach to careers in my future, because I've gotten this job quite easily and I don't want to think about it the way that millennials think about it.
There seems to be a taboo about acknowledging the fact that your parents support you. What do you think about that?
Well I think I'm definitely a very affluent person. I mean, my mom is someone who completely started her own business by herself, came from a lower middle class family and did it her own way, did it herself. So I think because of her I have a really good appreciation of it, so when I do need to ask her… I do it for the right things, I think. I have confidence in that. But I also don't tell my friends. I try to act like I completely fund myself.
You're not the first to say that. Why do you think that is?
I think people want this feeling of "I did this myself, I'm true, I'm a real person underneath it all."
People kind of want the struggle?
Yeah, I think that providing yourself with economic stability makes you look really strong.
Caroline Mawhinney, 18
VICE: So when was the last time you asked your parents for money?
Caroline Mawhinney: Well it's kind of weird because my parents are divorced so I can kind of do two different asks for money for two different things in like one go. Which is useful, gotta love divorce! The last time I asked my dad for money was a couple days ago and I asked him to pay for my gym membership.
What's the gym situation that you're working with, this is in Montreal?
Yeah, it's in Montreal. And it's only $20 bucks a month and it's only for four months, too. I'm one of those people that gets really stressed out if I don't physically do something. I'm not super fit or anything but it's something I need to de-stress. I was at the Concordia gym and I was like [sucks teeth] this is not doing it for me, I'll get my dad to help me with the Y. It's a biggy, but the classes are included! You don't have to pay separately and that's awesome, I want to go to bootcamp and Zumba!
Do you think that once you've got your degree you're not going to have to ask your parents for money anymore?
[Laughs] No! Especially with a degree in the arts. My parents are helping me, paying my tuition. I'm paying for my own expenses but they are supporting me right now. I think hopefully by that time I'll at least have some sort of reliable source of income that I don't have to ask all the time. I think I'll be at least 50 percent or 60 percent able to do it myself.
That's pretty good, that's a little bit above half. So have you found that it's sort of a taboo among your friends to talk about what they get from their parents or how they're supported?
I think there's this feeling of 'I'm better than you' if I don't have a lot of support from my parents… I know my friend is paying for her own tuition and she gets up at six AM to go work at Old Navy even while we're in Montreal which is hard because you have to bilingual to even get a job there. So it's not easy, and she's also in economics. I feel like I value the way that she's living more than I value my own way. But there's definitely a taboo around it. Like I would never ask my friends if their parents are supporting them, but I don't necessarily think it's bad.
Lily-Snowden Fine, 19
VICE: How do you feel about asking mom and dad for money?
Lily-Snowden Fine: I try so hard not to ask them for money. And it's not because I'm so self sufficient or anything it's just that my parents they did pretty well so they're kind of too giving and I'm an only child they're very like "Yeah sure!" for everything. And I've never really had that experience of being ashamed to ask for something because I know that they'll say yes. I don't want to take too much because I don't think that's fair. Because they say yes a lot I try really hard to never ask them.
When was the last time you gave in and asked?
I think the last time probably was I wanted these really good acrylic paints for my class because I was buying the really horrible stuff and as much as I did the work the same as everyone else it just didn't look professional because it's insane how much of a difference that makes. So I just wanted these and they're really expensive so I kind of felt bad asking.
So are you making money off your art right now, are you selling your illustrations and stuff?
Yeah at the moment. Like it wouldn't be enough to live off of. I've had a couple times where I've done a lot of work and then just never got emails back, and didn't get paid for it which sucks. So it's a struggle. My friends and I always try and sell our art at shows and do as much as we can to earn our own money doing what we want to do.
So when you graduate do you think you're going to be able to support yourself off of your degree?
I have no idea, but that's my goal. I very much want to be able to do it just myself because my parents did that and they didn't have very much. So I don't want to be handed anything, I don't think that's fair. I don't want to feel like it was anybody else's help.
Do you think it's a taboo among people your age to be talking about money or their privilege? I feel like especially in art school that could be a thing.
Yeah, it is hard to talk about. I had this conversation with my friend. We were talking about how it's strange because our parents pay for school for us, and most people we know don't have that. So it kind of is a taboo, it's easier for people to talk about how they have to pay for everything. But then I would never want to talk about how you get things paid for in response. You never want to talk about where you're very privileged, because I know that I am.
Isn't it important to acknowledge privilege? Not to flaunt it, but to be transparent about how much you have, and not get caught in that trap of pretending to be some sort of martyr.
Yeah! I am very aware of how much I've been given so I don't want to flaunt it. You want to appreciate it without becoming spoiled or always reliant on other people's help because you don't know how to do it yourself.
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