Who shall pay for the oil change?

Is it the person who's using the car regularly, or the person who owns the car?

By Cary Tennis

Published August 18, 2011 12:30AM (EDT)

Hello Cary,

I recently received a wonderful job that gives me a company car and gas card -- all great things to have in this economy. A few months before I got the new job and company car, I bought a brand-new car. Being that my new personal car is now rarely used, I let my mother use it (she gave/loaned my younger brother her old car). These arrangements allow everyone to have a vehicle to get to work and wherever we may need to be.

Recently, my brand-new personal car, that my mother has been driving for months and will continue to drive for months, needed an oil change. She brought it to the shop and got the oil changed. Upon returning home, she asked me for reimbursement. I expressed to my mother that since she is and will be the driver of my new personal vehicle, small routine expenses like gas and oil changes are appropriate expenses for her to cover.

My mother is simply appalled by this. Am I completely wrong in expecting these routine expense payments of her? I have my fair share of student loans, car payments, bills, etc., myself and she is getting a brand-new car for free and avoiding the expense of getting my brother a car as well.


24-Year-Old Gal Working First Real, Satisfying Job

Dear 24-Year-Old,

It seems reasonable to me that your mom would pay for the oil change. But it does not seem reasonable to your mom. I wonder why that is.

She can't have thought it through in a logical way. There must be another reason.

You say she was appalled. Not just that she wanted you to pay for it, but that she was appalled that you'd even ask.

So here's what I think. I think this is symbolic, having to do with your mom's long career of taking care of you and finally thinking she's done taking care of you and you're going to take care of her for a while. It's not really about who should pay for the oil change. It's about her wanting recognition for all the sacrifices she has made over lo these many 24 years and some recognition that now she gets to be taken care of a little bit. 

And my guess is that her surprisingly emotional response came from the shock of recognizing that that's not what she's getting.

Now you, on the other hand, have graduated out of the role of dependent and are now making your way in the world of work. Work isn't about giving people what they need emotionally. It's about making rational, profitable decisions. So you would like your mom to respect your way of handling your affairs in a businesslike way.

She doesn't get it.

So you and your mom, each in transition, are going in opposite directions. As you were dreaming of finally reaching independence and adulthood and gaining respect for doing things in a rational way, your mom was dreaming of relinquishing the reins, setting down her burden and letting others take care of her for a while.

And here your emerging new selves collided over an oil-change bill.

I'm not saying I can read your minds. This is more like a hypothesis that would explain what otherwise seems illogical.

It seems illogical because it's emotional symbolism. It's not about the oil change. It's about your shifting roles and what you want emotionally.

If you recognize this underlying emotional dynamic, then you can watch for similar scenes in the future and perhaps come up with a way of being kind to your mom in symbolic ways that while not strictly logical or profitable are at the same time not prohibitively expensive.

Part of being an adult with an adult job means taking care of others even when their needs don't make sense to you.

We humans go through transitions. But we don't often announce their underlying meaning. We don't say, you know, now that I've got a real job, I want respect for being the rational decision-maker. Or, now that my kids are moving on, I want to regress for a little while to the status of a dependent.

We don't say that. But in our most secret of selves, we wish for such things with fervent hearts.

Write your truth

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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