Eighteen. The magic age kids dream about – the day they’re grown-ups and can do whatever they want – stay out late! Have anything they want pierced, tattooed, or henna’d without fear of consequence! Haha! Free at last! Free at last!
Hold on there, not so fast, hot stuff.
Neo Adult: “Hey Mom, can I have some money?”
Neo Adult: “Hey Mom, when are you gonna do my laundry! I don’t have any clothes!”
Neo Adult: “Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?”
Mom: “I don’t know. What’re you making?”
Neo Adult (under her breath): “This sucks!”
There’s nothing more satisfying to a hard-working, battle-scarred parent-of-a-teen than the knowledge that their child will soon be paying their own bills, doing their own laundry, cooking their own dinner, and dealing with issues at the office. Sweet revenge? Misery loves company?
Not exactly. Like any of life’s hurdles (turning 40 was my all-time low), turning 18 is a terrifying time for many teenagers. Their 18th birthday is the day they peek over the precipice of adulthood – some kids embrace this moment, but others turn back and run screaming for their iPods, GameBoys, and Guitar Heroes. While this can be deliciously satisfying to unappreciated, war-torn parental egos, there are several issues that make it more complicated.
As parents, we clear so many hurdles with our kids – their first step, first word, first day in kindergarten, the “Birds and the Bees”, the first boyfriend or girlfriend, the first time they ask how to use a condom (stay cool), and the day your daughter first asks for a sanitary napkin (fathers fervently pray from the time their daughter turns 12 that she’ll tell Mom first). There are their first “questionable” friendships (see my post on GPS for tips of the trade on locating a wayward teen), and a handful of graduations that have the capacity to turn parents into blithering idiots.
In May, my first child will turn 18.
Let’s face it. Turning 18 is a Biggie. For you and your kid.
Here are a few things I have in mind that I hope will ease the transition for my children and me:
Rule #1 – To rent or not to rent. If they are not attending school, they will be working and paying to rent their own room. (No, I won’t use the money to fly to Vegas – but I will place it in their savings account, to present to them on the day they move into their first apartment. I’m not really The Wicked Witch of the West.)
Rule #2 – If they choose to smoke, they will go to the Surgeon General website and read to me, verbatim, what will happen to their health as a result. If, after saying out loud that they understand that smoking will kill them but not before making them ugly, and they’re okay with that, I won’t mention it again. However – be clear that they won’t do it anywhere near my house, my car, or my person.
Rule #3 – They will do their own laundry, feed the animals and do their part around the house (which includes on-demand shoulder rubs for Mom, to make up for shenanigans they’ve pulled over the past 18 years.)
Rule #4 – Just because they’re 18 doesn’t mean their boyfriend (or girlfriend) can venture upstairs for any reason, and under NO circumstances can they spend the night together in their room. This may sound old-fashioned to them, but I really don’t relish the thought of coming home to animal sounds coming out of my “babies'” bedrooms. I know they may be sexually active, but that doesn’t give them license to be sexually active in my house.
Rule #5 – They WILL honor their curfew and always let me know their whereabouts (because if they don’t, I’ll find them).
Rule #6 – Rules 1-5 were created because I love them – more than they could possibly ever know – and because I want them to enjoy long, happy lives with unlimited options.
Of course there are other rules – there always are – but these are the ones that need to be understood in order for us to co-habitate during the pergatory that lies between their dependence on me and their dependence on themselves.
Ultimately, parenting is about encouraging our children towards independence, confidence, and the resulting high self-esteem. At 18, there are going to be conflicts and arguments, which need to result in a serious dismantling of their sense of entitlement. These are really challenging conversations. But for your child’s good, they need to take place and the rules need to be made clear.
I read on a parenting website recently that our children need to experience a paradigm shift once they turn 18. As legal adults, they should now behave as if they are guests in their parents’ home. This means they will treat you, your home and your belongings with respect. If you and your teenager don’t have this “come to Jesus”, the transition is going to be far more challenging. Don’t make living at your house too comfortable for them, or you’ll likely have a 40 year old kid still living under your roof!
Given, I am going through this as we speak. This is my plan (“Man Plans, God Laughs”) but I’ve got a framework for handling the changes. I will also keep my sense of humor close at all times, and remind myself that saying “No” (Vitamin N) and enforcing rules are actually gifts that I give my children.
I am open to suggestions, experiences, comments, or whines on how you plan to handle (or are handling) moving from the role of “Mom” or “Dad” to that of “Coach”, “Friend”, “Confidante” or “Other”.
And yes, I fully expect to see at least one tattoo and larger ear gauges in June. What the heck – gotta pick your battles, right?
For some great information from the CalBar Association on legal changes that kick in on your child’s 18th birthday, click here: