We are the parents of 10 children, one of whom is an adult (age 20 to be exact). He’s always told us he’s the guinea pig for all our plans and schemes, and for the most part it is true. He and his sister (age 17) have always been the “bigs,” and every parenting decision or lifestyle choice we have made has fallen on them first. If it wasn’t good, we regrouped and tried again. If it worked, we kept it. But, honestly, we failed WAY more than we succeeded whenever trying something new or implementing rules within our home.
Many of you have asked me to write on the topic of mistakes we’ve made, or things we would do differently now that we have graduated one child, so let me start with the mistakes we’ve made actually parenting an adult child living in our home.
First off, by many standards, 20 and in college does not equal ADULT. I get that. Probably more than ever. And that leads me to mistake #1:
I made turning 18 a big deal
Now, don’t get me wrong, 18 IS a big deal. It’s a special birthday event for sure. BUT, I talked it up so much, giving it the status of full-fledged adulthood, that it actually completely backfired on me. Our son began to believe that he could do ANYTHING he wanted because he was now 18. He cast off most of his household responsibilities (or complained endlessly about them), and began disregarding rules we had had in place for many years.
*I need to note here that Blake is still a “good kid” and has not caused any “real” trouble, but his disregard for household responsibilities has caused quite a bit of difficulty in our home since he turned 18. Thankfully, none of his actions have been illegal or dangerous…just irritating at times.
By making 18 such a big deal, I actually ended up inadvertently disconnecting our son from the family unit, even though he still lived here. Rather than easing him into his adulthood, I sort of made it sound like I was just going to throw him in the deep end and hope he knew how to swim. He’s always been very responsible and my right hand man in many things, but when he turned 18, a switch flipped, and he quit being helpful (without quite a bit of back talking and muttering under his breath).
While leads me to mistake #2…
Not writing up an agreement for an adult child living at home
Much later, and in many ways TOO LATE in the game, I ran across this information about writing up agreements for adult children living at home. Blake has never been difficult to parent, but parenting an adult is light years different from parenting a child.
Because I had made such a big deal about his turning 18, I had never considered needing a living agreement for what his responsibilities would be while still residing with us and going to college. It never crossed my mind. I guess I just thought we would either stick with the status quo, or we would ease into a new routine that was just as good. Instead we all flailed in an ugly and awkward way.
On the one hand, Blake figured he was going to college and working; therefore, his time at home was all his own, sans responsibilities of any kind. I assumed he would continue with most of the chores and responsibilities he had had for the previous 18 years, and that college and work would not interfere with those.
We were both wrong.
And then, when I did try to put rules and responsibilities in place, he would balk, try to step around them, or worse, I would forget what I had said and not have a gauge for whether or not he was abiding by our rules. A written agreement for your adult children living at home is critical. Don’t assume you’ll remember, and don’t assume they will abide by anything you say.
We didn’t create “bills” for our adult child to pay
Frankly, this one never even occurred to me, but makes good sense. As part of that written agreement, we should have clearly outlined some financial responsibility within the home.
My husband and I still don’t quite know what this looks like. He and I both were only a year out of high school when we got married, and neither one of us lived at home after 18, other than on holiday breaks (which by the way, also might require some written rules).
My freshman year in college my parents encouraged me NOT to get an outside job because they wanted me to focus on school. Ty had a workstudy job to help pay for his schooling on top of a substantial football scholarship. Once married, we simply did what we needed to do when it came to bills, and sometimes that required us to ask our parents for a loan. We lived in low income housing, picked up commodities (subsidized generic food) at the local community center, worked at the college and in the housing complex we lived in, and scrimped and saved every penny we got.
There were no bills that needed to be “created” because we had REAL bills. But when you have an adult child living at home with no bills, I think you do them a disservice. They get adult status with no responsibility? Something about that doesn’t compute. But again, this isn’t one we have completely figured out yet – proof positive our oldest really is a guinea pig.
Mistake #4 –
Over-parenting our college student
This is one my husband struggled with. He was deployed and at military schooling during the timeframe when Blake was “aging out.” So, while I was making a big deal of Blake turning 18, my husband hadn’t quite connected the fact that our son was no longer a kid. At one point, the two of them had a heart-to-heart, man-to-man discussion that really helped both of them see each other’s viewpoints. It was painful for both of them to realize Blake wasn’t a little kid anymore. He doesn’t come on vacation with us anymore. He can’t take spur-of-the-moment outings with the family. And frankly, he’s just not home that much these days. It was a transition that neither one of them was quite prepared for. Ty had to realize he couldn’t treat Blake the same way, and Blake had to realize his dad’s actions were only due to his wishing his son was still young.
Under-parenting our college student
This one was me – all me. Remember, I said I made a big deal of him turning 18? Well, with that came a complete and utter lack of parenting on my part. I was extremely proud of how responsible and well-prepared and adjusted Blake was for his age. At college orientation, I was one of the few parents who didn’t stay for the entire thing, and I didn’t even go to the parent’s session. (Mind you, I was pregnant. I’m pretty sure I was the ONLY pregnant mom there.) I just figured he had this. And for the most part, he did.
Related post: Preparing Your Homeschooled Child for College
BUT, I also under-parented at home. I had no real expectations for him when it came to responsibilities and attitude. That is, until I didn’t like his lack of responsibility and his less-than-charming attitude. I sort of just let him do his own thing, which eventually became extremely disruptive to the entire family. He was grouchy and annoyed with his siblings, he was staying up way too late, making way too much noise and waking up everyone in the house in the middle of the night. There needed to be rules, but I felt guilty about it. I couldn’t find the balance, and so for the most part, I just stuck my head in the sand and avoided parenting him at all.
Another mistake we made was…
Not requiring our son to save for the day when he would leave
We did encourage our son to save for his college education, and he was raised with a saving mentality, so he does have some savings to his name, but we failed to purposefully require him to save for “someday.” Moving out costs more than what you see on the surface. There are deposits, furnishings, and many other little extras you often forget to account for when you strike out on your own. Plus, we don’t “owe” him a car, a roof over his head, or even a college education. Retrospectively, we should have put down a specific figure for him to shoot for when it came to saving for his future, rather than just “encouraging” savings.
Mistake #7 (boy, have we made a lot of mistakes!)…
Telling our son what to do rather than letting him make decisions
Not everything in your adult child’s life should be your way or the highway. Yes, they live in your home, but part of crossing over into adulthood is learning to make decisions, handle problems, and manage affairs their own way…and it won’t always be the way you would do it.
I think we gave out WAY too much unsolicited advice that wasn’t even really advice, but more of an “expectation” that Blake would do it that way because that’s the way we thought it ought to be handled. So, in the instance of the previous “mistake,” we could have written down a figure for him to shoot for, BUT we should not tell him HOW to reach that goal (unless he asks), and we should avoid questioning his spending habits too much. (Did you see me cringe as I wrote that?)
This is typically more of a sticking point for the over-parenting parent, but even the under-parenting parent who has been used to things being done a certain way will come to assume that an adult child is being difficult when they try to do something a different way – or when they seemingly do NOTHING instead of taking care of something you think they ought to take care of.
In the end, your adult child has to pay the piper and face the consequences for their own decisions. If you always tell them what to do and how to do it, they become directionless and lacking even the most elementary of decision-making skills. Give advice without expectation. Let them fail or succeed on their own. Recognize their successes. Be there when they fail.
And finally (although, I’m pretty sure this isn’t our final mistake)…
Failing to recognize and respect our adult child’s autonomy AND limitations
I remember sitting in Blake’s college orientation and scoffing when the man on stage told the new students that they were still kids. This was coming from a school that has become famous for saying they are “not a daycare.” I have always said I was raising adults, not children, and that day in that auditorium, I was certain I had it all figured out.
But, I was wrong. While my adult child was gaining autonomy with a head full of his own ideas, his own plans, and his own way of doing things, he had limitations. In many ways, he definitely is still a kid. And in many ways, he definitely is now an adult. I failed to recognize this juxtaposition and respect where he actually is on this journey of life.
At some point, every parent and adult child has to establish an ADULT relationship that gradually moves from authority to peer. Nothing about that is easy. So, perhaps in a couple of years I’ll be writing a new post because by then I will have two adult children, and I’m sure I will have more mistakes to share.
Note: A reader shared this book with me as a good resource she wished she had had when her older kids were younger…