Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My nearly 18 year old daughter

Questioner: Lin

Subject: 17 year old "adult"

Question: My daughter will be 18 yo in 2 months. She thinks she is an adult now and expects to be treated as one. I was recently so tired of fighting with her and catching her in lie after lie, I decided to see a local therapist. The therapist and I decided to do a "mediatation" so that we can reach a mutual conclusion to our disagreements.

Basically, she hates living with us, but she can't afford financially to live elsewhere.
 And if she leaves, she cannot take her car. She wants to be able to go out drinking and partying with her friends with no consequences from us. She told the mediator that she understands the consequences of drinking under age, but that nothing like that would happen to her.

We agreed that she could stay living in our house, she had to keep up her own room, wash her own clothes, take out the trash 2 times a week (or pay whomever takes it out $10 each time); go out with her friends but that if she planned to drink, she would have to sleep at a friend's home because she has a 10 year old sister who could not see her coming home drunk; and could only have use of her car for work (i.e.the car cannot be used for pleasure to free us from liability if she were to drink and drive).

Since we made the agreement (3 weeks ago), she has slept at our home 4 times; during the second week she acquired an 18 yo boyfriend (not someone she had been talking to during the previous week); and she has been sleeping at his home (he lives with his mother and 17 yo sister). He smokes cigarettes, has mutulated his body with various piercings and expanded earlobes, did not graduate from High School, does not have a steady job, has spent time in jail for criminal damage to property, has a reputation for hitting previous girlfriends, and even damaged one of their vehicles. We cannot figure out why she is attracted to this person. We do not feel like he will encourage her to go to college, much less work as hard as she will have to work to become a Registered Nurse!

I feel like we are good parents. Our children are quite spoiled. We are very comfortable financially, have a housekeeper, go on 2-3 vacations a year, and have allowed our children to try every sport or other activity that intersted them. We go to church and do require her to go to church with us (although she has not been coming recently because she is not sleeping at home). But we have not insisted she date only "christian" boys. We have also never required her to act like a "christian" but to use good morals.

I called the mediator for an update and he tells me that I need to not worry about what she is doing because she will be an adult soon and I do not have any control. He says that I'm being a control freak. He says that I need to assume she is being a mature responsible adult and just let her do what she wants. But in my opinion, a mature responsible adult does not sleep at her boyfriend's house after less than a week of dating him.

Last week for the 4th of July, I text messaged her and called her cell phone several times. She was with him all day and night and never responded to my calls. After over 24 hours of not hearing from her, I called the cell phone company and reported her phone as lost or stole and had it shut off. I later told her that even if we were roommates, she would give me the respect of letting me know where she was and whether or not she was coming home. (Her grandparents had come to visit and she never came home to see them.) I told her to keep in touch with me for a few days and I would turn it back on. She did and I did.

She is tearing myself, her dad, and her sister apart. She only comes home to take a bath, change clothes and leaves again. She has not taken out the trash once in 3 weeks and has been paying her sister the required $10. She only works from 4:30-8:00 on Mon-Thurs, so she is not at work all the time when she is not at home. She is at her boyfriend's house with his family and with him.

Do we put our foot down and make some rules and if she can't live by them, she'll have to leave (without her car and without her cell phone)? Do we force her to chose between him and us? I certainly don't want him near my vehicle for fear that he'll damage it! What about him damaging our daughter? He obviously has quite a temper. Do I pretend to accept him and try to get to know him? I'm afraid that I'll lose her entirely no matter what I do. She hates us enough already.

I just want her to be a "good kid" and keep her car, keep her cell phone, go to college, and let me pay for everything. But if I do that, then, am I trying to "control" her too much because I want her to live by "my definition" of what a "good person" is?

Now I know why God gave me my 10 year old daughter...so I'd have a reason to keep my sanity because my 17 year old is driving me insane! Help...


Answer: Dear Lin:

This is the hardest part of parenting. Letting go. She doesn't think she is an adult. She will by law be an adult. Do I approve of her behavior? Certainly not.

You are not going to want to hear what I have to say yet, I and other parents have been in your shoes. Alcohol knows no preferences or boundaries in whose child it selects to take control of and she is out of control.

However, she will be an adult and the therapist is right you cannot make her decisions for her or make her change.

Here is what you need to do:

You are responsible for her until she is 18. You also mentioned your financial support. STOP supporting her other than providing a roof for her to sleep under, food for her to eat and transportation to and from school (this does not mean allowing her to drive your car or her own or anyone else's). She can take the bus.

You do not owe her anything at this point until she changes her behavior. What you do is tell her she is almost an adult and adults assume full responsibility for their own behavior, financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

You do not pay for cell phone service or any extra's. She does so herself. She may not bring kids home who are using and abusing alcohol or any other drug of choice. Agree with her when she says she can do whatever she wants and then add to the end of the sentence that she can also pay for whatever she wants to do. It is not your obligation to support her bad behavior. You need to take a tough stand on this and be ready to stand up to her. As you said you have a 10 year old and this is not a good influence. Trust me it will have an impact!

Stop calling her and checking up on her. The more you do so the more she rebels. That which we resist persists. Tell her you expect her to be at home at a decent hour and not to wake anyone up when she does come home. If she doesn't like these rules then she is welcome to move out when she is 18 and set up her own rules or negotiate rules with you. (Stop saying she cannot move out, that is something you have decided in your own mind.).

I know this sounds harsh however the reality is you can both keep going on like this until she turns 40 and is still living under your roof calling the shots, or she can kill herself while drinking and driving or worse, she can kill some innocent child while she is under the influence and trust me that is a pain you neither one want to have on your consciences.

If she pays her sister to do her chores then give her credit for taking responsibility for getting her chores done.

Now you have some work to do. I strongly recommend finding an alanon group and attending no less than 6 meetings. You need to get strong boundaries between you and her.

You are not going to lose her if you back off of her.

"I just want her to be a "good kid" and keep her car, keep her cell phone, go to college, and let me pay for everything. But if I do that, then, am I trying to "control" her too much because I want her to live by "my definition" of what a "good person" is?"

This is what any parent wants for their child. The problem is they have to want it for themselves more than you want it for them. You have to let go so they can hear the voice in their own head. You cannot be the voice in her head that tells he what she wants......learn to listen more, react less and let go one day at a time. Also, go inside yourself and deal with the grief that comes when you realize your baby is not a baby anymore and is an adult. Much of the time we are avoiding this as parents. It is not the end of the world. It is a change, a new chapter and a new beginning of life with an adult child.

Feel free to call me for a coaching session.

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller

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