What is appropriate behavior for young adults under the age of twenty-one who live at home? Should they be free to come and go as they please? Should they be able to drink, smoke pot and sleep with their significant other in your home? What boundaries are appropriate? What about privacy and respect issues?
As a parent, how do you bridge differences without feeling compromised or violated? Do you tolerate anything and everything and say nothing? Does the veil of silence become the norm and pray that nothing catastrophic happens during the developing years while your son or daughter is living at home?
Open communication is key and if you insist on that important principle you need to be prepared to hear a lot of things that given the choice you would prefer to skip or not know. Real communication demands openness, even when you would rather be closed. It means listening when you would rather be deaf to some very delicate and complicated issues.
Communication demands a level of dialogue that must be grounded in compromise. It must be dynamic and consistent. If done properly, it is hard work.
QJ is nineteen. He is the second son of an intact family. Both of his parents work in professional arenas. They are both well educated, each having a master's degree plus in their respective fields. QJ's older brother is a recent college graduate. This is a family that places a lot of emphasis on high education.
QJ is a high school drop out with an above average IQ. He faired poorly in most of his high school classes because he never felt challenged. It was easier and more enjoyable to be the class clown and distract his friends from the productive process of learning.
After more than two years of cutting consistently, he was invited to withdraw from school before he was withdrawn. His parents ultimately supported that move when they recognized that QJ had more cuts than days in school.
He left school in the middle of his junior year and began to work full time. At eighteen with no skills except for taking up space and talking, his employment opportunities were dismal. He had a hard time accepting the thought of being a career counter man at the local McDonald's. After a few very frustrating months on the slow track to no place, QJ decided to go back to school.
After ten months of floundering, going from job to job, he enrolled in a special program at Suffolk Community where he could take college courses towards his associate's degree and also work on his high school equivalency diploma.
For the first time in a long time, QJ seemed motivated. He was beginning to acknowledge that a life without an education would lead him nowhere.
As he was searching for a career path, he connected with a young woman he knew from nursery school. They had not seen each other in years. Their reconnection was electric. She is a highly motivated freshman in college. Her present GPA is 3.6. She loves school and loves learning. She has become QJ's motivation. She has made it clear that nothing is going to deter her from completing her college education. Presently, she dorms at school five hours away from home.
Since this new connection has developed, QJ has become more defiant and less compliant. He no longer asks, he tells. He is rarely home for supper. He sleeps out most of the week, only to return home for his part-time job on the weekends.
When his parents asked what he was up to, his response was "none of your business." Upon investigation, his mother discovered that QJ was traveling seven hours each week on public transportation to "hang out" with his girlfriend. He stopped going to school, so he was automatically dropped from his classes. He paid the bill for the term and lost all of that money.
A few weeks passed and then QJ's parents confronted him with what they knew. They expressed their frustration that he was using their house as a flophouse. They were concerned that he was on the slow track to no place, since he was no longer a student and was not employed full-time.
His response was "I'm working on finding out who I am and what I want. You are too controlling and restrictive. At nineteen I should not have to be accountable to you. I should be free to do my own thing."
At the end of that conversation, he ignited his bombshell and informed his parents that he was moving out to one town east of their home to live with his girlfriend. He claimed that the girl's father was going to help him get employed in the construction industry. He also claimed that her parents did not have a problem with him sharing her bedroom in their home. He was also driving her car without a permit or driver's license.
Needless to say, QJ's parents were not thrilled with this news. They were shocked that this family had no problem with two nineteen year old coeds sharing the same room in the family home with younger children living there. They also could not believe the parents endorsed an unlicensed driver driving a car registered to them.
Surprisingly, this conversation was civil. QJ's parents kept their composure even though they were shocked and devastated. They realized very clearly they could not prevent their son from moving out and from making those choices.
As parents, they expressed disappointment that he was moving out, not to be independent, but rather transferring residence to another home that had different values and expectations than the ones he was raised with. QJ said if his girlfriend could stay in his room when she stayed over, he might reconsider the move. They quickly responded in a non-judgmental way that that arrangement was not acceptable.
They made it clear that they did not support a number of his recent choices, that they loved him unconditionally and that he was always welcome at home, but with their parameters.
These parents were frustrated that the girlfriend's parents never called to talk about this transition. QJ is not being asked to leave his home. He is choosing to leave because he does not want to be accountable to his parents or comply with some of their household guidelines.
It is the holiday season. All of this could fall through. However, it does underscore the painful and complex dynamics of parenting young adults. QJ's parents' expectations are not unreasonable. Could some of their "bedside manner" be amended? Probably.
Christmas is a time for remembering and giving thanks. Even though family life can be tough, it is a gift that many don't have.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.