I’m more than three months into parenting an adult now. So how does it differ from parenting a 16 or 17 year old?
Technically of course, it shouldn’t really change a lot. On a young adult’s 18th birthday, they are still only one day older than they were the day before. No wiser. No more grown up. But that number 18 is huge to them. It means so much. How do you balance that with your own life as a parent?
Of course, fundamentally, we have been training our kids to be adults for their entire lives. Potty training, weaning, school, allowing them independence – it has all been working towards adulthood. So does anything really need to change at home when they reach the magic 1-8?
Needless to say, my man-child’s expectations of adulthood and my own differ somewhat. He wants the ‘good bits’, like staying out late and drinking (although I’m pleased to say he actually does very little of that), but none of the bad bits, like cleaning up after himself and paying for more things himself. And me? I want him to clean up after himself a bit better and pay for more things himself. Because he’s an adult.
Of course now he’s 18 he could be at university or on a gap year on the other side of the world. So I can’t say to him ‘You need to be in at 10pm’. Because he’s an adult, for goodness sake! I’m not that mean.
But he is still living at home and he does need to show some consideration to the rest of the family. If he’s not going to be in at 10, that’s fine, but he has to make arrangements for himself. We might give him a lift home at 10, but we’re not going to give him a lift home at midnight or 1am.
So, as an adult, he has a choice to make – does he pay for a taxi or does he stay over with a friend? And, also as an adult, he needs to show some consideration – and let us know what his plans are. Before I go to bed and have a very unsettled night worrying about him. Because you don’t stop worrying when your kids turn 18. I doubt you stop worrying when they turn 28, 38 or 48 either.
In return for us being thoughtful and considerate and letting him stay out late, we expect some slightly higher standards from him at home. If you make food, you clear up after yourself. If you have a shower, you remove your clothes from the bathroom floor. If you’re tempted to say something nasty to your sister, just stop and don’t say it. It’s not rocket science. Showing consideration to others is a really key part of being an adult. I’ll be honest, these things are still a work in progress.
Despite being an adult, I’m pleased to say my son still wants to do a lot with his family, so we’re obviously not TOO embarrassing. He goes out for a walk with us most evenings and wanted to spend the last day with us before he started his apprenticeship. He chose not to go to Padstow with us for a long weekend and then slightly regretted it, because he realised that being home on your own isn’t cool or exciting, it’s mainly lonely and boring.
My son has started his apprenticeship now and goes out to work every day. He enjoys work and the people he works with and I think they value him too. (It’s weird when they start work, because there’s no parents’ evenings, so I don’t really know how he’s getting on.) The adult side of him is a responsible grown up in the workplace, the child side of him still expects his tea on the table when he gets in at 5.30pm and complains if it’s not ready or, God forbid, he has to make it himself.
With the exception of him going to work rather than school, parenting a young adult isn’t really any different from parenting a 17 year old. Parenting is a very long work in progress and it doesn’t just stop because of an arbitrary rule which says you are an adult when you reach 18.
The human brain isn’t fully formed until 25. My son might be an ‘official’ adult, but his behaviour can still be decidedly teenage. We’re not done with parenting him just yet.