The unwritten parental constitution has changed immensely over the last 50 years. In earlier times, parents had a lot more expectations for their kids. Maybe it was just the way it was in that era or maybe it was out of sheer necessity. More recently, parents in general can’t seem to do enough for their kids, even when they are pressed for both time and money. If we don’t accommodate all of their desires, then we have tremendous guilt. I get it. I’ve had plenty of guilt, but not because I didn’t love and care for my kids. It’s because I said no to many of the things other kids took for granted. Like smart phones. Before you judge me too harshly, just know that mine had a flip phone which they got for 8th grade graduation. I wanted to teach delayed gratification and that trying to “keep up with the Joneses” was neither wise nor sustainable.
So, after 18 years of living with you, you expect your little cherub to graduate from high school and accomplish certain things like college, trade school, military service, or a full-time job. But he has other plans. After all, high school took up a lot of his time, and he’s ready for a break. Summer break is not long enough to catch up on rest. Now that he’s a legal adult at 18, he can do whatever he pleases and no one, not even you the parent, can say or do anything about it…or can you? Following is the Bill of Rights For Parents of Young Adults. These may give you a fresh new perspective on what your rights are.
1. You have the right to not pay for college. I’m thinking of one family who had the ability to pay for college but chose not to. Their young adults were given love, guidance, and sporadic financial assistance, but they understood that their education was their responsibility. Two of them turned out to be senior level professionals. When spending their own money, people are more inclined to make smarter choices. I believe that most parents will contribute as they are able but non- contributing parents should not be vilified since no one else knows their circumstances or what lessons they are trying to teach.
2. You have the right to limit your educational contributions to colleges and degrees that you endorse. I’m just going to throw this out there. Your young adult can save a LOT of money by going to community college and living at home before transferring to a four-year college. This is an especially great plan for those who have no idea what to major in. If Taylor wants to go to an expensive out of state college, but your wallet has just enough for community college or another in-state college, don’t feel bad. Unless the expensive college is imperative for a specific degree, you don’t need to feel guilty about not participating. Same goes for college selection that is consistent with following a best friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend. Those are NOT good reasons for choosing a school…unless they are following them to community college!
3. You have the right to mandate steady employment. Who couldn’t love to have the “college experience”? Maybe you the parent want to provide the same type of experiences that you had in college (well, only the wholesome ones, obviously!). The problem is, the world has changed. The sad fact is that strangling student debt is at an all time high. Today’s young adults expect more and get more than you did when you were their age. You got away from home and left behind parental tyranny to enjoy your freedom on a college campus. But I’m pretty sure that most of today’s young adults enjoyed far more freedom and privilege in high school than their parents did while in college. Expecting employment during school is not child abuse.
4. You have the right to expect your young adult to pay for any expenses incurred on their behalf. Expecting them to pay for items that are only for them will give them a chance to learn money management skills before they are on the hook for big ticket adult responsibilities like rent and vehicle expenses. It’s ok to expect for them to pay for their clothes, gas, car insurance, cell phone, etc. If you do choose to help with some of these items after the responsibility has shifted, you should expect appreciation. When support is no longer an obligation, entitlement is no longer an issue.
5. You have the right to expect college to be complete in the prescribed amount of time. Whether you are contributing financially to tuition or just allowing Logan to live rent-free during school, you have every right to make sure that milestones are being met. Sometimes there may be a change in major. But if it keeps happening, it may be time to work full time and go to school at night. It was common knowledge in my home that a bachelor’s degree was expected to be completed in 4 years. There were four summers that could have been used to catch up on any credits that were needed to stay on track. I’ve seen lots of young adults meander through college without any urgency. After all, the reward for finishing school is a degree and the expectation of adult responsibilities. My solution, which I never had to implement, was a graduated schedule for room and board. I determined a reasonable household contribution for a young adult who was not going to college. If one of my girls took a full time (12 semester hour) load, her household contribution would be 100% eliminated. But if she only earned 9 credits (by failing a class or only signing up for 9 hours), then she would be expected to pay 25% of the predetermined household contribution. That was my way of mitigating excuses before they started. My oldest daughter had the distinct disadvantage of starting the college the summer after I graduated. Since I worked full time and parented while taking at least 2 classes per semester, I wasn’t keen on excuses.
6. You have the right to see how any disposable income is being managed. My first born (my guinea pig) indirectly helped me to formulate all my strategies. Her senior year in high school, she only had 2 classes so she was working full time in a service job. She had far more disposable income than I did. The part that bothered me was how she was spending it…frivolous to the extreme. I gave her a choice. I worked out a fair share contribution for her upkeep. I allowed her to choose to pay her fair share to me or to save it in her own account. I’m sure you can guess what she chose to do! But the caveat was that I got to look at her account each month to see that the money was going in and none was coming out. That decision was beneficial to her when by the time she was 19 and wanted to go out on a solo adventure, she had banked thousands. As a parent, it is my right to have an opinion of how money is spent when someone is dependent on me for support. Further, credit card debt is not permissible on my watch!
7. You have the right to enforce a curfew. One of the reasons I was in a hurry to leave home at 18 is that I didn’t want to be constrained by a curfew. Looking back, there wasn’t too much that I should have been doing after curfew, but I just wanted to assert my independence. My daughter started out with a curfew until she appealed to my logical side. She was upset that she had friends who went away to college and they had no curfew. She was going to community college and was living at home. I relaxed her curfew so that community college didn’t seem like a penalty, but with the understanding that if she made a lot of noise when she got home, that her freedom would be short lived. If you have chosen to enforce a curfew for any other reason, such as a barking dog, don’t feel guilty. He who pays the bills gets to make the rules. Be reasonable when you can, but the final decision rests with you.
8. You have the right to expect assistance around the house. To this day, suffice it to say that no one from Launch Lady Land is excited to push a lawn mower. But they’re both accomplished at running their own households, and I’m very proud of them!
9. You have the right to decide who comes into your house and who rides in your cars. One of my daughters had a friend who was not a good fit for my family’s values. There was always drama as they vacillated between best of friends and mortal enemies. After a particularly contentious battle, I threw out some ground rules. I let her know that I couldn’t choose her friends for her, but I could decide who was welcome in my home or in a car with my name on the title. Life was a lot more peaceful after I declared my boundaries.
10. You have the right to retire on time and with dignity. I read and listen to a LOT of personal finance material. Although I can’t remember the source for this paraphrased gem, this sums it up best. “When you go on an airplane, the flight attendant tells you that if oxygen is needed, be sure you put on your own mask first before you can help others who need your help. Similarly, if you continue to fund your young adults in lieu of funding your own retirement, who will take care of you when your time comes? Remember, you can borrow for college, if needed, but you can’t borrow for retirement.” Unless you want to burden your offspring with your care during your retirement, make sure you plan for your future before you continue to provide for them when they are able to do for themselves.
I hope that after reading your bill of rights, you feel that you can shift some of your responsibilities without feeling guilty. It would benefit all parties involved to have open discussions about your expectations as early as possible. If you’re providing everything for them now, I wouldn’t pull the rug out from under them all at once. It would be more palatable for them to assume responsibilities incrementally over time. Just be firm in your resolve and show them in every way that you love them. They’ll know just how much you loved them when they are equipped to begin their adult life as responsible, financially literate adults.