Tuesday, August 21, 2007

House Rules for Young Adults

I'm bringing this question up from the comment box at my other blog:
"I have a newly-turned 18yo at home now ... we are struggling with "rules" for her ... she IS an adult (just ask her LOL), but she lives in our home ... what kinds of rules do you have for your adult children living at home?"

First, let me say that some people choose to exercise more control over their young adult kids than we have done, and to those people I say: More power to you if it works for you. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I also want to add that in dealing with our young adult children, I didn’t have anything to model from. When I was 18, I left home and moved to another state. So I kind of had to feel my way. But by the grace of God, I think what we did worked for us, because we have adult kids we are proud of (and one young lady, who is like a part of our family, who lived with us for a couple years, whom we’re proud of too).

I have explained to our kids a number of times through the years, whenever they questioned that I want to know anything or have rules, that people sometimes board with a family or with a single person who has a house to share. I lived in several such situations as a young adult; and then a relative lived with my husband and me, when our first children were little. I tell the kids that when an adult lives in another's home, there are usually rules, whether they are rules discussed beforehand, or simply "rules of courtesy". Sometimes there are unspoken rules in the host’s mind which the guest or tenant doesn’t pick up on, which begin to cause friction. Communication is key.

Here are four areas of expectation I usually cover in some way, though I don’t sit each child down formally when they turn 18, nor do I have it all written on a sheet:
1) Hours
2) Expenses
3) Clean-up and service
4) Influence and Respect

Hours: Our hours have varied over the years and they vary from family to family. I don’t call it a “curfew”, per se. But I do tell my adult kids, when they are living at home, that if they won’t be home by a certain time, then they need to call me to let me know when they think they’ll be home. At different times, this time has been midnight or 1 a.m. Perhaps 11 p.m. would be more practical, so I don’t get wakened. (We do have the advantage that Ed sleeps through the phone and I go right back to sleep.) If they think they’ll be out playing cards at a friend’s or sibling’s place until 2, say, and it turns out they are going to spend the night instead, they are to call me (yes, again), and let me know that. I don’t want to wake up at 4 a.m. or 7 a.m. to an empty bed or no car, wondering if they had an accident. As far as specifically where they are, yes, I like to know, but I haven’t always insisted, depending on age, gender, etc. They do have cell phones (and I’m not afraid to use them, sometimes just to say, “Hi. Are you having a good time? “). And I have made sure to ask for their friends’ phone numbers in case of emergency. We have occasionally reminded our kids that if they ever need a ride for any reason, to call us any time. I’ve heard them tell each other that, too.

Expenses: If you had a boarder, you’d discuss up front how much you expect them to pay you for rent and utilities. We’ve never asked our children to pay us to live at home (but they’ve always been struggling through college, not just working full time and living at home). However, I do share with them my expectations for certain things. They are welcome to eat our meals with us, but they have a part time job and pay for their own auto insurance, gasoline, and spending money. Another family may not require this, but again, my point is communicating expectations. Along these lines, there may be hidden expenses you may want to discuss. If someone consistently takes a 20 minute shower, this is a problem for me because of my water bill, so I am going to communicate with them about it. If a long shower is important enough, maybe they can contribute to the water bill.

Clean-up and service: As part of a family – or even as part of a household – we need to clean up after ourselves and also contribute something. When our children were commuting to college full time and working 20 or more hours a week, I didn’t give them specific chores; but they still helped with getting someone to an appointment now and then, babysitting if we were going away for a weekend, mowing the lawn now and then, wherever a need popped up that they could fill. Keywords here are contribution and communication.

Influence and respect: If there are younger kids at home, the older kids (excuse me, “adults”) can have a powerful influence. While I want to keep the lines of communication with my adult children wide open, I might ask them to discuss some subjects at a time or place where the younger kids can’t hear the discussion. Language is also a consideration. My kids didn’t come home taking God’s name in vain and using really bad language. But they would sometimes come home with words that would not be acceptable for my younger kids to use with their friends. The older kids need to understand the influence they have and that they must respect our requests. (The younger kids, too, might need to understand that they can’t do, or even say, all that their older siblings do or say.)

Respect also means that if they want to be treated like an adult, then they need to behave with adult courtesy toward their family. Most of the time, they haven’t needed to be reminded to be respectful toward us, as long as we aren’t trying to tell them how to live every detail of their lives, or displaying anger toward them for their choices.

If you would like to share your own strategies or thoughts on any of this, you are most welcome to leave comments…even if you want to disagree with me, that’s okay, too.