Phenomenon: Eighteen

Several months ago, I overheard a casual comment by a mother of a boy man, who was going to play in a card tournament at the mall that weekend.*

“…But he’s 18 and I can’t tell him what to do anymore.”

Wait, what?

Initially, my thought was, “Is he paying fair market room and board rates to live in your house and eat your food? Does he wash his own clothes and do his fair share of the vacuuming, dusting, mopping and preparation of the aforementioned food?”

I decided he probably was.  He’s a homeschooled boy man, after all.  And almost all homeschool families are vastly superior to ours.

But the thought lingered.

If the parent had objected to public card playing when the child was 17, they could have made a public scene and “punished” the child.  Mall security would have hesitated to become involved.  A call to the police,(when one knows where one’s child is, what they are doing– a legal activity, who they are with, and that they were not being harmed) may have resulted in a stern lecture to the parent.

Now, at 18, the parent can decide no longer to support a child who plays cards publicly.  A respectful child, who knows that their wanton behavior is displeasing to their parents, can pack his personal effects, place a deposit and first & last month’s rent on an apartment, pay deposits on utilities and internet service and have their cell phone removed from their parent’s name and placed in their own with the bill forwarded to their new address.  They can buy their own food.  They are free to purchase their own mode of transportation, be that an automobile and insurance, or a bus pass.

I am assuming this person, who cannot be told what to do, works a job.


This dear mama is just one of many mothers of 18 year-olds, I’ve talked to in the last year.  I heard the, “I can’t tell him/her what to do,”

A lot.

The other day, the girls were shopping with a friend who encouraged them to buy swimsuits they, themselves, were not comfortable being seen in, by saying, “You’re 18. You can buy it and your mom can’t tell you what to do.”

It struck me entirely differently.

Most of the people I’ve heard say this, have been homeschool mommies worrying over stuff they don’t realize is benign in the extreme.  Traditional school moms say it, as well, I just don’t have a strong research sample of these.  But this time, it was a homeschooled young lady, telling my kids to throw off the teaching of their parents and their own personal standards to demonstrate their legal prerogative to “flaunt” what they “got”.  Her parents encourage her to flaunt hers and require her to be in by dark.  She is unfailingly obedient, endlessly sweet, and doesn’t turn 18 until later this year.

Suddenly, it became clear.

I know dozens of young adults who have TOTALLY thrown off their home training.  Not just their religion, but their manners and poise (poise is an old-fashioned word for knowing the right behavior for the right situation and applying that knowledge.).  We are informing them, when they turn 18, that we are finished with them.  They can ruin their lives and we have nothing to do with it.  They are informing each other that at 18, it is imperative that the guidance of their upbringing is to be thrown off like a soiled garment (or merely one that completely covers their butt crack).

What could possibly go wrong?

I certainly don’t comment from a holier than anyone position.  I am still waiting for my freaking medal for getting through years 12-15.  I can, and do, tell my about-to-be 19 year-olds some things that they will (and will not) do.  I have offered to take them to the grocery for an Apartment Guide.  I have invited them to chip in for a g@#$%mn maid.

They, in turn, have acknowledged, that they do NOT want me to check-out on them now, when things are getting more difficult BECAUSE they have more freedom.  And the paperwork in adulthood is a bitch lot.

I think the idea that, “They are 18; you can’t tell them what to do,” originated in the idea that people should be allowed to grow up and be adults and accept responsibility for themselves–an idea with which I heartily concur.  However, the term may have been co-opted as an excuse for parent of the young person who hasn’t mastered five languages and four musical instruments and struggled to decide whether to go pre-law at Harvard, pre-med at Cornell, or double major in Jazz Studies and Orchestral Conducting at Julliard.

I really don’t know.

But I do know that a lot of young people feel very “empowered” by what looks very, very much like free fall.  Tune into the TV news, or the news headlines on your phone.

I can tell my about to be 19 year-olds what to do, and they can choose to do it or not.  They have been reporting in with some very poignant, “Mom, you were right,” events.  We have discussed how pleasant life will be around here, when the not-piles-of-money is reduced by having to clean up “mistakes”.

As parents, we are to raise them to adulthood.  Not get them most of the way there and wash our hands of them and their buffoonery.

I hear that parenting is a life span job (not supporting big babies, who won’t pull their own weight, but presence as a reference and an unconditional supporter). The greatest people I know acknowledge their family and their upbringing as vital to their lives, yet the culture-at-large, seems to reflect, “You’re 18; no one can tell you what to do,” as orthodoxy.



*This mom was stressed out and this young man is going to be ragingly successful (the girls had classes with him and count him as a good friend.  Someone they admire.).  I merely use this as the example, because it was THE day that this phrase stuck with me.  I had probably heard it 100 times before. And card playing is a good neutral example, because it can be positive or negative, unlike some other choices that can only lead to negative outcomes.




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