My husband and I have two teenage sons, one who is graduating from high school in June. We already know that he will be waiting one year before entering university. During that time he will live at home, go to school part time, work part time, play hockey, mature some more and hang out with his friends who are also doing a victory lap, as they call it. My husband and I have encouraged this gap year. My concern is that I am anticipating some friction around the house. My son turns 18 in the summer and technically that means he is an adult. Technically yes, but how do you set rules for this age? My husband is very much an "as long as you live in this house" kind of parent. We have rules such as no electronics in the bedroom – phones are charged in the kitchen at night. Good rules, but at 18? My son has already stated that he will use his phone when he wants and may stay out later. I'm not sure how to balance all of this. Suggestions based on your experience?
I do have experience in this regard, having had not one but two teenage sons do the so-called "gap year/victory lap" — the second one in the midst of his right now.
First, it's tough parenting teens in general. Hormones kick in, drugs might come into play, peers become all-important. Suddenly your child, once a ray of sunshine, becomes a cumulonimbus cloud of moodiness; irrational rages; defiance; what I call "teen logic," which twists and bends regular logic into a pretzel; and – my kids are masters of this – passive-aggressive, just-of-earshot muttered insults as they exit the room.
("What's that? What'd you just say?" you call after them. "Nothing!" they say over their shoulders, knowing full well you know they said something.)
Don't get me wrong. I love teenagers – poignantly poised as they are on a tightrope between childhood and adulthood. So intuitive, so raw. But, dear reader, if you have offspring about to enter this era of their lives, be afraid: Be very afraid. Not only will they defy you, they'll point out your flaws. They know all the chinks in your armour. They know just where to stick the shiv.
As to the "gap year/victory lap," it's obviously a case-by-case basis. But for a lot of kids I'm all for it: a chance to mature, as you say, look around, figure out what they want to do. Both my boys benefited tremendously from their "victory laps."
But it's tough to know how to go about the business of parenting during this transitional period. I'm inclined to side with your husband: #myhousemyrules. "Adult" he may be, but "grown up"? That's a never ending process. I still don't feel grown up, at my advanced age.
And it's your roof over his head, paid for by you and your husband. I don't know the details, but I imagine you also provide the food in the fridge, prepare many of his meals, perhaps even do his laundry and so on and so forth – not to mention the fact you've been caring for and feeding and clothing and providing shelter for him since he couldn't even sit up by himself and had no control over his bowels.
You deserve respect. Oh, he's "stated" that he can do as he pleases, vis-à-vis his cellphone and curfew, eh? Nix.
Problem is, teens don't exactly respond well to ultimatums. You are dead right to "anticipate friction." There will be enough friction and static to cause your hair to stand on end, like at a science exhibit where you put your hand on one of those giant silver balls full of static.
There will be tears, stomp-outs, possibly shouting: But stand your ground. Negotiate, and try to keep your cool as he zings and defies you and mutters insults under his breath.
Think of it this way: You are still preparing him to go out on his own – you're still parenting him – and particularly for the perils of cohabitation. I have no statistics – obviously no one knows what goes on behind closed doors – but my belief is more relationships founder on the difficulties and intricacies of cohabitation than anything else. It's a mine-field, full of trip-wires, claymores, bouncing betties.
He needs to learn how to navigate that, and step one is to respect the people he lives with. Right now it's you, but later it will be roommates and possibly romantic partners. It's your job (sorry!), still and now more than ever, to teach him how to do that.
It's the only way, IMHO, he'll ever live happily ever after.
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