By Douglas B. Stephens, Ed.D
In Wolfe’s novel, You Can Never Go Home Again, he made the point that the folks back in our home town will never see us the same way if we return to visit. Home is never again how we remembered it. Family is never again the same. I am reminded of this theme as I see many families preparing to launch their high school graduate sons or daughters to college or the military.
New graduates are quick to remind their parent, and not always in a caring fashion, that they are “adults now” and will be living on their own soon, so why should they have curfews, do family tasks, and worry about family rules NOW? They are ready, they think, for the changes before they even leave.
The strange thing is that when this happens in the summer before their departure, parents are drawn into treating the young adult as if s/he is younger and needing “controls”, such as curfews and opinions on their friend choices. However, this is a wonderful time to prove Wolfe incorrect. Young adults can go home again after college semesters, for instance. But before they leave for the fall semester students can rework their relationship with their parent by sorting out the rules around independence and responsibilities to the rest of the family. Parents benefit by being inviting rather than reactive and insisting on out-lived rules that no longer should apply to an 18-year-old.
So, talk with each other about how rules can be relaxed but in exchange for continued responsibilities to the family. Like what for instance?
Eat dinner with the family two nights a week, either helping in the meal preparation or doing the cleanup… in exchange for a loosened curfew for those nights by a couple of hours.
Or, vacuum the house and clean the bathroom twice a week and stay out later two nights a week.
What does this do? It stresses that being in a family means you are there to participate. It doesn’t mean you, the young adult, have lost your desire for “freedom” or “independence”. It means that you are still connected to these family members and that relaxed limits are not just due to reaching age 18, it is due to how you negotiate needs with others. That is one mark of a mature adult.