The magic number

When I was 18 I joined the military and moved half a world away from my parents. I quickly met a man I thought I should spend the rest of my life with and married him before my parents even met him. I honestly did not understand why they had any problem with that. I truly felt grown and just knew that I had enough life experience to make wise decisions for my future. (How that marriage turned out is a story of it’s own and I’ll leave it for another day.)

When Laura was 18, she quit school, moved out of my house, and ran off to the courthouse to marry a boy she’d known for a whole 4 months. She quickly found adult life to be more difficult than she anticipated. Trying to support yourself with no high school diploma, no car, no job and a drug habit is something that common sense would tell us is not even possible.

Two weeks after Matt turned 18, his mother (I’m the stepmom) took him to sign a lease for his own apartment. He’s managed to keep it so far but only because he got a roommate to share the 400 square foot space with him. The electricity has been disconnected a couple of times for lack of payment. We don’t hear from him much right now but I am certain he’s finding adulthood to be more challenging than he thought it would be.

Now Sarah is only a couple months shy of turning 18. She’s not defiant like Laura and Matt were but I think she has reached the point of feeling like she is ready to make her own way in life without my rules and restrictions. Laura told me recently that Sarah made a comment about being “out of here” as soon as she turns 18. While I know that was just venting, it has me wondering…. What is it about turning 18 that makes us think we’re grown?

In our culture we tell our kids that 18 is an adult. At 18, they can go off to college, vote, sign their own legal documents, be tried as an adult when they get in trouble with the law. All of us are so different though! While some may be ready to make it on their own at that age, I think most are not. They’re still so young and inexperienced at life. How many of us truly prepare our kids for independence. I used to think I was preparing my kids but, looking back on it, I can definitely see where I’ve coddled them. I’m quick to swoop in and make sure they have clean clothes and dinner. I make sure to remind them of homework and appointments. Even now, Laura is 25, and I’m still doing it. Offering “friendly advice” is often times just my subtle way of making sure she’s following through with all the things adulthood requires of her. Am I doing my kids any favors by “mothering” them so much? How do you find the line between being supportive and helpful or coddling? There’s still so much to teach them about life long after they’re 18 though!

I guess what I’m really wondering though, is how do we help our children step into adulthood and take responsibility for their own lives while also helping them recognize that 18 is not a magic number that automatically qualifies you to make all life decisions on your own without the wise instruction of those far older and more experienced in life? How do we gently ease them into independence and teach them to remain humble?

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