[Note: wow, it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted on any of my blogs. That is the longest stretch I’ve gone without writing in probably 6-8 years. Not sure why. Not sure if it was even noticed. Wasn’t planned. Just needed a break I guess. Have been really tired from work, haven’t felt good physically, and some other stresses I won’t whine about. Feels good to be writing again. ~ BR]
A reader sent me the following note/question:
Our 22 year old has a full time job which doesn’t pay real well with no medical benefits so he still lives at home. His living at home is not the issue; it is his drinking “problem”. “Problem” is my classification; he says he doesn’t have a problem.
We live in a very small community (population of 1500). I do agree with him, there is absolutely nothing to do in our town. The teenagers & young adults drink for their entertainment. Beer parties in the cornfields, cow pastures, anyplace they can gather. He drinks every weekend & some nights during the week. This has been going on since he turned 20. He was arrested when he was 21 for driving under the influence and was placed on 1 year’s probation. He said never again would he drink & go thru the humiliation of being locked up. That frame of mind lasted a few months & the drinking started again.
I need to point out that my husband and I do not drink, not even socially. My husband and I have tried everything; talking, reasoning, arguing. His drinking is the only thing we argue about; basically he is a fun-loving kid with a great personality. He struggled in high school with his studies but he excelled in football & track. I don’t know how to reach him & make him understand that drinking is sending his life in a downward spiral. Any advice you can give me would be most appreciated.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Getting him to understand” is not the goal anymore. Sounds like you’ve already given that a try with talking, reasoning and arguing. Sounds like it is now time for ultimatums and consequences. Ultimatums for YOUR good, and consequences for HIS good. Let me explain.
At this point in the process, you have done everything except lay down the law, draw a line in the sand, and present an ultimatum. This is fairly typical of loving, serious parents because they know once they pronounce an absolute, they have to stick to their guns. This may mean having to give Junior the boot, or doing something which actually allows him MORE freedom and more opportunity to self destruct.
This is the nightmare of good parents. Their reasoning says “well, at least if we keep him at home, we can keep him from doing even worse… then maybe he will grow out of it.” However, at some point what this is doing is 1) delaying his growth, 2) allowing him to avoid the very consequences that will make him realize his choices have consequences, and 3) enabling him to continue destructive behavior by indirectly financing or facilitating it. Explaining those points:
Three Things to Consider
3) By letting him live at home, use the facilities, laundry, eat the food, have a roof over his head – you allow him both the ease of mind, time and finances to MORE EASILY continue the drinking and partying. He has to work less, doesn’t need as much money, doesn’t have to worry about paying rent, electricity, water, etc so has less incentive to work more hours and improve his own life. At a minimum, you should consider treating him like an adult tenant. More on that below when I give you my advice.
2) When he has no fear of losing a place to sleep, not having food, getting a car repossessed, canceling insurance, having to pay his own medical bills, getting bailed out jail, etc. then naturally he has LESS GOOD FEAR of drinking and partying. Staying out late, not working harder (one job? get two or three if you have too much party time on your hands), not be concerned about a bed, wheels or dinner plate makes the party life more enticing.
1) By delaying or avoiding all these consequences I’ve listed, he is delaying growing up and facing the cold hard truth about personal responsibility. Have you reported him to his probation officer for partying and getting drunk? He may not be driving while impaired (he probably is; they all lie about it) but public drunkenness is most likely a probation violation as well. Has he gotten in as a passenger with someone who has been drinking? Is he drinking with minors which is pretty common? Does he fear ANYONE including you, reporting him to his probation officer and going to jail?
Courageous Ultimatum – Hope Is Not a Strategy
Given all that, an ultimatum seems to be the clear answer. No more talking, begging, arguing or reasoning. No more hoping he’ll listen. My older brother uses a tagline in sales that says “hope is not a strategy” (by the way, if you, or someone you know are in sales, management or an executive, you should visit my brother’s blog. He is a world class, first tier leadership and sales author/teacher). That could not be more appropriate here. Hoping he will change is not a parenting strategy you can count on.
Ultimatums are for YOUR good as parent in this situation. They give you something concrete. They mark progress, good or bad. For young adults who want to straddle the fence between growing up and living the party life, an ultimatum forces them to be 100% responsible for their partying lifestyle – it’s THEIR choice.
The problem with ultimatums is they require COURAGE from the parents. Many parents will reason and question themselves “what if they get worse? What if letting them loose on their own or kicking them out just lands them in jail or in an accident? Can’t I keep an eye on them better if they are at home?”
That’s sounds reasonable, and in fact, in some cases may be the right choice. I don’t pretend to have the ONLY RIGHT ANSWER. I just have the best answer I know. Given the original question, a 22 year old young man who doesn’t seen to have anything on the ball except a dead end job, then “growing up” seems to be what the good doctor ordered. You already tried reason, argument and appealing to his common sense (which appears to be lacking).
Yes, drinking and partying is common for his age, but how long do you let it go on? 25? 30? 35? I know 40 year olds (and older) that still live the same lifestyle your son is enjoying (partying and a little work). Why wait? He’s not going to magically grow up in a couple of years. Are you prepared to wait for 5 or 10 more years?
Consequences – Good or Bad
It’s takes courage to draw a line in the sand and release your children to their own consequences. I know from whence I speak… I’ve had to lay down the gauntlet to one of my adult children and tell them “continue that lifestyle, you are on your own, PERIOD.”
In fact, I’ve told all my kids something similar as they approach 18 years old. For several years leading up to it, I prep them with basically this statement: “When you turn 18, you become an adult guest in my home. As long as you are working full time, going to school (or an acceptable combination of the two), you can live at home for a few years IF you act like an adult guest. You must take care of yourself and do your share WITHOUT having to be told like a irresponsible teenager. You have to replenish what you use, and help care for the house and property. Based on MY SOLE OPINION AND JUDGMENT, I may require you to pay some rent, utilities and buy some food as I consider how hard you are working, how seriously you take your schooling, how responsible you are acting, and whether or not I approve of your lifestyle as a whole. I won’t promise you any ongoing living support, college funding or free room and board. It is all based on YOU: your work ethic, your effort in school, your choice of lifestyle. You may get nothing, you may get a little, you may get as much as I can afford. But nothing is promised, and ALL OF IT hinges ON YOUR behavior, growth and responsibility. I’ll treat you like an adult, and I’ll require that you act like one.”
Given that, I’ve helped some of my adult kids more than others – some had conditions, some just received gifts. That’s not favoritism… it’s all based on a completely fair judgment – MINE. (insert evil laugh here) I love to help my kids but we aren’t rich and they know it. When we help our adult children, it is a sacrifice and the help is based on the how worthy they are of that sacrifice. Not only do I consider this fair, I consider it the most healthy for them. I hope it is something they use with their own kids. My own parents were the same. They promised nothing and we expected nothing. As long as I was responsible and growing, which I was, they were glad to help if I asked (rarely) and except for the times they specifically gave a gift, it was always repaid without fail.
To this day, I don’t believe my parents have ever felt taken advantage of, taken for granted or were sorry they pitched in. Even as a married, adult father and husband they have taken joy on occasion in saying “here son, we want to do this for you”. I have had the same joy with my own adult children.
Consequences facilitate growth, or at least expose folly. They result in change – sometimes for the worse but that is a chance we must be willing to take both as parents and Christians. As Christians we have to trust that God with our children and their safety (and/or salvation) – is not on our shoulders (ultimately).
Most of you know that I was married once before. I don’t speak of it much because dredging up 20 years of heartache is not my idea of fun. It’s also not my desire to badmouth my former spouse regardless of my opinion of her or my version of the “facts”. What is not in question is that she chose to leave our marriage for another man she was seeing and took my kids with her. I share that with you because it was through that terrible circumstance that I had to learn the hard way that God is chiefly responsible for my children and not me. Like Moses being drifted into the home of a pagan monarch (Egypt), God never left Moses even though he was surrounded by and taught everything contrary to God’s ways.
It was through that story of Moses that I realized “if God can safeguard Moses his whole life, then he can safeguard my children even as they being taken from me into a situation where Christianity is, shall we say, not a high priority”. My trust in God allowed me to keep my sanity and my eyes on a future day when I would be reestablished in their lives. That day arrived about 6 YEARS after they were torn from my daily life.
This same “Moses principle” holds true as we let our children grow up and release them to adulthood. We must not pretend or attempt to safeguard them so long that it delays or retards their growth. That includes releasing them to bad consequences for bad choices.
Finally, here is my advice for this specific situation. It’s my opinion, based on my experience, expressed from the wisdom I ask God for. If you don’t think it’s right, leave a comment and tell me why. I’m always GENUINELY interested in hearing other opinions on matters this subjective (that was not directed to the folks who asked this question. It was a general statement to the reading public. If the parents who asked the question disagree and want to discuss it more privately, please email me directly).
First, determine that you are willing and ready to let your son suffer the consequences of his choices, good or bad. Jail? Don’t bail him out. Loss of job, let him figure out where to live and eat. Alcoholic? Let him climb his way out. He will never grow up and change unless you let him live out the consequences of his choices. This works on the positive side too… good behavior, good choices, good consequences. Good or bad, they are EARNED by his choices.
Second, ultimatum time. If was in your shoes I would give him a progressive level of negative ultimatums:
- Quit drinking, period. Get caught, you’re out of the house. Period. No tolerance.
- Continue to drink after getting kicked out, and you’ll receive ZERO help or support, even if you land in jail.
- Land in jail because of drinking and driving, and we’ll take your car (if the parents own it), cancel your insurance, and kick you out of the house. You will not be bailed out jail, period.
- Catch you drinking and driving, drinking with minors, or doing anything illegal with alcohol, we immediately notify your probation officer.
- The job situation changes or you are on your own…
- You will get a real job, working full time, doing something that will allow you to either learn a trade or pay for schooling.
- If you are not learning a vocation, you will go back to school. You will work full time or close to it, and go to school… trade school, vo-tech or college… some sort of school if you are not at a job that has a future.
- Depending on how hard you work and if you are in school, we will determine if you need to pay room and board as an adult guest. If you have no school bills or other financial responsibilities, you need to start learning fiscal responsibility by helping with the expenses, or moving out on your own (else, how will he handle marriage and kids?).
Positive ultimatums (rewards):
- If he is working hard, going to school, not drinking, living a life style you approve of, you will consider, when possible, giving him some support for school and living expenses.
- The harder he works, schools and lives right, the more you help, if that is possible given your own circumstances.
- Free room and board, utilities, laundry and food can be earned by hard work, clean living and right choices.
Through all of this, you give him his adult freedom. Except for reasonable courtesy, you shouldn’t tell 22 year old what he must do, when to come home, who his friends are, what activities he can pursue. That’s his choice. You present the conditions by which he can live in your home, and for which you will provide potential support. Treat him like a grown man, expect him to act like one. Ultimatums apply.
Make Sure He Understands
It’s YOUR CHOICE. YOU DECIDE. YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF WHAT HAPPENS NOW. Time to grow up. You are a man. You’ll be treated like a man. Good or bad, be a man. Live with it.
Parents, getting to this point doesn’t mean you have a bad kid, or you are bad parents. To the contrary, this kind of wake up call is all the more effective with a good kid from good parents. I make a prediction that the young man in question will immediately see the light and make some big changes when he sees that his GOOD parents mean business, and put some teeth into the “argument”.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Let me close by repeating what I start telling my kids at about 14-15 years of age. I think parents would do well to start better preparing their children for adulthood. We are not promised continued prosperity, and I for one believe it is HUGE MISTAKE in America to let our kids think that is their RIGHT to have another 4-6 years of college fun and partying before they have to start growing up. I think this is all the more crucial today given the direction our society and country is headed, given the disintegrating condition of higher education (oh crud, I’ll hear about that one) and given that rapidly deteriorating rate of “affluency” that seems to be considered and American “right”. That’s not to say kids can’t go to college and be serious, mature and grow. Plenty do. Multitudes don’t, and take it for granted, believing it is “owed” to them (spurred on by an entire industry that relentlessly beats this drum).
Our children need to know that a life of ease and privilege is NOT their right, and they better shed this wholly “American” idea that life owes them party, a college fun time and high paying job where they barely have to work. Those days are disappearing at an exponentially growing pace (gone already?) and parents who ignore the signs do so at their CHILD’S PERIL. Here again is the advice I give my kids:
“When you turn 18, you become an adult guest in my home. As long as you are working full time, going to school (or an acceptable combination of the two), you can live at home for a few years IF you act like an adult guest. You must take care of yourself and do your share WITHOUT having to be told like a typical teenager. You have to replenish what you use, and help care for the house and property.
Based on MY SOLE OPINION AND JUDGMENT, I may require you to pay some rent, utilities and buy some food as I consider how hard you are working, how seriously you take your schooling, how responsible you are acting, and whether or not I approve of your lifestyle as a whole. I won’t promise you any ongoing living support, college funding or free room and board. It is all based on YOU: your work ethic, your effort in school, your choice of lifestyle.
You may get nothing, you may get a little, you may get as much as I can afford. But nothing is promised, and ALL OF IT hinges ON YOUR behavior, growth and responsibility. I’ll treat you like an adult, and I’ll require that you act like one.”
What are your questions about parenting?