17-year-olds and house rules (sorry--long) - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 08-02-2008, 03:23 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I haven't posted on here in quite some time, but things with my stepdaughter are getting really intense again, and I could use some advice/knowledge/help.

My stepdaughter is 17, and came to live with my husband and I when she was 14. She grew up with her mom in France, and spent 4-8 weeks with us every summer from the time she was young, spent holidays with us, etc.

She finally came to live with us because her mom has a severe alcohol problem, not to mention some pretty unhealthy communicating/childrearing/coping methods. Sadly, her mom is basically a dysfunctional mess. This of course has meant that my stepdaughter has some very unhealthy methods herself, and we have really had our hands full with her over the last few years.

After a very rocky start, though, the past year with her has been better. She has been more emotionally stable, she graduated with decent grades from high school, has done well in maintaining a PT job, and is less verbally abusive toward us and our 5-year-old daughter. Whereas it seemed like we used to go from crisis to crisis a few years ago with her, the crises and flare-ups occur only once every six months or so now.

However. My stepdaughter decided about 5 weeks ago that she was going to put off going to college for at least a year. She had been accepted at an art school, but just wasn't sure anymore that this was where she wanted to go, or that art should be her focus in life. What she would do instead was move to NYC. We had lived there up until two years ago, and she seemed to feel more at home there than she does in Vermont, where we now live. We supported her in this plan, said we were fine with her postponing college until she felt more sure of what she wanted to do, and tried to help her prepare for her big move. She and her boyfriend (who is super-dependable, stable, hardworking) had already saved up a lot of money, and seemed to be doing much of the right stuff to prepare for living in a very difficult city.

Then total tragedy struck. Her boyfriend's mother died of a brain aneurysm (just over a week ago, though it seems like much more!). She left behind three young children (ages 3, 5, and 9), as well as four children in their teens and twenties. It's so incredibly sad. This has meant, of course, that my stepdaughter's boyfriend now feels a sense of responsibility to stay at home for at least another year, to help out financially, to babysit, etc.

My stepdaughter has said that she will stay for another year too, to support him, even though she has made it abundantly clear over the last few years that she can't stand being here. I think she is also nervous that she would not be able to handle living in NYC by herself. So this has raised a really tough situation for us.

Even though she has become easier to be around, and tried to make an effort sometimes, my stepdaughter has basically refused to live by our basic rules ever since she moved in with us. My husband and I really threw ourselves into trying to establish rules and boundaries, to work out more effective means of communication with her, etc. for a very long time. But to be honest, we had largely given up over the past year because we were so drained by all the effort this required. So we have not forced a lot of issues over this past year b/c: 1. we figured she was going to be out of the house once she left for college, and just held out for the light we saw at the end of the tunnel, and 2. she was generally easier to be around, so why rock the boat?

Am I proud of our retreat? Of course not. I am now learning the real meaning of the expression that the only way out of something is through it. But I also understand that my husband and I are human beings, and we've been doing the best we can with some difficult circumstances.

At any rate, we are ready to sit down with my stepdaughter and write out some rules that we feel she must comply with if she is to stay in our house (such as cleaning up after herself around the house, getting a full-time job, not being verbally abusive toward other family members). My husband has already tried to broach some of this with her, and to try and talk about what her plans are, but she has absolutely exploded at him. I can understand why she would feel explosive, to be honest: she's facing a difficult transition period, having to make some hard decisions, and is terrified over the prospect of having to be independent. I have talked with my husband about the importance of giving her some time, since this is all happening so quickly.

However, there is one element I just can't figure out in all of this: what leverage do we have in getting her to comply with our basic rules? I know from experience that she will never comply with them. I always thought that parents were able to use the idea that their kids must think about living elsewhere if they absolutely refused to live with the rules, morals, expectations of their parents. I don't like the concept, particularly (I'm not generally a "my way or the highway" type of person). But I don't know how we can get her to agree to our rules without some sort of real consequences. What makes this especially tricky is that we can be charged with abuse (and even given jail time!) if we force her out. When she is 18, it's a different ballgame, obviously. But what on earth do we do to try to establish the basic conditions we need for our sanity if she is to continue living with us?

Thanks for reading this far. I would love some feedback.
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#2 of 10 Old 08-02-2008, 03:51 PM
 
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i'm 24 so I was 17 like... yesterday. here are my

How much real responsibility does she have and how much does she live like a child? ie. do you give her money? a car? gas? food?

IMHO she wants to be an adult and thats why she has decide NYC is a good idea. I think that you are lucky that the BF is a good guy. There is less chance of a$$-hattery. It sounds like the BF wants to stay and take care of the younger sibs. Which if she wanted to stay and help do, that would give her the "adult life" she craves.

At the very least (this is going to sound harsh but it isn't I swear) If you treat her like a tenant I think a lot of the behaviour will go away. When you said
this:

atristin : "My husband and I really threw ourselves into trying to establish rules and boundaries, to work out more effective means of communication with her, etc. for a very long time. But to be honest, we had largely given up over the past year because we were so drained by all the effort this required. So we have not forced a lot of issues over this past year b/c: 1. we figured she was going to be out of the house once she left for college, and just held out for the light we saw at the end of the tunnel, and 2. "she was generally easier to be around, so why rock the boat?"

I knew that she really isn't a child. she is 17 which is immature, but she needs to be treated like an adult. with both the privileges and responsibilities. If she doesn't come home till midnight? maybe she is locked out because the doors are locked at 10 maybe no one cares because she came in quietly, maybe she sill has to get up a 8am to get to that FT job?

sorry this got so long, but it wasn't that long ago that my mother and I went through this same thing. It's a hard transition from child to adult no matter what side of the fence you are on! much love!

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#3 of 10 Old 08-03-2008, 12:24 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Kriket,
Thanks for your reply. It's always really helpful for me to hear from sane people in their 20s that they went through similar things with their parents, but managed to come out of it okay.
It's interesting that you should mention the tenant idea. My husband expressed to my stepdaughter today that we want her to start cleaning the bathroom she uses on a regular basis. (My husband and I have a bathroom off our room that we use, as does our daughter, so the other bathroom is pretty much the domain of my stepdaughter. But it's off a common area of the house, so family members and guests use it as well). She went ballistic. The idea that she was not entitled to her "own" bathroom--to trash it in whatever manner she sees fit--was total confirmation for her that we don't love her, consider her part of the family, etc. How dare we place any conditions on her?
My husband and I very much want to start the discussion with her about her being a tenant, or a guest, in this house, to try and cut through the entitlement nonsense. I think it's a necessary discussion, but I don't think she's even going to hear it.
And that's where the question of consequences comes in. The only consequence that matters to her at this point is whether or not we continue to allow her to live here. I'm quite willing to ask her to find somewhere else to live if she can't live by our rules. But it seems like the law doesn't let me do that. So what other consequences would be effective? Seriously... I'm open to creative suggestions.




Quote:
Originally Posted by kriket View Post
i'm 24 so I was 17 like... yesterday. here are my

How much real responsibility does she have and how much does she live like a child? ie. do you give her money? a car? gas? food?

IMHO she wants to be an adult and thats why she has decide NYC is a good idea. I think that you are lucky that the BF is a good guy. There is less chance of a$$-hattery. It sounds like the BF wants to stay and take care of the younger sibs. Which if she wanted to stay and help do, that would give her the "adult life" she craves.

At the very least (this is going to sound harsh but it isn't I swear) If you treat her like a tenant I think a lot of the behaviour will go away. When you said
this:

atristin : "My husband and I really threw ourselves into trying to establish rules and boundaries, to work out more effective means of communication with her, etc. for a very long time. But to be honest, we had largely given up over the past year because we were so drained by all the effort this required. So we have not forced a lot of issues over this past year b/c: 1. we figured she was going to be out of the house once she left for college, and just held out for the light we saw at the end of the tunnel, and 2. "she was generally easier to be around, so why rock the boat?"

I knew that she really isn't a child. she is 17 which is immature, but she needs to be treated like an adult. with both the privileges and responsibilities. If she doesn't come home till midnight? maybe she is locked out because the doors are locked at 10 maybe no one cares because she came in quietly, maybe she sill has to get up a 8am to get to that FT job?

sorry this got so long, but it wasn't that long ago that my mother and I went through this same thing. It's a hard transition from child to adult no matter what side of the fence you are on! much love!
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#4 of 10 Old 08-03-2008, 01:17 PM
 
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she needs to know that their are bonuses to the responsibility and that their are natural consequences. I understand (not agree) why she went ballistic. The bathroom isn't just hers yet you wanted to make her clean it like it is just hers. If she's going to put all the work into it then she wants control over it. Like I said, not rational.

IMO you may need to carve her out a little "teen cave" I remember I lived in the basement and would get PI$$ED when mom would "invade my space" to do laundry. How dare she. So, it you have a basement? or some space that is entirely hers that she can have complete control over? (my moms a leo and I'm a cancer, I know all about control struggles. ) I juse re-read that you bio-daughter has her own bathroom? that would cause a war in my teenaged home if one of the sisters had something the others didn't.

You also may want to sit her down (while she is in a rational period) and ask her what she would like. You may have to see her, "do you want your own .....?" "are you willing to do you own laundry? cook 2x a week for the family?" and those are entirely hers. If she screws it up she doesn't get clean clothing. she doesn't get fed (make sure she is aware of the consequences) Thats what I would do. I think this is a golden opportunity. She can live with you but on her own. That way you can intervien only when she asks or is literally about to kill herself.

what about her car? does she have one? does she pay her insurance? did she pay for the car? I'm sure you remember, when you are 17 your car is all you have that you can truly call your own. If she works for it she will have that "adult" thing to hang on to.

I wish I could come tell your daughter to chill out and enjoy her time with you because paying mortgage sucks. Some days I wish I lived with my mommy again.

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#5 of 10 Old 08-03-2008, 04:28 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by atristin View Post
However, there is one element I just can't figure out in all of this: what leverage do we have in getting her to comply with our basic rules? I know from experience that she will never comply with them. I always thought that parents were able to use the idea that their kids must think about living elsewhere if they absolutely refused to live with the rules, morals, expectations of their parents. I don't like the concept, particularly (I'm not generally a "my way or the highway" type of person). But I don't know how we can get her to agree to our rules without some sort of real consequences. What makes this especially tricky is that we can be charged with abuse (and even given jail time!) if we force her out. When she is 18, it's a different ballgame, obviously. But what on earth do we do to try to establish the basic conditions we need for our sanity if she is to continue living with us?

Thanks for reading this far. I would love some feedback.
In my personal experience, there is no 'leverage' per se that belongs in a loving relationship. To me leverage is another form of coercion, and while it is understandable to want to coerce someone for fear of them getting hurt or failing to develop a sense of responsibility, it nearly always backfires. At 17, people are no longer children. They are not quite adults yet either, but if we treat them as children, they either comply grudgingly and then do it anyway behind our backs, or openly reject us. There is middle ground. As far as influence is concerned, yes, we can have influence on their behavior, but only insofar as we have rapport. When teens know we have their best interest in mind and are not trying to control them, they are much more willing to cooperate and compromise. I love the book Parent Effectiveness Training : Teens by Don Dinkmeyer et al. It has excellent guidance for helping parents find positive ways to get out of the way and let their teens learn responsibility. If she recieves little guidance from her mom, she may simply enjoy her freedom, and not want to give it up. If on the other hand, mom is enabling her by paying for things she shouldn't, then she may have developed a sense of entitlement. In either case, you needn't be drawn into the struggle. If you want the bathroom clean, clean it. If you are not willing to clean it, how can you congruently ask her to do it? Don't give her money you are not willing to give freely and without condition. As far as a retreat is concerned, the only thing wrong I see is that you may harbor the belief that you can control your DSD. You can't. Instead, if you look at the reality of it (she doesn't follow the rules), and simply accept that you really can't MAKE her do anything, it may end up feeling more peaceful to you.
The second bolded section is to point out that these are your values, not hers. Are you willing to abide by her values? No? Well, isn't that what you are asking her to do? Abide by someone else's value system? See, if we can instead have the attitude, "I am so happy you have found a way that works for you" we remove ourselves from the struggle to force our beliefs on others, and make room for them to develop their own. The belief that we MUST get our teens to adopt our own values is rooted in the fear that they cannot or will not adopt a moral compass, and that is simply not true. When I questioned this in my own parenting practice, everything just fell into place. Did I really, truly believe that my children would grow up to be anti social (or whatever) if I stopped imposing my beliefs on them? Or would they instead have the freedom to explore what they want, instead of feeling obliged to adopt beliefs opposed to mine in order to claim their individuality? Happily, both my kids have formed a pretty amazing sense of right and wrong, and I can confidently say that I do not impose my will on them at all. (full disclosure: I am a Buddhist lay monk, and am certainly not without standards). I found that if I live what I want my kids to live, they have a lot more respect for me and my desires of them. I also highly recommend the book Loving What Is by Byron Katie. You can see video of her facilitating people here: www.byronkatie.com Good luck, mama! Steppaging (as my DH calls it) can be so challenging, until we question the beliefs that make it hard.
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#6 of 10 Old 08-03-2008, 04:37 PM
 
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Well, you can't kick her out, but you also don't have to give her any spending money, buy her clothes (above the bare necessities which could be purchased 2nd hand) buy her any "junk food" (she can eat meals with the family) etc.

I think it's reasonable to "let go" of the bathroom thing- it's her bathroom to use, and her responsibility to keep it clean. If she doesn't clean it, she get to use the dirty bathroom. IF she won't wash her clothes, she won't have clean clothes to wear. Natural consequences. If she doesn't do other household chores, she won't get an allowance, and if she neither does chores nor gets a job, she won't have any spending money at all.

I wouldn't charge her rent or insist on a full-time job, but if she isn't getting any spending money, she's likely to at least get a part-time job.

Ruth, single mommy to Leah, 19, Hannah, 18, and Jack, 12
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#7 of 10 Old 08-03-2008, 06:01 PM
 
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When I was 17 & no longer in school I had to pay rent. My Mom had always made it clear that if I wasn't in school this was the deal - as long as I was in school I wouldn't have to pay rent. But along with the switch from being a student to a working "adult" came different responsibilities/freedoms. I had my own room & bathroom & it was my responsibility to take care of those areas - but she never commented if it was a mess. I didn't have a curfew anymore but I'd better not wake her up when I come in.

A friend of mine had a rule in her house that the car had to be in the driveway by a certain hour. She could stay out later but not with the car. I always thought that was a good way of protecting her from driving at more dangerous hours (more teens are killed in the middle night hours). I wasn't allowed to use my Mom's car so that was a null issue for us.

For eating if I was home when she prepared a meal I was welcome to eat with her but otherwise I had to figure out my own meals & clean up after myself in the kitchen. She did ask me to be home one night a week for a family meal.

If she's old enough to live on her own in new york she is old enough to be treated like an adult - & you already know she isn't going to comply to a large amount of rules. Keep it to a minimum & try to focus on only those things that are REALLY important to you.

Surviving sleep deprivation one day at a time with dd (Oct '11) & ds (Oct '08).

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#8 of 10 Old 08-03-2008, 07:52 PM
 
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I wouldn't charge anything from my child, but as the rest of the people have mentioned, I would allow natural consequences to take their course and would not pay for things for a 17 y.o. who shows no respect to the members of the family.

I'd repeat often that I love her.
I would never raise my voice.
I would gladly help a kid financially if I am treated with respect that I give.
I would NOT finance anything if I am mistreated in my own home, and would allow some hard lessons to sink in.
If she needs a car to get around, then I would hardly comply with someone who was mean to a 5 y.o. kid half an hour ago, kwim?


Our 15 y.o. might not be a perfectly behaved child, but she offers to do her own laundry, and asks "how can I earn the money for..." kind of questions when she wants something.

It's hard to fix things when you allow for it to go on for a while, but I would review expectations, and try to start the year afresh.

*hugs*

New endeavor coming soon...
Raising Alice in Wonderland (DSD, 17), and in love with a Superman
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#9 of 10 Old 08-04-2008, 03:28 PM
 
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I may be the harda$$ here but I have three adult children who are doing reasonably well now. It was a hard road to say the least.

We helped them to move out at eighteen. One we literally rented a place, packed and moved all of her stuff and delivered her there. I was so mad the week before her 18th birthday I had her dad come pick her up and he moved her to a hotel for that week because he didn't want her in his house. She lived in that apartment for her senior year and he supported her and she didn't work. After graduation she came back and lived with me for another year with very firm rules in place. We still had problems so she got another apartment for a year till the lease expired and supported herself. Then she lived with me again and we had less problems and now she has been on her own for about six years and is doing very well.

I totally expected that my house be kept clean, hospital clean, no I am not fun to live with, I am a parent and this is my house. I also had/have many other rules about language, dress, friends, no piercings, tatoos or smoking, bedtime and quiet at nine etc. Again I am not a friend and this is my house.

The other two went into adulthood semi OK. One is living with her boyfriend and we are getting along, the other decided to do Job Corp and is doing good too. The relationship with him has been rocky since he is making very different lifestyle choices-that is fine but not under my roof and in front of younger kids.

So if you were to ask me I think you are being super nice, walking on eggshells and letting her run the show with her emotional rollercoaster ways or abuse, however you want to call it.

I would not ask her cooperation. I would talk to my husband, agree on a plan and then implement it. She can move in with friends, her boyfriend, her mom or whoever at 18 or even sooner. You can provide whatever support you are comfortable with.

I have five more children, three that are adolescents and if I have learned anything over the years it is to be stricter and to have lots of boundaries.
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#10 of 10 Old 08-04-2008, 07:33 PM
 
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Yes, many people believe the answer to everything is to treat their children like criminals and losers. And, hey, if you really believe that's 'working', mazel tov. But it has been shown quite consistently that overly punitive and authoritarian parenting results in less, not more, independence. Yes, conscious parenting takes more patience and time, but this is why many of us choose to have only the number of chidlren we can handle without becoming Momzilla. OP, best of luck and remember the key to your relationship with your DSD is love. Consistent boundaries and limits, yes, but done lovingly and kindly. Even when they are, you know, acting like kids.
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