Rules and Boundaries for Adult Children

Eighteen is the magic number: Children are always stretching boundaries with parents, even when they are considered to be adults.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | October 3, 2013

Eighteen is the magic number; seventeen is not.

As children grow from one stage to the next rules need review and updating as their age and maturity levels increase. Having clear rules and expectations are as important when they are fifteen as when they achieve the title of ‘adult’ at eighteen. Too often we may not realize the need for a rule until there is a problem. Remember to keep two important things in mind as you deal with new problems: Public law and private law, or in other words, your rules inside your home.

As parents we all know that rights go hand-in-hand with responsibility but it sometimes it may take kids a while to learn this. Here are two short anecdotes in which Katie and Chelsey learned lessons with no yelling or arguing:

When Katie was seventeen years old, Chelsey, now 21 years old, was home from college and wanted to go running at 10:00 p.m., well after dark. She also wanted Katie to accompany her on the run. From my perspective, the streets in my suburb community are not well-lit or patrolled enough to make them safe for girls of any age, so I refused permission for Katie. The conversation went something like this:

“But, Mom, the streets all have lights and we won’t be going that far.” Chelsey argued.

“Yeah, Mom, I can run and nobody’s going to bother us.” Katie chimed in.

“Chelsey, you are welcome to run if you want but Katie is not yet eighteen. If she gets hurt I will be responsible for medical expenses— I say, ‘no.’”

If Chelsey had gotten hurt while running she would get help BUT she would be responsible for paying for her medical bills. If their father had accompanied them on the run, that might have been different but Katie was still underage. Chelsey ran at college at all hours, day or night; the streets were better lighted and in a college town someone is always up. Rape and crimes are prevalent, though, in all college towns. (Crimes at college are another issue.)

There was no need for an argument or a lecture; the fact that my name is on the mortgage should not even come up.

The second time was quite brief but one where I believe Chelsey received a better sense of her place in our home. She certainly was (and is) a very intelligent adult, the kind of adult child any parent would be proud of, as I am her. The problem was perception.

We are a family of readers; we read in every room in our home, even our bathroom. I now wear glasses and keep a pair of glasses on a small table in their case. One day Chelsey surprised me with a demand:

“Mom, you should put your glasses underneath, out of the way,” Chelsey said.

“They are not in my way,” I told her.

“Well, they get in my way,” she said.

“But this is my bathroom,” I replied.

“It’s my bathroom too!” Chelsey shot back.

“But it’s my house,” I reminded her.

Chelsey knew immediately what I meant. I was not being mean or rude; I was simply reminding her that it was my house. There was no need for an argument or a lecture. The fact that my name is on the mortgage should not even come up. I am also disabled since the stroke I had in 2008. She was asking me to go out of my way by putting my glasses out of her way.

In a restaurant, having lunch and conversation, Chelsey and I are equals. At my home where she continues to live rent-free, we are not equals to an extent. The trick is everyone knowing and understanding the boundaries.

Here are a few resources for parents and soon-to-be adult children:

Legal Services of New Jersey or LSNJLaw.Org

Students’ Rights Handbook – A guide for public school students in New Jersey

LSNJ Law Non-Legal Resources

And we all loved (no typo) happily ever after. The End

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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