I was reading Mercy’s blog last week about her problems with her son and his "almost 18-itis" and I felt that I had to share my story about my dealings with this dreaded disease. In case you haven’t heard about it, it’s very common in youngsters. There’s a period of time between a teenager’s 17th birthday and their 18th birthday when they realize that in a few months they will be an "adult" and they don’t have to listen to anybody tell them what to do. They think that they have the world all figured out and that they are way smarter than the silly adults that have been providing a roof over their head, food for their bellies, clothes for their backs, and love, guidance, and support for their entire lives. There’s no way to tell which child will get this horrible disease and I understand that it’s more common with teenage boys than teenage girls. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine and there’s no cure. Once your kid gets it, you hold on for dear life and wait it out.
My step-son, Jr., came to live with Hubby and me shortly before his 16th birthday. He had been living with his mother since The Ex and Hubby got divorced with Jr. was 10 years old. The Ex subscribed to the "I want to be your friend" parenting philosophy and there wasn’t really much daily discipline in Jr.’s life during his early teenage years. Anytime there was a problem, The Ex played the "wait til you Father hears about this" card and let Hubby be the Bad Parent. It finally got to the point that The Ex couldn’t control Jr. anymore and she decided it was best for Jr. to come live with Hubby and me.
Now, Jr. is basically a good kid. Smart kid, got good grades, has a bit of a smart mouth on him and a mischievous streak a mile wide, but Hubby and I thought he just needed some rules and boundaries. Boy did we learn the hard way that you can’t expect a teenager to accept rules and boundaries when there haven’t been any for most of his life. For the first year that he lived with us, things were pretty normal. He behaved himself, he got good grades, helped out around the house, no drugs or alcohol that we knew about. When he turned 16, he wanted a car. We agreed to give him a car but he had to keep up his grades, pay for his own gas, and pay for his own insurance. We agreed that he could keep the car as long as all of those requirements were met.
For a while, things went smoothly but everything changed the summer before the start of his senior year in high school. He realized that he was going to be 18 in a few months (his birthday is in October) and he didn’t really have to listen to what we had to say or follow our rules. He was going to be an adult and he could make his own decisions. He quit his job shortly before he was fired for not showing up for work. He didn’t see the need for car insurance so he stopped paying for it. What he didn’t count on was Hubby and I following through on our threat to take away the car if he didn’t follow the rules. In our state, even though the car was in Jr.’s name, he was still a minor and Hubby and I were still legally liable for any damage done if Jr. got into a wreck. Since Hubby and I didn’t want to play Russian roulette with a 17 year old male driver, we took the car keys from Jr. and sold the car. Needless to say, Jr. was furious. Little did we know what the next round was going to be.
Even though he was a good student and got good grades, Jr. thought he knew more than the teachers at his high school and that his senior year was a waste of time so he stopped going. We didn’t find out about this monumental decision until the school called us to let us know that Jr. had been suspended three times in three months for skipping school and was facing expulsion. That was also about the time that we learned that Jr.’s girlfriend was pregnant and our first grandchild would be arriving in early winter. Since Jr. had just turned 18, Hubby decided it was time for the "my way or highway" speech with Jr. and Jr. picked the highway. He left that night. Hubby and I were heartbroken. We had tried everything to get through to Jr. and nothing worked. Now we were sure we’d lost him forever.
We didn’t hear a lot from Jr. over the next few months, but he made a special effort to patch things up with us before the grandbaby arrived. I think it’s because he suddenly (finally?) realized that the parents weren’t so dumb after all and that we might actually know what we’re talking about.
I’m not saying that things miraculously got better, because they didn’t. It’s been a rough road for all of us, but we have a good relationship now. Jr. is going to be 34 in October and he’s turned out okay. Not exactly the path Hubby or I would have chosen for him, but it’s a path that’s made him happy.
So my advice to Mercy and to all parents with a teenager with 18-itis is this – love ’em and hang on tight. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. But you aren’t alone . . . . those of us that have lived through it are here to help.