Parents Talk: What Changes When a Child Turns 18?

Overnight, we have an 'adult child' and 3 grownups at home.

There are many milestones of parenthood—but for me, today, three stand out: 

  1. The day our first child was born. 
  2. The day I noticed he'd grown taller than me. 
  3. The day he became an adult. 

Number 1 took place 18 years ago this week. So Number 3 is very fresh. 

I couldn't put a finger on my feelings the day our oldest son turned 18. Was it a sense of accomplishment, love, pride, relief, maybe the mysteriousness of life? All I knew was I felt shaky and it wasn't from too much (or too little) caffeine. 

The night before, over a very late dinner (don't ask), I heard myself say, "Well, you have two and a half hours of childhood left."

That was weird. 

In the morning, the other two kids and I were sitting in the kitchen. Down the hall we heard a door open and a groggy voice grunt, "I'm an adult."

Now what? 

We now have something in the house called an "adult child." I had thought those were two different things. 

What changes when a child turns 18? He can vote. He can smoke. He can excuse his own absence at high school if he's sick. What about parental rules and family dynamics?

There are now three grownups and two kids, signaling a shift in our balance of power for the first time in more than a decade. That's probably good. But enforcing rules, like being home by midnight, could become more tricky. 

What do you think should change in a family when a child becomes an adult? 

Daughter Number Three March 16, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Ah, Chris, as you know we went though the same transition back in November. Thanks for putting it into words.
Christina Nelson March 16, 2012 at 08:12 PM
I am amazed that this came up as a topic of thought today!!! The other day we ran into a situation with our 18 yr old over these very concerns. The bottom line is, for us, he is still in High School. We have rules for our home. No drinking, drugs and stay/finish school. There is a curfew though it is flexible. If he is going to be very late he must call. He is still a part of this family and must take on the responsibilities of being a part of a large family. He still has his chores and must continue to do his own laundry. We made it very clear that once he graduates and weather continues his education or takes a break he is welcome here. The rules will change once he is done with H.S. The only request is that if he has been drinking or used a substance (we have been pretty lucky so far) he must stay where he is for the night and not bring it into our home. He will work and have to pay a little something for rent OR go to school. This is a rock between a hard place situation. I feel that if they are still in H.S. that the parent is still in charge of the child.
C Smith March 17, 2012 at 03:13 AM
We have progressed past the young adult stage, and are dealimg with adult children loving at home. No matter how old they are, the same rule applies, when you live under my roof, you follow my rules. I am amazed how many parents give up their role as parent just because a child reacjes a certain age. The challenge is balancing their need to be indepemdant with remaining their parent. You need to loosen the control, but keep the respext on both sides. Good luck.
Mandy Meisner March 19, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Wow! Congrats to you all, a true rite of passge for your whole family. As you say, legally a few more rights have been given to the new adult. Scary I'm sure becasue you want your kid to conitnue to choose to do the "right things" in life and (I imagine) you still feel somewhat reponsible for your child's choices. Seeing several of my family members and sitters go through this, I think in real life becoming an adult is simply the offical start of what I would call Transition. Children and parents don't change relationships and roles overnight. I didn't become a (complete) parent the moment our child was born. Indeed, I am still fumbling around at times. Hopefully children will begin to realize (dare I say even appreciate) the perspectives of their parents as they understand they have lived full lives outside the realm of parenthood. Parents will realize (dare I say even appreciate) their children are their own selves, maybe waiting for that thing called adulthood to develop into the person they were meant to be, even if that means they will be very different from the people they came from. Both ways, you get the rest of your lives to figure it out. Birthday #18 is just Day One.
Mandy Meisner March 19, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Sorry Chris, typos distract me...


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