Boundaries for a teen who won't get a summer job and sleeps all day.
Question of the Day:
My college kid is home for the summer and I’m struggling to know what boundaries I should have in place. She’s 19, very responsible, but she sleeps until 1:00pm and stays out late with her friends. I love that she has a social life but this “no work and all play” doesn’t feel right.
I’m up at 7am working at my job to pay for her school, car, gas, and food—shouldn’t she be up working, too? It feels wrong. I expected her to work during the summer like I did, but the window for her to get a summer job is closing. She doesn’t seem motivated to work and says her friends can stay out as late as they want and none of them have jobs.
Do I give her a curfew? Make her stay home? Make her apply for jobs? When I was her age, I worked multiple jobs and loved it, but all my friends worked, too. Can you give me clarity on how to handle this unexpected situation?
Parent Educator Answer:
Let’s start with getting clarity on the issues that are bugging you.
- Her nocturnal schedule.
- Not knowing what rules to enforce.
- Her "all play, no work" summer lifestyle.
I have a hunch that if your daughter was out late because she worked a night shift, it wouldn’t bother you that she was sleeping until 1:00pm. The reason her nocturnal schedule bugs you is because it’s symbolic of a lifestyle that is not aligned with your values. So for today’s Parent Educator answer, let’s focus on the difference between rules, boundaries, expectations, and values.
Boundaries are personal decisions you make inside your own head to protect yourself. It’s a line we draw in the sand to feel safe. Nobody else needs to respect our boundaries, that’s our job. They are here so we can have our own backs and be the people we want to be.
For example: I have a boundary with myself that if I start worrying about my children, I will not indulge my anxiety and “go psycho.” I will not call 911, call their friends, or follow them around town stalking them. I will look up their location on my iphone or text them and calmly ask that they check in. I will breathe, write in my journal, coach myself, and trust that all is well. Having a game plan keeps me from embarrassing myself and putting my anxieties onto my kids.
Another example: I have a boundary around people yelling at me. I don’t like it. If anyone, family member or stranger, communicates by yelling, I will ask them to calm down or I will walk away. I feel safe because I trust myself to take either action 100% of the time.
Boundaries are personal. You can tell people what your boundaries are, but it’s up to you to uphold, educate and enforce them.
Rules are established by an authority figure and/or agreed upon by a group. They can be written or unwritten.
Kids like rules (as long as there aren’t too many of them) because they like to know what’s expected of them and they like to have their parent’s approval. When you make up a rule, like “no cell phones at the dinner table”, your kids know what to expect and they know how to please you. This only works, of course, if there are consequences when the rule is broken. If your kid is on their phone at the dinner table and you don’t say anything, they are going to learn that you don’t mean what you say and rules are not to be followed.
Kids like to be able to blame their parents’ rules if they feel like they are getting into a situation they aren’t ready for. Being clear about your rules is a gift to your children. Instead of having to look “uncool” in front of friends, kids can blame parent’s rules like: “My Dad said if he finds me vaping, he’ll take my phone away.” or “I’m not allowed to have a boyfriend until I’m 16.” You might not hold too tightly to these rules and be open to negotiation but kids usually like having them in place.
Parents might even notice kids making up rules that aren’t true like, “I have to get straight A’s or my dad will kill me.” His dad might not care at all about grades, but the student may be embarrassed to admit how much he cares about grades and is using Dad as an out.
In order for kids to respect your authority, it’s helpful to have 100% conviction and consistency with our rules.
This fear of having to be 100% consistent can prevent parents from creating rules because as adults, we understand the world is nuanced and situational. If we say, “You have to be home by 11pm or you’ll lose car privileges”, but then our kid gets invited to a fun event that ends at midnight, we feel torn between upholding our rule and bending with the specific situation.
It’s hard to be both consistent and flexible but it is the way the world works when you get to adulthood. You can uphold a rule while also making room for extenuating circumstances and special events.
Examples of rules Mary might like to implement are:
“Always keep your location turned on on your phone.”
“If you vape or smoke in my car, you will pay to have it professionally cleaned.”
“Be home by 1:00am every night or no more gas money.”
Keep rules short, clear, and easy to remember. Rules change and evolve as kids do so don’t hold on too tightly. As your child grows in wisdom and responsibility, it’s appropriate that you will have fewer rules for them.
Values are something that is important to you. Values change over time and differ from person to person. It’s ok for children to have different values than their parents.
For example: Mary has a value around hard work. She expects herself and her family to share the same values of work and contribution. She feels frustrated and confused because her expectation that her daughter would get a job this summer wasn’t met. It’s ok to keep her values but change her expectation to meet her current reality.
It’s the expectation that is causing her frustration.
To answer the question about what she should do, let’s take a look at what she has control over.
Moms cannot make children apply, interview, or accept job offers. We can offer our thoughts and feelings on the matter. We can talk about why we think it’s important. We can offer conditions like, “I’ll take you shopping after you’ve submitted 5 applications.” We can offer consequences like, “if you don’t work this summer, I won’t give you money for gas.”
Cars, cell phones, apartments, tuition, and food are areas most parents of 19 year olds still pay for and therefore have control over.
Let’s say you have a VALUE around hard work and contribution. Your daughter currently has a value around socializing with friends and enjoying her summer. These can co-exist. Yes, it’s a little late to be looking for a summer job, but she could start looking for an on-campus job for the next school year. There are other ways she can contribute that don’t look like the traditional summer job.
-She can help you clean and declutter the attic.
-She can teach grandparents or elderly neighbors to use technology.
-She can do yard work or babysit for friends that need help.
-She can sell stuff on LetGo, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace.
-She can take over cooking dinner for the family.
-She can plan the family vacation, take the car in for maintenance, or re-paint the bathroom.
If you widen out your perspective, align with your values, and stay focused on things you have control over, you can have your expectations met.
Renegotiating some family rules would be a good thing to do now, too. Nobody needed curfews during COVID lockdowns but now it sounds like having a curfew could give you both peace of mind. If not a traditional curfew, it could be a nightly check in. You could make a rule saying if you are going to be out late, please text before 11pm letting me know where you are, who you are with, and when you expect to be home.
Your daughter may appreciate knowing what your expectations are and how to make you happy, and you would feel more in control of an unexpected situation.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in our way from setting and enforcing rules? Fear of how our kids will react.
We worry our kids are going to rebel, lie to us, feel mad or stifled in a way that ruins our relationship with them. We want to enjoy our adult kids and respect their growing independence. We understand their need to individuate and worry that making rules will mess up our bond.
I think this idea comes from the times we make unrealistic rules out of anger that are impossible to uphold. After seeing a bad grade on a report card, a mom might yell, “No more cell phones!” only to cave in a few days later.
When we make these off-the-cuff rules from an angry, disempowered state we learn to associate rules with harsh, authoritative parenting.
Making and enforcing rules is best when done from calm leadership energy. When we step into our power and ask for what we want, good things happen. Yet it’s common for moms to reject their own authority. They are afraid to “be mean” because they want to have an open and positive relationship with their kiddo.
THIS IS EXACTLY WHY WE NEED MOMS TO STEP INTO THEIR POWER AND OWN THEIR AUTHORITY!
Because when women step into leadership positions, their instinct is to do it NICELY. Women gravitate toward collaboration, fairness, and kindness. Women are really good at preserving and prioritizing relationships! This is what we need more of!
What moms resist is the old fashioned, overly-regulated, command and control stereotype of authoritative parenting.
Like it or not, you ARE the AUTHORITY. You pay the bills. You know ALL THE THINGS. You are older and wiser with more education and experience than your children. You are the authority and you do have power.
You absolutely can set rules with consensus. I remember doing this in my classroom on the first day of school when I was a teacher. I asked the students what kind of rules they thought would be good to have and made sure everyone followed. They suggested every rule past teachers had in their classroom. We wrote them on a poster and hung them on the wall.
Mary can negotiate with her teenage daughter about what the rule should be when she comes home from college. They might want to negotiate other rules like “Don’t stop by my dorm unannounced.” People like rules. Even rebels, who get a thrill over bending and breaking rules, like to know what the rules are so they can have fun with them. Artists and musicians study the “rules” so they can use their creativity and think outside the box.
Supermom Kryptonite: Differing Values
One thing that can drain our energy is when we see our child has different values than we do and we extrapolate into the future. Mary might be imagining that her daughter’s disinterest in working a summer job means her daughter may NEVER want to work a summer job, or any job for that matter. She might worry about her daughter not sharing the same values around hard work as she does.
We tend to expect our children to have the same values we have. When they don’t, we futurize and catastrophize, making us overreact to the current situation, because we are actually reacting to the imagined future scenario in our heads.
The thing to remember is that values change over time. After so much social distancing, we all placed higher priority on socializing and having fun with friends. Many kids had social and emotional delays that they needed to make up for. Just because Mary’s daughter values play over work this summer, doesn’t mean it will be her value next summer.
When my kids were younger, I placed a high value on alone time. Now that I’m getting more time to myself, it’s not as high a priority. It’s not that I don’t value it anymore, it’s just I don’t have to focus on it.
My daughter has a value around not eating animals. She would love it if her dad and I were also vegan, but we have different values and that’s ok.
Learning to respect your children’s values, even when they are different from yours, is part of the “love more, care less” philosophy I teach in the Leading Your Teen coaching program. When we let go of our expectations of how we think things are supposed to be, and let go of our futurizing and catastrophizing fears, we can embrace our children’s differing values peacefully.
Supermom Power Boost - Invite Yo’Self!
When I was a freshman in high school, I asked a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance. He gave me a typical freshman boy response, “oh! um…huh….um…maybe…I’ll think about it…I may have already made arrangements to go with someone else…I’ll check with her and get back to you…” He, of course, never got back to me, nor did he talk or look me in the eye ever again.
From this experience I decided, “That sucked and I’m never doing that again.”
I felt so brave and proud for putting myself out there but quickly developed a fear of rejection that translated into my adult life. I have a hard time initiating friendships, inviting people over, or in expressing my desire to socially connect with others. I also tend to take it personally when someone says no to my invitations or says yes and then cancels.
I LOVE hosting people and planning fun things to do with others so this fear of rejection makes it extra stressful.
Which is why today’s Supermom Power Boost is to “Invite yourself!” My new friend Darcy doesn’t have a fear of rejection. She invites herself along to anything that sounds fun to her. When we bought our lake house, she made it very clear she wanted to come up and go water skiing on the lake. This took all the fear of rejection away for me. It was such a gift! I knew she wanted to come and would accept an invitation (during COVID it was hard to know who was willing to risk exposure and who was playing it super safe). If she said no, I knew it wasn’t a rejection of ME but just a date that didn’t work for her. Boldly stating that she wanted to come helped me overcome my fears of being rejected.
I’ve seen her invite herself along to other people’s fun adventures and it’s so good for me to see that people don’t hate her, she doesn’t curl up into a ball when they say no, and more often than not, she gets invited to do a whole bunch of really cool stuff.
I am learning to take a page out of her book and make it really clear when I want to be invited or included. The social suicide that would ensue from being so bold died back in high school. As adults, I can see that people like to know who likes them and who wants to do fun things.
Today’s Supermom PowerBoost is to give a gift to the hostess by inviting yourself to join anything that looks fun to you. Instead of letting her worry about being rejected and who may or may not want to join, you can alleviate her fears by making your interests clear.
It might sound something like this:
“Your camping trip sounds amazing. I’ve never been camping. Would you be willing to take a newbie along with you next time you go?”
“Are there any spots available in your Bunco group / book club / playgroup? I would love to join.”
“Would you like to escape the kids and meet up for dinner and a movie with me?”
“I notice your family goes to the concerts in the park Friday nights, could I bring my kids and go with you next time?”
Make your interest clear. The worst thing that will happen is the “Oh…um….maybe…I have to see….” response. If so, no big deal, just do what I should have done and go ask someone else to the dance.
Quote of the day:
“Rejection…and the fear of rejection….are the biggest impediment to choosing ourselves.” James Altucher